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buying a car in Hohhot

Are you tired of waiting for taxis? Are you ready to take on the Hohhot roads? Are you certain you could get somewhere faster with your own wheels? Well, a lovely reader has submitted some thoughts for those of you considering car ownership in Hohhot.

You may remember last year we wrote about my husband’s experience getting his driving license. As you can imagine, no process is easy in China and getting a driver’s license and buying a car are no exception. However, hopefully Preston’s advice will make it easier for you, knowing what to expect before you show up at the car dealership.


1. Do cars really cost more in Hohhot?

Yes they do. Sometimes as much as 10,000 RMB more than Beijing for low-end cars.

2. Why buy in Hohhot?
“So why don’t I just go to Beijing, buy my car there, and then drive it back to Hohhot?” It’s a great idea, and one we had too. But, in a nice bit of local protectionism, the Hohhot government does not usually issue license plates to cars bought outside of Hohhot (at least this is what we were told). We did some checking to see if Linda had a distant relative in the gov’t. with the guanxi to help us pull this off, but in the end had no luck and so paid the extra 10000 to buy our car here.
Now, it’s possible that if John Smith the Foreigner went alone to Beijing, bought a car, drove it back, and then showed up at the Hohhot Department of Motor Vehicles asking for a license plate, someone would take pity on the poor foreigner and give the license plate. But this would be a pretty big risk to take!
3. New vs. used
Linda was pretty set on a new car, but we did stop and asked about second hand cars. It seemed that 60-70,000 was about the starting price for most half-decent used cars. Tough thing is that the used dealers don’t give much in the way of guarantees, so this would be a bit risky unless you knew a lot about cars. If you just want a cheap car, you can actually get the cheapest Chinese models for about this amount (though there are good reasons why they are so cheap).
4.Where to buy
There are a ton of car dealerships on Haixi Road (Haixi Lu). This is on the way out to Jinchuan district. It’s not the only place in town with cars, but it is one of the best, with 15+ dealerships spread out along a mile or two strip of road. Dealerships include Chinese car companies, Nissan, Kia, Hyundai, Ford, etc. One thing to note is that ‘foreign’ cars here are split into two groups, imports and joint venture models (pinyin: “hezi”). The imports are always a lot more expensive than the joint ventures, so if you walk into a dealership to ask for prices and are blown away by how high they are, it’s worth asking if they’re selling imports or joint ventures. Often the same company (like Ford) will have two dealerships within a short walk of one another, one selling imports and the other joint ventures.
5. Finding information on car models
Can’t find info on a car? Check Wikipedia! I knew nothing about buying cars before this, and for some reason thought car  models were the same around the world. They’re not, and to confuse things even more, sometimes a company uses different names for the same car. So, for example, the car we bought is called the Hyundai Verna here in China, but the Hyundai Accent in the States. Or sometimes models are not available widely in the States, but available in China, like the Ford Ecosport. Wikipedia has a lot of (hopefully correct) information on all of this.
6. Financing the car
The key question is whether you’re looking to buy using a loan or can pay full cash. As I said, Linda being Chinese helped a lot, as I was told flat out I couldn’t get a loan as a foreigner. I didn’t really push things and try to ask if this was really true, as without a working visa and job I’m almost positive they were right. HOWEVER, I do know that foreigners in China with residence permits and jobs can sometimes use these to help with loans (I have a friend in Xiamen who did this when buying a house), so if someone with a RP and job was trying to buy a car and was given a flat ‘no’ regarding a loan, I would advise them to try to ask a manager or the loan supervisor at the dealership if they could call the bank to doublecheck things. There just aren’t a lot of foreigners buying cars in Hohhot, so I would never assume the salesperson knows what they’re talking about when it comes to this sort of thing.
We didn’t have enough money to pay in full, but I’m pretty sure it’d be easy for a foreigner to buy a car if they had all the money up front.
The financing rules are much stricter here. Each car dealership has a different bank/program they used for loans. Some dealers needed Linda to produce a certificate from a registered company saying that she was employed (impossible since she’s a freelancer), while others wanted to see her name on a certificate of home ownership. As I remember things, every dealership had a 30% down, pay the rest in 3 years option (with interest), and a couple had 20% down/3 years. At the time we didn’t see anything longer than 3 years, but when I went back a couple of days ago to service our car, Hyundai had a 5 year loan payback program.
Generally speaking, the financing requirements go higher the more years/money you want.We were basically closed out of all the bank loans because:
  1. Neither of us was working at a registered company;
  2. We didn’t want Linda’s parents to know we were taking out a loan (because if they had known they would have paid for us, which we didn’t want), and so couldn’t use their home ownership deed to cosponsor the loan;
  3. Linda’s name isn’t on a home deed .
If you can’t get a long term bank loan, the car companies themselves still usually have a 1 year 0% interest payback option with about 50-60% down.  I think it would be very difficult, perhaps impossible, to get the dealership to give this deal to a foreigner, but it’s certainly worth asking about.
The requirements of each dealership for this plan were once again different. We were very close to buying the Ford Ecosport, a nice looking miniSUV, and were basically ready to close the deal, when the salesman said that as part of their company requirements for the 1 year/0% payback option the company had to see a driver’s license from Linda, or a proof that she had passed at least 3 of the 4 tests needed for the driver’s license. Apparently this is done to ensure that the person paying the upfront money is really the person buying the car.As Linda had only just enrolled in driver’s ed, we were out of luck with Ford.
Hyundai, however, didn’t need the driver’s license, and instead just needed a proof from Linda’s driving school that she was enrolled there. A word to the wise, if you’re somehow randomly in the same position that we were in (aka Chinese/foreign couple buying a car together with the Chinese person just starting to prep for the driver’s exam), be sure to tell the driver’s school before enrolling that you’ll need them to give a proof of enrollment. Our school was pretty unwilling to do this, and we almost weren’t able to get the car because of it–luckily the school finally agreed.
7. Can you negotiate?
Of course you can bargain! Just like buying a car in the states, your salesman has the authority to bargain on price, extras, warranty, etc. By the end we had talked 6,000 RMB off the asking price, gotten an extra fourth year warranty, and a ‘free’ DVD/GPS system, ‘free’ seat covers, and ‘free’ air freshener.
8. Other expenses
Remember the taxes/registration fees. Let’s say you’ve just bought your new Hyundai Verna for 72,000 RMB, and made a 60% down payment of 44,000 RMB, with the rest of the car fees to be paid with a 0% dealership loan in 12 monthly installments of 2000+ RMB per month. Does this mean you got out of the whole thing for only 72,000? Nope. Between license registration, taxes, insurance (mandatory 1 year purchase), you’re looking at at least an extra 15,000 total, so almost 90,000 total.Taxes for more expensive cars would probably add even more, as I believe they are based on the purchase price.
9. Use of credit cards
You can use credit cards towards the ‘cash’ portion of the purchase. If you have a Chinese credit card and are looking to buy without a loan this could potentially be very helpful, as you could potentially buy the car with, let’s say 60,000 in real cash and 30,000 on your cards.
10. Other items to remember
Remember to ask about maintenance, warranties, etc. As stated mentioned above, we got the dealer to change our warranty from 3 years/100,000 km to 4 years 120,000 km. We also have a free maintenance/oil change within the first 6 months/5000 km. Some dealerships are at 3 months/5000 km, so be sure to check.
That was a lot, so three take home points:
1. It’s probably going to be a lot easier for a foreigner to buy if they can pay in full.
2. Failing that, you’d almost certainly need proof of employment and your residence permit, and even then you might run into problems when looking for a loan. It might be easier to apply for Chinese credit cards (though I have no idea how you’d do this, it seems like this should be simpler to do), and then use these to help ‘finance’ the car.
3. Go to a lot of different dealerships, and don’t accept your first (or second or third) ‘no’ as being the truth for all dealerships. Loan requirements/amounts vary greatly from dealership to dealership. A ‘no’ at Ford might just turn into a ‘yes’ at Hyundai, as it did for us.
If you’re willing to take the plunge, having the freedom to drive your own car really is a great feeling, with the only trick being to watch out for pedestrians, motorcyclists, 3 foot deep potholes, dogs, children, surveillance cameras, buses, and everything else that makes driving in China so much fun!
not interested in buying a car? Check out our post about renting one!

Cheddar cheese in Hohhot (and information about buying non-UHT milk)

If you don’t know this yet, I’m American. And, generally speaking, Americans like cheese. Especially cheddar cheese, which is seemingly lacking in Hohhot. I did find some at the second store mentioned in this post if you are willing to pay for it and buy in large quantities.

If not, here’s an article NPR posted today about how to make a “cheater” cheddar in an hour! I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m ready for it to rock our cheese-consuming world.

I’m not sure which of the spices needed are available locally because we generally bring those with us. You’ll also need rennet. I have no idea if that’s available locally either, but here’s a link for how to make it yourself.  (the home made version also requires stinging nettles. I don’t even know what that is!)

The recipe calls for non-UHT milk.

Here is what I know about buying milk that is not UHT:

It is available at most of the small milk bars/shops throughout the city. One brand/chain is called niu ma ma and has a green and white sign with a cow. (There name is on the bag in the picture below). It is boiled briefly to pasteurize and is sold in bottles by the jin or kg. A bottle is about 6-8 RMB, depending on if you already have a bottle you’ve paid a deposit for, how much you’re buying, etc. We’ve taken our own containers and they seemed happy to put the milk in our containers.


Another option is to make friends with someone who is a herdsman or who has family who is. They can help you acquire farm fresh milk.

The next option is to learn when the milk guy sells in your neighborhood. It’s normally a set day (or days) early in the morning at a certain location. You’ll need to have your own container. They generally have a van, or a cart with a big stainless steel tank. I know it may seem crazy to buy milk from the back of a van or a cart. But here’s our theory: If it was “bad” or contaminated, there is a much shorter chain from cow to your consumption. In this scenario, it’s generally cow to family member who sells the milk to you. If there’s a problem you can confront the seller directly and there’s not really anyone else he/she can blame. There may be less government oversight, but realistically, does that seem to help any situation? In the grocery store scenario there are many other vendors, suppliers, etc that they can shift blame to.

However you decide to get your non-UHT milk, you’ll need a gallon for this recipe.

And apple cider vinegar is readily available at larger supermarkets.

If you try this, leave a comment and let us know how it turned out! Happy cheese eating!

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Buying Imported Food Items


A visitor from Dalian commented on a previous post asking about import stores. I’ll share what I know, but others who know more please leave additional information in the comments.

Most of the large supermarkets (Carrefour (jia  le fu), Vanguard (wan da), Spar (mei te hao), Beijing Hualian, and Victory (wei duo li) have import sections that seem to have pasta, some cereal, pasta sauce, cookies, candy, chocolates, wine, drink mixes, and a host of other things that I don’t find particularly useful. Most of those larger stores also have a small selection of cheese in the diary section.

There are many small import shops throughout the city, but most sell things Chinese people would buy as gifts (crackers, cookies, candies, etc) more than products that foreigners want to cook with. Below is baidu’s map of what pulls up when one searches for import stores:

Some worth noting:
-Jenny’s is marked at point F on the above map. It’s the most well-known and has canned goods, cheeses, tortillas, pizza crust, cereal, etc.
-The basement of Wei Duo Li International Plaza (West of Spar) (corner of Xin Hua and Xing An) has an import store also.
-It didn’t map, but there is another small import store on the north/south road on the east side of Wan Da.
-Dong Wa Yao (东瓦窑). This is a wholesale market. There’s more about this market specifically at this post.
Other unverified information that needs help from our lovely readers:
-There was an imports store on the second floor of the big Minzu Supermarket downtown on Zhong Shan Lu. Is it still there? (You had to enter from the west side, not the main door on the south side)
-There was a restaurant supply store on the outskirts of town in a hu tong/ping fang style building on the northwest side of town. Is it still there? I heard it had a very large selection that included turkeys for Thanksgiving.That’s all I know, folks. I hope to have really good news for you all after the holiday about online shopping, but until then, enjoy running around town to find what you need!

Friday’s foreigner: Preston

After a couple weeks off, we’re back with our Friday’s foreigner series. This week, meet Preston!

**I’m editing this post to include a link to the guest post Preston submitted for us some time back about buying a car in Hohhot.**

What’s your name, where are you from, what brought you to Hohhot and when did you arrive?

My name is Preston Decker, and I’m from the Greater Boston area in the USA. I’m here in Hohhot because my wife is a Hohohotite, or Hohhotian, or Hohhotanese, or whatever you call someone from Hohhot. We came back here together in 2014 after working in Xiamen the two years previous to that.


If you are doing something different now than when you first arrived tell us about that also.

When Linda (my wife) and I first came here, I had just stopped teaching English at a high school in Xiamen, and was preparing to set up a translation service in the States (I already had several years of translation experience at the time). The translation service is going strong, and so I now have a translation business in the States. We’re only in China for a few months a year at most, so I don’t need to look for a job in Hohhot when we’re back.

If you have free time, what do you do with it?

I’ve been studying the Uyghur language for the last four years, which I became interested in during my year of teaching English in Xinjiang. Progress has been very slow, but that’s my main personal project at the moment. Other than that, exercise, preferably off in the Da Qing Mountains, or up on the plateau, but most often at the gym at Hailiang.
You’re recently returned to Hohhot after some time away. What, if any, differences or changes did you observe upon your return?

The Second Ring Road! My wife’s family’s home is right next to the south Second Ring Road (南二环). Last year this whole area was an absolute hellhole (sorry for the language, but it’s true), with tons of dust spewing into the air from construction, and roads that looked like they came right out of a Texas horror movie (potholes galore). We left to go back to America in June 2015, and just got back here a month ago—what a difference! The second ring road is beautiful, and we’ve saved hours already off our driving times (I have a driver’s license and my wife and I bought a car here two years ago). It used to take me over an hour to fight through city traffic up to the Da Qing Mountains to go hiking, but it now takes only 25 minutes via the Second Ring Road. Only 20 minutes to get to Jinchuan, whereas it used to be 45. 15 minutes to my wife’s driving school, down from 30. Good job by Hohhot on this one!

You’ve also lived in other parts of China, what comparisons and contrasts can you make about Hohhot in relation to other places?

I’ve lived in Tianjin, Beijing, Xiamen and Kuitun (Xinjiang). The easiest comparison is with Xinjiang, especially in terms of the terrain and cuisine—lots of open space and mutton. I still contend that there’s no better place in the world than Xinjiang because of its wonderful mix of deserts, alpine forests, grasslands, history and culture, but Inner Mongolia comes in a pretty close second of the places I’ve lived.

All of the cities I’ve lived in Northern China (Beijing, Hohhot, Kuitun) have been pretty bad in winter in terms of pollution, and Xiamen definitely comes out a cut ahead in that regard, although I’ve heard things are getting a bit worse there too.

Hohhot is definitely the most free-wheeling of these cities. I’m pretty sure some of the more gentle inhabitants of Xiamen would go running back home if asked to take an e-bike out into Hohhot traffic. I’d also say, oddly enough, that people in Hohhot are more parochial and conservative in their attitudes towards outsiders (and foreigners), even if they’re more boisterous with friends and relatives.

Surprisingly enough, Xinjiang has the most easily understandable Mandarin of these four cities. I think it’s because the Han people there mostly move out there in scattered groups, or as part of more diverse movements (the bingtuan 兵团, etc.) ,and so were forced to drop their local accents in favor of one with which they could communicate with each other more easily. Beijing has that great hamburger gurgle, while Xiamen residents struggle between being made fun of for their Mandarin (fu instead of hu, etc.) and trying to maintain their local language which is in danger of dying out. Xiamen Minnanhua really is a completely different language from Mandarin—I’ll never forget going to a church there filled with old Minnanhua speakers and listening to an interpreter translate the priest’s Mandarin into Minnanhua sentence by sentence.

What’s surprised me is how different the Mandarin accent is here: even after 15 years of Chinese study and 5 years in China, I still struggle to pick up Hohhot’s local Cidihua accent, especially when spoken by my wife’s family who live up near Bailingmiao (百灵庙)。

Favorite local food and where you like to get it:

Definitely Shao Mai and mutton of all kinds.

If you could make one city-wide change to Hohhot, what would it be?

How about a road that runs a circuit around the city at 80 km per hour and has no traffic lights? Oh wait…

Jokes aside, probably better trash collection. We live in the old part of the city, about a mile and a half south of Dazhao temple, and while it’s fun to wash the local dogs play amidst 10 feet high piles of trash, it would be nice to see those piles get cut down in size a bit.

If you had a friend visiting and could take them to only one place in Hohhot, where would it be?

The Da Qing Mountains or anywhere on the Inner Mongolia Plateau. I really like the country near Xilinhot, though that’s a long car trip away.

What’s the funniest thing you’ve experienced here?

Last year I developed a bit of an obsession for a little place on the Mongolian border north of Bailingmiao called Mandula (满都拉). It’s a secondary border crossing with Mongolia, only open during certain periods of the year, and I had the fantastic idea that it would be fun to go up there for a visit. So I drove up there last June. It was a beautiful drive, and I drove up past Zhaohe, before continuing through Bailingmiao and heading off towards Mandula.

Mandula is about 120 km past Bailingmiao (which itself is about 150km from Hohhot). There were no signs to warn away foreigners (I had been worried about that), and the country was beautiful, with alternating grasslands and hills. I even saw a couple of herds of camels.

I got up to Mandula and found it to be a one road town with a few earth houses and shops hugging the road. A cow lounged in the street. The border crossing had just closed two days before, and so the town was nearly deserted, although there was plenty of foreign goods (and I’m sure fake foreign goods as well) like alcohol and chocolate in the few stores that were open. If you’ve been to Erlian, you know the type, as all these goods come over the border from Mongolia.

I was having a grand time walking up and down the street, when a soldier in army fatigues spotted me and came over. He was clearly suspicious, and quickly called in his superior officer, who took me back to the base. They kept me there for four hours, questioning me about why I would ever come alone to see a place as remote as Mandula.

In fairness to them, the soldiers were quite nice and polite, and all border areas in China are rather sensitive, but it was still a nerve-wracking experience. As it turned out, part of the reason it took them so long to let me go is that none of their superior officers wanted to take responsibility for my situation, meaning my case got passed up a long line of officers, and then, as one of the soldiers said “we’ll have to wait a long time for the final decision to get passed back down that line.”

Luckily, the final decision was to let me go, which is why it’s a funny, not alarming, story.

So I guess the moral of the story is that although the surrounding area is beautiful, and although there’s no sign prohibiting a foreigner from driving a car up there, it’s probably best to stay away from Mandula.

What is the kindest thing a local has ever done for you?

Marrying me!



Used Furniture Markets

Here is an older post about some good finds at local used furniture markets, but it was recently requested that I add maps to the locations, so I hope this will be helpful in finding what you need. And, I’ve learned of at least one more since the previous post so it is included below as well.

I know of a few used furniture stores.  Descriptions, names, and locations are below.
1.  Name unknown and not marked with signage:  This one is located on Xhe Li Mu street just north (about 200 meters) of Gong Da’s west gate. It’s in a hutong/ping fang/courtyard style building and you have to wander in and out of each courtyard to find what you’re looking for.
Best finds:  small size dining room table for 60 RMB, large nice, solid wood dining table for 320

used furniture one


2.  旧货市场  jiu huo shi chang “Old goods market”  This is located on the north side of wu ta si xi jie (Wu Ta Si West Road).  It’s in a large warehouse style building with stall after stall of used items, in some cases stacked to the ceiling. They have furniture, commercial/industrial kitchens items, appliances, some new furniture, and items to random to list individually.
Best finds:   Commercial/Industrial Oven for 800 RMB
New 3-door wardrobe/closet/柜子 with many finishes/colors available:  300 RMB (2 doors for 200, 4 doors for 400)

used market 2
3.  旧家具店  jiu jia ju dian “Old Furniture Shop”  This is a very small shop located just west of the intersection of E’erduosi Road and Zhao Wu Da South Road on the south side of the street.  (red sign)  The selection is large considering the size of the shop, but definitely doesn’t have as much as the others, but they seemed to have a good selection of TVs.  The owner is really nice.
Best find:   Standing coat rack for 30 RMB

used market 3
4. 鑫春新旧货市场 xin chun xin jiu huo shi chang



This one is located on Zhan Dong Lu on the west side of the road, just south of the railroad tracks. This is a large lot with a warehouse of goods on the north side that is labeled something to the effect of “smoke free goods” but I doubt that. The south side of the lot has more individual stalls.

Best finds: a metal rack/shelf (like the ones sold on the bottom floor of guo mao for 150-300) for 40 RMB, a standing electric fan in like-new condition for 80 RMB.

And in the category of scariest finds, this item (pictured below) was sitting on one of the tables for sale.



Here are others that mapped that I have no personal experience with, but if you try them leave us a comment and let us know how they are. (F and G are mentioned above)

other markets

What are your best used store purchases? Leave us a comment.

Hohhot’s Drinking Water Options

Water. We all need it. And we all want it to be clean. Below is all the information I know about what types of water are available in Hohhot. Please leave a comment with any additional information you have!

1. Tap water. For our family, drinking straight from the tap has never happened for more than brushing our teeth. However, the lady who cleans our house does it regularly. And I know other locals who drink straight from the tap/faucet. I’ve heard many people say Hohhot’s water quality is much better than other cities. My husband’s teacher at Nei Da said that some neighborhoods get their water from a well and that if so, it’s quite clean (by China standards). If they don’t have a well, however, it’s pumped in from the Yellow River. (I don’t have a source for this information other than Zhang Lao Shi) If you don’t know about the pollution in the Yellow River a brief internet search should convince you that drinking from it isn’t a good idea. There are also the following studies that show arsenic in the water in the rural areas surrounding Hohhot. I don’t know if this is a concern for the city’s water supply as well, but it’s still information that should be considered.
So in review, the water from your tap may be clean well water, water from the Yellow River, or contain arsenic.

2. boiled tap water This is the drink of choice for the vast majority of the citizens of Hohhot. Every campus, office, dan wei, etc have huge stainless steel tanks that boil and dispense hot water. It’s transported to dorms, offices, etc in those glass thermoses in plastic casing with a handle we have all seen. We occasionally drink boiled water and I cook with it often. There are huge amounts of mineral deposits from the water in our kettle and thermos. I’m not a chemist so I don’t really know what that means. I also don’t know exactly what gets boiled out and what doesn’t. Would arsenic get boiled out? I don’t know. What pollutants from the Yellow River would get boiled out? I also don’t know. Gee. If this post were on Wikipedia it would definitely have a “this post needs more information and citations” labeling. One word of caution about this method of drinking water: If you are drinking from one of those large machines, check the temperature gauge. Sometimes they are faulty and not actually boiling (just below 100 degrees) which means you are just drinking hot tap water not actually boiled water.

3. purchased bottled water Every supermarket large or small sells bottled water. I’ve never heard of scares or outbreaks or disease related to consuming bottled water here. We occasionally buy them when we’re out and about or traveling and we’ve never had a problem. I think they’re aren’t safety concerns with this method as much as cost (at least 1 RMB per 500 ml) and environmental factors (production of plastic bottles, transportation of millions of plastic bottles, etc).

4. large blue delivery bottles This water is the type of water that is delivered to your home and placed on top of a dispenser. (Or my Korean friend has a really cool hand pump you attach to the top and no need for a large, bulky dispenser and no lifting the bottle to a high location either!) This water costs somewhere between 10-15 RMB for 18.9 L/5 gal. I know each company has different offerings. The company we use has the following offerings: 纯净饮用水 clean drinking water. This one costs 10-12 RMB/bottle. 活性水 literally translate “activated” water. I’m guessing that means something like de-ionized water, but again, I’m no chemist or expert about any of this. It’s 13/bottle. They have a higher level that’s 15/bottle but I don’t have one here to see the actual name of the product. Next time we splurge for the fancy water, I’ll try to update this post. Some considerations for this kind of drinking water: I have some friend in another city in China who work for a company that employs large numbers of foreigners in China and their company recommends not buying the lowest level of water as they have linked it to higher incidences of kidney stones. We follow this advice because my husband has already walked the grueling kidney stone road twice and we prefer not to do that again and if a few RMB a week can help, we’ll do it. (Our family of four uses about 1.5 to 2 bottles of this water a week).

-mold. If you’re using a machine that heats the water for you, you need to take it apart and check it regularly for mold growing in the tubes inside the machine. We have check ours every couple of months and pour bleach water through the machine then rinse it well. We’ve had mold in there more than once and I know others have had the same problem, so check it out.

-BPA. I don’t know how to confirm this, but I know when I worked at a preschool in the US some parents complained about using these blue 5 gallon dispenser bottles because the plastic in the bottles contains BPA. I’m assuming if they contain BPA in the States, they probably do here as well.
My personal thoughts on this topic are that BPA is a dangerous chemical, however, arsenic is also dangerous. Giardia is dangerous. Yellow River pollutants are dangerous. I think you just have to decide what risks your family is willing to take.

5.filtered water It is becoming increasing popular to purchase a water filtration system for one’s home. I personally think this would be the best option. However, our house didn’t come with one already installed and the 5000 RMB or so to install one has been cost-prohibitive for us so far. (especially with the transient nature of expat life of never knowing for certain how long you’ll be in one place or one house) Some neighborhoods have them installed for the entire building or neighborhood. I personally wouldn’t like that option as much as one for my individual home because you have to trust that whoever is in charge of upkeep and changing the filters is actually doing his/her job. I would just like to be in charge of the system and know it’s being maintained myself. They are many outlets that sell these systems and some big department stores or electronics/appliance stores do as well.  That I what I know about drinking water in Hohhot, and it clearly isn’t very much. Please, add to this discussion with your thoughts, comments, and additional information!

Expat Life

How many expats are in Hohhot?
Good question. I get asked this all the time. My response is also a question….what do you mean by “foreigner?” Do you mean Westerners? Do you mean anyone who is not Asian? Do you mean anyone who is not holds a passport from a country other than China?

If one assumes we are counting all foreign passport holders my best guest is roughly 5000. Although in 11/2015 the clinic where all foreigners have to get their yearly health exams told me they processed “hao ji qian” (quite a few thousand)

Here is how I reached that number:

English Training schools: This number is hard to know because the number of these schools hiring foreigners is increasing rapidly. Also, there is some overlap since some of these schools hire part time teachers who would be counted in another category (students, perhaps). =a few hundred, possibly nearing 1000

University teachers: 10+ universities with 10ish teachers each. Some have more, some have less and we’re counting all foreign teachers (Japanese, German, Russian, English, Mongolian, etc)=a few hundred

University foreign students: 600-700 at Nei Da, plus Hong De, Shi Da, Gong Da, Nong da= roughly 1000??

Foreign workers other than teachers=I’m including Asian businessmen from Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, etc.=a few hundred

Mongolians=several thousand. It’s my understanding they don’t need a visa if they leave every 30 days so they can just run to the border and back each month. I know there are many marriages where one spouse is from Outer Mongolia and there are many others here working. I know most wouldn’t count them as “foreigners” because of the cultural similarities and the language and because they don’t stick out that much, but for the purpose of this post we’re counting all non-Chinese citizens.

Again, this is nothing official, just my best guess.

There are also a large number of western businessmen who come through for the dairy or mining industry but they generally only arrive at their hotel, go out to the dairy or mining site, return to the hotel, and fly back out. From my experience working at the hotel they generally don’t have time to socialize.

There are also probably another few hundred Hohhot locals who have traveled abroad to gain citizenship to another country but who live in Hohhot currently. Since we’re counting foreign passport holders here, they’d be included in the count. 

What is the expat community like?

I wouldn’t yet say that there is an “expat community” in Hohhot. Mostly, the expats here are still largely unconnected to one another. Some have groups of friends, but those groups of friends may or may not know the other groups.

The other problem is even if they wanted to know each other, businessmen and university teachers work a business day-like schedule. The private training school teachers work evenings and weekends generally, meaning the two groups don’t often cross paths.


Are there frequent expat gatherings?

Pub Quiz Weekly on Tuesday night

Hohhot International Church meets on Sundays

Yes. But I’d say they only happen in small groups, not in big events where everyone is together. There are wechat groups that the expats use to connect with one another.

Many of the private school teachers hang out on Sunday evenings since Monday is generally a day off for many of them.

There are also many other events arranged by other groups and we’ll post that information when it’s provided to us. Also check out the forum for other events.

In the past, this website has partnered with the Air China Phoenix Hotel to host a monthly expat gathering. If you’d like to be included on the mailing list for such events, sign up below.

Sign up for the EXPAT EXCHANGE mailing list

What countries are represented?

Again, I don’t have any official statistics, but in my time here, I have known or known of people from the following countries: Mongolia, Japan, Russia, Korea, Finland, Czech Republic, Australia, UK, Poland, USA, Canada, Spain, Belgium, Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Denmark, South Africa, Togo, Nigeria, Liberia, Jamaica, Germany, Cambodia, Jordan, Pakistan, and Egypt.

How do foreigners connect with other foreigners?

I think mostly through introduction by a mutual friend, whether that friend be a foreigner or local. We hope this website and the EXPAT EXCHANGE can help expats in Hohhot connect with one another. Please check out the forum leave a comment on the blog if you’d like to connect or have questions.

There are also several wechat groups. You can follow me at hohhotjill and I can invite you to the groups.

Other things to know

1. If you’re coming here to study, you should learn what you can about your school. I have links to most of the universities with foreign students here.

If you’re coming to teach at a private school or at a university you should understand the terms of your contract clearly. Although I personally have never been a teacher, the most common complaint I hear is that the schools always want you to work more than is stated in the contract.

You should also understand China’s visa laws and policies and understand what kind of work is (or is not allowed) for your visa type.

2. Hohhot is cold. (understatement, right?) The winter is generally seven months long. The public central heating turns on November 15th and off April 15th. The climate is dry and generally there isn’t much snow or rain. You should be prepared with lots of warm clothes. However, most places indoors have more than adequate heating.

3. It’s my personal opinion that Hohhot is a city where you need to be able to speak at least basic Chinese in order to survive. You may be able to survive without it, but you will not thrive. As stated earlier, they expat community is still relatively small and the number of locals with a high level of English is not like in other larger cities in China. I always hear taxi drivers or shopkeepers tell me stories about the foreigners they meet who don’t speak Chinese and the ways they try to communicate with them.  You may be able to have a few classmates or co-workers as friends, but you will not be able to develop the social network needed for successful living here without some Chinese.

Previous posts about expat life in Hohhot

Field trips/Family Outings

Expat Life Posts

Getting a Driver’s License

Visa Information

More Visa Information

Buying Used Furniture

Buying Imported Grocery Items

Medical Care

cost of living in Hohhot

renting a car

Finding a House

top ten things we’ve experienced here

housing posts

finding a gym

10 Strange Things about Hohhot

sign up on expat mailing list

date ideas

Why I call Hohhot Home

My Dreams for Hohhot

books about Hohhot


Around the city

Getting Here

Hohhot has an airport with a growing number of flights.  It’s pretty convenient to travel to many of China’s other large cities.  If there isn’t a direct flight, the are numerous flights a day to Beijing and from there you can connect to just about anywhere.  There is one international flight to Ulanbatar.
I’ve also heard a direct flight to Taiwan has begun (Jan 2014)
Discounted tickets can be found on ctrip, elong and qunar.
There are two train stations in Hohhot with a third one in the works in the coming years.  The rail system can get you to/from pretty much anywhere you want to go in China.
There are also 2 long-distance bus stations. Buses go to a few relatively close large cities outside Inner Mongolia, but you can travel by bus to almost anywhere within the province.  A recent change (Nov 2012) is that you must present the passport numbers for every individual buying a bus ticket.  This means one friend can’t go to buy all the tickets unless he/she also takes the passports numbers for the whole group.
Airport transportation
Taxis are available from the airport and a somewhat recent change is that they no longer overcharge. They now have to use their meter. There is also an airport bus. Tickets are 10 RMB. It goes to the city square, but makes stops along XIn Hua as passengers request.

Getting Around Once You Arrive

There are 5 main options for getting around the city once you’re here:  taxi, bus, private car, bicycle/electric bike, and your feet!
The traffic in Hohhot is TERRIBLE.  Be prepared for it to take longer that you anticipated to get anywhere.
Taxis start at 8 RMB but it is often difficult to find one.  This is especially true when the weather is bad and they are in higher demand.  Often taxis who are already carrying a passenger will stop and ask where you are going and will pick you up also if it’s in the same direction.  In the case that you share a taxi generally both parties pay the full fare (no discount for riding together).  Be advised that very few taxi drivers speak English.
Buses are 1 RMB except for a few buses that are free as part of a new “green” initiative.  They are crowded especially at peak hours.  Because the buses often get held up at the same intersection, they often end up all together.  (Meaning 3 of the same number arrive at the same time and then not again for half an hour or so instead of coming 10-15 minutes apart).
Xin Hua at peak driving time

Xin Hua at peak driving time

The number of citizens who own private cars is increasing rapidly.  Some private cars will pull over and take you to your destination as a taxi would.  They will charge more than a registered taxi (probably about 20 RMB).
Traffic at non-peak hours

Traffic at non-peak hours

You can also rent a car (with driver) at most travel agencies.  If you have a Chinese Driver’s License you can rent a car to drive yourself.  Prices depend on type of car, distance, and time. A small to mid-seized sedan is about 150 RMB/day (if driving yourself) but requires a large deposit.
Bicycles and electric bikes are extremely common and arguably the best way to get around.  They’re no fun when it’s freezing or raining, but at least you’re making progress to your destination and not waiting on the street for a bus or taxi.  Also, because of traffic they are generally actually faster than the other options.  A decent bike can be purchased for a few hundred RMB and a decent electric bike for 1500-3000 RMB.
There are many bike shops along Zhong Shan Lu (pictured here)

There are many bike shops along Zhong Shan Lu (pictured here)

If you don’t like any of the above options, you can always choose to walk!
According to the City Planning Exhibition Hall tour, a subway is in the works to begin construction in 2014 and will take 3-4 years to complete.
Hohhot bus routes in Chinese. We hope to get the routes up in pin yin or English in the future.
search for a bus route here Must search in Chinese, but the directions have been highly accurate each time I’ve used it.

Learning the City

Hohhot has 4 districts, 3 development zones, and some suburbs/outlying counties that are often considered when defining Hohhot’s boundaries.  We’ll refer to the city districts and development zones often on this site.  Below is a list of them.
新城区 Xin Cheng Qu (New City) district is basically the north and northeast side of the city.
回民区 Hui Min Qu The Hui Min District is roughly the northwest side of the city.
赛罕区 Sai Han District is the city’s newest created district and is the southeast part.
玉泉区 Yu Quan District is also referred to as the Old City.  It is located in the southwest part of Hohhot.
Development Zones:
如意开发区 Ru Yi Development Zone is on the east side of the city not far from the airport.
金桥开发区 Jin Qiao Development Zone is on the far south side of the city.  Much of this area is still under construction.
金川开发区 Jin Chuan Development Zone is on the far west side of the city.  China’s two largest dairies’ headquarters are here. (Yili and Meng Niu)

The video below is from November 2012. It shows a 360 view of Hohhot starting just south of the Exhibition Hall, looking north, then moves east, south, west, and back to north.

Links to Previous Posts that may be helpful for learning the city:

Learning the City Part One

Learning the City Part Two

Learning the City Part Three

Learning the City Part Four

Learning the City Part Five

Learning the City Part Six

Changes to Hohhot’s Intersections Jan 2014

Mo Er Cheng-Victory City Mall

New Airport

Rental Bikes

more on public rental bikes

new flights

Locations of imported grocery stores

top ten tourist attractions-my picks

kids’ activities

Useful Addresses and Phone Numbers

More Public Office Addresses

Aertai Park

Biking Rules

renting a car

transportation posts

Ten Strange Things about Hohhot

Hohhot’s Postal Codes

Date Ideas




Local Specialties

Types of food:
Mongolian:  see below for specific dishes
Dong Bei Cai:  literally “northeastern food”  There are many of these restaurants in Hohhot.  Food is generally a bit salty.
Hot Pot: a boiling pot of soup where you order and add your own meats, vegetables, and noodles
Shao Kao:  barbequed/grilled anything-you-want on a stick
Western food:  Hohhot has a French restaurant, German restaurant, a few Italian restaurants, and of course Western fast food
Korean:  both Korean dishes and Korean barbeque are available.  The Koreans here say the Korean barbeque is terribly inauthentic.
Japanese:  a large selection of Japanese restaurants is available
Hui:  a Muslim ethnic minority here, some dishes are unique but mostly they are similar to traditional Chinese stir-fry, but without pork of any kind
Uighur: another Muslim ethnic minority, see below for specific dishes
Specific Dishes (local specialties)
you mian 莜面:  This is a noodle made from a buckwheat or oat flour.  It is generally eaten as a cold dish or in a soup.

you mian “liang tang” or cold soup. Most restaurants also offer hot mutton or pork soup


You mian “dun dun.” rolled you mian with carrot and potato pieces

dui jia 对夹:  a sandwich-like food filled with egg, chicken, or beef
la pi 拉皮:  potato starch noodles, normally served as a cold dish but sometimes stir-fried with meat
men mian 焖面:  a big pot filled with noodles or bread (like dinner rolls) and your choice of meat and vegetables.  The dish is saucy but not a soup
hui cai 烩菜:  generally has pork, potatoes, fermented cabbage, and potato starch noodles, although there are some other varieties
shao mai 烧麦: a kind of dumpling, similar to jiao zi but with thinner wrapping and sealed at the top
nai cha 奶茶:  milk tea.  salty, not sweet and generally served with other things to dip/soak in it (some are listed below)
nai shi pin 奶食品:  literally “milk food products” and sometimes translated as cheese. In Mongolian the name translates as “white food.” They come in different varieties but all are made from cultured/soured milk, made into different shapes and hardened, and eaten plain or in milk tea.  In homes they are generally very sour but pre-packaged varieties can be purchased in the supermarket and are much sweeter and softer.
zha guo zi/guo tiao 炸果子/果条:  small fried pieces of dough/brad for dipping/soaking in milk tea
nai you ban chao mi 奶油拌炒米:  cream and millet
tai yang bing/rou bing/xian(r) bing 太阳饼/肉饼/馅儿饼:  meat-filled pancakes.
kao yang tui 烤羊腿:  roasted leg of lamb
shou ba rou 手把肉:  boiled mutton still on the bone…eaten by cutting off bite-sized pieces with a knife
jian bing 煎饼:  you can see this food being sold from small carts all across the city.  It’s a thin pancake-like food with egg, fried dough, onions, cilantro, and sauce.
bei zi 焙子: a breakfast food also sold from carts.  It’s a layered bread that comes in a variety of flavors/fillings