Archive for hotels

check out these hostels when traveling in China!

Each of these hostels, including Ba Fu Guest House in Hohhot, is offering a special deal to stay one night for the low price of 10 yuan plus a book! Each of the places has restrictions for when the deal applies (not usually on national holidays). 10 yuan is a great deal if your travel location and time line up with one of these deals! There are some great locations on the list: Xishuangbana, Xining, Wuhan, Taiyuan, and others!

 
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Skiing in Inner Mongolia

Today’s post comes at a reader’s request via email. Here’s what I know about ski resorts in Inner Mongolia. It’s not much so please leave a comment if you have additional information.

Da Qing Shan Tai Wei Golf Resort

Golf, Skiing and Giant Luxury Single Family Homes (clearly, the subtitle is of my own rendering)

Located north of Hohhot this resort has one slope. They operate the ski slope in the winter months and the golf course in the summer months.

You can follow their wechat account at:  nmgtw_djc

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ski slope

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luxury homes

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reception/hotel/activity center

 

If you want to get out of Hohhot, Chifeng is home to a large ski resort called Mei Lin Valley (My Lin Valley). Their website appears to be down, but you can follow them on wechat at: mylin_valley. I’ve never been there, but it’s rumored to be Asia’s largest ski resort.

You can get information by phone at:   0476-3962888

 

Have you been skiing in Hohhot? In China? Tell us about it in the comments.

hotels in Inner Mongolia

Just a word of reminder or maybe as a PSA or something…not all hotels can accept foreign guests and we seem to be in a season of it being a bit more difficult as a foreigner to stay in a lower budget hotel.

We’ve done some traveling this summer and even a hotel in Si Zi Wang Qi where we had stayed previously turned us away this time, as did 2 others. When you’re in small Qi centers, sometimes only the largest, nicest hotel will be able to accept foreign guests.

It seems like these restrictions may be tightening in Hohhot as well. Recently while making bookings for some friends coming to visit us here in Hohhot, we had the same problem with even chain hotels (7 Days and Hanting) either truly not being allowed to house foreign guests or not wanting to go to the trouble.

Have you ever been turned away from a hotel?

Or, what is the worst, lowest-quality hotel you were allowed to stay at that maybe you wished they hadn’t allowed you to? My husband is certain he’ll win this little comparison.

Hotels in China: Five Arguments that Aren’t Worth Having

Don’t let the title fool you. I’ve attempted to argue most of these and still occasionally do even though I know it’s not going to help. Our family has been doing more traveling than we like recently, which means staying in hotels, which means I’ve had to re-visit some of these issues myself so maybe we could all use a reminder. Being aware of some of these issues may help you, dear traveler, to lower your expectations (and perhaps stress level?) about some of these common occurrences in our fair city and across this country.

I know those of you who live here are familiar with most of these issues, but a large number of our readers aren’t local to Hohhot or China and may just be passing through. This article is intended more for the second group.

And as another word of preface, I am by no means an expert in these matters, but I did work at hotel in Hohhot for a year so I can better understand things from the hotel’s perspective now, although I still tend to side with the guests. Anyway, I hope this post is helpful in aligning your expectations with the realities of Chinese hotels.

 

1. Why do you need such a large deposit?

Everything in China works on a deposit system. Almost everything is paid in advance, no in arrears. Utilities, cell phone service, internet service, everything I can think of is paid in advance. Hotels are no different. However, not only is the hotel fee itself expected in advance, so is a large deposit, sometimes as much as twice the room rate. When I worked at the hotel, this was the most common complaint from foreign guests. They didn’t like being charged so much and felt the hotel was being distrustful of them. They didn’t like their cash being tied up at the hotel or a large amount being held, and therefore unavailable, on their credit card. Once in Beijing I was even charged a deposit to use a hair dryer! It is annoying, however, I now understand from the hotel’s perspective that sometimes an entire tour group of people will leave without officially checking out, having run up a phone bill and cleared out the mini bar of every room they booked. Those situations are rare, but they are the reason the hotels like a sizable deposit. One possible compromise to this situation is to ask to pay day by day. I feel like generally most hotels will agree to this. You keep more of your cash, but you’ll still have to pay a deposit each day. Another down side to this is that the staff will hunt you down every day to get your deposit. You may also find your room card will not work until you’ve paid the next day’s deposit.

 

2.  Why is the pool so cold? Why do I need to pay for the pool? Why can’t I wear this? Why do I have to wear that?

Swimming pools. There are three main arguments that arise about swimming pools. I’ll deal with each of them separately.

  1. The scenario generally goes something like this: Foreign Guest books hotel online and sees pictures of an inviting swimming pool. Foreign Guest arrives, checks in and makes his/her way to the pool. The clerk asks for payment. The guest tries to explain that he/she is a guest of the hotel. The clerk doesn’t understand why the guest won’t pay and therefore won’t let guest enter. Foreign Guest leaves angry, not understanding what happened. Even if a hotel in China has a swimming pool, there is an additional fee to use the pool. Occasionally the hotel and the pool on the hotel grounds aren’t even the same company. Just because one is a guest of the hotel, one still has to pay the fee to enter the swimming pool. The one main exception to this is if the reservation is booked through a company contract and the company contract rate includes using the pool. THIS CASE IS RARE! Be aware that many of the advertised “perks” of a hotel may require additional fees (gym, pool tables, sauna, etc).
  2. Proper swimming attire is expected. The conflict here occurs when defining what proper swimming attire is. For China, it means a swimming cap MUST be worn. If you don’t have one, one can almost always be purchased at the swimming pool. If it’s a really nice hotel, the price for the cap will be much more than had you bought one yourself outside. In Hohhot, you can buy one at a sports store or swimwear store for 10 RMB but it may cost as much as 40 RMB at a nicer pool. Occasionally goggles may also be required. Here’s another point of conflict for American and Australian men: your swimming trunks may not be considered proper attire. In China, men wear speedo-type swimsuits and that style or suit is generally the only one considered “proper.” I know American men who have been denied entrance to the pool because of their swim trunks. Again, “proper” suits can normally be purchased at the pool.
  3. The pool is too cold. If you read any hotel reviews on China travel websites, you’ll see this complaint listed over and over and over. When I first moved to China, this issue annoyed me greatly, too. Then as more time passed, I just began to think maybe I was being a wimp about water temp or that maybe I had just forgotten what the water in a “normal” American pool felt like. Then, once at the hotel where I worked a guest from Finland registered a complaint about the water temperature. If a Scandinavian felt like it was too cold, I felt more justified in my complaint. However, that complaining won’t change the temperature of the water. Whether it is or not, when you ask/complain about it, the staff will generally tell you that they keep the water at the “international standard.” I don’t know what the “international standard” is, but my best guess is that it’s the temperature for competitions such as the Olympics. You know, the kind with well-trained athletes who are only in the water for a short time because they are swimming at warp speed. For the rest of us that temperature feels cold. And even if they really aren’t keeping it at the “international standard” I’ve never heard a hotel say, “Oh sorry. We’ll heat the water up for you.” So regardless of how cold it feels, I don’t think complaining about it will bring any resolution.

 

3. The air conditioning doesn’t work properly.

If you’re staying in the hotel with the small unit air conditioner with a remote, you may have better luck arguing this point and you may be able to change rooms.  However, if you are staying the “nicer” hotels with actual HVAC systems and built-in thermostats and try to argue this point, I say good luck.
You will also have better luck arguing this between April 15th and October 15th when the public heating is off, but regardless of your personal preferences for room temperature, if it’s during the time the heating is on, there is only a very, very slim chance that the air conditioner will actually cool.

As you may know if you follow the blog I am currently largely pregnant and it’s summertime. But the five star hotel we stayed in during our recent trip to Kangbashi (more on that in a later post) had “air conditioning” that didn’t actually cool the air. Not even a little bit. The hotel’s response was that we only needed the fan and that the AC part was being repaired.
I’ve had the thermostat-type air conditioners not work properly often, but I’ve never had a hotel actually try to fix it. Mostly, they just give some reason why you don’t really need it. My best guess is that because the number of days/weeks that one is truly needed in Hohhot (and most of Inner Mongolia) is so small that often don’t actually have the ability to cool and are only for show. Sorry!

4. The “Western breakfast” isn’t Western at all.

You are probably right. It probably has lots of Chinese dishes, fruit, yogurt, hot milk, and because we’re in Inner Mongolia, milk tea with the proper stuff to dip in it. Western breakfast probably means buffet style more than it actually refers to the type of food served. At one of our recent stays where a “Western breakfast” was included they had toast. But not a single thing available to spread on the toast. No butter or jelly or anything. They also had breakfast cereal, but they served it with yogurt. Pretty close, but cold milk would have been better.
Again, the reason arguing this isn’t worth it is because they probably don’t have whatever Western food item or condiment you desire anyway and the breakfast is intended to please the vast majority of their guests, who are probably Chinese.

5. But the advertisement/service guide said…

Truth in advertising isn’t really enforced in any way here. And if you’re trying to argue something you saw in the hotel service guide, particularly if you’re reading the English version, you should know that may or may not have been updated since the hotel opened. Or, it may simply be a template of another hotel they downloaded and put in the book in your room. Seriously, sometimes the name isn’t even correct.
Also, arguing for the hotel to provide some service or perk they don’t actually have won’t work. Asking for a refund or some kind might work, but is highly unlikely.

 

I hope this list doesn’t discourage you. There are great hotels with great service and the value of what amenities you’re getting for the price you’re paying is often quite good. However, knowing some of the things above may help your expectations.

 

Have you argued with a hotel about these things and gotten a great resolution? Want to brag on a hotel or share about one you don’t recommend with our readers? Leave us a comment.

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Hohhot Life Hacks, part two: life with kids

This is our second post in a series designed to help you make some everyday aspects of life here cheaper, easier, or more functional. Our first hack post can be found here. We’ll offer five hacks per post. Today’s posts focuses on hacks for kids. Have a Hohhot hack of your own? Leave a comment for us!

SIX: Boxed milk is expensive.

Not as expensive as fresh milk, but still expensive. And yet, the boxes are so convenient to take on-the-go. Anyway, paying 40-60 RMB a case adds up if you do it week after week. Here’s a little trick I’ve learned…
Hack: Check out a smaller grocery store. There is always something half price!

I have found the best prices for the cases of boxes of kid’s milk with straws are the small, local grocery stores, not the big supermarkets. This has been true in both neighborhoods I’ve live in recently. Almost every week, there is something on sale for a buy-one-get-one promotion. Sometimes it’s even the fancy organic milk. Half price is much more affordable!

A side note: I would still read the labels if you’re able. All these boxed milks have pretty high sugar content and some are more like a “milk-like drink” than actual milk. Even the fancy organic milks have sugar listed as an ingredient most of the time.

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SEVEN: Kids’ shoes everywhere?

We have two kids and another on the way and I feel like our doorway area is generally a disaster. Winter is even worse when there are coats and hats and mittens and scarves and layers of clothes. I’ve tried multiple systems for organizing our chaos, and one that is working especially well right now is this one:

Hack: Use a small coat rack (or some other kinds of hooks) installed close to the floor.

keeping kids’ shoes tidy

This method allows my kids to keep their shoes tidy themselves and it cost less 20 RMB. The rack was 15 RMB at a hardware store near our home and the stick- back hooks are about 4-5 RMB for a three pack.

 

EIGHT: Kids waking up too early?

Summer in Hohhot: where it’s daytime bright at 5:00 am. And although I wish I was up and ready to start the day that early, I’m just not. But if it gets that bright in my kids’ room, they will be.

Even though the installed drapes in the room where they sleep are fairly thick, they were still just letting in too much light.

Hack: Black out curtain

They have these silver, sort-of-plastic-y curtains that are made for blocking the sun. But, I’ve looked everywhere I can think of locally and haven’t found any yet. We used this curtain, hung it up inside the window sill with a tension rod. We have since gone all the way redneck and also fashioned black trash bags to the back of it. I’m sure we’re the most loved neighbors in our complex :). This hack cost about 60 RMB. And our girls are sleeping until 7 most mornings now.

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NINE: Diapers are expensive.

I wasn’t aware before we moved back here in 2012 with an almost one year old that diapers are more expensive here than America. In the States we generally bought either Target or some grocery store brand of diapers that cost roughly 1 RMB per diaper when you work out all the math. I don’t think any brand here is that cheap and most cost closer to 2 RMB (or more) per diaper.

I know some people save by ordering from amazon or taobao but I’ve never found significantly better deals there myself. Here’s our solution:

Hack: Use a cloth diaper cover and a “U type” diaper.

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Truthfully, I’m not sure how locals use these, but we stick these sticky-backed U shaped diapers into a cloth diaper cover, and it reduces our diaper cost to less than 1 RMB per diaper. This package above is normally 16 RMB for 20 inserts. They hold as much as a typical diaper, they just don’t have anything that wraps around the child’s waist. They have three sections of adhesive which hold them in place inside the cover.

You do have to have cloth diaper covers to make this method effective, but we have plenty of those on hand so it works for us.

 

TEN: Staying in a typical Chinese hotel with more than one child

China’s standard rooms have two twin beds or one large bed. Sometimes you get lucky and the two beds are a little larger that twin size and generally the large bed is big enough that theoretically parents and child could share, but in our family we’re accustomed to our kids having their own bed. Figuring out where to sleep all four of us comfortably in two small or one large bed is a challenge.
Our solution when we have to travel has been:

Hack: Try a three person room

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The pictures above are from a hotel in Si Zi Wang Qi/Wu Lan Hua, which is about 2 hours north of Hohhot. This room with three 1.2 meter beds cost us just over 100 RMB per night. The girls can easily share a bed and we can sleep comfortably.

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If you find yourself in Si Zi Wang Qi, here’s the card for the hotel pictured above. (Si Zi Wang Qi is the kind of the middle point between the two closest grasslands tourist areas, Zhao He/Xilamuren and Gegentala).
Another advantage of this room type is that the rooms are not used as often so there’s a chance they are a bit cleaner.
However, we recently tried the strategy when we went to Tianjin and it didn’t work so well. At the hotel in Tianjin the three person rooms were in a separate building than the standard rooms and they were much lower quality than the standard rooms. In that case, the price we were paying wasn’t a good value for the room we got, but we also weren’t cramped into beds that didn’t suit our family.

 

Baotou-Xilamuren Grasslands-Singing Sands-Kangbashi-Genghis Khan Mausoleum travel experience

Here’s another travel experience from a reader to share with you. This reader recently returned to China after studying in the US. Her trip included visiting Baotou, Singing Sands Desert, the Genghis Khan Mausoleum, and Xilamuren Grasslands.

by Sidi Zhu

I had such a great experience in Inner Mongolia, and I really want to visit again and again.

Whenever Inner Mongolia is mentioned, the first thing that comes to my mind is the grassland with horses and sheep running around. I met a friend from Inner Mongolia six years ago while we were studying for TOEFL in a language school in Beijing, and I promised her that I will visit her because I had longed for the grassland since I was a kid. I didn’t expect that this promise would take me so long to turn into truth, but I finally visited Baotou, where my friend grows up, in the first year that I start to work.

Baotou Airport is a little discouraging as it is a not well-equipped small one, but we definitely changed our mind on the ride to our hotel. We stopped at Wanda Plaza, which is near our hotel for some snacks and found the city is very modern compared to what we have imagined: grasslands, animals and Mongolian tents!

The night view from our hotel room

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Since we had a really short vacation, my friend suggested three must-visit places: the Xilamuren Grassland (also called Zhao He), Xiangshawan Desert (also called Singing Sands), and the Tomb of Genghis Khan (also called Genghis Khan Mausoleum)




The first day was freezing, and it took three hours to arrive Xilamuren Grassland. On the way to the grassland, there are lots of sunflower fields for tourism. Even though we were a little late for the best season of the sunflowers, we were still impressed by the beautiful landscape, which reminded me of the U.S. country roads.

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The highlight of the day must be the horse riding, which lasted around an hour and made our legs hurting for the rest of the vacation. However, I definitely will ride again when I visit the next time.

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The day we visited the desert the weather was perfect! It was not hot, but sunny. It is definitely the best part of this trip. It has so many activities that you can play multiple times with one day pass ticket. I have tried the cable cart that I always wanted to try, the desert boat car, the amphibious car and the camel riding. There are plenty of activities for you to stay there a whole day without feeling bored, not to mention the great background of the desert! The landform is just amazing! You can see desert beside valleys which have small rivers flowing under.  We were so impressed by the gorgeous view of Xiangshawan.

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The afternoon after we played a whole day in the desert we went to Kangbashi city, which is another beautiful modern city that has so many museums and theme squares while only having a very light population. We stayed there for a night, enjoyed the creative buildings and the music fountains. It was such a relaxing night.

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For us, the visit of the tomb of Genghis Khan might be the least appealing because we were not very big on history and it is not the real place where Genghis Khan is buried. And the English translations in the museum really need some improvement, both of my foreign friends can’t understand most of the time.

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On the last day, we went back Baotou and had a short visit of the city. Mainly Saihantala, the grassland in the middle of the city. It’s very impressive that they have deer raising inside with no fences, which is actually a petting zoo of deer! We all love deer and had lots of fun feeding and touching them, and we somewhat learned they are not as gentle animals as they seem to be.

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All in all, we had so much fun traveling in Inner Mongolia, and found out how beautiful and wealthy this place is. I am surely planning my next trip there already!

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Swimming Pools in Hohhot

I haven’t been posting much recently, but I have been responding to the emails receive. The next few posts will be a series of questions I have answered over email, but haven’t yet posted about. Maybe some of the answers will be useful to you

The next question was from a reader wanting information about swimming pools in Hohhot. Below is my reply (with a few additions).

Here are a few “ground rules” about swimming in Hohhot that may be useful to know beforehand.

1. If you read any travel site with hotel reviews from foreigners visiting China, you will see the same complaint over and over and over: the water is too cold. At first I thought maybe I was just being whiny, but when I worked at a local hotel and a guest from Finland complained about the water being cold, I felt a bit more justified. Complaining about the temperature doesn’t help. The staff will tell you that it is kept at the “international standard.” And it might actually be. However I’m sure the “international standard” is the one used for Olympic competitions and such. And I don’t know about you, but I’m not swimming at the intensity Olympic swimmers are, and therefore, the water feels cold to me.

2. You must have proper swimming attire. Perhaps this cultural difference is most starkly contrasted to America, but I’ll include it anyway. Of course this means a swimsuit, but it also means a swim cap and sometimes goggles. Without a cap, you can’t get in. Most of the nicer places have a shop where you can purchase or, get on in advance at any sporting goods store. Male swimmers, be forewarned: I have heard stories of dudes being turned away for wearing swimming trunks. In the minds of Chinese swimming pool workers, appropriate swim wear for men means a speedo and sometimes no manner of convincing them that swim trunks are also swimwear will gain you access. It’s a speedo or no swimming.

3. Lap swimming is chaotic. Look at the traffic situation of our city and apply it to a swimming pool. Lap swimmers swim front to back, side to side, and around the edges in circles all at the same time.

Now, if you can live with the above factors, here are some options about where to go:

Hotels

The Phoenix Hotel has a small one and it’s often empty. The Inner Mongolia Hotel has a bit bigger one, but it’s a bit more crowded. The Xin Cheng Hotel has a more proper one, but even more crowded. I think the Shangri la does too, but I’ve never seen it personally. I think the Zhao Jun also has a pool. (Another reminder here for foreign guests staying at these hotels: Use of the pool is not included in your room charge. Use of the pool will be an additional cost, unless your company has negotiated an unusual perk in your contract rate).

Housing Developments

I know some new pools have been built recently (in the past 5 or so years) in the fancier housing developments, but not many of them allow outsiders in. (I went one time in the East Shore Development and it was the best pool I’ve been to in HH. It had a lap pool (smaller than standard size) and a pool with a slide and some fountains where kids could play.

I’ve recently (in the past few months) seen many flyers for new housing developments that boast swimming pools. Again, I’m just not sure if non-residents can use them.

 

Public Pools, Indoor and Outdoor

I’m afraid I don’t have much up-to-date information on these pools. The ones I used to know about have seemingly all disappeared. I think there may still be one just east of the train station (indoor) and another one on the campus of Nei Da (outdoor).

I heard that after the 2008 Olympics they were building more public pools in order to increase swimming participation in order to have a larger selection of high-level swimmers, but I don’t know where they are if they’ve been completed.

Specialty Children’s Pools

In recent months, a few specialty pools have opened for children or toddlers. I know one is on the south second ring road and another somewhere near gu lou. I haven’t been to one yet because the entrance fees are triple or quadruple the regular pools. But don’t worry, they have membership plans that allow free swimming if you invest 50,000 RMB!

That’s all I know. What about our friendly readers? What advice do you have to those wanting to swim? Where is the best pool in Hohhot in your opinion?

Hohhot-Xanadu-Beijing-Hailar Travel Experience

One of the great things about this site is that we get to meet great people, like the ones who submitted this entry below. The Spencers traveled the length of the Silk Road from Almaty, Kazakhstan to Hohhot by train, then the rest of their journey is recorded below. We hope it will be helpful to future Inner Mongolia travelers.
Just a few notes:
  • Xanadu (shang du) is an ancient Mongolian Empire capital located in Lan Qi (zheng lan qi, blue banner in Xinlingol)
  • The Spencers have some Chinese ability. This is important to consider if you plan to make your own arrangements in the rural countryside.

by Joanna Spencer
We made it to Xanadu and it was the most fantastic place to visit – the highlight of our trip I would say.
We had bus tickets to Zhenglanqi after an amazing scrum at the ticket office.  We arrived at the bus station in good time on 1 May and there didn’t seem to be any more crowds than usual, even though it was the May holiday.  The bus was clean, if not in the first flush of youth, and well organised with driver and co-driver who went round checking everyone had seat belts on before we left.
we left at 7 on the dot and it took over an hour to get through the traffic of Hohhot and it amused me to see that the route out was Ghenghis Khan Avenue!
After a couple of hours we stopped at a service station for a loo break – Robin said it was spotless!  The road was really good.
Around 11 we stopped for a meal at a roadside restaurant – we were all told to leave the bus – no option!  The restaurant looked a bit dodgy from the outside but inside was perfectly clean and extremely well organised.  Stew, noodles and omelettes were out of the kitchen and served in no time with delicious bread rolls.  Loo was an outside pit, very cozy ladies side by side.  It was much cleaner than Uzbek loos  I visited but still I can’t manage without privacy – I’m too westernized!
Back on the bus and I noticed that all tollbooths and embankments have lovely painted scenes of rural Mongolian grassland life – cows, horses, yurts etc. Very attractive,  The countryside is lovely too – open rolling grasslands and hills. Lots of herds of horses, cattle, sheep.
We arrived in Zhenglanqi around 3pm.  The bus station was more rural and workmanlike than Hohhot and not at all busy.  There are plenty of taxis outside and we find a brilliant young man who is absolutely charming!  Robin negotiated with him for a day out to Yuanshangdu (Xanadu) the next day – we agree to pay him about 250 yuan for the day.
Our hotel was the Shangdu Hotel which I had found from the internet and there is also a brief mention on Tripadvisor but no means of booking, we got our son to book it for us by phone. 340 yuan which is not that cheap.  There is quite a useful website on Zhenglanqi in Chinese which seems to be the local town council site,  It lists available hotels but I can’t find the link at the moment.  The hotel was clean and comfortable, if  rather faded.  Our room was huge, but rather dirty stained carpets and seemed to cater for businessmen off on a jolly away from home.  The restaurant was miles and miles away down a long long corridor – lots of families with children seemed to be staying and they all had their rooms doors open watching television!  The restaurant menu was enormous – it took us half an hour to read through!  Food was excellent – we had a huge meal of 5 dishes plus soup for 150 yuan
We arrived in a snowstorm and it had turned really cold and nasty so I was worried our trip out the next day would be a disaster.  We walked into town, there is a very good supermarket and various shops.  We had asked in the hotel whether there were any other places to visit in the locality if our visit to Xanadu didn’t take much time.  The receptionist was most unhelpful and said there was nothing to see around the town – however we went into a small toy shop looking for a map and the lady there was very helpful. Not only did she have a map of the area (not a town map) but she said that there is a lake nearby worth a visit and a Buddhist temple.  In the event we never got to see them but worth mentioning.
Next day was beautiful, sunny but a very strong cold wind. Our taxi driver arrived at 11am and drove us out of town down a mud road – we were parallell with an impressive highway for a bit with big tourist signs for Yuanshandu and we saw lots of construction for road building.  But the way we went was through unspoilt grassland (apart from a cement works) little farmsteads, lots of sheep, horses and cattle on a rough an bumpy track.  We arrived at a yurt and wire fence with a newly laid out car park to one side (with no cars in it) – this is the ticket office.  Entrance fee is about 30 yuan but we’ve lost our ticket stubs.  There is a huge relief modern carving of Ghenghis/Kunblai Khan and a collection of yurt like buildings that may be the small museum I read about (it was closed) and a proper flushing loo block – spotlessly clean.  A few tourists about who mostly took the golf cart transport to the city.
We were offered bicycles at no charge to take the long gravel track into the city.  It is stunningly beautiful there – unspoilt open grassland which, according to our taxi driver, is covered in flowers in June and July.  Low hills in the distance surround the plain – it was breathtaking!  So we rode into Xanadu on bicycles – what would Marco Polo have made of that!
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The walls of the city are covered in grass and remain about 10 – 20ft high.  The gateway has been excavated and there are traces of beautiful carving.  There has been some attempt for English speaking tourists, there are several plaques in various places outlining the history and what each mound/building would have been.
Instead of going straight through as most (all Chinese) tourists were doing, we walked around the inside perimeter of the city.  Pottery fragments are lying everywhere –it must be an archeologist’s paradise!  It was certainly ours.  The city is vast and the walls stretch for maybe more than a kilometre square.  We had a little picnic we took with us on the South West guard tower!  We slowly went around the whole site and it took us over four hours – it was just magnificent and all that I had hoped for.  The Chinese tourist seem to dash through without looking at anything properly and disappear off again.  Robin tried to point out the carving on the gateway to a group of lads and they were not the slightest bit interested – oh that mongolian stuff,  they said!
Our patiently waiting driver was there when we finally arrived back and we went back to town as it was too late to visit anything else – but we were entirely satisfied.
Our bus to Beijing next day was at 9.30 (we had bought the tickets when we arrived) there is another that leaves at 4.30, in the event we were glad we went for the 9.30 bus. the whole trip took nearly 10 hours!  It cost 110 yuan per person.  The bus station at Zhenglanqi was totally relaxed – no security bag check – the machine wasn’t even switched on.  There is a little provisions shop within the station with a skylark in a cage – poor thing.  We were entertained to a huge screen featuring traffic accidents in computer generated video format!
Only four passengers got on and we drove to Duolun 49 k away,  the road is a new modern highway.  There was stayed for about an hour and a half.  Bus station much bigger and the town is bigger and busier altogether.  Quite a few get on and we set off around 11.30 stopping at several petrol stations to pick up more passengers and very brief loo stops.  Needless to say I didn’t try!  About half an hour outside Duolun the new road suddenly stops – earth barrier heaped up on the new motorway which snakes away into the distance and we lurch up the embankment to join the old provincial road!  We remain on this for the rest of the journey although it crisscrosses the new motorway all the way.  As we find out later on – they are still constructing tunnels and flyovers through the mountains.  There are some fairly hairy hairpin bends but our driver is very slow and steady although it doesn’t seem that there is a relief driver for the whole trip.  All the passengers who get on pay the ‘co-driver’ for their tickets – he seems to be there purely as a bus conductor.  At one point the bus has several extra passengers than seats – about four or five young people are sitting on stools down the centre aisle.  They are made to go to the back at one point.  A police check maybe?
We did come to one police check where all passengers have to get out and show id.  We are waved through in front of the others as they don’t seem to be at all interested in us.  All the passengers are mainly students it seems.
We arrived in Beijing as the sun was setting – about 7pm.  The conductor, as we drove through the outskirts of Beijing, asked us our destination and after consultation with a young lad who spoke a little English – we were dropped off under a flyover.  Apparently you can ask to get off anywhere that is most convenient for you and this place was the nearest to our hotel for the night.  It must be a regular drop off place because a taxi was there within seconds!
Our flight to Hailar next day from Nanyuan airport although delayed by two hours was uneventful.
Our son met us with his friend, we were very impressed with Hailar.  A very nice town on a broad river, some lovely buildings and statues and beautifully lit at night.  It doesn’t seem to have any of the terrible traffic problems of Hohhot.  However the grasslands outside were a disappointment.  Our son had arranged a trip on the advice of a friend of a friend who works in the Hailar tourist office (bad advice sadly).  He had hired a car and driver (the driver allegedly being an expert in the region) and the driver was to have arranged a place that we could go horse riding and then a hotel out on the grasslands for the night (a yurt being too cold).  In fact the driver had arranged nothing at all and we only went a few miles outside Hailar calling at a few places to ask if they had horses.  It is very touristy and obviously geared up for summer Chinese visitors who want a holiday camp yurt experience.  All we saw was numbers of these camps and the grassland was all enclosed with fences.  I’m sure if the driver had been any use we would have driven for a few hours into the wild grassland and found something like we saw at Zhenglanqi.
It didn’t really matter to us as the purpose was to spend time with our son and I was delighted to find him well and happy.  He had arranged meetings and meals with all his friends and it was lovely to meet them.  But I think if we hadn’t seen Zhenglanqi we might have been rather disappointed with the grasslands!
In all, I would say, perfectly possible and it went without a hitch.  Zhenglanqi does not appear to be set up in any way for tourism (as with the unhelpful receptionist) but attempts are being made to attract tourists from Beijing, although I have found a reference in a book published on Xanadu that the road building has been going on since 2004 it hasn’t really progressed much!.  It is a magic place and I sincerely hope that it is not ruined with, it seems, Chinese enthusiasm for re-construction making it into a Disney theme park.  As yet the infrastructure is not there but it will be soon.  Go as soon as possible!
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