Archive for transportation

14 years in (and out of) Hohhot


Early September marks the anniversary of my first arrival to Hohhot in 2002. Although I haven’t been here continuously, coming in and out for 14 years I’ve gotten to see some pretty amazing changes in the city. I posted articles in the past from news sources about some of the changes, but this post is my own reflections on what has changed in the Blue City since I first arrived.

Airport Arrival

When I arrived in 2002 the current airport wasn’t in existence yet (the old HET was a few hundred meters to the east of the current location) and the road (Xin Hua) into Hohhot proper wasn’t paved.

Western Food and amenities

There were 4-6 locations of KFC, two locations of Dairy Queen and that was the extent of international establishments. The newest big “thing” was the mall that’s now called Kai De, although it had a different name then.

There was, surprisingly, a decent sit-down Western restaurant that could rival, and arguably upstage, Hohhot’s current Western restaurants.

Currently Kai De mall, the newest large shopping center at that time.

Currently Kai De mall, the newest large shopping center at that time.


I didn’t have a cell phone. Some foreigners and very few locals I knew did, but they weren’t a necessity. Every convenience store had a red public use phone one could use for a few mao.

This situation meant that one had to know the full Chinese name of one’s local friends because you weren’t calling them directly. The mother, father, roommate, etc might answer the phone and one had to be able to ask for Wang Shao Hong (or whomever).

I also think this made us (foreigners) learn the city better since we had to be able to get to a location without the aid of being able to call multiple times along the way when going to meet someone.


EVERYONE with the exception of professional drivers and government officials rode a bicycle. I didn’t even know anyone who owned an electric bike until 2006 and didn’t know anyone who owned a car until 2007. (And I wasn’t a hermit who sat inside and didn’t know people).

The only vehicle on the road were taxis, public buses, deliver vans, and black government cars….and LOTS of bikes. Lots and lots of bikes.

Also, the size of the city was much smaller. The second ring road was an anticipated enigma much like the subway now and places that are now six lane roads were dirt alleys then.

My first bike, purchased on day two or three of my arrival in Hohhot. This one was in my possession less than 36 hours before the transfer of ownership to bike thieves. (Some things never change!)

My first bike, purchased on day two or three of my arrival in Hohhot. This one was in my possession less than 36 hours before the transfer of ownership to bike thieves. (Some things never change!)

Intersection near Manduhai Park circa 2003

Intersection near Manduhai Park circa 2003

Standard of living

Perhaps the biggest change, though, is the standard of living in the average person’s residence. Housing in Hohhot has come a LONG way in 14 years. For the first few years I lived here, one would have to inquire if a home had hot water all the time, or just the standard two days per week. The public water service provided heated water through the pipes at set times, twice per week, and landlords were only just becoming willing to fork over money for a hot water heater if one wanted hot water all the time.

I only knew of one complex of “high rise” apartments (I think it’s called the Metropolitan, west on Da Xue Lu). Otherwise, most lived in 4 or 6 story walk-ups and some in ping fangs.

Not an uncommon sight in 2002

Not an uncommon sight in 2002

Many homes still had plain concrete floors and interior design wasn’t a thing.

BUT, we’re all paying for those upgrades in our rent now. The first two bedroom house I rented was 450 RMB/month. The second one, 4-5 years later was 600 or 700. Even in 2007 I only knew 1-2 people (families with kids) who were paying more than 1000/month.

Interesting enough, though, it was much more common to be invited to someone’s home for a meal, instead of being invited out to eat. My guess is that economics is the reason for this. Meals could be prepared at home much more affordably than eating at a restaurant, which was still a luxury for many.


There was roller skating, bowling at the Xin Cheng, and KTV was big. The squares, particularly Xin Hua, had lots of cool things it doesn’t have now….a camel to ride on and take a photo with, and cars like these, below. They weren’t bumper cars and they weren’t for kids. Just small electric cars for adults to drive around the square.

mayfair 303 mayfair 302

Other old photos

Chang Le Gong

Chang Le Gong and the New York New York Club used to be located in the same building.

I've heard that this was the tallest building in Hohhot until the late 80s or early 90s.

I’ve heard that this was the tallest building in Hohhot until the late 80s or early 90s.

Hohhot’s Subway

I think by now everyone has heard that the subway is coming. However, if you notice in the bottom right corner of the map, the first two lines aren’t even scheduled to be finished until 2020, and that’s if everything goes according to schedule.

I’m acutely aware of the terrible traffic situation, but I’m also not holding my breath that it will get any better for at least five years or so. Also, there’s no guarantee that a subway will fix the problems anyway. I’m not sure why people like fighting the traffic and wasting time looking for parking spots, but they clearly do and just because there’s a subway doesn’t mean that everyone will stop driving.

What do you think? Will it fix the traffic situation? Will it make it worse in the waiting time? Leave us a comment with your thoughts.


For more information you can follow Hohhot’s subway official wechat account at hhhtdtcom. (the above photo is from there)

Changes in Hohhot

The post below, shared from Hohhot’s daily news service, does a really great job of highlighting just how quickly Hohhot has changed in recent years. The full article is posted below in Chinese, but I’ll do my best to share the highlights. If it doesn’t display correctly, try this link.

The first kind of change mentioned is the increase in population. Here’s the rundown:

2015 3.05 million

2010 2.86 million

2000 2.43 million

1990 1.91 million

1964 1.11 million

1953 790,000


Next, there has been tremendous economic change. In 2014, Hohhot’s urban residents’ per capita disposable income increased by 8.5%.


Next, as evidenced by rush hour traffic every single day, is the increase in the number of private vehicles. The number of registered vehicles in Hohhot as of February 26, 2015 was 801,746 which according to the article means that on average every household has a car.

In 2006, there were 4.5 vehicles for every 100 households and in 2000 the number was just one car for 100 households.


If you’re following along with the embedded article’s photos and graphics, we’re now at the pictures of folks leaving work (by bicycle) in the 1950s followed by what getting off work time looks like today on Hohhot’s streets.
Next, the article has pictures of buses and highlights some of the changes to Hohhot’s public transportation. The first picture is Hohhot’s first bus for its first bus route in 1954, when the city was called Gui Sui, before it became known as Hohhot. (more on this topic in a future post). The next picture shows 4 buses that drove the Number 3 Route. The next picture shows that in 2012, double decker buses had been added and the city had 102 bus routes. Then in 2013, double length buses were added to Hohhot’s two free bus routes as part of a green initiative.

Public transportation continued to improve in 2015 with plans for high speed trains and two lines of a subway to be complete in 2020.

Also, the high-speed portion of the second ring road was scheduled to be completed in July 2015. (I don’t think it’s all finished, but I heard that the portion between Jin Qiao and Jin Chuan is finished and that it now takes just 20 minutes to drive between the two).

The fourth change mentioned under the public transportation heading is how much Hohhot’s airport has changed. There’s a picture of the airport in 1958 and then a present-day photo. (You can read about Hohhot’s plans for an even newer airport here). 


You can keep scrolling down for even more contrasting then-and-now pictures of Hohhot. (famous places, universities, and city scenes)


What has changed the most since you arrived in Hohhot? Leave us a comment with your thoughts.

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the Highways of Inner Mongolia

I said somewhere in an earlier post that our family has been traveling more in Inner Mongolia this spring and summer than we normally do (and more than we’d like!) Most of our trips we’ve rented a car and driven ourselves. This post is a compilation of all the “interesting” things we’ve seen along Inner Mongolia’s highways.

Some of these items should be typical for driving in China, and others are specific to Inner Mongolia.

1. Potholes


Potholes! This is Hohhot’s North Second Ring Road, but you see ditches across highways or potholes like those pictured here.


2. Swirling Dirt/Dirt Devils/Dust Devils/Tiny Tornadoes/whatever you want to call them. No matter what season or what direction we’ve travelled, I can’t remember a single trip we’ve taken that we didn’t see one.

dirt devil

Dirt devils. We’ve seen these every direction we’ve travelled, not just in one particular area of IM.

3. Livestock and other animals.

First, horses.


and more horses. This herd was spotted somewhere between Saihantala and Erlian.
more horses


Pigs. We didn’t see as many of these, but this large lady was crossing the highway somewhere north of Siziwang Qi.


Of course in Inner Mongolia, you can’t go very far without seeing sheep grazing in the pasture along the road.


But, sometimes they are also crossing the road.

sheep crossing

just south of Gegentala Tourist Area. You can see it just beyond the sheep.


Camels. We’ve seen a lot of these in Alxa and close to the Mongolian border, but not so much in other places.


And, lots of cows.

And cows next to backed up cars.
cows and cars


And cows next to backed up cars with a car driving the wrong way down a divided highway.

cars and cows 2


4. Wide Loads
wide load

I only have pictures of hay, but isn’t it amazing the amount of stuff they are able to carry in a single load? The recyclers in the city and the farmers outside of the city both have a unique skill set for packing it on!
lots of wide load.

5. Road Signs.

This one baffles me a bit. It’s the highway marker sign for most of the journey between Hohhot and Erlian. I’ve thought it over quite a bit on our drives and I can’t think of anything it’s intended to represent other than Mickey Mouse or a teddy bear. And either way, I’m not sure why Inner Mongolia chose that shape for their road signs. If you have some insider knowledge as to why this shape, please leave a comment to enlighten us all!

road signs

6. Toll Booths

Our first car rental experience we drove to Wushen Qi in Ordos. We were surprised at the number and expense of tolls. It’s about 200-250 RMB to go to Wushen Qi, about 150 RMB from Hohhot to Erlian, and about 200 RMB from Hohhot to Kangbashi. No highways are free and generally the bigger/better the road, the more expensive the toll.

toll booth

7. Closed Highways

Ahhhh, the frustrations. This is one of the highways between Saihantala and Siziwang Qi. We didn’t know there was more than one until this one we normally take had a fence built across it between our last two trips.

The time we went to Kangbashi, the main highway between Dong Sheng and Kangbashi was also closed. The on-ramp was barricaded. We stopped and asked a few folks for another way to go, but everyone just kept directing us to the on-ramp that was closed! We found another way, but it delayed our arrival by an hour and a half or so.

road closed

8. Speed Bumps. On the highway.

I understand speed bumps as you enter a toll booth, but on the so-called “gao su lu” (high speed road) it seems funny to have these every few kilometers as they are between Hohhot and Siziwang Qi.


That’s just a small sampling of the joys and frustrations of Inner Mongolia’s highways.


Have you road-tripped here? What were some of the more unusual things you saw? Leave us a comment and tell us about your experience.

Hohhot’s Subway

I’m sure you’ve heard that Hohhot is expected to begin construction on a subway system. The article below gives more details of where the city is in the construction process.

Survey work began on May 30 and official construction is set to begin in August 2015. The entire plan will include five lines, but two will be constructed with the first phase. Lines 1 and 2 are expected to be ready for use in 2020.

See the full article below for more details and for maps of the anticipated lines.


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Hohhot Tourist Map

I finally had a bit of time to tackle a project I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Here is a very simple map of Hohhot with some of the most famous places marked. I hope it can help you get around if you’re visiting or new to the city. Let me know as you find mistakes or really wish a certain place could be included or excluded.

tourist map in jpg format

tourist map


tourist map in pdf format



Also, be sure to check out our printable menu for help in ordering until you learn how to say your favorites!



Ten Hohhot News Items

There’s a news article that seems to be popular among my local friends so I thought I would share the highlights here with you, lovely readers. The article lists ten recent news items related to Hohhot. I’ll post the article in full below, but I’ll do my best to translate the headlines for you.

ONE: another expressway will open in late July in Hohhot. It will be have be 80 km of six lanes without signal lights

TWO: Subway lines one and two will be ready in 2020 according to the Metro Planning National Development and Reform Commission

THREE: Hohhot ranked 45th out of 289 cities in sustainable competitiveness

FOUR: A new landmark in Hohhot-A new bus station transport hub in the East will be ready in October

FIVE: Train service from Hohhot to Shenzhen began on May 20th (schedule included in Chinese article below)

SIX: The whole country will have a day of vacation on September 3

SEVEN: Pensions of retired personnel in Inner Mongolia increased by an average of about 10%

EIGHT: Decided! Civil Service salary will increase by 300 yuan per capita by the end of June

NINE: Good news! The education requirements for employment are being relaxed (I’m not entirely sure about my translation of this one).

TEN: A new flower garden will open in Hohhot at the end of May and entrance is free!

Read the full articles below:

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So you live in Inner Mongolia, do you ride horses?

One thing I like about living in Hohhot is that there are some similarities between it and my hometown of Oklahoma Cit, OK. Mostly, I mean there are similar perceptions about what kid of city it is from people who don’t live there.
For example, when you live in OKC you know that all modern conveniences are accessible and it’s a great place. However, when you tell someone from New York City that you’re from OKC they ask questions like, “WOW! Do you guys still ride horses? How about paved roads? and so on.

Life here is similar. Hohhot has come a long way in terms of development in the 13 years I’ve been coming in and out. But still when you tell someone from other larger parts of China that you live in Hohhot, they also ask about riding horses, living in a yurt, and access to modern conveniences.

This video and the questions in print below were posted to a popular wechat public account “mengguquan.” You can follow them for Mongolian culture, events, and news.

I think the video is hilarious and the text after the video answers all those silly questions that people from here often get asked.

The title is something like “Inner Mongolia is like this, don’t ask again, ok?”

Anyway, even if you can’t appreciate the humor in the answers, at least enjoy the video.

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If the content doesn’t display properly, try this link.

more useful public service phone numbers

This rather handy, very thorough list of service numbers was hanging in my friend’s apartment complex. I snapped a picture and have translated it below. These numbers more than likely won’t have English-speaking service, but I hope I’ve at least saved you the step of finding the number.



China Mobile


China Unicom


China Telecommunications






China Natural Gas




Water something


Electric Hotline


Electric Company Service number


Public Heating Company


Weather forecast


Local telephone directory


Post Office Service


Taxation Services Hotline


Telecommunications transactions


Airport hotline


City public transportation hotline


Train station hotline




 If this list doesn’t have the number you’re looking for, try one of these previous posts:

Government Offices

Public Services



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!

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