Archive for travel

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

beierhuan

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.

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.
pig

 

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

sheep

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.

camel

And, lots of cows.
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.

IMG_20150707_102530

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.

Mongolian Throat Singing

Below is the information for a Mongolian Throat Singing Festival. (called hu mai in Chinese) It will be at the Gegentala Grasslands Tourist Area on July 29 at 8:00 pm. It’s about two hours by car from Hohhot.

Here’s a map:

gegentala

Information in Chinese:

 

中国首届“呼麦音乐节”2015年7月29日晚上20:00点在 内蒙古四子王旗格根塔拉旅游景区。订票热线 96666何经理18547114114

 
mmexport1437457654685 mmexport1437457669013 mmexport1437457673642

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.

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!

 

 

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.

Share this post with a friend:

0

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.

IMG_20150604_153714

 

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.

IMG_20150412_131609

 

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.

IMG_5011 IMG_5012 IMG_5013

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

IMG_2320 IMG_2321

IMG_2322

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.

IMG_20150414_183426

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.

 

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:

Error: Embedded data could not be displayed.

Free tickets to tourist sites

Apparently May 19 has been named “China Travel Day” and because of that many local tourist locations will have free entrance tickets and others will be discounted.

The full article is in Chinese below so you can check my accuracy, but here’s the list as I read it.

Zhao Jun and Five Pagoda: half price

The General’s Quarters (the old place near gu lou): 20% off

Yili’s Travel Area will give away free products and coupons for products

Zhao Jun Museum and Xi Li Tu Temple (the small temple) will have 300 free entrance tickets each (first come, first serve)

And the Inner Mongolia Travel Service also has some kind of special about some kind of travel card, but I’m not clear on the details.

The article goes on to list the travel specials for Baotou, Alxa, Wulanchab, Xilingol, Chifeng, Tongliao, Hulunbeir, and Wuhai. If you plan to travel in the coming days, have a local friend help you check out the specials!

I can’t get the embedding to display correctly, but here’s the link to the full article in Chinese.

 

« Older Entries Recent Entries »