Inner Mongolia was on the top of my list of places in China I wanted to visit, so when my friend Ines planned a trip, I decided to tag along 😉 It ended up being my favorite China destination because of the unique experiences we encountered – camping in the desert, riding camels, visiting a ghost town, and more!
The Train Ride
The train ride from Shanghai to Hohhot is 27 hours long – luckily, this was my second long-distance China train ride, having already endured a 22 hour hard sleeper ride to Guangzhou two weeks prior. I’ll just take a nap, listen to some podcasts, and we’d be there in a jiffy, right?
Upon inquiring at the local ticket office, however, we learned that the hard sleeper tickets were all sold out.
What?? We had no choice but to purchase hard seat tickets.
Dang… sitting on a seat for 27 hours straight? I don’t know if my high maintenance butt can handle that… but our tour was already booked, so we had no choice but to carry on!
I was traveling with these lovely ladies – Carina and Ines from Germany, Sanna from Finland, and Stephanie from Australia. As you can see, I’m the only Asian. This is the kind of thing that happens when you travel in a group of white girls (an actual conversation we had with a random Chinese lady at the train station):
Random Chinese Lady: (to Carina, the blonde girl) Wow, you are so pretty! Where are you from? Will you be my wechat friend? Your hair is so nice!
Random Chinese Lady: (to the rest of the white girls) Wow, you girls are all so pretty!
Random Chinese Lady: (to me, in Chinese) Oh, are you their tour guide?
The girls attracted a lot of attention wherever we want – especially Carina, because she happens to be both tall and blonde, thus fitting the Chinese description of “foreigner” perfectly. This trend of locals treating white girls as pseudo-celebrities continued during our trip. Strangers would hand their babies over to Carina (wtf…) and insist on taking pictures. We were all mystified as to what they actually did with these photos… do they have a photo album at home full of pictures of their babies posing with white people????
Anyways, we finally got on the train and got to our seats. A man started walking up and down the aisles selling cucumber peelers (yes, you read it right – cucumber peelers). In infomercial-style, he spent a few minutes praising the benefits of cucumber peels (lol what) and demonstrated by peeling a cucumber and putting the peel on his face.
Surprisingly, he actually sold a fair number of cucumber peelers – in fact, the Chinese man in the seat across from mine actually bought one! Why the heck do you need a cucumber peeler, and why would you buy one on a train ride!!!
After the cucumber peeler, the man had several more items to sell, from mobile phone stands (I admit this could be useful if you were going to watch movies on the train) to bags of dried blueberries. He’s wearing a uniform so I assume he works for the train and it’s part of his job to sell random (and I mean, truly RANDOM) items to passengers.
Remember when I was agonizing about the 27 hour train ride on a seat instead of a sleeper? My discomfort went right out of the window when I saw the fate of the other passengers. The train was packed with people who didn’t have seats at all – they had standing tickets. Can you imagine standing on a train for 27 hours straight?? Among them were elderly men and women, and women with babies. These were people who couldn’t get a seat but still needed to go home, one way or the other.
My heart broke for them, and although spending 27 hours on a packed train was excruciatingly uncomfortable (I pretty much could not sleep at all…), I don’t really feel like I have a right to complain when I compare my situation to those who were standing in the aisle for the entire duration of the trip…
Already, my Inner Mongolia trip was off to an eye-opening start.
Arriving in Hohhot
We were picked up by a driver from our hostel. After taking a short break, we headed to the nearby streets for dinner.
There are all sorts of restaurants here, but we wanted to try something local – Mongolian food!
My first impression of Mongolian food is that it’s rather salty – even the milk tea is salty! It’s not your typical boba store milk tea for sure.
Before I end this post, a little about Hohhot and Inner Mongolia:
- Inner Mongolia is the region in northern China that borders the country of Mongolia, so we’re still in China (I’m on a single-entry visa so I can’t leave the country even if I wanted to!)
- This region is where Genghis Khan is from – we did not see his mausoleum, but it is located near Baotou
- This region is known for its natural beauty (grasslands and deserts)
- Hohhot is the capital of Inner Mongolia
That concludes our train ride to Inner Mongolia and our first night in Hohhot. Our Inner Mongolia trip was just getting started – stay tuned for more posts!