Salty Milk Tea And Other Inner Mongolian Adventures| 6 min read

Travel Inner Mongolia

During Golden Week last month, over 30 Teach and Travel interns and a handful of ImmerQi staff headed North to experience the best that Inner Mongolia has to offer.

One of our intern managers Elena Sigacheva, herself a former Teach and Travel participant, shares the highs and lows of these eventful three days.

Prepare for stories of wild horses, camels, and some super weird beverage called salty milk tea.

Earlier this year, I spent a semester in Hohhot as a teaching intern, so I thought I understood what Inner Mongolia was all about. But still, it was exciting to go back after months away, and was a great chance to get away from Beijing that was going to be super-crowded over Golden Week.

We arrived in Hohhot early in the morning after an overnight train ride and found ourselves right in the middle of downtown. For most people, this was their first time seeing Inner Mongolia. Recalling my first impression of this place, I would say it does not strike you as particularly grand or picturesque like many Chinese cities do, but it does make you realize that you are somewhere very different from the rest of China. Indeed, it feels like travelling to a whole other country. The climate, people, food, that unique atmosphere of the city – everything is new and somewhat exotic so it was exciting to be there, even the second time round.

After our first Mongolian breakfast in a local restaurant (and a lot of attention received from the Mongolian people who apparently liked to start their holiday outings really early!) we set off for the grasslands which meant a rather lengthy bus journey. Here I must admit, the distances in Inner Mongolia often seem tremendous which can be exhausting and gives you a weird “in the middle of nowhere” feeling. So, after enjoying the views of the grasslands and local villages through the bus window, we arrived at what looked like an indigenous settlement with horses wandering around, Mongolian ladies and kids dressed in colourful clothing and clusters of cute painted huts.

Inside one of these huts, our big welcome lunch took place: a mixture of Mongolian delicacies and familiar Chinese dishes cooked, however, with a distinctive local touch. After the lunch and a short exploration of the village, it was time for horseback riding. This was arguably the most fun part of the afternoon, all of us feeling somewhat awkward in our saddles and failing miserably in trying to keep control over the horses, but still embracing the experience of becoming real Mongolian horsemen.

A change of scenery came on the following day as we moved on to see the local desert, which, once, again, seemed far away when travelling by bus. Still, it was hard to believe that a real desert could be found someplace where… where you just don’t expect to find it. Indeed, the desert appeared before our eye, suddenly, with the steppe on one side from it and rocky hills on the other.

As for me, this was my first time being in an actual desert, so I was certainly overwhelmed by the vastness of the ocean of sand surrounding us. Besides contemplating the beauty of the desert, there were loads of activities and entertainment, all of them seemingly set up at random, making the whole experience feel like a trip to an extravagant theme park and creating somewhat of an atmosphere of celebration. And for sure, nothing beats the fun of riding camels through the sands of Inner Mongolia!

To conclude this eventful day, we paid a visit to a local factory in Hohhot, which could more accurately be described as a curious “family” of factories producing all kinds of stuff from milk candies to local fabrics to tapestries and weapons. The choice of awesome souvenirs to take home practically made me dizzy, and also, in a way, glad that I hadn’t brought more cash with me which would have left me with no options but the one of going broke. Anyway, I ended up getting a bag of salty Mongolian milk tea. And while “salty milk tea” probably does sound like a weird concept that makes you wonder how it came to be invented in the first place, it is actually one of the things I miss the most about Inner Mongolia; and for anyone who gets to come here, it is definitely worth a try!

On the following day, our legs exhausted from our grassland and desert adventures and our bags packed with souvenirs and peculiar local delicacies, we found ourselves approaching the end of our trip and once again stopping over in Hohhot – the capital and the most vibrant city of the province. Here our itinerary included the Inner Mongolia Museum and a beautiful Buddhist temple in the city. Needless to say, the visit to the temple was an amazing experience, and it was a delight to explore the old city, which I still knew little about, even after the five months spent in Hohhot.

By contrast, the Inner Mongolia Museum was the place I had visited numerous times before with my Chinese and Mongolian friends, and yet don’t think I could ever grow tired of it. Besides enjoying all the art and cultural relics gathered in one place, it is just a fantastic place to spend a couple of hours in the morning, to relax and get another chance to appreciate the unique culture and character of this remote part of the country. And lastly, the futuristic museum building alone is totally worth coming out here to have a look at it!

To sum up my experience of Inner Mongolia, I would just steal the words of one of my fellow travelers and say that I would recommend everyone to come here at least once for unique memories, and just to discover how different this mysterious land is from the rest of China. Finally, inspired by our Golden Week experiences and perhaps overdue, got a gorgeous travel book and set my mind on learning more about Inner Mongolia. Maybe I will go back one day

Rachel Yoon

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