The main reason for most visitors to Inner Mongolia is for a grasslands experience, and Hohhot is well set up to accommodate this with its copious tourist facilities. These sites are not the most authentic, so for those coming in from the Republic of Mongolia, or from the grasslands at Hailar or Xilinhot, it is probably not worth the treck. Travellers may be a little put off by modern facilities, Han Chinese run resorts, and the crowds that often come in summer. However, if you have not experienced the grasslands before, fun can still easily be had, even on the tours, by trecking off on your own into the rolling grasses for scenery that is pretty and remote.
Although it is possible to visit one of the grassland areas in one day, it is far nicer to spend a night or two out here in a Mongolian traditional tent (yurt). These yurts are made of compressed sheep wool and are shaped rather like a squat native American teepee, windowless, sheep-smelling and snug. The yurts are made from latticed wood frames, have thick, rug floors and are usually furnished with many blankets, low beds, quilts, pillows and hot water flasks. They were originally designed to be folded up and carried by camel, however nowadays most of them are slightly more solidly built on concrete yards, in yurt type camps that have numerous yurts and usually a dining area, a washroom with occasional hot water and even electric light.
Entertainment in these areas are many. You may try activities such as Mongolian wrestling, horse & camel riding, rodeo competitions, archery, visiting traditional families, and trips to the aobaos (rock mounds that are normally festooned with flags, meant for worship). The best time to do all this is duringNaadam Festival, in the second half of August, when the crowds are out in full and a fair-like atmosphere is created. In the evenings the camps provide interesting, if sometimes a little taxing, activities, including a baijiu dinner and performances of traditional dancing, singing and melodies from traditional Mongolian instruments, including the sawing charms of the horsehead fiddle (Matou qin). Some of the sites have halls for disco, but this is probably best missed out.
Food in these areas is not normally the best, although is somewhat above the squalid cuisine that the Republic of Mongolia churns out. Most places rustle up fatty mutton on the bone, tea with yak milk, butter and grain, and occasionally vegetables and cake. If you are lucky you might come across rice and some ordinary Chinese cuisine, but more well known Mongolian food, such as hotpot, is not normally available. It is worth bring out a few supplies with you, including warm clothing, even in summer, food, and possibly baijiu gifts for local families.
There are basically three grasslands that can be visited from Hohhot, Xilamuren (80km northwest on the road to Bayan Aobao), Gegentala (170km northeast in Siziwang qi) and Huitengxile (120km west). All are fairly similar, although the Xilamuren grassland is the most visited and therefore the most tourist orientated. The least visited is Huitengxile, making this the most authentic, known locally as the area of 99 natural lakes. All can be visited by tour, but the Xilamuren site is the only one that is easily visited independently. There is a magnificent lamasery by the Xilamuren River, that used to be the summer palace of a living Buddha in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 AD).
How to get Inner Mongolia Grasslands: Tours: Travel agents arrange tours dependent upon the amount of people, time of year, which grassland area and the number of nights. Tours for two nights range from RMB200 to RMB900 per person, and for most agencies can be highly negotiable. Many private operators will find you in major hotels or at the railway station, the more established agents have offices and often can be found in the waiting room of the Beijing Railway station. Most provide accommodation, entertainment and food, but you should check this before you leave.