I have an India trip coming up and want to try something out! I want to ask the readers (the few that are) what kind of homestay they would like to visit if they ever go to India. And if it is possible for me to find such a homestay, I would like to list it along with the other homestays! Most likely no more than three people will let me know what they would like to try, so if you are one of those three it’s not like you will have too much competition!
So do you want to stay in the jungle or along the coast, a village or a metropolis, with christians, hindus or muslims, in a foodie or art heaven? Just send me a message through the contact form and I’ll see what I can do!
(By the way, I’ll bring my camera this time too, so it won’t be like the Moroccan homestay, which I took exactly 0 photos of.)
Toubkal is both beautiful and accessible. It’s the highest mountain in North Africa and the highest in any arab country and in no way an easy hike. But most people who set out seem to make it to the top. When I was there I even saw a group of friends in their sixties. They weren’t the fastest, but eventually they reached the summit. Most probably almost anyone reading this will too. But in order to make the trip as enjoyable as possible, it would be good to keep a few things in mind ahead of the ascent.
Leave your backpack at the refuge. A day hike from Imlil lays a group of 3 refugees. These are basically mountain huts for hikers. They are staffed and it’s possible both to eat and sleep in them. They all have the same prices. 150 dirham for a dormitory. 250-300 (I don’t remember exactly) for dormitory plus dinner and breakfast. These places aren’t really what you would call cozy and the food is only enjoyable because you just spent six hours hiking, but the places do their jobs. There are no villages or other buildings up at that altitude (the closest village being a three hour walk or so down the mountain), so there’s no reason to complain. Make use of these places not only by having a good nights rest and perhaps something to eat but also as a storage for your bags when you climb Toubkal. To bring only a daypack with some fruits, water and sandwhiches will make the hike a lot less demanding and a lot more fun. Staff are used to people leaving their bags and do not charge extra for it. The most famous refuge is Les Mouflons, which has it’s own website here.
Don’t go for the sunrise. Most people visiting Toubkal try to climb it before sunrise in order to get to enjoy the view. I’m sure that the view is very beautiful, but there are a few reasons why I would recommend people to sleep in and start the ascent after sunrise. The number one reason is that a lot of people I talked to, as I met them when they were on their way dawn and I on my way up, regretted not doing just that. Yes, it’s Morocco and it’s supposed to be warm, but really, nights at 4000 meters altitude are not. And to reach the peak by sunrise you will have to wake up by 3 o’clock or so and walk the entire way up in the dark. It’s cold, it’s dark, it’s windy. And when you reach the peak you stand there for 20 minutes, waiting for the sun to rise so that you can get back down and pull a blanket over you. I met some people who were running down back to the refugee. They had not enjoyed the ascent, they had not enjoyed the descent, and they had probably not even really enjoyed the sunrise, but they had caught some nice photos of it. Make yourself a favor and go after breakfast. You body will have rested better, making it less likely to react negatively to the altitude or the physical strain of the ascent, and you will be able to enjoy the changing sceneries as you come higher and higher up the mountain. When you reach the peak you can sit up there warm and comfortable in the sun for half an hour having lunch. Then you can head back down. Also, the risk of injury will be way lower if you walk when it’s bright. There is a lot of slippery gravel on the path and some sections are very steep.
Don’t worry too much. I met a few people who had wanted to go to Toubkal just to eventually decide not to. All of this ”highest in North Africa” and ”highest in any arab country” seems to intimidate people. Truth is that most reasonably fit people who give it a go will reach the top. The only thing is that while some may not find the hike very demanding, others will have to suffer a bit to reach the peak. While some can climb the mountain spending only one night in a refuge, others will perhaps be better of spending two nights in the refuges and acclimatize properly (actually I would recommend anyone to spend two nights up there). Most people will reach the peak if they are rested enough and bring some energizing snacks. And even those who don’t will get to enjoy the landscapes. It’s not as if the area is ugly except for when seen from the peak. Worst case scenario you will still encounter better views than anything you will find in Chefchaouen (or break a leg, stumbling over a rock you didn’t see, as the sun had not yet risen and you were too tired to focus).
There are other hikes. If you just want to go hiking, there are plenty of options in Morocco. Toubkal is the most famous and it offers beautiful views of the surrounding landscapes. However, if altitude and views alone is not what you long for, perhaps you should consider going for another hike. Walkopedia lists different hikes and gives useful information about hiking in Morocco. Depending on what you want to do, some places will be better or worse than Toubkal. If you want to experience local culture, live in a berber village where few tourists have ever been, be close to the peaks of the mountains and eat fabulous food, perhaps the small homestay listed on this website is the place for you. It’s very different from the typical Toubkal experience in the sense that you will not stay in a refuge but in a family home in a berber village. The area rarely sees foreign visitors and most likely you and your friends will be the only non-berbers around. The peaks aren’t as high and the landscapes not as dramatic, but the area and the host has a charm entirely it’s own.
There are Tibetan areas in China outside of the Tibet autonomous region. These can be find in Xinjiang, Gansu, Qinghai, Yunnan and Sichuan. Travelling in these areas is generally a lot easier than travelling in the Tibet autonomous region, as you don’t need any special permits or tour guides to enter them. We have a host with contacts throughout the tibetan areas. If enough interest is shown in this, the host contacts will get added to this website soon. Just let me know through the contact form if it’s worth the effort.
There has been a lot of problems recently for the host families in Inner Mongolia! First in East Ujimqin Banner, where one of the family members suddenly became seriously ill and hospitalized. Because of this, guests could no longer be received. Ofcourse they could still go to the Xilnhot homestay, but that too has become impossible now, as the host family now has to apply for a special permit to continue receiving guests. This is because the homestay is located in a sensitive area. Last but not least it’s late autumn and about time to close anyway, as it will be too cold to visit during the winter.
As soon as there are any news the information on this site will be updated! Until then only the Bazernik and Nannuoshan homestays are open – perhaps with one or a few more being added before the end of this year! If you want to get to know as soon as new homestays are added or when the Inner Mongolian ones are open again, it’s just to follow us on Facebook!
As tourism establishes itself as one of largest and fastest growing industries of the world, employing about 10% of the total global workers, the negative environmental effects of tourism grows. There are a lot of things you can do to lessen your impact, but these things often have unwanted side effects to them, making your trip less fun and more expensive. Therefore I thought why not compile a list of a few small easy things that will not only make your travels more sustainable, but also give you a better experience and allow you to travel longer for less.
Switch standard search engine to Ecosia
Most travellers spend a lot of time browsing the web to find info about places, look for flights, book cheap hotels, figure out which travel agency to hire etc. According to a survey of 300 people it’s common to spend 10-20 hours per holiday to gather information online. By switching from for example Google or Yahoo to Ecosia, you will help fund Ecosia planting a lot of trees during those 10-20 hours. The trees will get planted in developing countries around the world and will as well reduce envronmental degradation as poverty. Ecosia donates at least 80% of their earnings to planting trees. Right now they are funding a project in Morocco, where they will plant more than a million fruit trees to stop desertification and raise local living standards. If you skip other search engines alltogether, you would be able to help them plant quite a lot of trees over the course of a year.
If you want to add something more to your browser you could also add a click-to-donate site as your start page. Click-for-donate sites vary a bit, but in they are built on donors donating money and in exchange receiving traffic or having their banners displayed. Every time a person clicks on the button a small ammount of money is donated to the site’s cause. Enough to for example plant a tree. Typically you can click only once per day. My favourite is Naturarvet, a swedish organization which buys old growth forests and turns them into nature reserves. You can visit them at https://naturarvet.se. If you want to look for another page, you can find a long list of click-to-donate sites here.
Both these things are very simple and easy to do. They don’t take a lot of time and they are entirely for free.
2. Don’t get diarrhea
This one was probably expected. Everyone has heard it a thousand times. But while back at home it may be quite a lot to ask to stop eating meat, while traveling in other countries it can have many other benefits making it more appealing. First of all meat and diary products are some of the main causes of traveller’s diarrhea. Drugs.com writes: ”Do not eat raw food or dairy when you travel. Examples include fruits, raw vegetables in salads, oysters, clams, or undercooked meat. Do not have milk, ice cream, or other dairy products”. Traveldoctor.co.uk agrees: ”Particularly risky foods include raw or undercooked meat, poultry, seafood, raw fruits and vegetables. Tap water, ice, and unpasteurized milk and dairy products are also associated with increased risk of TD”. Also meat is by far the most common way to get infected with parasites such as trichinella. In countries or places with lacking food hygiene, it could therefore be a good idea not to eat meat and dairy products, at least until you have grown a bit more accustomed to the local bacterial flora. It would greatly decrease the risk of you catching any diseases, parasites and even unknowingly consume nasty chemicals such as growth hormones, antibiotics and even so called ”gutter oil” (recycled oil collected from places such as sewers, factories and gutters). Doesn’t sound too appealing.
3. Invest in Solar Energy in Africa
Airplanes are not very popular with a lot of people and organizations. Luckily, this is at least to some extent unfounded. Since it’s actyally both cheap and easy to negate carbon emissions, flying does not have to be a problem. It’s even possible to earn money on erasing your carbon footprint. To get started with that, first calculate your emissions using travelmath.com’s flight emissions calculator. For example it will tell you that a one way flight from Stockholm to Zurich emits 192 kgs of Co2. So there we go. 192 kgs. What to do with them? That’s what we have Trine for.
Trine is a small Swedish company which aims to end energy poverty. They will do this by giving villagers in Subsaharan Africa access to solar energy. In time they hope to help completely replace kerosene, which as well as being very expensive does damage both to the environment and those who breathe in the fumes. The reason that most of these people does not have access to solar energy already is that the entry fee is quite high: buying the panels costs a lot. But when the panels are already bought (with a loan from Trine) expenses are much lower than kerosene and it’s possible for the villagers to pay back on their loan with an interest. So you will actually earn money on helping people out of poverty.
Investing the minimum amount of 25 euros in a Trine project will negate different ammounts of emissions depending on which project you invest in. In general it seems to be the case that 1 euro negates about 10 kgs of co2. So if you fly from Stockholm to Zurich, you would cover more than enough simply by lending 25 euro to Trine for a while. Even better, you can use this link to get a free 10 euro bonus added to your first investment. By using that link you would as well give me a 10 euro bonus, which Trine would give me as thanks for referring them a customer. Both our bonuses would be earmarked for investments in Trine projects and we would be able to withdraw them only after a few years, when they have already more than made up for that flight from Stockholm to Zurich.
4. Buy a e-book reader and stop carrying a lot of heavy books around
This is one more of those things that to a lot of people aren’t worth it while home but which becomes worth it while traveling. Most of the bookstores I’ve encountered while traveling have had a very limited set of option. Even worse: sometimes there are no bookstores. Perhaps there is a book exchange somewhere in a hostel or cafe, but always with a very small selection. Ordering books from online can be expensive, troublesome and time consuming. It’s bad enough while at home, but when you are abroad and dont have a permanent address, it gets even worse. Especially if you are in a country with strict censorship rules or cleptomaniacs working at the post offices. Your book may end up lost, confiscated or stolen. So instead of waiting around for books that may or may not arrive, just get an e-book reader and have it delivered straight to your device. No shipping fees, no waiting around, no cut forests – and often too: free books. With sites such as Project Gutenberg, you have easy access to 100% free and legal open source e-books. Just download whichever you like out of the currently listed 54.000 free e-books. You can carry books enough for a lifetime and read handsfree on the beach without the wind constantly changing the page. You can choose almost any books you want and carry as many as you will ever need without your bag filling up or becoming too heavy. And if you ever just want to read a book made out of paper it’s not like your machine will try to stop you.
One of the easiest, cheapest and overall best ways of contributing to improve local condition is to stay at locally owned hotels, book with locally owned tour agencies, eat at locally owned restaurants etc. In most of the developing world one of the main culprits behind illegal logging, poaching etc is the generally few ways for locals to make a decent living. By making sure that your money stays with the locals instead of getting siphoned away by large international tourist companies or rich investors from the capital, you can contribute a lot to living standards in the areas you visit. For example according to ImageNepal the average tourist employs nine nepalese workers during the duration of their stay, so that instead of for example having to chop down trees in a nature reserve and selling it as fire wood, it’s possible to open guesthouses, take people on tours and so forth. There are many examples of tourism preventing damage to nature and tourism is often one of the main reasons nature reserves are created. Conservation of rare species would be especially difficult without tourism. International Gorilla Conservation Programme goes as far as stating that gorillas does not have a future without tourism.
Better just to spend less for more, encounter more locals, eat tastier local food and make sure that there are plenty of options to make a decent living.
6. Stay a bit longer in some places
Most of all, this advice makes travelling a lot more enjoyable. It will allow you to spend less time on busses, trains and airports and more time on doing things you enjoy in the places you were particularily eager to go. A lot of people want to do too much and instead end up loosing out on the fun of travelling. I’ve sometimes met people that spends only one or two days in each country they visit. They want to ”see it all” but end up spending most of their time transporting themselves from one place to the other. One guy I met moved every day. I met him in a hostel in Podgorica when he arrived in the evening. I asked if he wanted to go explore the city but he said he was too tired. He had been on a bus the entire day and next morning he would have to wake up early to catch another bus. I asked him about his trip and it seemed to me he spend almost all of it either transporting himself between places or sleeping. He seemed very tired and said that he looked forward to go back to work. Not only did it seem to me that he was wasting his time, but he spent a lot of money wasting it too. He could have cut his daily expenses in half by staying a few extra days in each place. And if he were to for example decide to volunteer somewhere, he could have cut almost all of his expenses and have a much more enjoyable trip.
Most people are not moving around every day like that, but I think a lot of people (me included) would actually enjoy their travelling more if they decided to stay a bit longer in some of the places.
For those who wish to do so, WorkAway.info is an amazing site, The amount of options is mind blowing and there are usually plenty of benefits too. Besides the usual free food and accomodation in exchange for a three to five hours of work five days per week, a lot of places offer things such as free tours (if they are not fully booked) or free training and education (for example for PADI-certificates). Have a look at workaway.info.
7. Try AirBnb or a hospitality site
These two are interesting!
According to a 2014 survey of 8000 guests and hosts ”North American customers use 63% less energy per stay than their hotel-going counterparts while customers in Europe use 78% less”. A lot less water is wasted too. Not to mention all the chemicals used to clean the hotel rooms. I guess the stats for Couchsurfing are similar since AirBnb and Couchsurfing in many ways are pretty much the same thing. The main differences are that while Couchsurfing is for free, AirBnb costs money, and that while Couchsurfing is very informal and social, AirBnb is usually more like any bed and breakfast. Depending on what you feel like for the moment either has it’s pro’s and cons. The biggest of all with Couchsurfing is for example that it can sometimes be difficult to find a host and that there is no real guarantee that the host won’t suddenly cancel.
There are plenty of other options too. My favourite is WarmShowers, which is a site similar to Couchsurfing with the exception that it’s mainly used by long distance bicyclists. You can check a comparison of a five such sites by clicking here. If you want to try any of them out it¨s just to register and get started: they are all free to use.
For AirBnb, it does cost money, but by signing up using this link you will receive 43 dollars in credits. You will be able to use these credits to pay if your booking costs 80 dollars or more. But if you for example book a stay for 50 dollars, you can not use the credits. You can book several nights in order to reach the minimum of 80 dollars. If you do, I will receive 22 dollars in credits too. If you decide to become a host I will receive an 80 dollar bonus when you have had your first guest.
8. Try one of the homestays listed on this (or another) site
There are many nice things with these homestays! First of all you will have a great experience in any of them. All of them are unique in their own way and all of them are very competitive in terms of pricing. One of the reasons behind this website is to provide travellers with the chance to have experiences that would otherwise be difficult or very expensive for them to have. Secondly – more in line with the topic of this post – all of them are very sustainable! 100% of the money stay with the locals. I do not charge any money at all (but try to earn small amounts of money in other ways – for example by referring you to Trine and getting that 10 euro bonus) and even cover the hosting fees myself. It’s ecologically sustainable too. You will eat locally produced organic food and be able to try a very low impact lifestyle. If sleeping in someone’s spare room decreases carbon emissions by up to 78% compared to hotels, I wonder what the stats are for sleeping in a yurt in the grasslands.
If you want to help make it possible to add more homestays in the future, you could for example invest in solar power with Trine (using this link) or sign up for AirBnb (using this link).
9. A small last thing
A small small last tip on how to save money and travel more sustainably! It occured to me as it got cold and I decided to put on a recently bought second hand thermal first layer shirt from Devold.
Buying second hand stuff is sometimes crazy good. And somehow it seems to me that it’s even better for travel related stuff. Perhaps it’s because people distinguish so much between ”travel life” and ”normal life” that a lot of them buy clothes especially for traveling and then sell them after the trip? Either way: if you are going out hiking in the Himalayas or just want to backpack around and need some good clothes and equipment: just look around a bit on ebay. It’s possible to find almost new high quality stuff for a fraction of the retail price. The merino wool thermal shirt I just put on cost me less than 10% of it’s original price. It looks and feels like new. I will use it on the High Coast Trail ten days or so from now. I guess that’s similar to what that other guy used it for before he sold it.
By the way my favourite is Ecosia. I must recommend it again.
Some people going for the homestays have asked me about what else to do when visiting Inner Mongolia. Since there is already plenty of info about the two homestays on this site, they don’t need to be mentioned in this post too. Of course the same goes for the grasslands. Everyone knows about them already anyway! They seem to be included in every trip to these parts of China. I will just mention that if you have the time and energy to spend a few extra hours on transportation, it’s better to avoid the one’s just outside of Hohhot and other major tourist hubs as they are often overly crowded. You can read more about that and other things to be careful about in Inner Mongolia here. So instead of the grasslands and homestays, this post will focus on some of the more unexpected travel destinations in the area. There’s actually quite a few of them around and they range from sceneries, cultural heritage sites and hotsprings to bizarre Chinese ghost towns. And there are a few things worth mentioning that are difficult to visit but easy to enjoy – the vast open spaces, blue skies and views out of the night train window.
First one out…
Desert Poplars of Ejina Banner
One of the three remaining large desert poplar forests in the world is to be found in Ejina Banner in the far north west of Inner Mongolia. According to tour-beijing.com (which also has some very useful info for visitors) this is the farthest east such forest in the world, with the remaining two being located in Xinjiang and the Sahara. Formerly widespread these specialized desert trees have now largely disappeared due to the widespread use of them as firewood. Luckily they are now under protection here in Inner Mongolia. And they are quite a sight! Old, dry and gnarly – often partly dead – they give an at the same time rough and beautiful impression, growing straight out of the sand with leaves turning golden in autumn.
The forest is 300 square kilometers large and parts of the forest have been made into a nature reserve. There are dedicated boardwalks for the visitors, zigzagging through parts of the forest, giving a display of the variety – where there is more sand or less, where there are lakes or no water, etc. Leaving the path could probably cause you some trouble, including fines and getting thrown out of the park, but in the parts of the forest that are outside of the nature reserve it’s possible to walk around freely without any park staff interfering! It’s possible to visit some other interesting things freely (and for free) too, such as sand dunes, lakes and wetlands, but for the ancient silk road ruins close by rules are very strict and foreigners even have to apply for a special permit.
All in all this is a beautiful place and if you are close by, a nature lover or just don’t mind a bit of transportation (there are night trains from Hohhot to the small town Dalaihubu in which you can find accommodation and transportation to the nearby park) it’s definitely a place to check out! Since it’s a relatively popular tourist attraction, you’d better aim for weekdays and try to steer clear of any public holidays. This would help you avoid the crowds and at the same time keep prices for accommodation down.
Probably you have already heard about Chinese ghost towns. According to some, there are hundreds of them throughout the country. Some of them can be found in Inner Mongolia. And they vary in size from small to medium and big. Some of them just a jumble of residential buildings built around factories, as the factories are expected to attract workers. Others on the other hand are proper cities with parks, government buildings, museums, football stadiums, shopping malls and anything else you could ask for. The largest ghost city not only in Inner Mongolia or China but the world is Ordos City, built for an anticipated future population of two million. To call it a ghost city, however, is not completely fair, as it’s filling up and seems to have a population of a few hundred thousand by now.
If you want to see something typically Chinese, perhaps this is the best place to go. As someone, I don’t remember who, has noted these kind of cities are only possible in China, as China is the only communist country in the world that is rich enough to construct entire cities without having to take the market into consideration. And even though there are quite a lot of these places most of them don’t seem to be any interesting. And in som years the one’s who are may have filled up. And after these one’s have filled up, probably there won’t come more chances to visit large ghost cities.
There are some hotels to choose from, transportation options are many and the city itself is supposed to be about as strange as it gets. For anyone interested in visiting, plenty of information can be found online. Truckloads of articles has been written about this place.
For a slideshow of twenty surreal photos of Ordos City, click here.
Obvious enough! The capital of Inner Mongolia and since it’s quite likely you will pass through anyhow, it could just as well be perhaps not recommended, but introduced! First things to sort out: why is it not recommended? Not because the city is a horrible place and travellers should stay clear of it. But also not because the city is exceptionally interesting. The city, all in all, is a decent place with a handful of sights such as temples, architecture, museums and parks. Some of these temples, such as the Five Pagoda temple, are pretty or interesting, while others – of course – are not. But the question is, why would anyone go to Inner Mongolia to visit temples? Wouldn’t it be better to go somewhere else entirely if it’s temples you are looking for? Because while this place has some interesting temples for Inner Mongolian standards, it would not stand a chance against many other places in China. Only in one way would it be able to distinguish itself positively. And that is because many of the temples here are small and humble, have no entry fees and are used more by local people than tourists. This is not often the case in China, where temples usually have been converted into simple tourist attractions – if they survived the cultural revolution at all, that is. So it may be that you will enjoy the charm of them.
Hohhot is known as an ethnically diverse place with hui people, Manchus, Mongols and other ethnic groups, but the vast majority of the population is Han and never does the city give the impression of not being a Chinese city. It tries, in order to attract tourists, but it doesn’t really succeed. And the same goes for that fake old town area – also built in order to attract tourists, as the custom is in China. Ironically enough, the city used to have a lot of old buildings (backwater as it was until the mining industry caused the great economic boom, making Inner Mongolia the sometimes fastest developing province in China) but most of them were torn down in order to modernize the city. Perhaps some of the pieces can be found recycled and integrated into the fake old town shopping district. It may sound strange but it’s quite common to build old towns (or even ”ancient” towns) in China and often the same pieces they are built with are taken from authentic old towns that have been torn down in order to modernize. Either way the old town area is not the place to go, unless you want one more of those unique China experiences. Ghost towns and fake old towns – what will they come up with next?
The mountains just outside of town are pretty and suitable for hiking. They offer great views of the city. If you anyway intend to spend some time in Hohhot, a day trip into the mountains could very well be the best way to spend the time.
With only one comment on Tripadvisor (a 4 out of 5, by the way) it’s perhaps not the most obvious thing to include in your Inner Mongolia itinerary, but since one of the things people most often complain about with nature reserves in China are the crowds, question is if the lack of interest for this one isn’t actually a big bonus.
It’s easy to reach the geopark from the large nearby city Chifeng. Chifeng is a regional transport hub with great bus and railway connectivity and could be an option if you are heading from Beijing to either of the inner mongolian homestays or reverse.
All the other things.
Yes, last on the list: all the other things. Because really I don’t know what other title to list all these incoherent things under. The surreal atmosphere of the cities, the views out of the bus window, to gaze from one horizon to the other and not being able to spot a single building, to encounter more wild animals than people while in the grasslands. And the night trains! All those kilometers you have to cross to get from one place to the other! And that mongol guy on the train from Hohhot to Xilinhot who sat up singing until late. The strange flowers of the grasslands. The great big trucks overloaded with mountains of hay, driving through the middle of nowhere, looking hopelessly lost. Even the surreal landscapes created by the mining. It’s as if the mountains had been cut by giant razors. All these strange things are what I liked the most with Inner Mongolia.
It may very well be that I have missed mentioning a lot of things but hopefully at least this list was to some help for someone. And if you had a favourite place that you would like to recommend, you are very welcome to share it.
I just made a search on Booking.com. I wanted to find the most expensive place in Hohhot and compare it to a yurt advertised by China Culture Center (CCC). The reason that I wanted to compare the price of the yurt is that it cost 4000 RMB to visit it for two days – which should mean (the advertisement doesn’t say) that it’s a one nighter only. Except for the price, the description sounds a lot similar to any of the homestays offered at this site. It is a ”peaceful and authentic retreat compared to Huitengxile or Xilamuren resort tour” and you can ”watch and even participate in their farm and housework”. Meals you will ”share the meal with the family”. And you can ”ride their horses to roam on the grassland” with ”no other tourists there”. At first I didn’t see the price (it’s hidden up just above where the post begins) and I thought it was nice seeing someone trying to advertise a real yurt and not yet another karaoke yurt of the kind mentioned in a previous post about what to be aware of before visiting Inner Mongolia. But then I saw it. Two days for 4000 RMB. That equals 580 USDs with the exchange rate of today. And that’s without adding the fees banks charge for currency exchange, international withdrawals etc.
And back to the hotels in Hohhot. Strange as it may sound the most expensive double room I found was in Wanda Vista Hohhot – and it cost a meager 292 dollars. The room is a 94 square meters large executive suite that (judging by the photos) has been taken straight out of a science fiction movie. And it’s still less than half the price compared to one night in the CCC yurt. I’m not sure what to think. Are people really willing to pay this much? And even if they are, is it fair to ask such a price? It seems ridiculous to me. Sure, some people have more money than time, but to ask them 4000 for something that barely costs the operators anything either in work effort or expenses is just too much. The average income of rural Inner Mongolia is 2050 yuan. That is half the price of the two days in the CCC yurt. And I’m sure that the family is happy about the side income (whatever they get to keep for themselves – not necessarily a lot) but I wonder if it wouldn’t be better for everyone if CCC would lower the prices. They and the Mongol family would earn less per visit, but since more visitors would show up they would actually soon start to earn more, without CCC having to charge unreasonable prices. And of course the tourists would be better off too.
Somehow it makes me happy to see those ridiculous prices though! Because if people really are willing to pay ridiculous amounts like that, it must mean that what is offered is something they really want to experience and that by making it more accessible, us on Anthropolodgy are doing something worthwhile for everyone involved.
If you want to make sure others don’t have to get ripped off in order to have a genuine Inner Mongolian homestay in the grasslands, it would be great if you could recommend us and link to our website in some forum discussion or wherever you think it’s relevant. We are still very new and getting a hang of stuff. For most of the time we’ve been active we have operated entirely through a WeChat and an email account. So any kind of reviews or recommendations would make it a lot easier for people to find and put some trust in us.
Also, one of the ways we manage to keep or costs so low are that there are no fees or charges for the homestays to be marketed here. So if they find 250 yuans reasonable they only need to charge 250 yuan. Many agencies, especially in developing countries, charge fees that are much higher than what the locals get to keep for themselves. I do this basically for fun as a volunteer and so far I have had no income. In the future I would like to earn some money but for now the main concern is covering the hosting fees, domain name purchase etc. One way you could make things a bit easier for me is by using this link to book accommodation on booking.com. Not only will booking pay me a 15 euro bonus for referring them a customer, but they will give you a 15 euro bonus too for booking through them. You can use the link now or later.
It seems sometimes people get a bit disappointed by Inner Mongolia. There aren’t a lot of them but enough for me to start wondering. It’s quite unusual actually, because the same few people rarely get disappointed by for example Gansu, Qinghai or Yunnan. And so I have been thinking. And strange as it may sound, I believe the main problem is the name – ”Inner Mongolia”. From early childhood we are fed stories about Djingis Khan and his Mongol warriors. The Mongols are very much a part of the world cultural heritage. So when we read those two words ”Inner Mongolia” we already have some preconceived ideas of how it would be to visit. We get certain expectations. ”Gansu”, ”Qinghai” or ”Yunnan” on the other hand – they make people shrug and ask ”What is that?” And when they arrive, they are not surprised or disappointed that it is not as they had imagined, because they had not imagined very much to begin with.
So what do these people believe and in what way are they disappointed? I will try to list what I’ve heard below and I hope that this will lead to some upcoming visitors having less bad surprises. However, none of the problems mentioned are unique for Inner Mongolia, and none of them are really that bad if you are aware about them from the start and prepare accordingly.
The mongols are an ethnic minority in Inner Mongolia
This may come as a surprise to a lot of people (it did to me too!) but Mongols make up only a small minority of the population of Inner Mongolia. According to a 2010 census Inner Mongolia was about 17% Mongol and 80% Chinese. So while a lot of people expect it to be very different from other parts of China, actually it’s pretty much the same. Especially the places you are most likely to arrive first are dominated by Han Chinese. Cities and transportation hubs such as the provincial capital Hohhot are even more Chinese than the province average! This applies to most cities. And of course that means that the opposite applies to most of the countryside, which is mainly populated by Mongols. The more remote, the more Mongol. And luckily, in this the third largest province of China – bigger than Spain, Italy and Germany combined – there are plenty of remote places. According to the census mentioned above some administrative divisions are as much as 84% ethnically Mongol. And East Ujimqin Banner where we have one of our homestays has as many as 72.5%. So while the population of Hohhot or Chifeng is similar to almost any other large Chinese city, Inner Mongolia is huge and has plenty of other places for you to visit if you want to experience Mongolian culture.
2. scams and mass tourism
I will have to bring up the Han Chinese again. There’s quite a lot of them around. In China alone there are 1.3 billion or so. Many of them like the idea of going to Inner Mongolia. Blue skies, green grass, no concrete buildings as far as the eye can see. As you can guess, this means that in many places across Inner Mongolia, you will find plenty and sometimes a lot more than plenty of Chinese tourists. One good things about this is that the Chinese usually are really nice and easy to make friends with. But there are also some problems with all those people. Two of the main reasons people visit Inner Mongolia is the Mongols and that it’s one of the least crowded Chinese provinces. Then why go to a place crowded with tourists – tourists who aren’t even Mongols? It doesn’t make sense. One additional problem – and a worse one too – is that the mass tourism has attracted a lot of people interested in the tourists’ money. There are some cheats, small scams and instances where you will risk paying high prices for low quality. This ranges from the friendly guy approaching you in the street to government cultural heritage sites. Just have a look at the Genghis Khan Masoleum. It’s built at a site which most people agree is not the site where Genghis Khan is buried. It has none of his bodily remains. It has a few replicas of items which are said to have belonged to Genghis Khan. And it has a 150 RMB entry fee. Perhaps it’s better to go some other place. And about that friendly guy approaching you in the street it happened to me (and from googling i know that it has happened to others as well) that I was promised a stay in a yurt in some Mongol camp, while in reality I was herded of to some group of plastic yurts built on a big concrete floor out in the middle of nowhere in Ejina Banner. There were karaoke sets, plenty of tourists and only one place to eat which served bad food for unreasonable prices. And of course there were no Mongols to be found. However it was a fun experience and if it weren’t for that probably I would never have made the effort to start looking for a really remote and genuine homestay or started with this fun unexpected project to help other people have as great an experience as I had! So I won’t complain! But I will tell you to keep in mind that there are plenty of tourists in Inner Mongolia and that there are plenty of people trying to rip these tourists off! And with that you should hopefully be better off than me or this guy saying he was staying in a ”concrete cell “dolled” up in yurt fashion, with karaoke laid on in the evenings”. Sounds terrible enough!
3. Mining and environmental degradation
A problem that wont affect you as a tourist but is much worse than any rip offs or language barriers is what is happening to the Inner Mongolian environment. Perhaps most travellers don’t even notice but the province is one of the stone coal and rare earth mining centres of China. A staggering 95% of rare earth minerals in the world are mined in Inner Mongolia. It’s not only rich in minerals but perfect for mining in other ways too. It is vast, accessible and scarcely populated. This means that it is easy to reach the minerals and that there are few there to see or complain about what is happening. Many of the minerals are processed in industrial centers across Inner Mongolia and according to a BBC-article there are places where processing waste is pumped straight into the nature.
Mining makes up for a large chunk of the Inner Mongolian economy and has long been a source of conflict between Mongol herders and mining companies. It’s a sad situation with short term profits in the center. Mongol herders are sometimes forced from their herding grounds, given only a fraction of the land’s worth in compensation. For those who want to see how the coal mines can look there is a 2015 documentary with the title Behemoth. It’s very slow and unenjoyable but could be scrolled through in order to get an idea of how the coal mines can look. Because hopefully you will not get to see too many of them while visiting Inner Mongolia!
Personally I saw only a handful of mines and they were all straight outside of Xilinhot on the way to the homestay in Ujimqin. There were mines of various kinds. Open coal pits in the ground and mountains that appeared to have been shaved by giant razors. But slowly by surely the grasslands took over and in the end there weren’t anything but grass. However there are places where the mines wont be something you pass by on your way to wherever you are going. Things can change quickly. So just in case you use an old travel guide book or a forum post from 2008 as a recommendation, make sure that it still is what it was. Most likely it will be, but it’s better to make sure.
That was all I had to share right now. If there are any more things to think about or if you have any questions, you could either comment or contact me through the contact form. I hope I did not discourage anyone from visiting. Unappealing as some of these things may sound, none of them will necessarily have any negative impact on your trip, as long as you know how to get around them. And besides it could be good to know not only what is good and beautiful about the places you visit too. Perhaps it makes you appreciate the beautiful parts more.
Both of the inner mongolian homestays currently listed on this site are just regular homestays. This means that there are usually no itineraries, planned events, trips or excursions. It is like this because we don’t have the aspirations of a typical tourist organisation, which wants to send people to a tour. Rather, we want to send people to another culture, to experience daily life, meet people, enjoy nature, sample food and so forth. There are of course possibilities for activities too, but they largely depend on you and aren’t scheduled or part of an itinerary. If you want to go horseback riding, learn how to cook Mongol food, go for a walk through the grasslands, help out herding the sheep back home or anything else, it’s just to do it.
The only things that are a bit scheduled are the festivals. These happen throughout the year, mostly in spring and summer, and may include things such as cultural shows, family gatherings, activities and special meals. One of the most popular festivals is Nadaam, celebrated in July. Nadaam is inscribed on the UNESCO list of human cultural heritage and you can read about it by clicking this link. The festival revolves around three traditional mongol games. Wrestling, horse racing and shooting with bow and arrow.
Last year we had a guest joining to one of the festivals and he shared with us some photos posted below.
To celebrate one of these festivals would be a bit different from what is usual in Inner Mongolia. There are no tickets, tour groups, hidden charges or the like. Almost everyone attending will be locals and you and the handful other people arriving from the homestay will be the only tourists. You can enjoy watching the competitions and meeting the locals. Also there will be eating and drinking. The guest who took the pictures wrote: ”Generally this is an amazing experience, the Mongols are a nice people, extremely accommodating, both the host family and all the strangers I encountered on Nadaam. Whenever I went into a yurt I was given food and drink. Not because I am from the West. Everyone, even the Chinese, can count on such hospitality.” You can read his entire post by clicking here.
The only problem is that because this is a real festival, it only happens when it’s supposed to happen, which is once per year. While many other places offers cultural shows on a weekly or daily basis, it’s not possible here. You have to sign up in advance and we will try to sort something out for you. There will be some additional info coming up soon about different festivals and prices. While it may be a bit more troublesome doing it like this, it will for sure also be more of an experience. Also, all the money you spend will stay with the locals, not some Chinese owned theme park with Mongol staff for the shows. And prices will be very reasonable.
Just remember to send an email well in time. These are not things that happen every week or month and we can not guarantee anything even if you contact us well in advance. It may be that at the time of your visit there are no festivals. It is even most likely that it will be like that, unless you have a flexible schedule and are intent on attending a festival.
A great place to visit for anyone interested in experiencing some genuine Inner Mongolian culture on their trip through Inner Mongolia or China! The homestay is located in the Abag Banner just west of Xilinhot. It’s an arid region with a population density of less than two people per square kilometer! The density of Inner Mongolia as a whole is more than ten times higher! So it’s an area abundant in nature. Most people here support themselves through keeping animals. In the settlement of the homestay lives a group of five people. They are herders and keep horses, sheep and cows. There are permanent buildings as well as yurts, one of which you will get to stay in.
Two of our guests made a video of their visit which will show you what you could expect