Grassland Tour in Inner Mongolia
Inner Mongolia is an autonomous region of China, bordering the country of Mongolia in the north of China. Inner Mongolia is a very large region with lots of kilometers of grassland to be found, so you have some choice when selecting your destination.
Most of the other travelers we encountered on our trip to the grasslands were Chinese tourists and we suppose they all wanted to experience a night in a Mongolian Yurt as we did!
Due to its proximity to Beijing, many travelers choose to visit the Xilamuren Grassland, which is pretty close to Hohhot.
It’s possible to book these Inner Mongolia Grassland tours either from Beijing or once you arrive in Hohhot.
We explain how we did it in this Hohhot Inner Mongolia travel guide to the grassland tour.
Scroll down to see quite a few nice yurt images!
Beijing to Inner Mongolia Train
We traveled from Beijing to Inner Mongolia by train, a night train actually.
Read everything we know about trains and night train in China in our China Train Guide.
This was our first night train in China and the experience was great! We decided to treat our self for our first night train and chose a private cabin that we only shared with one other couple.
To catch the Beijing to Inner Mongolia train, we embarked the train in the main railway station of Beijing at 22h in the evening and arrived in the city of Hohhot around 7 in the morning.
The other option is to take a flight to Hohhot, but hey… where’s the experience in that?
The city of Hohhot China is located in the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia and in terms of a large scale country, Hohhot is pretty close to Beijing. As an extra asset, Hohhot is a great starting point for an excursion into the Xilamuren Grassland and there are a few other excursions to do from this city.
Coming from the bustling city of Beijing, Hohhot had a completely different vibe to it. We were obviously still in China, but even though this was still a city with a population of millions, it seemed a lot quieter, especially in the part where we booked a hostel. Hohhot wasn’t the most charming city we ever laid eyes on, but it was still an interesting city to roam. Hohhot Inner Mongolia is also called ‘The Blue City’ because the open and blue sky it features almost year round. The Blue City counts quite a few ethnic groups and many inhabitants are either Mongols or Chinese, but thanks to the large university in the city, there are many other ethnic groups.
Where to eat in Hohhot China
Our hostel was conveniently located next to the most famous food street in Hohhot and in the evening barbecues and hot pot equipment came out and the street filled up with hungry Chinese and foreigners alike. Due to my abundance of different food allergies, we decided to find safe places, which was quite difficult. English wasn’t commonly spoken, but we managed! We found this awesome restaurant where we managed to explain what we wanted, using our hands and feet and whatever needed to portray chickens and swine. Not sure if that’s what we eventually got! Anyway, there is plenty of awesome food in Hohhot, don’t worry.
Where to sleep in Hohhot China
Let’s talk about finding a place to sleep.
We stayed at Anda Guesthouse and it was a little difficult to find.
Luckily, we arranged for someone to pick us up at the train station and if you want to stay in this place, I suggest doing the same. The hostel is at the end of a small street where we didn’t expect to find a hostel.
We chose this hostel because we knew that they offered the best grassland tour and other tours in Inner Mongolia. During our stay in Anda Guesthouse, we met quite a few awesome friends there and we had a very memorable experience in Hohhot, as well as during our grassland expedition.
Inner Mongolia Grassland Options
When selecting your Inner Mongolia tour of the grassland, there is a choice between different grassland areas, if you’re lucky.
Depending on which hub city you use, your options are limited to that area. Many travelers pass through Hohhot, but we quickly listed the most popular grassland regions in Inner Mongolia.
We explain more about our chosen grassland tour below!
Xilamuren Grassland is the most frequently visited by travelers and Chinese tourists alike. The grassland is easily accessible from Hohhot and you can either do a day trip or a multiple day trip with a travel agency in Hohhot.
This is the grassland we visited and if you want to know what it was like, keep reading!
Gegentala Grassland isn’t too far from Hohhot either, but you can also book a tour from Beijing to Gegentala.
Spending the night in a Mongolian Yurt in Gegentala varies heavily depending on your budget and you can choose to sleep in a traditional Mongolian yurt, a deluxe yurt or a yurt that has been installed on a chariot.
This grassland area has a huge tourist center and a touristic area where you won’t even notice you actually came to get away from all that!
Hulunbuir Grassland is located much further up north, away from Beijing and some guides call it the purest of all grassland and it is surrounded by legends and tales.
This Grassland is accessible from Hailaer.
Huitengxile Grassland is also a popular grassland area and there are a lot of activities to do and attractions to see in this area.
This grassland is accessible from Ulanqab.
Other Inner Mongolia Tours from Hohhot China
Anda Guesthouse offered many other tours besides the Inner Mongolia Grassland tours and they actually had a folder with different tours you can do.
Visit an ancient part of the Great Wall of China, which isn’t as majestic as the wall that is closer to Beijing, but it is much older. It’s also possible to combine your Grassland tour with a trip to the Inner Mongolia desert. We didn’t book the extra desert day, because we heard that the desert is very small and extremely touristy. But if you’re interested, you can.
We selected the 2 days – 2 night Inner Mongolia tour of Xilamuren Grassland. So here’s how it went!
Inner Mongolia Grassland Tour Day 1
The tours appear different every day and they change the departure hours whenever they see fit. Our first day of the Inner Mongolia tour only started at 15h in the afternoon. So our tour was cut short because the excursion book stated that the tour starts at noon.
But the staff at the Guesthouse tells us not to worry, they will squeeze all the activities into the tour even if they have less time to do so.
Sounds promising, right! Let’s squeeze activities!
A taxi picks us up at the hostel to take us to a meeting place at a gas station at the edge of town, where we need to switch into a minibus with a few other travelers. Multiple vans gathered here and they all carry travelers. We recognize some of them because they’re also in our hostel, but booked a different tour. Some of them already went to the desert and join us now to visit the grasslands, while others did another activity.
To the Xilamuren Grassland
It’s almost 2 hours later when we finally reach the Xilamuren Grassland, which isn’t as deserted as I hoped. We see huge tourist camps with Chinese travelers.
The camps are walled with a brick, 2-meter high wall where they installed hundreds of Mongolian yurts. Guarding the gate to enter these camps are two large stone lions.
I hope with all my heart that our yurt camp isn’t like this.
It’s just that I want to be in the open grassland and not in some walled tourist camp.
Luckily we keep driving away from the massive camps until we reach a piece of land where we can see 7 or 8 simple traditional yurts, out in the open and with a wide view over the open land!
I’m loving it already!
Our Mongolian Yurt Camp
The traditional Mongolian Yurt camp is more traditional than the ones we passed by previously, but of course, it’s still designed for tourists.
There are about 7 yurts and a brick house where the owners live. Nothing but grassland surrounds the domain and it’s perfect!
We see the owners of the domain sitting inside, watching their television. Not jealous of that!
The camp has a toilet and you can use it if you pay a fee, but we decide to go traditional and we pee in the wild as we’re supposed to do. We’re a group of 12 travelers and we get two yurts to share. Half of the group travels together, so they share one yurt and the rest of us shares the other yurt.
We find some mats and blankets inside, which we use to make our beds.
Providing for the campfire
After making our beds, the tour guide invites us to help find flammable stuff in order to light a fire later that night.
We researched this and we already know that it’s dry horse poo we’re looking for. I have this basic thing against picking up shit from the ground, but since we wanted to do this tour, we just dig in!
Prepared, as usual, I brought a small roll of plastic bags, which serve as gloves perfectly. Once the others see our technique, they beg us for plastic bags too.
Interesting fact: burning horse shit doesn’t actually smell like it.
The evening fire blocks our view and we decide to go for a walk. Away from the fire, we see the millions of stars lighting the sky above us.
Don’t forget to bring a few drinks, because beers are not included during this tour and every campfire deserves a few beers!
Inner Mongolia Grassland Tour Day 2
Day 1 of the tour is all about sleeping in a traditional Mongolian yurt on the Xilamuren grassland. The second day of the tour is filled with activities, starting with a magnificent sunrise.
Sunrise on the Inner Mongolia Grassland
We set an alarm to watch the sunrise and it was pretty early. The sun came up around 6h30 and it was very worth the early wake-up call. We also saw some horses drinking at a nearby pool and I think they were wild horses, but they probably weren’t.
Visit a Buddhist Monastery
The second day of our tour, we travel to a small town which housed the Buddhist monastery. It was very different from the sacred temples we visited in Beijing.
Most important, it was very quiet, as it should be. We felt like invaders in the peaceful life of the praying and singing monks.
The whole experience had a very intimate feeling to it and I walked out being quiet and serene.
Tip: you should not take pictures of the Buddha statues or inside the temples!
In the afternoon of the second day, we played a little with bow and arrow. They were more of play sessions than lessons, but it was great fun. We aimed at this pole with a sack of straw attached to it.
When we finally hit the thing, we were over the moon!
Ride a horse on the grasslands
After an hour of old-school play, we left for a horseback riding activity. Previously, we already did some horseback riding in Patagonia and were looking forward to this. We were surprised to see that the horses we would ride were more close to being donkeys than horses. Maybe one horse actually looked like one.
Being 1m75 I hoped to ride the real horse, I couldn’t have been more wrong!
Our group had 3 men, me, and 5 women. Size and weight wise, I (surprisingly) counted myself as one of the men. So there were 4 tall and heavy people, while the others were more feather-like.
The guy in charge pointed at someone and then gave that person a horse.
He first picked the tallest guy and gave him the tiniest horse. Everyone was amused to see him get on the horse and almost touching the ground with his feet. The other guys also got little donkeys and they all looked stupid sitting on them.
As I was up next, you can already guess that the stallion wasn’t for me!
I saw little stars of joy and suppressed laughter in Lobke’s eyes when she ended up climbing the stallion.
The not-so-wonderful horseback riding tour
We walked a small tour with the horses, chased by a guy on a motorcycle who whipped the horses so they moved faster. The horses were frightened and panicked quite a lot. Some considered the horseback riding as very scary since the horses were rushed and frightened the entire time.
It was a weird experience as it was very wobbly for me and it wasn’t very relaxing nor enjoyable. The riders treated the horses badly and this is not a great activity.
This experience started out fun but it turned out totally different than what we expected.
Inner Mongolia Grassland Tour
We enjoyed our tour of the Xilamuren Grassland a lot and would love to visit the actual Mongolian grassland in the country of Mongolia some day. It’s interesting to learn about the history of this region and listen to stories about Genghis Khan and how they thrived in this area.
If you visit Mongolia or Inner Mongolia in the summertime, it’s also interesting to attend the Naadam festival and Naadam fair, which are traditional festivities where you witness men competing in the ‘three games of men’: wrestling, horse racing, and archery.
These festivities date back to the Qing Dynasty and they’re listed as Unesco Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Even though the largest festivities are in Mongolia, it’s also possible to attend Naadam in Inner Mongolia China.
We hope you enjoyed this Inner Mongolia travel guide!