Inner Mongolia Grassland Tour – Escape the city into a Mongolian Yurt

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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 and there are lots of kilometers of grassland to be found, so you do have some choice when selection 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!

Travel friends enjoying the view
Travel friends enjoying the view

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?

Hohhot China

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 you can 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 to be 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. Hohhot counts quite a few ethnic groups and many inhabitants are either Mongols or Chinese, but thanks to the large university in the city, you’ll also encounter many others.

Hohhot street view at night
Hohhot street view at night
Lobke in Hohhot
Lobke in Hohhot

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 came out and the street filled up with hungry Chinese and foreigners alike.

Due to my abundance in 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 was needed to portray chickens and swines.

Not sure if that’s what we eventually got! Anyway, you’ll find plenty 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 plan on staying in this place, I suggest doing the same.

The hostel is located at the end of a small street where we wouldn’t be looking for a hostel. We chose this hostel because we knew that they had 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.

The hostel was very crowded at the time of our visit and it wasn’t the most clean place we stayed in but overall we had a good stay.

Lobke enjoying the sunrise
Lobke enjoying the sunrise

Inner Mongolia Grassland Options

When selecting which Inner Mongolia tour of the grassland to take, you get to choose between different grassland areas, if you’re lucky.

Depending on which hub city you use, your options might be limited to that area. Many travelers pass through Hohhot, but we quickly listed the most popular grassland regions in Inner Mongolia.

We’ll explain more about the grassland tour we did below!

Xilamuren Grassland

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!

Yurt Camp
Yurt Camp

Gegentala Grassland

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 can vary serieusly depending on your budget and you can choose to sleep in a traditional yurt, a deluxe yurt or a yurt that has been installed on a chariot.

This grassland area has a huge tourist center and touristic area where you won’t even notice you actually came to get away from all that!

Hulunbuir Grassland

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.

The Hulunbuir Grassland can be visited from Hailaer.

Huitengxile Grassland

Huitengxile Grassland is also a popular grassland area and there are a lot of activities to do and attractions to see in this area.

The Huitengxile grassland can be reached 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 map with different tours you can do.

You can do a day trip to 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 chose to do 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 seem to be different every day and they seem to change the departure hours whenever they see fit.

Our first day of the Inner Mongolia tour won’t start before 15h in the afternoon, so it seems like our tour is cut short, because the excursion book states 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!

Pick-up

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 have gathered 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 have already been 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 had hoped.

We can see huge tourist camps with Chinese travelers. The camps are walled with a brick, 2 meter high wall where hundreds of Mongolian yurts have been installed. The gate to enter these camps are guarded by two large stone lions.

I hope with all my heart that our yurt camp won’t be like this. 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

Our 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. The domain is surrounded by nothing but grassland and it’s perfect.

We can see the owners of the domain sitting inside and they’re watching their television.  🙂

We’re glad to get away from that for a while. 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 yurt 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 can use to make our beds.

The surroundings of our yurt
The surroundings of our yurt

Providing for the camp fire

After making our beds, we’re invited to help find flammable stuff in order to light a fire later that night. We did our research 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 should just dig in! I’m prepared and brought a small roll of plastic bags, which serve as gloves perfectly.

Once the others see our technique, they’re begging for plastic bags too.

Interesting fact: burning horse shit doesn’t actually smell like it.

The fire blocks our view and when we decide to go for a walk, away from the fire, we can see the millions of stars lighting the sky above us.

Don’t forget to bring a few drinks, because there are no beers provided during this tour and every campfire deserves a few beers!

Collecting horse shit
Collecting horse shit for the bonfire

Inner Mongolia Grassland Tour Day 2

Day 1 of the tour was about sleeping in a traditional Mongolian yurt on the Xilamuren grassland. The second day of the tour is filled with activities, starting with magnificent sunrise.

Sunrise on the Inner Mongolia Grassland

We set an alarm to watch the sun rise 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’m very inclined to say they were wild horses, but they probably weren’t.

Sunrise on the grasslands of Inner Mongolia
Sunrise on the grasslands of Inner Mongolia
Horses on the grasslands of inner Mongolia
Horses on the grasslands of inner Mongolia

Visit a Buddhist Monastery

The second day of our tour, we were taken 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 I suppose it should be. We felt as if we were invading in the peaceful life of the monks who were praying and singing.

The whole experience had a very intimate feeling to it and I walked out being quiet and serene.

Tip: you’re not supposed to take pictures of the Buddha statues or inside the temples!

Monastery
Monastery
Monk
Monk

Learning archery

In the afternoon of the second day, we had a chance to play 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!

Inge doing archery
Inge doing archery
Releasing my inner Katniss
Releasing my inner Katniss
Our two arrows are a hit!
Our two arrows are a hit!

Ride a horse on the grasslands

After an hour of old school play, we left for a horseback riding activity.

We already did some horseback riding in Patagonia and were looking forward to this.

We were surprised to see that the horses we were supposed to ride were more close to being donkeys than horses. There was maybe one horse that actually looked like one.

Being 1m75 I hoped to be assigned 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 could be counted as one of the men.

So there were 4 tall and heavy people, while the others were more feather-like.

The guy who was 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. I was up next and you can already guess that the stallion wasn’t for me! I could see little stars of joy and suppressed laughter in Lobkes eyes when she ended up climbing the stallion.

We walked a small tour with the horses, being chased by a guy on a motorcycle who was whipping the horses so they would move. The horses were frightened to be hit and seemed to be panicking 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.

We felt sorry for the poor horses who were obviously not very happy with the way they were treated. We were ignored when speaking up about it.

The experience was totally different than what I expected.

Horseback riding
Horseback riding
Horses
Horses

Conclusion: 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 happen to be in Mongolia or Inner Mongolia in summer time, it might also be interesting to attend the Naadam festival and Naadam fair, which are traditional festivities where you can 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 held in Mongolia, you can also attend Naadam in Inner Mongolia China.

We hope you enjoyed this Inner Mongolia travel guide!

Us at the Grasslands of Inner Mongolia
Us at the Grasslands of Inner Mongolia

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Grasslands of inner Mongolia
Grasslands of inner Mongolia

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This looks incredible, I love off-the-beaten-path destinations and Mongolio sounds perfect. Your photos are insanely good too! It’s added to the Bucket List for sure.

I really enjoyed reading your pos and Inner Mongolia seems a great destinations. I would definitely prefer it to Mongolia proper. It will have to wait though…

Helen

This looks amazing! I love the wildness of the landscape and those yurts look really cosy. How cool to learn archery as well!

Awesome guide! We whizzed through this part of China (spent an whole 2 hours in Hohhot changing trains and eating a McDonalds) and now wish we had stayed a night or two to check out the hot pot and maybe added the grasslands tour in. Defos something to keep in mind. The horse riding sounds scary! We didn’t do any horse treks when we were in Mongolia (as neither of us can ride) but so many people said the same about the horses being jumpy! You’re very brave!

Yay! Love this post. I also spent some time in Innermongolia’s grassland (mostly around Xilinhot) and the scenery was absolutely amazing. It’s definitely off the beaten track in China!

Not sure why, but Mongolia always has been high on my bucket list. And now after reading your experience it’s even more real! 🙂 Thank you for sharing, Inge!

This part of china has been on my list for a very long time and as well as going into the grassland and desert over there, staying in a yurt is top of my list. Really detailed guide this and bookmarked this for future reference. Scenery looks stunning 🙂

Thanks for letting us get a peek at Inner Mongolia. What an experience you had.so they didn’t even beds in the yurts. His authentic!

It’s a shame about the horses. It always feels better to be on fully ethical trips that you can feel good about through and through. Of course, if it wasn’t for the horses you wouldn’t have anything to burn for the fire so it isn’t all flamy horse dookey.

Lance

It sounds like this trip was a bit of a mixed bag. I certainly would love to have seen the sunrise over the grassland. The archery looks enjoyable. Unfortunately, the horse ride sounds disappointing. I enjoy reading how you just jumped into the cultural experience with peeing in the grasslands and collecting horse poo for firewood. I would have been really upset with the pate start to the tour as well.

What an incredible experience, this is perfect. We want to visit Mongolia and this is an ideal way to do that, I love that you got to have such an authentic experience here. We’ll be returning to China in a year or so and would love to do this ourselves.

I happy to discover a new destination today. Did not know about Inner Mongolia and the Grasslands in China. Seems like you have great options to choose from. Surprised that there is a Buddhist monastery too. Thanks for the tip on not taking pictures inside. Learning archery sounds fun!

Talk about off the beaten path! Its not surprising that Mongolia is high on traveller’ lists these days. The landscape is unusual…so raw and untamed. Yurts sound like fun!

Learning archery and riding horses in the grasslands in Inner Mongolia! Wow! That’s definitely a one of a kind experience! Actually, we talked about traveling to Mongolia and China next summer, so this post really helps us to decide whether we should do that or not. It’s good to know that there are also more luxurious yurts. Because of Mei’s backpain, we can’t sleep on the floor or bad mattresses like we used to 10 years ago.. So we’ll see if their deluxe yurts offer good beds or mattresses, and private toilet. 🙂

China is one of those places that I haven’t yet started putting my attention on because I’ve only been to 13 countries so far. But this is great food for thought. I can imagine that the language barrier could be a bit challenging out away from the big tourist centers. Good tips on the camera in temples and with statues. Definitely want to respect the cultures we visit.

Post Miranda

Love this post. I’ve slways been fascinated by Mongolia and Tibet so this is worth bookmarking for future trips!

Klaus

Can I know travel agrency you used for grassland tour? I want to experience same things you did!! It sounds so awesome. And thnk you for sharing all those iformation!!

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