Inner Mongolia is a far cry from the humid, mild-weathered metropolis of Shanghai. Located in northern China, this autonomous region represents the more rugged, wild part of the Middle Kingdom that can only be seen in the central part of the nation. This was my weekend, and put concisely, my weekend was awesome.
I am not overly adventurous by nature. I like routine, rhythm, and set schedules that I can fall into and repeat. Despite this, I loved Inner Mongolia. It really makes you think about how easy it is to travel: what’s stopping you from buying a bus ticket with your friends and going three hours in any given direction? Unless you get out of your routine, you may never get the chance to experience camels, yurts, gliders, and all the other sorts of unexpected things that come with adventure. Here are the top 9 experiences from the weekend.
1. Domestic Flights in China are Great
Before this trip, I never flew with a non-American company. I had no negative expectations, but all the same I did not know how an in-country flight in China would compare. It turns out the Chinese have nailed down the service aspect of flights; great flight attendants, and they serve dinner on domestic flights.
2. Jeeps Can Do Anything on Sand
For the last thirty minutes of our journey to camp, we made a mandatory switch from our bus to jeeps. The switch was mandatory because we had run out of road—our camp was separated from us by thirty minutes of Gobi Desert. Sand dunes may not be as steep as mountains, but when you are going downhill at 40mph and a 60-degree incline I guarantee your stomach will drop. It’s a thirty-minute roller coaster ride with a cool-as-a-cucumber Mongolian driver and four excited, loud Americans.
3. Just try the Lamb
As a Midwestern kid, I am used to three major meat groups (beef, chicken, more beef). That being said, I did not hesitate to try my first lamb ever at camp. I do not know if the English language has the accurate words to describe the salty, savory sensation. Just know that if you ever get the chance, eat Inner Mongolian lamb.
4. Everything Looks Better from a Glider Plane
For the equivalent of $60 USD, I had the option to hop into a glider plane and see the desert, camp, and Moon Lake from a bird’s eye view. I normally consider myself a fairly frugal person, but for the low price of $60 USD (and with my camera itching around my neck), I couldn’t resist the chance to view a Gobi paradise from 1,000 feet in the air. The pictures were well worth the expenditure.
5. Dune Hunting is More Fun Than You Think
Dune hunting means that you go find the biggest dune you can, and then climb it. Again, sand dunes may not be as steep as mountains, but mountains do not give way under your feet with each step. If you find a respectable dune, at some point you’ll be using your hands, if not your knees, to scuttle up the peak. The view at the summit is great at sunrise, but the best part is running down the dune—just make sure you don’t fall.
6. A Camel named Hazel Odysseus Sandstorm III
Riding camels out to Sun Lake is one of the most authentic experiences of the weekend. It does not get more Inner Mongolian than being five feet in the air on the hump of a camel’s back. Naturally, we all named our camels and referred to them by name for the duration of the trip (shout out to Joon for settling on Hazelnut Odysseus Sandstorm the Third after several iterations). Camels may not be the most fragrant animals this side of the International Date Line, but they sure are fun to ride.
7. Smaller Cities Specializing in Street Food
Before this trip, I held the staunch position that the fried rice shops near the east gate of Fudan University was the best street food in all of China, no competition (I am biased, I know the staff there). After a few hours spent in Yinchuan on the way to our final destination, however, I found that the smaller cities have really perfected their local specialties. Durian fruit buns, you have a new fan.
8. Stars on Stars on Stars
Even in my small college town in Norman, Oklahoma, urbanization sometimes makes it tricky to see the stars. In our Inner Mongolia camp, however, separated from Shanghai by thirty minutes in a jeep, two hours on a bus, and three hours on a plane, there was nothing blocking the view. If you know anything about stars, the night was clear enough to point out the constellations. This is rare occasion for me, and so I spent the majority of the night just looking up with an open mouth.
9. Yurts, Laughs and Friends
At our camps we stayed in yurts, the traditional and authentic Inner Mongolian dwelling (well, authentic plus a healing unit). When the sun went down the temperature dropped quickly, so my friends and I often found ourselves all huddled in one yurt or another. We would talk and laugh, sometimes discussing serious matters of economics and society, and other times just talking about silly, random stuff. This is one of my fondest memories of the trip—as one of my friends said later, it was a moment symbolic of how much we have bounded in the past six weeks.
If you’re a visual person (like me) you can also watch some of the highlights from the weekend in this video I created.