If you like being outdoors, then Inner Mongolia is the place for you!
Inner Mongolia, a province in the north of China, is a place I’ve always been curious about visiting.
When I got the chance to go, I jumped at the opportunity to spend four days taking in the sights, enjoying natural beauty, and eating as much lamb as I could possibly get my hands on!
With so many things to do in this wind-swept and magical part of China, it’s hard to narrow it down to just a few highlights. But for you, I’ve tried.
So, here are eight awesome things to do in Inner Mongolia.
(Note: in case you don’t know, Inner Mongolia is not the same as Mongolia, which is a standalone country and is not covered in this article.)
1. Stay in a yurt in the middle of nowhere
It looks cool, it is cool.
Okay, so I’m sure my humble abode was a far cry from a traditional yurt but nonetheless, I loved it.
My yurt was complete with electricity and running water. However, the water was ice cold!
This is worth keeping in mind if you plan to stay here for more than one night.
For me, it was a bit too chilly to fully shower which would have been inconvenient had I been doing something messy or very active during the day.
See also: Tips when planning your trip to China
Our particular yurt village offered the chance to wear traditional Mongolian clothing to dinner – a lamb feast complete with songs and dance.
I wasn’t entirely sold on the dressing-up aspect, but my travel buddies were and so I allowed myself to get swept up in the festivities.
Without the interference of light pollution, the night sky and sunrise and sunset were all spectacular from this area.
I give bonus points to the wind, which whistled through the roof of my yurt and lulled me into a wonderfully peaceful sleep before 10pm on a Friday night.
How wild am I!?
This is a beautiful place to disconnect and really just soak in your surroundings.
2. Ride a horse across the grasslands
I quite like horses, so for me this was really enjoyable.
For others in my party, this was wildly adventurous. And for a few, this was their worst nightmare!
What surprised me the most was how much control we each had over our horse. There were about 35 people in the group, with only two or three local cowboys accompanying us.
Yet, I didn’t ever feel unsafe.
The horses themselves were incredibly chilled out and very well behaved under the watchful eyes of the locals, who rode back-and-forth ensuring nobody was left behind.
If you didn’t want to horseback ride, you had the option to follow behind the group in a little horse-drawn carriage instead.
We rode for around 5 km (3 miles) before heading back to where we started. The uninterrupted views of the grasslands combined with the wind in my hair was one of my highlights of my visit to Inner Mongolia.
Who needs a spa to unwind when nature itself can offer a similar remedy?
3. Receive a Hādá
In Tibetan Buddhism, Hādás are significant in many ceremonies such as graduations, weddings, births, funerals and the arrival of guests.
Sometimes known as a khata, these gifts are small silk scarves. Many sources say they are traditionally white in color, but in Inner Mongolia, they are generally blue to represent the sky.
When receiving a Hādá, you should hold out both hands with your palms facing upwards and bow your head slightly.
The person giving it to you will also bow their head as they place the scarf across your hands. You can then drape it around your neck.
There is a milk-drinking ritual that sometimes goes along with the giving of Hādás. It includes a song and sharing your milk with the heavens and earth.
4. Visit the desert
This was not at all what I expected it to be.
I’d anticipated a bit more nature and a bit less tourism. What I got was a small amusement park in the middle of the Kubuqi Desert.
Some friends who have also visited Inner Mongolia shared similar sentiments about their desert adventure, while some thoroughly enjoyed it.
Ultimately, I still think it’s worth a visit. When in Rome… or rather when in Inner Mongolia!
See also: Tips for your first trip to China
The sand island (that’s how they refer to these parks) I went to was called ‘xian sha dao’ (Chinese: 仙沙岛) which means ‘sand from heaven’.
Upon arriving in the area, we took a cable car across sand dunes until we could no longer see the parking lot or ticket offices.
Next, we took a small, boat-shaped, open-topped bus and drove even further out into the desert.
Here we spent the afternoon enjoying rollercoasters, ATV rides, acrobatic shows and even bumper cars.
For those who are less interested in funfair rides, there were also some quieter spots to sit and enjoy the view as well as plenty of wonderful photo opportunities.
The park also offers camel rides. Remember, you are under no obligation to join in with any activity you don’t want to do.
Other sand islands may offer slightly different activities, perhaps a bit less touristy. Double check with your tour guide or at the ticket office to find out what’s included before you buy your ticket.
5. Spend an afternoon at the museum
My close friends and family know that I am not really a museum kinda girl.
With that said, the Inner Mongolia Museum is a worthwhile visit if you want to gain more insight into the local area and its history.
Located in the capital city of Hohhot, there are various exhibitions spread out across four floors. On display are a wide range of fossils and historical artifacts, some of which date back as far as the prehistoric period.
The exhibits are categorized by genre of nature, history or culture. This should make it quite easy for you to find something to interest you.
However, if you share my view on museums, then the gift shop might be a highlight for you.
6. Visit a temple
Inner Mongolia has no shortage of temples for you to visit. Many of them have beautiful stories behind them.
The temple I went to was actually a Tibetan Buddhist temple called Meidaizhao Monastery dating back to the sixteenth century.
‘Zhao’ means monastery in Mongolian. Its architectural design is reflective of Tibetan, Mongolian and Han Chinese influence – a real mix of culture.
Over the years it has served different purposes within the local community, even as crop storage at one point. However, since the late 1990s its cultural significance has been preserved for future generations.
If you do visit, be sure to pay close attention to the ornately hand-painted walls. You cannot take photographs inside the temple buildings.
If you have a fair bit of time to spend in Inner Mongolia, you could also visit Hasu Lake. It’s not too far from Meidaizhao Monastery.
We stopped off here for a very brief stretch of our legs and some ice cream. The lake looked pretty big and boat tours were offered.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to join one of the tours but I would’ve liked to. Maybe next time!
7. People watch in the park
You may think this is a bit of a cop-out, but I disagree entirely.
Sometimes go, go, go sightseeing can be exhausting, even for the most seasoned tourist.
Many cities in China are fortunate enough to have beautiful parks in which you can find a nice spot to soak up the sun or wander, while reflecting on the wonderful place you are visiting.
Inner Mongolia is no exception.
I took a walk around Genghis Khan Park in the provincial capital, Hohhot.
Complete with children fishing, couples trying to stay cool in the shade and snack vendors, the park even boasts a giant rock carving of Genghis Kahn above a manmade cave.
8. Eat dumplings on Sai Shang Old Street
On this recreated ancient street (塞上老街 in Chinese), also in Hohhot, you’ll find many small shops selling souvenirs and local food.
Make sure you pop in to one of the local restaurants for ‘shāomài’ (烧卖) dumplings.
Just one of the delicious dishes I enjoyed, they’re not too dissimilar to regular dumplings that you would find in most parts of China.
They’re shaped a little differently and are generally filled with lamb, scallions and ginger.
On Sai Shang Old Street, you’ll also see people dancing in the square, costumes for rent in order for you to get that perfect tourist photo, and many small statues dotted around the area.
It’s a cute touristy place if you’re into that sort of thing.
See also: 15 popular foods from China
My final tips for visiting Inner Mongolia
When all is said and done, Inner Mongolia is by far one of the best places I’ve ever visited.
It’s unique in terms of geography and the people are genuinely hospitable. And as you can see, there’s no shortage of things to do there.
If you’re planning a trip to Inner Mongolia, I would suggest joining an organized tour as many of the main places of interest are quite far from each other.
It may sound obvious, but remember to check the weather forecast ahead of time. I found the weather perfect – not too hot or cold. However, it can get very windy and very hot at times, so be prepared!
And, as always, if you’re traveling to China and want to access all your favorite websites and apps (like Facebook, Google, Gmail, YouTube, etc), you’ll need to get a VPN before you arrive. Check out this page before you head to China.
I think you’ll love Inner Mongolia. I definitely hope to visit again in the future!
Not quite sold on Inner Mongolia? Perhaps Yangshuo might be your cup of tea. Enjoy a tropical climate, rock climbing, bamboo rafting…