Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, China
Hohhot (Huhehaote in Chinese), is the capital of Inner Mongolia province located beyond the Great Wall in China. Many Chinese asked us why we were going there. According to them, there is nothing and the remote province is populated by "barbarians". Inner Mongolians call themselves Mongolians just like Outer Mongolians.
Hohhot proved to be an interesting blend of modern China and Mongolian culture. You can feel the difference right away when you get out of the megalomaniac train station. Nearby streets are full of little eateries where people sit outside. In September the weather was already a bit chilly and people were keeping themselves warm by the fires, wearing jackets and woollen pullovers.
The city has busy shopping streets as everywhere in China where you can find department stores and Western fast-food chains. We found a pizza buffet that Santeri had been dreaming of for a year. Local delicacies were available in little markets that are scattered everywhere in the city. Fruit are a bargain and good quality. We ate some ten kilos of watermelon. It cost less than 10 cents/kg and was cheap even compared to Cambodia and Vietnam. There were also different kinds of delicious warm buns and rolls. Cheese was unfortunately missing as dairy products are in general. According to our Mongolian host Chinese suffer from lactose intolerance, so no wonder.
The main reason to stop in Hohhot was, however, not food but Mongolian visas. Local consulate issued 30-day tourist visas for us with 30 €. The delivery was fast, one day, but we decided to chill out in the city for a couple of more days. We had a nice, apartment-sized hotel room for 10 €. It was almost three times the price in Cambodia, but on the other hand the standard was a lot better. Cleaning was done promptly and carefully, we had air-conditioning, hot water in shower, a water kettle, and—what was perhaps most beautiful of it all—tap water that had a good taste (though it was potable only after boiling).
There were hardly any other Westerners in the city. We caused five accidents when local cyclists, motorcyclists, and a car driver stared at us and crashed others. Many people wanted to greet us with the only word of English they knew: “hell-low”. English is not really spoken in Hohhot but that doesn’t mean that people don’t want to communicate with foreigners. Unfortunately our Chinese was limited to some words and many locals panicked when we tried to ask if they spoke English. In general, the atmosphere was, however, welcoming. We haven’t been in a country that is so interested in tourists for a while. For example Thais don’t necessarily even bother to talk to you.
We left from Hohhot to Mongolia by bus to the sand-blasted border town of Erlianhot and returned later by train to celebrate China’s National Day (October 1st). During the second stay we chose a spa-hotel where Santeri could go to sauna (women’s sauna was out of order). It proved to be quite an experience. There were some ten naked, drunk Chinese guys in the sauna having a competition. Whenever the sauna got a bit warmer, someone threw cold water on it to cool it immediately down.