Italy to Inner Mongolia

From Rome we had a flight to Beijing via Doha on Qatar airlines. We were actually a little bit excited for our 10 hour stopover in Qatar, having read good things about hanging out in its luxurious terminal. What we had failed to read was that the Doha airport actually has two terminals. So to our disappointment, we were ushered into the economy class terminal, where we spent our layover in a crowded, run-down building. The only saving grace was the "sleeping room" where I managed to snag a chair and nap for a few hours while Yann guarded our bags.

In Beijing we booked our train tickets into Inner Mongolia. The train heading directly to the border was not for a few days, so we opted to head to Hohhot, the modern capital of the province where we hoped to get onwards transportation  to the Mongolian border.  

We arrived in Hohhot at sunrise and made our way to the ticket counter to get our next ticket. Hoping to leave that same afternoon, I exited the line with a ticket leaving 3 days later. Purchasing a ticket in Chinese is a somewhat stressful process, and by the time I realised that there wasn't a daily train I was already holding the tickets that would have us stranded in Inner Mongolia for the next three days. After considering briefly to return the tickets and take a bus, we decided not to attempt such a tricky ticket operation and to give Hohhot a chance.

Holding a small pamphlet for a Mongolian family's guesthouse that we had grabbed in our Beijing hostel, we left the train station on foot. It took us over an hour to track down the small guesthouse which turned out to be a great place to lounge while waiting for a train. There were many interesting guests, including Sarah and Doriane, a sweet French mother and daughter pair who we spent a lot of time with. Guesthouse aside, Hohhot is not the most beautiful place to visit. It is hot, dusty and definitely not a showcase of Mongolian culture. In typical Chinese Government style, Mongolian culture appears to be valued for nothing more than its potential for mass domestic tourism. Unlike Tibetans, whose cultural assimilation by the Chinese has generated much international attention, the Mongolians of Inner Mongolia as well as many other Chinese minority groups have been waging battles far less visible in the media. Check out Despite the somewhat depressing atmosphere of Hohhot, we made an effort to visit the three cultural sights listed in our guidebook: the Five Pagoda Temple, the Dazhao Temple and the Hohhot Great Mosque. However, the highlight of Hohhot was the Inner Mongolian cuisine, eating out was a pleasure. Our best meal was a "Mongolian Hotpot", a garlicky broth in which you cook your own lamb and vegetables. After what we had heard of actual Mongolian cuisine, we made sure to savour every meal we had in China.