HohHot is a Ger-eat Place in Inner Mongolia

HohHot, Inner Mongolia – Town life, Grasslands & Desert.

HohHot is located in Inner Mongolia, China. It is not to be confused with Mongolia the country.

A Ger is the correct local name for a Yurt. A tent like structure, usually circular and can stand by itself or surrounded by a mass of other Yurt structures out in the wilderness. Inner Mongolia is a huge Province so I did not have the time to explore much. The focus of my trip was HohHot with a 2-day/1-night tour to the Grasslands and Desert.

Making the journey to HohHot

After sitting on the plane for approximately 15 minutes the plane finally made a move, although it wasn’t to take off, but rather just to drive around for what felt like 30 minutes.

Interesting announcements

After being in the air about 1 hour the announcement, “You will feel some bumping due to the bad weather outside” came screeching though the speakers. Yes bumping means turbulence. This same announcement was repeated several times causing some loud giggles from us.

As the plane was due to the land the announcement was “Don’t forget to clam your luggage”. More giggles!

Accommodation - Anda Guesthouse

Day 1 – Arriving & Exploring HohHot

Prior to the flight I had arranged to use the Guesthouse airport pick-up  service which cost approximately £9 (total for all passengers sharing a car). The driver was punctual, helpful and very friendly. After a short drive we arrived at Anda Guesthouse to be pleasantly greeted by the staff. After checking in we walked around the local area for hours, ending up at a park with small temples hidden in the trees plus local people relaxing in the sun. A wonderful way to start the trip.

Simply picturesque!

Returning to the hostel we spent some time talking to the staff about doing a Grasslands/Desert tour. After much needed guidance and information we booked our 2 day/1 night tour through them which would begin early the following morning.

For those wondering about prices – Because prices depend on the time of year you choose to visit I have made the decision to leave out any price information. Although we were travelling on a budget and still had money left over so it wasn’t expensive at all. Plus it is one payment which includes: transportation, any entrance fees, accommodation (Ger) and meals. Excludes: camel and horse riding fees.

Day 2 – Xilamuren Grasslands

Zhaoda Temple

 

Early start on day 2 as we prepared for our drive to the Grasslands. The drive was broken up with a lovely stop at a Temple for Sharmanism which we were told is now used for Buddhism too. We walked around the temple, rubbing golden bells for good fortune.

 

A very bumpy journey later, we were pulling up to a very large farm filled with animals, Gers, locals and greenery as far as the eye can see. My first impression was a great one indeed!

Our local guide showed us to our Ger where we were left to make our beds and explore the surroundings a little. We were actually advised to rest but we were so excited we couldn’t even sit still.

We were lucky enough to catch some sheep and horse herding. I found the sheep particularly amusing as when they saw me about to take a photograph, it almost looked as if they were posing. What do you think?

Whilst wondering around taking pictures, our guide called us back. It was time for some Horse Riding. I don’t know about you but when I picture horses I see very tall, strong and elegant creatures. Well, Mongolian horses are nothing like what I am used to. They are very short, muscular and a little scruffy looking.

Off we went on our horse ride. A few things I hadn’t prepared for quickly became apparent. A good sports bra is necessary especially for those who have large breasts like myself. Of course this wasn’t an issue until the owner of the horses decided we should trot. Lots of boob holding whilst trying to control a horse isn’t the most fun. Thankfully I have ridden horses before so I was unphased. My confidence had peaked too soon. We began to canter which is much more comfortable. The horses then decided they wanted to gallop. If these horses had been from our home countries we would have been able to control them but these horses follow different orders so as we were trying to slow them down, we were in fact encouraging them to speed up. Needless to say, if it wasn’t for the owner wanting to slow down and thus telling the horses to do so, we most likely would have been thrown off.

Next on the agenda was Mongolian Archery. This was quite a strange and interesting experience. Firstly the target was blowing in the wind making it almost impossible to hit. Secondly, in the Western world we stand straight and aim horizontally whereas here they bend over slightly when aiming. It’s quite uncomfortable but remember they are used to riding a horse at the same time so tilting slightly makes for better control of your horse as well as your bow and arrow.

Dinner is served!

Mongolians are widely known for being mutton lovers. They are also known for using the entire animal for various purposes. Not only the meat for food, but the skin for coats etc and the bones for ornaments and games. The meal we were served consisted of noodles, tofu & duck hotpot with a large side portion of mutton. Don’t forget the many beers to round the meal off perfectly.

As the sun was beginning to set we were taken out into the grasslands for Cow Pie Picking. Yes, cow pie is cow poop! Yes, we were going to wonder around collecting that cow poop into a basket carried on our backs! Surprisingly, this was a lot of fun. Our guide taught us how to spot the difference between different animals poop and how to know when it is ready to be collected. Not a skill I will ever need again but you learn something new everyday.

Which poop is the right poop?

We returned to our Ger with two baskets of cow pies which we then used for a bonfire. Watching the sunset sitting around a bonfire drinking beer and listening to Mongolian throat singing was a perfect end to a perfect day.

Day 3 – Kubuqi Desert

Another early start before heading to the desert. The drive was pleasant and scenic minus the bumpy roads. Where is my sports bra when I need it hehe.

Another cheeky pit stop. It’s a sort of religious shrine. The idea is to find a stone or small rock to place on it then walk around it 3 times. Brings you good luck!

 

Arriving at Kubuqi Desert we were immediately taken to a room to change into sand shoes which are basically big cotton socks you wear over your current shoes. Once we were ready it was time for Camel Riding. I never realised how comical camels were up close. They’re awkward, slow and stubborn as hell. After watching the owner get two of them to lay down so we could climb on, we set off on a short walk through the desert. For those who have never ridden a camel, it is quite strange as there movements/steps are very large but slow so you feel like you might slip off.

Next it was time for Sand Dunes. This brought out the inner child in me. I just wanted to slide down over and over again BUT remember you have to then walk back up carrying your sled. It is not easy to do on sand and in the blistering sun. It is a great workout though.

Day 4 – More exploring of HohHot

Day 4 was our last official day to explore so we made a full day of it. Started off by wandering along a long street filled with souvenir shops and traditional clothing stores. Even tried on a few things for fun. I decided to buy the Bone Game so I could take it home and teach my friends. I will explain the game rules at the end.  We visited the food street but this time stopped to eat there and later that night we also tried a few of the bars out.

The Bone Game

Enjoying a few cold ones while playing a traditional Mongolian game

You need: 5 bones (sheep bones)

Landing options: 4 different ways they can land when dropped onto a surface (because each bone has 4 sides)

Note: Some surfaces allow 6 ways to land.
The Rules
  1. Roll the bones (the same way as dice)
  2. Check how many match (you are looking at the surfaces facing up) 4 same/4 different OR 3 same/3 different
  3. Pick up the odd one
  4. Throw the odd bone in the air, and whilst it’s in the air try collecting the remaining bones in that same hand before catching the flying bone piece (the aim is to use the same hand for all of this)
Note: 1) If only choosing 3 bones in part 2 - don't touch the bone left behind. 2) If 2 or more bones are leaning against each other - throw a bone to separate them.
Watch the short video clip below to show you how it’s done.

Mount Kilimanjaro – Tanzania

The Top of Africa!

Mount Kilimanjaro is located in East Africa, Tanzania although it overlaps into Kenya. It is the highest mountain in Africa. Before I share my experience with you, please note hiking Kilimanjaro is not a challenge to be taken lightly.

After a friend of mine gave me the contact of his cousin who happens to manage a tour company in Tanzania, it was just a matter of meeting him and his partner to set up a plan. Luckily for myself and my friend the tour guides were a pleasure from day 1. I had personally done a lot of research beforehand on different tour companies, hiking routes and even read many other peoples experiences through blogs. I had asked all my questions and the decision was made. We were to set off on our hike two days later.

In this time I was annoying excited and ready to go, although I can’t say the same for my friend who was terribly nervous about the upcoming climb. Note that I used the word climb deliberately.

Machame Route

Day 1: approx 6 hours

After waking up bright and early, enjoying a big breakfast and checking our already packed bags for the last time before our tour guides picked us up from our accommodation. From there we were driven to the park entrance/gate where we had to pay park fees,

Beautiful never ending leafy green trees

Once everything was settled, we were on our way. The first few hours was a very easy  walk along a lovely pathway shaded by the over-hanging trees with the gentle musical sounds coming from the surrounding wildlife. The tour guides stop you along the way to tell you some interesting facts such as: the age and name of some special trees, the difference between the various bird sounds and to simply show you some unique natural scenic spots.

Later in the day the pathway included some rather large steps and minor climbing points but again, it wasn’t strenuous as long as you take it at your own pace. Hours later we arrived at Base Camp 1 where our tents had already been set up by our porters and dinner was already being prepared.

Day 2: approx 6 hours

Our server woke us up at the crack of dawn so we could wash ourselves and enjoy a good breakfast before setting off on our hike. This was a very fun walk full of variety including flat winding paths, natural steps and rocks to climb. Unfortunately we got caught in the rain which added to the challenge of climbing up a fairly steep section of the path. Thankfully the rain lasted no more than one hour then the sun was back out stronger than ever.

After the heavy rain, the sun breaking through the clouds

Day 3: more than 8 hours

Although Day 3 was the easiest, it was a long day of constant movement. It honestly felt like it was never going to end. For miles all we could see was rocks of various shapes and sizes dotted along the never ending desert. Towards the end of the days walk as the sun was coming down, we stopped to take come victory pictures and take a much needed break.

 

The last part of the journey was actually quite difficult towards the end as the pathway was up and down hill, small climbing sections and crossing small streams. Saying that, it was an absolutely beautiful end to the day with all the strange and spectacular trees and plants while the sun slowly came down and day became night.

Odd trees everywhere

Day 4: approximately 6-8 hours

Immediately after setting off on Day 4 I noticed a huge difference in the pace and spent most of the day practically jogging behind the guides. For me this day was by far the most scenic from morning till noon. We stopped off at a camp for lunch then we were off again for another three plus hours. This was a constant walk up on a gentle incline. After arriving at our camp I was beyond exhausted and excited for a long sleep. Sadly, I was mistaken. At 11:30pm I was woken up by my guides telling me to get ready, it’s time for the midnight climb. The temperature had plummeted making the air uncomfortable to breathe in. Now I knew why I was told to bring a balaclava and thank the lord I listened and brought one.

Imagine, it is freezing cold, you are tired from the past few days, it is pitch black out and you are being told to keep a constant slow pace for six hours because stopping could result in you freezing to death. Not to mention there are no safety barriers between you and your impending death. This was the first time I truly struggled and a few times almost gave up. Somehow I continued on due to a combination of my stubbornness coupled with my amazing guides having complete faith in me. As the sun was coming up we reached the Stella Point at 5723m.

Sunrise at the Stella Point

 

Note: Stella Point is not the Summit.

After seeing numerous people who had attempted the Summit being escorted or carried down on stretchers I decided to stop at Stella Point. I wanted to take in what I had just achieved and enjoy the moment feeling happy and healthy.

Day 5: Descending down to camp

The sun beaming down upon us we set off down the mountain. Surprisingly I felt full of energy and we were in high spirits. Due to the gravel pathway allowing you to basically ski down, we managed to keep up a good pace. The wind and dust began blowing  from all directions and once the sun had come up fully it was quite an uncomfortable walk. Hours later we arrived back at the camp we had left the previous night. After a good wash, a big meal and a long nap, we were off again to the final camp which took around four hours to reach.

On the way down I had noticed several people looking at me strangely. It wasn’t until we reached our final camp and I looked in a bathroom mirror to understand why. To my complete horror my face had swollen to double the size, plus a strong red glow due to a combination of both sun and wind burn. To add insult to injury, my bottom lip had completely burst open. Sexy right!

After much hydration, several applications of face cream and lip balm I managed to fall asleep. My body definitely needed the rest as I slept about nine hours.

Day 6:  The Final Day (3-hours down)

Super early start but luckily only a three hour trek back to the gate where this wonderful and challenging journey began. The majority was downhill with rocky steps to clamber over until the last 30-40 minutes which was a flat gravel path on a slight slope.

Back at the gate where it all started

Exhausted and exhilarated we arrived back at the base of the mountain where we had began only six days earlier. A member of the tour company was waiting with a box of much needed cold beers. The reactions to my sunburnt, swollen face were priceless but it’s all part of the experience and I wouldn’t change anything. After an ice cold beer and a quick catch up, my guide took me to collect my certificate as proof that I completed the hike.

All in all, climbing Kilimanjaro was a dream come true and although it wasn’t a cheap experience, it was worth way more than that.

It is a lifelong achievement which I will cherish and look back on with only positive memories. I would like to say a huge heart-felt thank you to the crew of men that made my dream come true.

The whole crew: hikers, porters, cook and guides
Tour company used: www.steptokili.com

Extra Pictures from my Kilimanjaro Experience

 

 

Follow up article coming soon - specific tour information including prices, equipment, clothing, tipping and my personal tips.