As you probably know, there are two Mongolias: Inner Mongolia, which is a part of China, and Outer Mongolia, also known as the Republic of Mongolia.
Both Mongolias have evolved quite differently since their separation, it is extremely fascinating to be able to compare them and while Mongolia is now known as a prime destination for adventure tourism, Inner-Mongolia is hiding some of the best gems of China. From the ghost city of Ordos-Kangbashi to the Jurassic Park border town of Erlian, going through the provincial capital of Hohhot, this tour is sure to provide you with an extraordinary summer holiday.
Designed for the train enthusiasts who want to go from Beijing to Ulan Bator just in time for the breathtaking Naadam Festival on a budget, we are sure to make great encounters and visit some of the more off-the-beaten path locations of China before heading into the Republic of Mongolia.
The moment we arrive we’ll head to visit both the Mount Khogno natural reserve and Terelj National Park, both famed for their wildlife and unforgettable trekking opportunities. We’ll ride camels in the dunes and horses on the steppes before heading back to Ulan Bator right in time for the festivities of Naadam. Naadam is centered around 3 main sports – horse riding, wrestling and archery. After taking in the festival, we will spend a day checking out all the highlights of the capital. It wouldn’t be a YPT tour without checking out massive Soviet monuments and political museums.
Naadam is the biggest event in Mongolia, attracting massive crowds. We can expect accommodations and tickets for the festival to be sold out months in advance. Don’t be left out, book now!
Meet your group and tour leader in front of the McDonald’s of Beijing West Station at 18:00.
Your tour leader will go through the itinerary and any questions you might have before heading out to get your train tickets.
Quick dinner around the train station
Board the overnight train K573 from Beijing heading to Ordos at 20:35.
Wednesday 6th July – Ordos
Arrival just before lunch at Dongsheng West station, Ordos main train station, usually always empty!
On the drive to Wulan International Hotel, one of the few hotels allowed to accept foreigners in the town, we catch our first glimpse of Kangbashi ghost city and pass numerous vacant residential blocks.
After checking into our hotel, we head to Ordos 100, a construction project curated by Swiss architects and controversial artist Ai Weiwei
Check into the hotel and go for some food and night-time exploration, grabbing a few beers in an empty bar
Thursday 7th July – Kangbashi
After an early breakfast we go out for a walking tour of Kangbashi city centre, from Genghis Khan Square with its giant Mongol statues past the museum built in the shape of a beret and the library built to resemble three books on a shelf and on to the skyscrapers on the riverfront.
Visit the 80,000-seater Kangbashi stadium, gymnasium and swimming pool on the way from Ordos, built to hold the 2015 Chinese Ethnic Minority Olympic Games but usually empty.
Check out the ‘Athletes Village’ from the Ethnic Olympics – this huge residential area was built specially for the athletes and now lies completely empty in the middle of nowhere
Grab a quick lunch and drive out to Dongsheng People’s Hospital – a newly built but incredibly empty hospital where you wouldn’t want to be going to in an emergency!
Swing past the mosque – built for three local Muslim families and with the idea that more Muslims might come in the future
Head over to a huge abandoned mansion complex – this would have been a gated area for millionaires, but the money ran out half way through the project and the mansions stand as hollow shells in a development gone wrong
Dinner at the bizarre North Korean restaurant – mainly bizarre for the North Koreans who end up working here, but who are happy to supply Taedonggang and soju (when a new shipment has come in), chat with us and on occasion sing a few songs!
Head back to the hotel or find a drinking spot/karaoke house
Overnight in Kangbashi
Friday 8th July – Kangbashi-Hohhot
Get up slightly later but still head out early to the giant sand dune to the southeast of the city with a great view of the whole city, unfinished residential tower blocks and a family of camels roaming around!
Head out to the area around the Genghis Khan Mausoleum. The mausoleum is an optional extra at 150RMB, but the area around it is full of riches. We pass by the Mongol Yuan Dynasty film set before exploring the seemingly random abandoned buildings dotted around the countryside.
Head for a late lunch at a traditional Mongolian yurt camp in the countryside where we can do some archery, ride a horse or a camel (extra charge) or enjoy the views as our Mongolian feast is prepared – if we’re lucky the main owner will be around to welcome us with a traditional Mongolian ‘nada’ ceremony where we will be presented with a scarf, serenaded and given a shot of milk alcohol!
Make our way to Dongsheng West train station, where we might well be amongst the very few catching the train K574 to Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia, departing at 18:36.
On the train, we should be able to see the sunset as the scenery changes drastically from the desert of Ordos to the grasslands of Hohhot.
Arrival at Hohhot train station. We’ll check in at the hotel and then head out the explore the city’s nightlife.
Overnight in Hohhot
Saturday 9th July – Hohhot
Today is a city tour of Hohhot. Hohhot is an interesting city which claims its Mongolian identity while being very Chinese at the same time.
We’ll first head out to Dazhao Temple, the most famous Mongolian style temple of all Inner-Mongolia
Then, we’ll head to the old city of Hohhot, there, we’ll have time to explore the old Mongolian style buildings and temples but also try some Mongolian delicacies for lunch.
After lunch, we will head to the Inner Mongolia Museum, this massive museum is dedicated to grassland culture as well as the Mongolian heritage of China.
Dinner of Mongolian sheep hotpot.
Sleepy from the hotpot and Mongolian wine, we board the overnight train T4202 to Erlian, leaving Inner Mongolia’s capital for China’s dinosaur capital.
Sunday 10th July – Erlian/Ulan Bator
Early morning arrival in Erlian, a weird border town of Inner Mongolia which tried to become a tourist attraction by promoting dinosaurs. Fossils have been found here.
After leaving our luggage at the station, we’ll head by taxi just outside of town to visit the kissing dinosaurs of Erlian. They are the biggest dinosaur statues in the world.
Head back to Erlian for some exploration of the city
Lunch of Mongolian fare in Erlian
In the afternoon, we will head to the Dinosaur park of Erlian
After a quick dinner we will catch international train K3 to Ulan Bator in the early evening
Monday 11th July – Ulan Bator
TRIP HIGHLIGHT We partake in the first day of the Naadam Festival. Spirits will be high all across town as Mongolians reunite for the event of the year, showcasing their culture through a competition involving the three main sports: wrestling, archery and horse racing.
We attend the opening festival ceremony. The nine tribes of Mongolia are escorting a horse tail of Genghis Khan to the stadium, accompanied by horsemen, monks and dancers.
We will attend the first rounds of the horse racing competition. Races can include thousands of horses with child riders and span over more than 10 kilometres.
Head back to our hostel to try a traditional meal of Khuushuur, a deep fried meat pie which we will rinse down with fermented mare’s milk, like the true Mongolian warriors we’ll be by then.
Tuesday 12th July – Ulan Bator
Wake up nice and early for breakfast
We go and spectate the second day, this time watching wrestling in the stadium. Mongolian wrestling is unique in that the wrestlers are not divided by weight and compete all together. We will get the opportunity to familiarize ourselves with the special costumes the wrestlers wear.
Lunch on site
We head outside the stadium to see the archery competition. Here, we’ll witness archers shooting arrows over a distance of 75m using the infamous Mongolian Compound Bow which was instrumental in Genghis Khan’s conquest of the world.
For dinner, we’ll head to a Mongolian hotpot restaurant to gorge on delicious lamb meat and then head out to check out Ulan Bator’s night life.
Overnight in Ulan Bator
Wednesday 13th July – Mount Khogno Khan Natural Reserve
Up early as we have to drive to Mount Khogno Khan Natural Reserve, 250km away from the capital. This park contains a bit of all landscapes iconic of Mongolia, with sand dunes, the steppes and the taiga. Its ecosystem is extremely varied, with birds, gazelles and deer.
Our cook will prepare us a delicious lunch in the park.
In the afternoon, we’ll get the opportunity to do some more hiking or go camel riding in the nearby dunes.
Dinner and overnight in a traditional Mongolian family Ger, where we will sample Mongolia`s legendary nomadic hospitality.
Thursday 14th July – Terelj National Park
Up early again. Today, our day is dedicated to driving to the Terelj National park. On the way, we’ll stop by Turtle Rock or Melkhii Khad, a rock formation that bears a striking resemblance to its namesake animal.
Lunch prepared by our cook
We start exploring the National Park trekking around accompanied by our expert guide. The park is famous for Khagiin Khar lake and the Tuul River which flows through it. We will also get the opportunity to visit a traditional Mongolian Buddhist temple.
Dinner and overnight once more in a traditional Mongolian family Ger,
Friday 15th July – Terelj National Park
It wouldn’t be a Mongolian adventure without a horse ride so we’ll ride around Terelj National Park like the Khan meant it to be.
Lunch with our personal cook
We start making our way back to Ulan Bator. On the way back, we’ll stop by the enormous statue of Genghis Khan, which we’ll be able to climb to appreciate the view.
Arrival in Ulan Bator for dinner and drinks to celebrate the completion of our tour!
Saturday 16th July – Ulan Bator
Up early for our city tour of Ulan Bator
After breakfast, we’ll head slightly out of town to visit the enormous Zaisan Memorial which will not only offer the best view of the city but also an enormous fresco commemorating the sacrifices of the Red Army which came to liberate the Mongolians from the Japanese. On our way down, we will see a tank memorial.
We head back into town to visit the Memorial Museum of Victims of Political Persecution. Here, we will learn more about the dark side of the Soviet rule of Mongolia and the impact its omnipresent secret police had on the locals.
Lunch at the nearby Chojin Temple Restaurant.
We head to the Gandantegchinlen Monastery, one of the most important site of Mongolian buddhism. During the communist reign, it was the only monastery allowed to function even though it only did so as a token homage to Mongolian culture while most others religious sites were destroyed and their lamas executed.
We head slightly north to the Sukhbaatar Square, place where the very iconic statue of Genghis Khan, most famous Mongol of all history and terror of the western world, is located.
We go to the outskirts of town to visit the Military Museum of Mongolia. Warning: Soviet tanks galore!
Dinner in a restaurant nearby our hostel.
Overnight in Ulan Bator
Sunday 17th July
End of tour, YPT can assist with transport to the airport or train station and the city is well connected with international flights, or you can get the train back to Beijing! Those carrying on to our Buryatia & Lake Baikal Tour board train 305И to Ulan-Ude at 15:22 and arriving the next day in the early morning.
– All transporation from Beijing to Ulan Bator
– Accommodation on twin share basis (single supplement available)
– Entrance fees
– Naadam stadium tickets
– YPT Tour guide as well as English-speaking local guide and cook for the last two days
– Breakfast & Lunches
– Dinners while camping
– Horse and camel rides