Looking for a queer, eerie, weird, bizarre experience of unbelievable proportions? Look no further than Ordos in China. Never heard of the place? I would say it’s pretty normal since the place is lost in the middle of Inner Mongolia and is a ghost town.
The term ghost town might not be the best to describe Ordos. When you talk about ghosts, you are thinking of the departed, the people the were here but are no longer there. Ordos never had that boom, that golden age, it is a waiting city. A hoping city. Here, the local government keep borrowing and borrowing money to build more and more building. Hoping at every new building that people will finally come. The city is kept pristine clean. The result is that futuristic, Mongolian meet Chinese Socialist art, city where almost no-one lives. It’s big, really big, and full of landmarks, it looks like a backup capital in case things went awry in Beijing. That, or a nuclear test site. You know, like the one in the last Indiana Jones?
A good trip to Ordos is a matter of boldness and a bit of luck. Like fishing, you basically walk around looking for some interesting buildings. Then, just try to enter them. Ability in Chinese and a smile will get you in almost everywhere. The buildings are right there, waiting for you to snoop around. It is pretty unusual at first to enter the building you have no business in but, soon enough, the shyness goes it becomes easy and thrilling. You are a pioneer or you aren’t.
During our trip, we went to many different apartment buildings, a hospital and a school. On almost all occasion, we were greeted by the security guard and shown around, These poor lads were probably rejoiced to finally see people. That’s a strange thing about the place. It is not abandoned. You will not see ruins but a lot of construction sites some of them looking like they’ve been stopped for a while. You will not see buildings falling apart but only clean, empty, oh so empty, high-class building with an occasional guard at the entrance.
We went to the only mosque in Ordos, serving no more than 100 followers and met the Imam there. A lovely man who treated us to halal noodles and explained the situation to us with that smile quirky smile that every inhabitant of the city use to talk about the madness they are living in. People in Ordos are generally astonished to meet foreigners and bombard people with questions and kindness.
Being really close to the Mausoleum of Genghis Khan, the people behind this city really try to make it a hub of Mongolian Culture. Fans of the Khan, you will get way more than your money worth of impressive horse-riding ferocious warriors riding along their leader. My team decided to go see the Mausoleum. Getting there is a walk in the park. Offering you more enormous spaceship-like constructions and a gigantic… Claypot. Don’t ask why. It also seems like they are building an imperial palace titled Birthplace of Mongolia. Sized to rival with the Forbidden City, this place will be a massive attraction. The Mausoleum in itself is still quite the sight. Almost empty again, apart from the occasional Mongolian family praying to the Khan who made Mongolia a thing back in the days, revering him like a God. you can wander around this vast, windy space at your own pace without the hassle of other Chinese attractions of the same size and relevance. The holy horses were not present when we visited but many signs warned us of their vicious kicks and bites. Being bitten by a direct descendant of Genghis Khan stallion is clearly something I would have liked to add to my list of travel achievements.
In term of nightlife, your hotel room is probably the best the city has to offer after a walk in the empty but fully lit city that feels like a Christmas town at night.
Talking of statues, the Kangbashi district main square is something everyone should see once in his life. If Ordos finally booms, this place is going to be all over travel guides and on every itinerary. Go there before the crowd. Dwarfing Tian An Men to the point that it feels like a backyard to me now, the district of Kangbashi was made around this unreal park. Dividing the city into two symmetrical half, this marvel could only be possible in that kind of 30 years old, made-up city. Now, it is open to explore, only a dozen of people walking around. Complete with a modern shaped museum and a library shaped like books, we stood there, trying to get back pieces of our brains after our minds blew up at such a titanic sight. I will gladly pin the medal of the most impressive man-made site on Kangbashi’s square. World, I am waiting for the next challenger. And he needs to be damn well prepared!
In term of nightlife, your hotel room is probably the best the city has to offer after a walk in the empty but fully lit city that feels like a Christmas town at night. Our team of Pioneers celebrated the conquests of the first day with plenty of weak local beer and… Mongolian milk alcohol. A mean beverage that tastes like yoghurt baijiu and pack a punch. Suprisingly, it grew on us quite fast.
On our way back, Ordos still had a few tricks up its sleeve. Facing the airport, across a highway you can safely walk on with your eyes closed without fearing any collision, is a Navy Hospital and an Elementary School. The hospital is clean and, I’m no doctor, but seemed pretty high-tech, It is fully staffed and operational but, we soon learned that it had never received any patient. It is there, people go to work there, in the hope that someday, one patient will come in. That patient will probably get a whole board of doctors on his case and the fastest service that ever was.
The school, built for a thousand but serving a hundred students, is also quite the sight. We were guided around by lovely kitchen ladies in empty corridors, classrooms and gym in this school were the clock, like this city, is stopped in time, waiting for its big start.
I left Ordos from its spaceship-shaped airport with my head full of memories of what is, in my opinion, the strangest place in China, and probably one of the strangest in the world. It’s a must-go that few know about. Perfect for Young Pioneers.