Recently I've been giving myself quite a few high-fives for convincing the rest of the family to buy a car. It turned out to be a good decision!
The first of October is the Chinese National day and the week following is known as "Golden week. So we decided to take the car on holiday! Yes, proper inauguration of our Volvo from 2003.
We chose Inner Mongolia (which is in China not in Mongolia) as our destination because it sounded interesting and is within a bearable distance from Beijing (see map below). That was the official explanation. I was later to find out that my husband suggested Inner Mongolia because there was a marathon there during Golden week. Sneaky!
We have many (rather long) road trips behind us. It's practical! Pack your bags, fill the car up with snacks and drinks, give the kids orders to bring enough stuff for them not to be bored during the trip. Electronics galore in our case. No, wait - to be fair, one child actually brought a BOOK too!
The highway on the first of October: Oh dear!
We were optimistic and left Beijing at 7 am. It was supposed to be 6 am but we didn't manage to get ready on time. And I wonder if it would have changed anything. The first 10 K went smoothly but then it changed. We should have listened to advice about avoiding the highways on the 1st of October!! It took us 4 hours to do the next 60 K!!! It cleared up after the exit to the Badalling Great wall section. Finally out of the woods! And into the first highway toilet and "restaurant" of the day. It wasn't pretty. And the food on offer was single wrapped chicken feet and boiled eggs. But we managed to find a roll of Oreos. Lunch!
First stop: Hohhot, Inner Mongolia
As most of our road trips, nothing was really planned. We did not book a guided tour to stay in yurts and drink sheep's milk for breakfast. In retrospective, that might have been a better way of doing it, but we never got round to looking into options, prices etc. So we booked the Sheraton in Hohhot (and I can hear you go "come ON"! Seriously?"). But it was the perfect base for a couple of nice temples, the Inner Mongolia museum and a fantastic day at the Xilamuren grasslands! Hohhot has 2,5 million inhabitants and is the capital of Inner Mongolia. It's quite interesting also thanks to its large Hui Muslim population, A city where temples and mosques lie side by side. However, I would say that 3 days there is more than enough!
Second stop: Bayannur, Inner Mongolia
4 hours further west lies Bayannur. A city of almost 1.7 million inhabitants which is famous for...nothing. And tourists are a very rare sight there. Check out my pictures below of us being treated like superstars. But the said Marathon (Bayannur International Marathon) took place here and more than the city itself, the Marathon became the reason why Bayannur was an unforgettable experience.
My husband Francesco was invited, together with other foreign runners, to participate in the race. Their travel expenses, hotel and food for 3 days were offered. As is a cash reward for finishing the race. This is a common practice used at sports events in China. Partly because these runners give the city an image of being attractive to foreigners but there is much more to it and rest assured that I will write more about this soon!
We stayed at a typical Chinese hotel in Bayannur. Good standard, rather clean and with a buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I believe the food was the same for all three meals. Thank God for the owner of the hotel shop who had decided to stock up on Snicker bars!
Apart from the western runners, there was a group of professional runners from Kenya and Ethiopia. Rarely have I met such a nice and humble group of people! So much sacrifice and training. Travelling the world (when their agents manage to book them in) for weekly races to try to make a living.
The marathon went quite well for Francesco, the atmosphere at the finish line was great, and our visit in Bayannur ended on a high in the evening where a rock concert had been organised. Needless to say that the whole group became selfie targets again.
On the road again - back to Beijing!
We were around 950 kilometres from Beijing and decided to drive back in one day. The distance did not scare us but we were worried about what would happen once we approached Beijing. It was the third last day of "Golden week" and we knew it would be a busy travelling day. But it went smoothly! And once we were back home, we thanked the old Volvo and agreed that there will be many more self-drive holidays to come!
What to know when taking a road trip in China: