Our first full day in Hohhot got off to a great start!
We bought coffee from the Dico’s next door to our hotel and headed across the road to the market stalls to buy a sweet bread roll each for breakfast. Breakfast was to be eaten ‘on the run’ this morning because we planned to be at the prayer hall of Zhou monastery by 9am to witness the monks conducting their morning service.
On our walk to the monastery we passed lots of beggars and homeless people, with the majority residing outside of the monastery entrance. We were unsure if homeless or disabled people are cared for by the Chinese government so didn’t know who to give money to; the people themselves, a charity etc. However, after buying our entrance ticket we couldn’t ignore the beggars outside any longer and gave them our change.
The monastery was pretty large but the main reason for us visiting there was to see the monks in the prayer hall so we headed straight to the back of the site where the hall was located. Although we’d passed lots of monks on route, there wasn’t many in the prayer hall when we entered. We waited until 9.20am but no more monks appeared, instead we accidentally joined on a Chinese tour of the artwork and statues in the prayer hall. Unfortunately we weren’t permitted to take photo’s whilst inside the building so I can’t share them on here but the whole room was really impressive! Hand stitched banners hung from the ceilings whilst paintings and statues lined the walls of the whole hall. The floor was filled with benches for prayer, as well as a large shrine and statue in the center of the hall, surrounded by prayer wheels that people spun as they walked around. Unfortunately it started to rain as we exited the hall but there were lots of buildings within the monastery grounds with Buddhist art and shrines to keep us interested and dry!
After walking around the Monastery we wandered the surrounding streets outside; filled with stalls selling trinkets and other odd bits. Walnuts seem to be really popular in Inner Mongolia as well as China as they appeared on every single stall in various forms – necklaces, bracelets, even dried whole walnuts! Leah and I treated ourselves to some jewelry – myself buying a Buddha figure and piece of string to make a necklace (which I love!).
We bought fruit from one of the stalls nearby and walked back towards our hotel, getting distracted along the way to the sound of drums being played in one of the parks. In the park, next to the giant Supta, was a small group of elderly people dancing around in a circle with pink fans, to a live steel drum band….! People were gathering around watching so we joined the small crowd and clapped along in support of the dance group. They were great!
We planned to visit the Hohhot history museum in the afternoon so walked to find somewhere for lunch along the way. It started to rain really heavily once we left the park so we stopped off in one of the various shopping centers dotted around the city for lunch in a noodle soup restaurant. It was great because we simply chose what vegetables and noodles we wanted to include in our soup from the fridge, handed all of the ingredients over in a large bowl and paid for the weight of the food. Not only was it really cheap but we were able to chose exactly what we wanted! Although it was similar to last nights dinner, we didn’t want to repeat ordering too little food so made sure our bowls were nice and full before we handed it over for cooking!
The soup was great! It was pretty spicy (just how I like it) and I like to think that after almost 2 months in China I’ve become a pro a slurping noodles with my chopsticks -Leah’s technique still needs a little work…
So after slurping our way through our bowls of soup we made our way back into the rain to carry on walking to the museum. The museum took a little while to walk to but we got to see more of Inner Mongolia that we would have missed if we had taken the bus.
Luckily we weren’t in a rush so although we were a little wet and cold by the time we reached the museum we were still in really good spirits….
Palava at the museum
Using google maps we found the road that the museum was on but wasn’t sure of it’s exact location. There was one grande looking building with security outside which we guessed was the museum so we walked into the driveway but were stopped from entering the building by armed guards! What we assumed was the museum was actually a secured government building so the guards quickly directed us 50m down the road where the museum was located….
After finally finding the correct building we walked to the entrance of the museum and the door was locked! After double checking the lonely planet guide to see if the museum was closed on Tuesday’s (which it didn’t mention) we couldn’t work out why the doors were closed!
There were two police officers sitting in a police van outside the museum so we asked them if they could elaborate on the situation. Had we got the wrong building again? Were we here on the wrong day…? The museum had in fact changed location a few months ago, and we were at the old, closed down, site… We’d walked all of this way for nothing!
Instead of wasting the journey, the officers became one of the reasons why we loved our time in Hohhot so much. They went out of their way to help us locate the museums new site, explaining to us in English, whilst allowing Leah to hot-spot one of their phones to load up our map-app. One even emailed Leah directions to show a bus driver encase we got lost! They were so nice!
After the unexpected detour we got on the bus to the museum but passed a huge official looking building along the way with lots of people outside. Obviously we got off the bus to see what all of the fuss was about! Outside were huge tepee’s showcasing a Mongolian exhibit! We quickly walked inside, out of the rain, to see what it was all about.
The Mongolian exhibition
The exhibition was amazing! We’d somehow chosen the perfect day to come to this part of the town because the building was showcasing a Mongolian event for one week only! There were stalls set up all around the center and we even managed to walk into the main events hall (which was meant to be ticketed) where Mongolian celebrities were performing traditional acts; dancing,singing, playing musical instruments etc. we were treated to a real show!
We were in awe of all of the performers but were treated like celebrities ourselves as soon as we walked into the building. People were continually coming up to us and asking for photographs, even the performers! One guy was hovering around us in his traditional dress, after just finishing performing on the stage himself and being asked for photographs by the audience, and asked to have a photo with Leah and myself! I wanted one of him too, because his outfit was so interesting so it worked out perfectly!
Once we left the main performance area we walked around the stalls on the first floor of the building and watched the traditional elements that were being displayed to us; needle work, puppet shows (which we were included in), horse saddle shaping, yarn making etc. It was really interesting to see and the fact that everyone was so friendly just added to making it an amazing experience!
On the first floor of the building we were treated to a traditional Mongolian tea ceremony by the lovely Lucy (this was her ‘English’ name,she has three – one English, one Chinese and one Mongolian!). Whilst Lucy practiced her English, and we had a little photo-shoot with the stall manager we had the chance to sample the white tea being poured for us. Leah was even taught how to conduct a tea ceremony herself- being closely supervised by Lucy encase she broke any of the fine china the tea was served in!
Back into the rain….
After leaving the Mongolian exhibition we walked to find a restaurant for dinner that had been recommended in our guide book, stopping en route to pick up some supplies for our journey to Wutai Shan the day after (a four hour coach journey) as well as to get out of the torrential rain that was now falling.
90 minutes later we left Carrefour with pea and tomato crisps (we’re a little obsessed with them now) a pack of tissues and a flask each – we’ve finally given in and are doing it like the Chinese do on the long journeys, all we needed now was to buy some tea leaves to fill our flasks with!
The street we walked to for dinner was packed full of restaurants. We were looking for one with an illuminated sign outside with the restaurant name on in Chinese but they all had illuminated signs with Chinese writing on! After walking up and down the street a few times, trying to match up the symbols on the restaurant signs with the ones in our book we gave up and asked a couple walking by, they didn’t know where the restaurant was either so bailed on our plan and went in the one that we were now closest too.
It actually worked out really well because the food was really tasty! It was a little different to the Chinese food we were used to; I ordered salt and pepper mushroom, greenbeans and potatoes, with a side of rice, whilst Leah ordered lamb skewers and naan. Although our meals were pretty carby, it was nice to have the different flavors that being in Inner Mongolia offered.
After dinner we checked our location and saw that we were well over an hour walk away from our hotel room! Although we both really like walking we decided that it would be more sensible to get a taxi back…