Under the Prairie Stars

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The Travelers
Mark and Stacey Griffith, their daughters Kiah (19) and Sofi (11), and son Miles (7). Kent and Rebecca Morris, their daughters Conley (12) and Anthea (7), and son Dane (10).

The Cost
The Griffith and Morris families drove their own van to Inner Mongolia, but others may want to rent a 4×4 to make it through the grasslands. For car rentals, contact Beijing Hao Xing Motor Transport Team (北京浩兴汽车运输队, 6930 3537). A 4-wheel drive car is approximately RMB 1,000 per day (over 100km/day), plus RMB 20,000 deposit. Gas came to RMB 700. They stayed at the Super 8 hotel in Chengde (速8酒店承德火神庙店, 0314 202 8887). A standard room with one big bed and two small beds is RMB 348. In Ulan, the families stayed at Another Village (又一村, 031 4780 5115, 138 314 5136, 137 3142 1832). One night for a family of four cost around RMB 350. A guide was RMB 500 for two days. The families camped out and brought their own food, which helped keep the cost down. One night of camping for two families cost RMB 300, which was paid to a local farmer for using his land and some firewood. A roast lamb dinner cost RMB 1,000. Lunches at local restaurants rounded out to RMB 300. On the way back to Beijing, the families stayed overnight again at Chengde. This time they stayed at Qianlong Hotel (乾隆宾馆, 0314 311 8801), which cost RMB 368 for standard room with two beds. The grand total for two families (excluding car rental) was RMB 3,280.

The Plan
They departed to Chengde on a Thursday, where they stayed overnight at Super 8. They spent the next morning at the Summer Palace and Puning Temple. In the afternoon, they headed toward Mulan Weichang in Ulan. On Saturday night, the families slept under the stars on the rolling Mongolian grasslands. Sunday evening, they drove back to Chengde and stayed at Qianlong Hotel. On Monday morning, the families explored another temple in Chengde and drove back to Beijing in the evening.

The Best Part
The peace and quiet, the cool clean air and the crystal clear nighttime skies were all incredible. The families saw a countless number of stars, which are hard to find looking up in Beijing. Beyond the gorgeous, blue skies, green grass and big white clouds, they loved the roaming cows, sheep and beautiful horses.

The Worst Part
Not really knowing where they were headed, nor knowing the condition of the roads. But this was all part and parcel of the adventure. The bathroom situation was tricky. The hotel in Ulan had Western toilets, but when they were camping, there was only flat grasslands with no trees for privacy. In the end, they improvised and dug a big pit in the sand by the stream.

Unexpected Moment
While they expected to see stars, the view was even more impressive than had imagined. The grassland is flat and expansive with a clear 360 degree view of the horizon. Plus, without any light pollution, the stars shine brighter than ever.

Family-Friendly Features
People were wonderfully nice and accommodating, especially the owners at Another Village hotel. As far as a playground goes, the kids can play anywhere and everywhere out on the grasslands.

Travel Tips
Hire a local guide, especially if you don’t speak Chinese. Their local guide Yuhao (于浩, 138 3242 2711, bashangjidi@163.com) arranged entrance into the park, helped book a hotel, guided them to a campsite and delivered a roast lamb one night for dinner. For more details on this trip, including driving directions, visit chinagriffith.com/journal/?p=117.

This article is excerpted from beijingkids August 2011 issue. View it in PDF form here or contact distribution@beijing-kids.com to find out where you can pick up your free copy.

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