The Zhao-Zhang and Gu-Liu Families
Travelers: Greg Zhao, Hong Zhang, and their daughter Freda (age 17), a student at the Western Academy of Beijing. They traveled with friends Michael Gu, Anna Liu, and their children Alex (age 15) and Nicole (age 5), who attend the Western Academy of Beijing and Windsor Kindergarten respectively.
Destination: Inner Mongolia and Hebei province
Dates: July 19-23, 2013
Cost: Approximately RMB 2,000 for a family of three. This included hotel accommodations for RMB 680 (RMB 280 per night for two nights at a hotel in Zhenglanqi and RMB 120 for one night for a three-person room in Nongjiale Inn), transportation (gas money) for about RMB 500, and about RMB 700 for food for four days.
Planning: The travelers arranged everything themselves by consulting online maps and made hotel reservations online and by phone. They stayed at the Huangchao Holiday Hotel in Zhenglanqi, Inner Mongolia, and an “Agritainment” (Nongjiale) Inn in Hebei province.
This past July, our family friends, the Gu family, invited us to take a road trip to Inner Mongolia. They had previously gone on a similar trip with other friends, so this time around they decided to go farther. Both families packed their cars full of gear and on-the-road snacks.
We spent the first day driving to the town of Zhenglanqi in Inner Mongolia, where we stayed for two nights before traveling down to Datan Town in Hebei province to stay for a night at a local rural hotel. Since we mainly took small country roads that were not on GPS, there were a few instances where roads were closed for construction and we had to take alternative paths. Here is the route we took:
Day 1: Jingcheng Highway, Sixth Ring, Badaling Highway, Huailai (Hebei), Chicheng, Guyuan County, Shandianhe Village, Zhenglanqi
Day 2: Xanadu Ruins, Zhagesitai Nur, Chaigendaer Village, Zhenglanqi
Day 3: Zhenglanqi, Xanadu Musuem, Shandianhe Village,
Guyuan County, Datan Town
Day 4: Fengning Manchu County, Moulin Park, Lama Mountain, Dajue Temple (Daigakuji), Huairou District, Shunyi District
The first day included a grueling eight-hour car ride up to Zhenglanqi. However, the drive was scenic, with winding rural roads curving around mountains and lakes, progressively changing to long stretches of grass plains and herds of sheep and cattle. The air was clean, the sky was blue, and the temperature was blissfully cooler than the stifling heat of Beijing. We had a simple dinner at a local restaurant after arriving late in the fairly urbanized town of Zhenglanqi.
We spent the following two days driving to different grass plains and lakes (called “Nur”), stopping and going as we pleased. It was an easy, laidback day of long hours of driving and watching the scenery go by, and taking photos and collecting bouquets of wildflowers. We stopped beside a large lake where sheep and cattle grazed, and Alex tried out the horseback riding offered. At night, we returned to our hotel in Zhenglanqi and celebrated Nicole’s fifth birthday with cake and local milk tea.
We made for Hebei Province on the third day. We stopped by a museum of the Xanadu Ruins that exhibited artifacts from remains of the Yuan dynasty. In the afternoon, we stopped at Datan Town and checked into a local inn for the night.
The next morning we returned to Beijing via a different route. We stopped at an intricately-designed Buddhist temple and climbed the stairs to the shrine on the side of the mountain. We then stopped at Moulin Park in Fengning, Hebei, before embarking on the four-hour car ride back to Shunyi, with dinner at a small country house where we caught our own fish.
Moulin Park was the highlight of our trip. Alex, his dad, and I embarked on a trek, though the two moms and Nicole stayed behind because the hike was fairly advanced. After climbing through pitch-black and dripping wet caves, we came across enormous suspended boulders and glacier mills. We scaled rocks with cutout footholds and ladders with flashlights clamped between our teeth, squeezing into impossibly tiny spaces and finding a huddle of bats on the bottom of an overhead boulder. Upon reaching the top, we were amazed by the breathtaking view. We could see the mountains, the valleys, fields, and rows of vegetation, and the local’s tiny brick houses.
If children in the family are all older than 7 or 8, camping outside in the prairies is a good alternative to staying in hotels.
Though the areas were fairly touristy, don’t have high expectations with hotels. The accommodations in Zhenglanqi were adequate, but our stay at the local rural inn in Datan Town was a little challenging.
On the road, the only places to eat are small restaurants with questionable hygiene, so exercise caution. Also, food gets more expensive the closer to Hebei and Beijing you get.
When buying local mutton, be aware that when sellers weigh the meat, they include the skin and fleece, so you may end up with a small amount of edible meat for a high price. The best season for beef and lamb is in the fall, when livestock are fattened from summer grazing.
It’s considerably colder up north, but the sunlight is very harsh, so sunscreen, long pants, and long sleeves are advised.
photos courtesy of Freda Zhao
This article originally appeared on p34-35 of the beijingkids September 2013 issue.
Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com