Inner Mongolia, 410km (255 miles) W of Beijing

By Chinese standards, Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, has a short history. In 1557, when the Mongolian prince, Altan Khan, ordered the construction of a large Tibetan-Buddhist complex, he had his own agenda. (In a historical twist, his workforce was made up of captured Han Chinese artisans and Han peasants forced into labor.) Completion of such a complex would legitimize his rule over the southern Mongolian tribes and secure the recognition of the Ming Empire. By 1579, Da Zhao Temple, which still survives, was completed, and by 1590 the town of Hohhot (in Mandarin Huhehaote, or simply Hu Shi) had sprung up around it.

From the beginning, the city was both Mongolian and Han Chinese, and though the ratio has fluctuated wildly over 4 centuries, the population has always been culturally mixed. In the 19th century, the Hui (Chinese Muslims) became the third-largest ethnic group in the city. Population claims are rarely reliable when they're about China, but it's said that currently for every Mongolian in Hohhot, there are 9 Han Chinese.