The airport is 16km (10 miles) east of town. A taxi into town costs about ¥30 to ¥40. Locals negotiate the price in advance and don't use the meter. The CAAC (Zhongguo Minhang) shuttle (¥5) meets flights and heads to CAAC's main ticket office (tel. 0471/696-4103) on Xilinguole Lu just south of Wulanqiate Xi Jie. There are direct flights to and from many major cities in China, including Beijing (10 daily), Shanghai (1 daily), Chengdu, and Guangzhou (1 daily). Aero Mongolia (www.aeromongolia.mn) are located in the same building as the Mongolian Consulate at Dongying Nanjie 5 and operate twice-weekly flights to Ulaan Baatar for ¥1,955; if you already have a Mongolian visa, tickets can also be bought at the CAAC. U.S. citizens can enter Mongolia for 90 days without a visa.
The railway station is in the north part of town. Of the many trains linking Hohhot with Beijing, the K44 (10 hr.) at 9:18pm is the most convenient. Datong is also on this line. Another useful service is the K43 link with Lanzhou (17 hr.) which leaves at 10:38pm and also on stops at Yinchuan (8 hr.). Tickets can be bought in advance at all windows, but sleepers are often in short supply. Try agents in hotels for these.
The Long-Distance Bus Station is west of the railway station. There are hourly buses to Beijing (6 hr.; ¥150) and Datong (4 hr.; ¥57). Yinchuan is served by one sleeper bus daily at 6pm (10 hr.; ¥155). To get to the grasslands, Xilamuren is served by hourly buses (2 hr.; ¥21 from 6:55am).
Bus fare is ¥1; minibus fare is ¥1.50. The taxi rate for the first 2km (1 1/4 miles) is ¥6; after that, it's ¥1 per kilometer.
The CITS office on the third floor of Yishuting Nan Jie 95 (tel. 0471/680-1710; Mon-Fri 8am-6pm) is staffed by the helpful Mr. Li. He can arrange a variety of tours to different areas of the grasslands and desert dunes with an English-speaking guide (from ¥150). Most hotels have tour desks which can book grassland and desert trips; most are guided in Chinese only, but the Bayantala Hotel's desk offers trips in English.
Festival & Special Events
Da Zhao has more than a dozen temple festivals. Among the best are Songjing Da Fahui (8th-15th days of the first and sixth lunar months), 8 days of prayer and chanting sutras; Songbalin (14th day of the first and sixth lunar months), a morning spent exorcising demons -- chanting, performing ritual dance, burning of demon effigy; Liang Dafo (15th day of the first and sixth lunar months), which begins with the Sunning of the Maitreya thangka (a giant image of the Future Buddha hung in the courtyard to air and be admired), and is followed by prayer, chanting, ceremonial dance and music, circumambulation, and alms-giving; and Mani Hui (14th-17th day of the eighth lunar month), Da Zhao's most solemn festival of the year, 3 days and nights of continuous prayer for good fortune (at the end, visitors who give alms are rewarded with a packet of "sacred medicine," said to cure all manner of illness and disease).
The traditional sports festival, Naadam, which features wrestling, horse and camel racing, and archery, occurs when and if the grasslands turn green. That's usually mid-August, but it can be as early as July. Last-minute cancellations aren't uncommon. Check with CITS for details. Note that the dates don't coincide with (the People's Republic of) Mongolia's Naadam festival, which is tied to their National Day and always occurs from July 11 to July 13.
Banks, Foreign Exchange & ATMs -- Two branches of Bank of China that have full-service foreign-exchange counters and 24-hour ATM access are at Xincheng Nan Jie (a block south of the Xinhua Dajie intersection); and on the south side of Xinhua Dajie between Xilinguole Bei Lu and Yingbin Nan Lu. Hours are 8am to noon and 2:30 to 5:30pm. An ATM is in the lobby of the Guohang Dasha hotel.
Consulates -- The Mongolian Consulate (Menggu Lingshiguan; tel. 0471/680-3540) issues 30-day tourist visas at Dongying Nanjie 5. Aero Mongolia, who operate flights to Ulaan Baatar have offices are in the same building. Visa service is available Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday from 8:30am to 12:30pm. Two photographs and a letter of invitation (available from travel agents) are required. The next-day fee is ¥495; regular processing can take a week and costs ¥270. U.S. citizens can enter Mongolia for up to 90 days without a visa.
Internet Access -- There's a huge 24-hour Internet room located on the second floor of the bus station. Access costs ¥3 per hour.
Post Office -- The main branch of the post office is east of the railway station (summer 8am-7pm, winter until 6:30pm). There are other branches on Zhongshan Dong Lu and Xinhua Dajie.
Visa Extensions -- The PSB (Gonganju; tel. 0471/669-0114) is on Haila'er Dajie in the north of town. Opening hours are Mon-Fri 8am-noon and 2:30 to 5:30pm.