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Three Ways to the Grasslands

By Bus -- Hourly buses head for Xilamuren Da Caoyuan from the bus station. For a day trip, take the 6:55am bus and return on the last bus around 3pm (check on the exact time before leaving). The drive takes about 2 hours -- much of it through the scrub, wild grass, and cultivated forests that carpet the Da Qing Mountain range. About 65km (40 miles) out of Hohhot, the bus makes a 10-minute stop in the small town of Wuchuan. Before leaving Wuchuan, let the driver know you wish to get off at Luyou Dujiacun (Traveler's Holiday Village), which is about 30km (19 miles) from Wuchuan. A set of tourist ger (the Mongolian word for the circular felt tents known in central Asia as yurts, or menggu bao in Chinese) are visible across the street about 300m (1,000 ft.) away. Mr. Bao, who operates these with his wife, has horses, and though he's not inclined to let you ride off on your own, he and his yellow dog are affable riding companions. (When the mood strikes, he breaks into song -- anything from Mongolian folk to "The East Is Red"). With an hour, he can take you to a famous oboo (stone memorial) in the area. More time allows you to ride deeper into the grasslands and visit a herdsman's family living in a real ger rather than one for tourists. The going rate is ¥50 per hour. The Bao family can also prepare a delicious Mongolian lunch (even vegetarian, if requested), which will include Mongolian milk tea and the homemade snacks that go with it. You may get shouba rou (hand-held meat) -- mutton on the bone, eaten with the hands. The return bus passes the spot by the roadside where you were dropped off in the morning.

By Taxi -- If you balk at taking a crowded, smoke-filled rattletrap with no air-conditioning, opt for a private taxi. Drivers are at the ready at the bus and railway stations. Prices can vary drastically, so ask around and compare. (This will amount to you and the driver pushing a calculator back and forth at each other.) Round-trip fare should be around ¥300, but you'll want to be certain the driver is taking you to a set of ger where you'll be able to ride horses and get a Mongolian meal.

By Tour -- One-day tours are available from city hotels and travel agents. Most go to Xilamuren Da Caoyuan and tours start at ¥100 per person. Tours normally include a visit to a herding family, performance of Mongolian song and dance, and a wrestling demonstration. Unless you speak Mandarin, CITS on the third floor of Yishuting Nan Jie 95 (tel. 0471/680-1710) is the most reliable way to go, although not the cheapest, with tours starting at ¥150 per person. The travel office in the Bayantala Hotel can also arrange trips to Xilamuren guided in English. For something fractionally less touristy you could ask CITS about trips to Gegentala, which translates as "beautiful grasslands," and is only a little further than Xilamuren.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.