Picture this: rolling grassy plains stretching out for miles in every direction as far as you can see. Small bony horses bearing tattered, colorful saddles graze near tall, rounded tents, their doors flapping on the high breeze. Your breath is caught by the silence, the sound of the wind and the blue sky set off against the ocean of green before you. It's the middle of August and you're chilly.
Boy on horse Xilamuren
Inner Mongolia is a place few people have heard of. Most only know its big brother, the Republic of Mongolia, while miniature Inner Mongolia sits as a strange outpost province within China.

Xilamuren is a grassland prairie about 60 miles north of Hohhot, the provincial capital, where you can stay in traditional yurt tents, enjoy traditional Mongolian fare and ride a traditional Mongolian horse. If you're lucky and visit at the right time of the summer, you might also catch a traditional Mongolian festival.

What I liked about Xilamuren:
  • It's accessible, especially if you're already travelling in China, but still off the beaten track. Most Chinese never visit Inner Mongolia.
  • It's clean and quiet and the locals are super friendly.
  • The food is absolutely delicious. Read: roasted goat's meat, yum!
  • Staying in a yurt tent was extremely distinctive.
  • It is a very unique experience, especially within Chinese tourism.
  • It's a bit campy in a good way. Who doesn't want to use a yurt-style toilet and drink fermented mare's milk?
What I disliked about Xilamuren:
  • It has elements of tackiness, especially since some of the yurts are run by Han Chinese instead of Mongolians.
  • It's touristy.
  • There is more infrastructure than I would've liked - the yurt villages are permanent and designed for tourists, rather than authentic homes of nomadic Mongols.
How to get there: Get yourself on a plane to Hohhot, which is an exotic interesting city in and of itself. From there, you've got three options for transport to Xilamuren, which is about an hour away.

Option A: Book a pre-arranged tour, which will include transport, accommodation and food at Xilamuren, and might also offer extras such as horse treks or wrestling matches. Tours can be booked through local hotels in Hohhot, or online agencies such as China International Travel Service, iTours China, or China Travel Service.

Option B: Hire a driver from the Hohhot Railway Station to bring you to Xilamuren and introduce you to a family or yurt owner. You'll need to be able to speak some Chinese or Mongolian for this.

Option C: Take a bus from the long distance bus station in Hohhot to the village of Zhaohe. Upon arrival, bargain with touts or local guides to bring you to the yurt village and provide accommodation. This option might be slightly cheaper than Option A, as a public bus will only cost around ¥20.

All of these options are actually fairly easy and shouldn't be too costly. The absolute max price for 2 nights in a yurt, including food and transport should be around ¥500 ($75).