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Published: September 22nd 2007
Jeep driver sighs in exasperation at disobedient tourists
He said no photos ... and wear your seatbelts ... but yet they would not listen.
We started the day at a ridiculous 5am. Next on the itinerary was Xiangshawan, "the singing sands gorge", a tourist spot in the Gobi Desert. The place is known for its incredibly huge sand dunes, with the largest being over 90m. Alas, getting to Xiangshawan was a 4.5 hour drive from Huitengxile, which is why we had to get up at a ridiculous 5am.
Despite the early start, and the rather tiring day before, the majority of the gang didn't sleep in the van. Instead, we whiled away the time playing childish hand games, including a fun little local game called "xi shua shua" which involved running fingers across ones eyes while simultaneously bobbing ones head (there's more to game, but I personally found watching people trying to co-ordinate both actions more fun than the actual game). At the halfway point, we had a quick bathroom break where we saw what is truly the cleanest bathroom in China. This place was oppulent, so much so that some of us went into the bathrooms just to check it out. I would consider sleeping or eating in this place - it was that clean - they really should make this place a
Melenie braves the camel
Her camel was a little hungry, insisting on regularly nibling the shoes of Amy (girl in front)
Thanks to the wreckless driving of our driver, we managed to arrive at Xiangshawan in just over 4 hours. At first sight, it looked rather disappointing - another overly tourist spot, with big theme-park styled camel manequins waving guests hello. However, a few steps into the place, and our opinions were quickly changed.
You see, its a 3km hike from the entry point to the most famous scenic spot. And one way to get there is by jeep. Not just any old jeep, but rather, a small little 4-seater jeep driven by crazy guys who have a strong affection for the accelerator, little respect for the brake, and most importantly, enjoy spinning the steering wheel at uncontrollable speeds. To make it even more fun, the 3km journey is over steep dunes, with angles as much as 70 degrees. So imagine flying around at rocket speed at maniacal speeds, snaking and weaving and bouncing over the dunes. We have all never screamed so much - it was a riot! Truly worth the journey just for this. The only sad thing was that it ended all too quickly - 10 minutes and we were done.
Off into the wilderness
With only three bottles of water each, a few packets of biscuits, raincoats, sunscreen, a spare change of clothes, ..., these girls sure know how to pack light for the 30 min excursion.
got better. Talk about a desert - the Gobi is simply gorgeous. Pure unadulterated sands, with dunes piled up high - its a scene out of a movie. Alas, try as we did, our cameras did a pathethic job of capturing the scenery. The girls decided they wanted to ride camels through the dunes. Us guys of course, were much too manly (or rather scared) to ride the stinky camels, and instead, decided to walk through the wilderness. Its amazing how a vast sea of sand, that pretty much all looks the same can continue to impress, even after an hour. Particularly considering that just the day before, we had pretty much seen the same thing, except in green (ie. the grasslands), and had been rather disappointed.
When the girls returned, we decided that we needed another fix of speed, so we hired quad bikes and went for another screaming ride over the dunes. This time, we had individual quad bikes, but alas, were forced to take a driver with us. These drivers were just as crazy as the jeep drivers, or possibly even crazier. And even more fun was the fact that the dunes were even steeper here.
Digging for water
After 10 minutes in the heat, we had exhausted our water supply. David dugs anxiously hoping to discover water in the same way you discover water in the sand when you dig holes at the beach.
Half way through, my driver let me take the wheel - I felt like a kid driving for the first time - ie. I hammered down that accelerator, ignored the worried cries of the driver, and flew over those dunes hoping that my medical insurance policy was in order.
The last remaining thing to do was to slide down a big 90m 45-dgree dune, sitting on a little mat. I love China - no concern for safety, injury, etc - opens so many more doors for doing fun things. Apparently, the reason this place is called the "singing sands" is because you can apparently here some singing noises when you slide down these dunes. Sadly, we didn't hear any such thing, but it could be because the girls were screaming louder than the singing.
We grabbed lunch at the clearly marked 'tourist' restaurant, though surprisingly the prices were decidedly untouristy. It was then off to Hohhot, which was a 2 hour drive. Enroute, we stopped at the compulsory tourist shop, where we were lead thorugh a weaving factory. We were not thrilled by the forced stop, so decided to make the tourist shop guide's life a bit difficult
Footprints in the sand
Simply had to take the photo, since it reminds me of the famous Christian poem.
but walking continuously forward nipping at her heels, thus forcing her not to stop and talk for fear of having 8 bored foreigners bowl her over. The tourist shop itself was actually not bad though, and more surprisingly, the prices were fairly reasonable.
We pulled into downton Hohhot at about 5pm, giving us about 1 hour to wander the streets of downtown, before having to head off to the airport to catch our plane back to Beijing. Hohhot is just like any other Chinese city - lots of buildings, lots of shops, and most importantly, plenty of street-side food stalls. Melenie and I spent our time hunting for something quirky to eat, but alas, had to resort to grabbing a quick snack at McDonalds. Honestly, the least these Hohhotians could have done was make up some supposed 'local delicacy' so that us tourists had something to eat and take photos off.
At 6pm, we headed off to the airport. Sadly our short hurried weekend in Inner Mongolia had come to an end. In summary, our feelings are that Inner Mongolia is definitely 'interesting', but not a 'must see'. The desert was gorgeous, no doubt, but the grasslands were
decidedly unimpressive. Perhaps in future years, when the drought breaks, and grass is once again waist high, it may be worth heading out to these grasslands. Until then though, if I want to see grass, I'm going to my local park.
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