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We’ve all had the holiday from hell, but I doubt you’ve experienced one as bad as my trip to Inner Mongolia. After a month of settling in to my year abroad in Beijing, the University informed us that we would have a week off for Mid-Autumn Festival. Great! However to my disappointment my passport was being updated for my residency visa and without it I could not travel by plane or train, or stay in a hotel. Determined not to spend the week moping around campus, I went to the on campus travel agency recommended by my new Irish friends who had decided to go to Inner Mongolia. No passports were needed so it seemed ideal. Showing my interest to the tour operator, his eyes lit up and dutifully gave his spiel. £250 lighter and Inner Mongolia here I come!
Told it would only take 7 hours to get to Inner Mongolia from Beijing, we were on the bus until 10pm that night! As we journeyed we received no information about where we were stopping, eating nor most importantly tourist attractions. It was only when we were welcomed by a large mountain enveloped in the muggy skyline that we realised we were at our next destination, The Hanging Temple. It was beautiful and certainly a sight for sore and rather tired eyes. The temple was built into the side of this mountain, literally hanging by mere pieces of wood. Quite surreal to think at any moment it could collapse but we didn’t care because it was stunning. Arriving at our next destination, the Datong Yungang Buddhist Caves our ‘tour guide’ was downing baijiu shots. With no choice but to investigate it for ourselves we got off to discover a monk melting candle wax. My friend asked for a picture and a few moments later he started chasing her around the temple. His monk friend then grabbed a fistful of grapes and proceeded to feed them to us. Another took his very incongruous modern smart phone from his pocket and asked us to pose for a picture. I will never look at monks in the same way again.
After an uncomfortable night in Datong we had a long journey to the Grasslands. This was the essence of Inner Mongolia, traditional Yurts with no electricity or running water. From outside the Yurt itself was impressive but inside it was cold and the sheets looked less than fresh. That night the Grasslands reached sub-zero temperatures and I was on the verge of hypothermia. I had to go and ask the kitchen for some hot water and attempted an Art-attack makeshift of hot water bottles. Despite a combination of wearing my entire suitcase and lukewarm bottles rolling around the bed sheets, I was still cold.
The next destination was a vast improvement, a luxurious resort nested next to the splendour of the Gobi desert. The following day we headed early to the desert, as only having a few hours we had to make the most of it. We went zip lining across the desert, rode quad bikes and took a camel ride around the sand dunes. Fantastic! Yet despite an enjoyable day, tensions were high on the bus. A French girl decided to confront the tour guide about his incompetence. Not in the most sober of states he started to get aggressive. Like a Watchdog investigation she took out her expensive camera to record his drunk behaviour. He went ballistic and attempted to punch her, much to the shock of the other passengers. Her boyfriend retaliated by attacking the tour guide and threw him to the carpeted floor. Bemused by the chaos the bus driver decided to stop the bus. Some male passengers marched to the front in an attempt to help but due to the lack of space they just stood there and watched. The tour guide then launched a series of threats against them for the next hour. Morale was low and we weren’t in the mood for any more touristy stuff. Much to our delight an early drive back to Beijing was decided. At our final stop in Huhhot out of nowhere the tour operator who sold me the ‘holiday’ arrived. He tried to mollify our disappointment by ordering a free McDonald’s for us at 2am in Beijing. Not very hungry and too tired to think straight I grabbed my case and ran to my student dorm, afraid that I might have to stay on the bus for a minute longer. The nightmare was over and I collapsed into bed. I’ll think twice before booking a tour in Beijing.
By Chloe Saunders
The UoB Linguist Magazine
Guild of Students,
University of Birmingham