When you think of China, Hohhot is probably not a city that pops into your mind. But don’t overlook it if you’re going to spend any length of time in China.
I spent a few days in Hohhot back in the spring of 2018 and wanted to share a little bit about my time there. I’m always excited to go see new cities, but this one had a little bit more to it. I liked that it would be kind of a combination of Mongolian culture and Chinese culture.
Hohhot is the capital city of the northern Chinese province of Inner Mongolia. I had read about its grasslands and camel rides and yurts, but unfortunately it was a bit too cold for me to enjoy those things during my visit. I decided to just concentrate on more of the city highlights. But a perfect excuse to go back again, right!?
Not really the formal name for this area, but I think the name is accurate enough! While in the car heading to my hotel, I passed what looked to be a fantastic place for photos. (Side note: if you’re in a moving vehicle and pass something that looks interesting to photograph, just take a quick phone photo so you will have the location saved.) I took my quick iPhone photo and waited to reach my hotel. Luckily I didn’t have to wait very long as my hotel was pretty much right beside the area.
I quickly checked in and dropped off my stuff in the hotel and then ran outside with my camera in hand. It was already pretty late, so I knew I would only have a short time before the sun would be setting. I at least wanted to try and get a few daytime shots though.
For someone like me who likes architecture and lines and curves, it was like being a kid in a candy store. It was almost a bit overwhelming, since there appeared to be three or four buildings, in a large area. I knew I wouldn’t have time to see them all at this time, but at that point all I was concerned with was taking some pictures, so that’s what I did.
Walking a bit further away from the area, I walked toward the Wanda Plaza. Along the way, I spotted this man standing there and thought it would make for an interesting composition. I figured he would notice me and move away as he would think I was taking a picture of the building across the street, but he just stood there thankfully.
At one point he turned around and looked at me and stood looking at me for a bit, but he eventually turned back around. I didn’t think I would have much time, but I wanted a cyclist to come by to add something a bit more interesting in the foreground. Some went by, but I ended up liking this one with the e-bike going by more.
Genghis Khan Park
I spent a bit of time exploring Genghis Khan Park. You can’t go to Inner Mongolia and not see something Genghis Khan related, right?! At first it looked like maybe the large statue out front was the only attraction, but after walking around for a couple of minutes I found that it was quite a large park.
I arrived at the Great Mosque around dusk, and initially it was pretty quiet. I wandered around for a while, just taking some random photos. Soon after, it started filling up as many people began entering the mosque. I stood back from the entrance and watched as everyone went inside. Eventually I made my way back to the entrance and looked inside, and saw it was full of people.
It looked like a wonderful photo opportunity but I wasn’t sure if I would be allowed to take any pictures. I hesitated for a bit and then showed my camera to someone outside and asked ‘可以吗?’ (‘May I?’). He smiled and said I could, so I stood outside and started taking pictures.
I really like the way there was a big light on one side of the area out front, as it cast nice shadows for people as they walked in.
Later on it was very dark and the area had a different look to it. I stood outside again and took some more photos, this time with a different lens.
Everyone was so friendly, a few people stopped me and shook my hand and introduced themselves. Everywhere I’ve been China, the people have been amiable, but I feel they are just extra friendly in Hohhot, a point I will get to a bit later.
Altai Amusement Park
If you are looking for somewhere to spend a few hours, you should visit Altai Amusement Park. It’s a nice combination of nature and an amusement park. In addition to the rides, there is also a water sports area, quiet area, food area, and square.
The day I was there, the power was out due to the previous day’s heavy rain. It was still nice to walk around and almost have the park to myself. Someone mentioned that there was a small tower in the park where you could see a beautiful view, so I spent time walking around trying to find it.
I wasn’t having any luck, but I ended up meeting a nice gentleman who showed me where it was and offered to walk with me over to it. I told him I was originally from Toronto, and he said he knew Toronto because 30 years ago there was a technology expo in Hohhot and Toronto had something there.
Qingcheng Park is located in the middle of downtown Hohhot. It is a large park, and one of the more popular ones in the city.
There is a big lake in the park, and many trees around the lake. Unlike Altai, this is more of a traditional Chinese park, though there is a Ferris wheel to check out while you’re there.
Dazhao Temple is one of the main tourist attractions in Hohhot. It is the largest and oldest temple in Hohhot, having been completed in 1580. There are many palaces and halls for you to explore.
In the main hall you will find one of China’s largest silver Buddha statues, which was originally dedicated by the third Tibetan Dalai Lama.
While I was there, my visit was interrupted by a huge rainstorm. Thankfully I was able to quickly find some shelter under a small covering. The rain didn’t let up and wasn’t stopping, so I had to make the most of it, so I started taking some photos.
Some time later, after standing alone under that covering for a while, a girl came over to me carrying an extra umbrella. She handed it to me and asked me if I wanted to go to the place on the other side where she was with her friends as it was more interesting than where I was.
I thought it was such a nice gesture, I accepted and followed her over to where the rest of her group was. Another example of the niceness of the people I experienced in Hohhot.
Five Pagoda Temple
Another one of Hohhot’s main attractions is the Five Pagoda Temple. It’s in the style of Indian Buddhist architecture.
It may not compare to many of the larger temples around China, but the pagoda is unique in itself. Oh, and here you will find a Mongolian astronomical map, the only one of its kind in the world.
Mongolian Horse Race Track
No races or anything were happening while I was at this track, so I just looked around for a little while.
There were quite a few yurts nearby, and since I didn’t get to see them out in the grasslands, these ones had to do.
After a long day of checking out the city, why not head to the Riverfront area to take in a nice music and light show!?
Unfortunately I didn’t make it in time to see the full show, I arrived there with around five minutes to go. And of course the most impressive part of the show was happening as I was trying to find a spot to take some pictures. Oh well, next time.
I need to make a special mention of the people of Hohhot. People have been friendly in every city, but nothing as nice as they were in Hohhot.
Hohhot has the fewest foreigners of any of the other cities I’ve visited. During my four days there, I only saw a handful of foreigners, so I understand that it’s not as common to see someone like me there.
Lots of hellos, which isn’t uncommon, but more so there. Lots of smiles, lots of stopping to talk to me, whether they spoke English or not. Just such a genuine warmth there from the people.
Partly due to the weather and partly due to the time of year, I ended up just doing things within the city and wasn’t able to venture away to see some of the other features of Hohhot. Next time I will focus on visiting an Inner Mongolian Yurt, the grasslands and desert, and Zhaojun Tomb.
As I said at the beginning, I know that Hohhot will probably not be at the top of your list of places to visit if you are coming to China for a short time. But if you are staying in China for a longer period, or just want somewhere a little different, check it out!
Thanks to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, there is now high-speed train service between Beijing and Hohhot, so it’s less than three hours away from Beijing.
For my thoughts on another great city in China, check out my post “A Few Days In Chongqing”.