China, off the beaten path

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Shapotou, Zhong Wei, Ning Xia, China

The adventure started off a bit rocky, with me fainting in the Xi’an airport (I had just barely started recovering from Dengue Fever, but didn’t want to forego the trip). The next day, however, was perfect!

We spent the first night in Xi’an, then began the full-day journey to Zhong Wei by flight, train, bus. Zhong Wei was the coolest small town city in which I’ve ever had the pleasure of staying! The daunting Communism-laden square flooded in red lights with a gigantic statue of Mao, the nearby carnival-like atmosphere of market shoppers, street performers & vendors, and the silent zooming of motorbikes all added to the festive energy of the city. At night, the town lights up in dozens upon dozens of Karaoke bars, more outfitted to look like Vegas clubs, and is filled with smells of BBQ chicken and fried whatnots.

Shapotou Scenic Spot is a desert theme park about 20min. from our hotel in Zhongwei. It turned out to be more expensive than expected, but still fairly cheap. You can buy a one-day entrance or if you stay at the Shapotou Desert Hotel (pictured below), entrance to the East side is free. The place offers dune sliding, Jeep off-roading, camel rides, sheep hide boating, bungee jumping & more. If you venture beyond the activities area, you can hike up to the beginning of the Great Wall or go on a 1-2 day trek through the Tengger desert.

Here are some photos to show you what it’s like:

Home Base

From Xi’an, fly to Yinchuan Airport in the Ning Xia province. You can then take a taxi to the train station, buy a ticket for Zhongwei, then get ready for the 3-4hour ride. Once in Zhongwei, you can book a hotel on the main square (walkable) or take a taxi/local bus to Shapotou. Major FYI: Make sure to print out any hotel names, directions, places, etc. in Chinese! No one can speak or read English. (We were extremely lucky to run into a college student and English teacher on the train who helped us to navigate a bit, but that is rare.) 

Home Base Hotel - looks like Star Wars

Shapotou Desert Hotel – looks like Star Wars: $50-60/night and well-worth the experience!

Jeep Adventure at home base

Jeep Adventure at home base

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Sledding down a sandy mountain!

Dune Slide: Sledding down a sandy mountain!

Through the Tengger

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Tengger Desert – about 20 min. from the hotel, you’ll be all alone!

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Alone in the Tengger

Alone in the Tengger

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Tengger Desert

It was so hot in the desert, that the sole of my fake Tevas melted off.

It was so hot in the desert, that the sole of my fake Tevas melted off.

Essential Desert Attire: Floppy Hat, tied down with scarf

Essential Desert Attire: Floppy Hat, tied down with scarf

Essential Desert Attire: Purple scarf & Equally Purple Face Mask for sand storms

Essential Desert Attire: Purple scarf & Equally Purple Face Mask for sand storms

Came upon some totem poles

Came upon some totem poles

Climbing the totem pole

Climbing the totem pole

Night befell us!

Night befell us!

The Great Wall

The amazing part of visiting this section of the Great Wall was that there were zilch other people (except for the few park employees) the entire journey. Think about having the Great Wall of China all to yourself for an entire day! It is reality!

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Road to the Great Wall

Abandoned tank we came across on our hike

Abandoned tank we came across on our hike

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The beginning of the Great Wall of China in the north! The crazy part is there was not a soul in sight besides us!

Great Wall and Yellow River

Great Wall and Yellow River

Just climbing the Great Wall of China, nbd

Just climbing the Great Wall of China, nbd

Trying to fit myself through a window in the Great Wall of China

Trying to fit myself through a window in the Great Wall of China

Zhong Wei and Yin Chuan cities

Zhong Wei was also very unique because I had never been to a city where there were absolutely zero other foreigners. ZERO. The sight of my tall, hairy boyfriend stopped people dead in their tracks, no exaggeration. Even motorists would drive by whipping their heads around to stare (while still driving). Another funny moment: Our taxi driver pulled over onto the shoulder of the highway, turned to me and asked for a picture. I thought he wanted to take a picture of us two foreigners, but he got out of the car, grabbed my boyfriend’s hand and gave the camera to me. I guess my Chinese appearance isn’t so exciting to him, bwah.

Oh, hey Mao

Oh, hey Mao

Yinchuan is a much larger city than Zhong Wei, yet lacks the excitement of the latter. The city is fun to see by foot, however, and you’ll find tons of great food. It is a largely Muslim population, so give the 8 Treasures tea (Ba Bao Cha) a taste and you’ll be sure to consequently buy 10 bags of it to bring back home. Check it out here: http://www.echinacities.com/Yinchuan/city-guide/Top-5-Must-Try-Local-Delicacies-in-Yinchuan.

To try the raved about delicacies of the region, we went to Yingbin Lou Islamic Restaurant. Really popular, long waiting times, but tons of fun trying to order such unknown-to-us foods. The desert buns were the best! Address to the place: http://www.chinahighlights.com/yinchuan/

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Street food, Yin Chuan, Ning Xia

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Yin Chuan, Ning Xia

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Yin Chuan, Ning Xia

I’ll add more about our trip soon!

*Some of these photos are mine and some belong to Vincent Millet.

About redmudstain

An American Expat in Chiang Mai, Thailand ​ Not willing to settle down just yet - I'm only in my mid-twenties after all - I took a leap across the big big pond and fell onto Thai soil. Well, it was a little less spontaneous than that... ​ After a grueling application process, Princeton in Asia bestowed upon me a one-year fellowship with The Life Skills Development Foundation in Chiang Mai. A renowned child rights non-profit foundation in Northern Thailand, TLSDF is giving me the opportunity to research critical social issues, travel across field sites in the nation's upper regions, converse with the international human rights community and of course, learn Thai! ​ This is my life - the beauty, struggle, culture shock and adventure - in the charming city of Chiang Mai. Blog: https://redmudstain.wordpress.com/ UPDATE: Chiang Mai got me for 2 years!

3 comments

  1. Love the photo of you trying to fit through the wall!

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