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Bayan Hot (阿拉山左旗 Alashan Zuoqi) is small Mongolian town just on the north west side of the Helan Mountains. This town has an outpost feel as it is nestled next to the mountains on one side and the desert just to the west slowly moving up to it. Some of the far western parts of the town look like they are about to buried in sand.
The Yanfu temple is main sight just outside of town. This Mongolian Buddhist temple is over 300 years old and at one time had over 200 lamas living there. Today the number of lamas has settled around 30. Also in the city itself there is a very nice local temple that rarely has visitors. Although most tourists just do a day trip to Bayan Hot from Yinchuan a tourist can enjoy a few days here walking the streets, hiking in the mountains and taking in the local flavor.
Bayan Hot is an extremely small town and doesn’t have neighborhoods.
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© All Rights Reserved Lavafalls
The town is very diverse and all major Han, Mongolian and Muslim holidays are celebrated.
China has three "Golden Week" holidays per year. People get a mandatory two or three days off work for each holiday, and workers' companies can grant them the rest of the week off, making each holiday a total of 7 days. As you can imagine, having almost 1.4 billion people with the same days off can make travelling at these times arduous to say the least.
Travelling during the Spring Festival/Chinese New Year is incredibly difficult. Chinese New Year is China's Christmas, so the millions of migrant workers and students flood back to their home towns. Everybody else takes the opportunity to spend their hong bao (gifts of money traditionally given at CNY) and go travelling. Most of the time, since you are only allowed to purchase train tickets 6 days in advance and must be present in the city of origin, sometimes only standing room tickets are available. Be aware! The Spring Festival is undoubtedly the busiest time for the Chinese transportation system. Flying will avoid the crowded trains, but book early and expect to pay higher prices. All the main tourist attractions will be crawling with tourists (worse than usual), so unless you like crowds, it's best to avoid it altogether.
Chinese New Year is based on the lunar calendar, so the date changes each year. The Chinese New Year/Spring Festival holiday is 7 days long and usually starts on New Year's Eve.
The two other national holidays are October 1st, National Day, celebrating the founding of the People's Republic of China and May 1st, which is International Labor Day. Almost all Chinese get the two holidays off and many take the opportunity to travel. If you want to avoid the crowds, fly, but it should get a lot less busy towards the end of the week.
Being located north and on the desert offers intense climate changes. Because of the desert the temperature change from day to night can be extreme year round. During the summer expect very hot days and cool nights. While in the winter be prepared for cold days with freezing nights with the occasional snowstorm. There are frequent sandstorms in spring and summer.
Bus is the only option. The main bus station is located roughly in the center of town in an old style communist shopping mall. Most people that visit Bayan Hot come from Yinchuan, although the bus station does have several buses to other cities in Inner Mongolia making it possible to continue a trip.
From Yinchuan the bus takes between 1.5 to 2.5 depending on how much the bus cruises around looking for more passengers. Buses leave from the south bus station in Yinchuan every half hour from 8:00am to 6:00pm. If the bus does not fill up in the south bus station it will stop at the new city bus station near the train station for more passengers before leaving for Bayan Hot. Similarly buses leave every half hour from Bayan Hot to Yinchuan starting at 8:00am to 6:00pm every day. This is a very nice bus ride going through the mountains and some very desolate territory. The bus also drives by the Xia Tombs and a dirt section of the Great Wall that is the current day border of Inner Mongolia and Ningxia.
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Although taxi’s and motorbikes cruise the town they are really only useful if planning to visit some areas nearby. The best method is to walk around town. The town slops up towards the Helan Mountains and slides down towards the desert. There is now a large stadium in the upper section of town that makes for a good landmark for walking around. So does the minority hospital that has a concrete Mongolian tent on the top of it. Some of the fancier hotels are large enough that they can be seen from most of town also.
There are several Muslim and Chinese restaurants scattered around town. If looking for traditional Mongolian food, try some of the restaurants near the bus station or the local temple.
If looking for some booze the only options are in restaurants or buying beer and bringing it back to your hotel room. During the summer time it might be possible to drink on the street with a karuochar (meat on a stick) vendor.
There are now several midrange Chinese hotels located at the lower sections of town near the desert and the highway. These places ask for about 200 RMB a night but it is possible to bargain for a much lower rate, especially in the winter.
There is a very cheap hotel located right next to the bus station but it is hard to spot. The name is only in Chinese characters and it has no neon signs. The lobby is tiny, try to look for a small desk with someone using an abacus. Private rooms with a private bath and television are only 50 RMB. There were also rooms without private bath that are cheaper.
Wangba (联网) means internet bar in Chinese. Almost every town will have an internet bar or gaming center. The best way to spot an internet bar is to look for the 网(ba) character, which means net, and large digitized images of computer game characters. Often, there will be a sign saying Green Power in English at the entrance. Most gaming centers cost about RMB3 an hour. You prepay at the main desk and are then given a plastic card or a piece of paper. Once you are done you return the card or piece of paper and get reimbursed for the money you didn't spend. Be prepared for a place that might be dingy, basic and messy. Internet bars in China tend to get crowded starting in the late afternoon to the late evenings.
Some hotels provide access from the rooms that may or may not be free; others may provide a wireless service or a few desktops in the lounge area.
Also, quite a few cafes provide free wireless Internet service. Some cafes, even provide a machine for customer use.
See also: International Telephone Calls
The country calling code to China is 86. To make an international call from China, the code is 00.
When making international phone calls it is best to buy an IP card. They typically have a value of ¥100 but sometimes can be had for as little as ¥25. The cards have printed Chinese instructions, but after dialing the number listed on the card English-spoken instructions are available. As a general indication of price, a call from China to Europe lasts around 22 minutes with a ¥100 card. Calls to the U.S. and Canada are advertised to be another 20% cheaper. There is no warning before the card runs out of minutes.
If you already have a GSM 900/1800 cellphone, you can roam onto Chinese networks, but calls will be very expensive (¥12-35/minute is typical). If you're staying for more than a few days, it will usually be cheaper to buy a prepaid Chinese SIM card; this gives you a Chinese phone number with a certain amount of money preloaded. Chinese tend to avoid phone numbers with the bad-luck digit '4', and vendors will often be happy to offload these "unsellable" SIM-cards to foreigners at a discount. If you need a phone as well, prices start around ¥100/200 used/new. Chinese phones, unlike those sold in many Western countries, are never "locked" and will work with any SIM card you put in them. China's two big operators are China Mobile and China Unicom. Most SIMs sold by the two work nationwide, with Unicom allowing Hong Kong/Macau/Taiwan usage as well. There is usually a surcharge of about ¥1/min when roaming outside the province you bought the SIM, and there are some cards that work only in a single province, so check when buying.
China Post (中国邮政) is the official postal service of the People's Republic of China, operated by the State Postal Bureau of the People's Republic of China (website in Chinese only), and has more details about price to send letters, postcards and parcels, both domestically as well as internationally. The Chinese postal service is very good. Remember that in more remote places usually only one post office in a city can handle sending international boxes or letters. Also many times it might be worth having the name of the country you are trying to send to in Chinese characters, because small town people might not know what Estonia is in English. Post offices have a striking green logo and can easily be found everywhere in the cities. They are mostly open every day (including weekends!) from 8:00am to 6:00pm, though small offices might have shorter opening times, while the bigger ones in central and touristic areas are sometimes open during evenings as well.
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