Inner Mongolia/内蒙古

Inner Mongolia is the place that asks the question: just what was beyond the Great Wall? Being part of the territory ancient Chinese leaders were trying to protect themselves from, Inner Mongolia to this day still sustains a healthy amount of wildness. But whereas places like Qinghai are nigh-impossible to navigate due to transportation issues, Inner Mongolia manages to find a happy medium.

Don’t let that fool you into thinking that Inner Mongolia is tame, though. Some of my best travel moments are from Inner Mongolia, and this is largely because it is (relatively) less touched by the hand of the tourism industry. Sure, if you go to Hohhot, there will be organized tours into the grasslands, but if you just go out east to Inner Mongolia’s Hulunbuir region (the one that borders Russia) you need not search for the grasslands. Just open the door and step outside. Likewise, if you want to experience the desert, you can go out west closer to Gansu province, where the desert stretches out with some of the world’s tallest sand dunes.

Inner Mongolia is certainly not the right place for a quick jaunt into the wild. It’s big, and takes some time to enjoy. But if you take that time, you’ll be well-rewarded with a wild place whose heart races like the beating hooves of a horse.

And also, while you’re there, eat some lamb. Lots of Chinese people would tell me the same, and you know what? It’s seriously the best out there.