Cycling through Inner Mongolia with Orucase.
A short photo essay of traveling with a bicycle through Mongolia.
Flights between Shanghai and Hulunbuir in the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia are about 3.5 hours nonstop. That is, if a typhoon coming in over Shanghai doesn’t delay all flights indefinitely. Such was the case when my girlfriend and I arrived at Pudong Airport just in time for the rain to start. We chose to travel to Inner Mongolia because it offers bucolic landscapes and fresh air - a welcome escape from the oppressive summer heat of Shanghai. But for a while, the only views we got were of the inside of Pudong’s domestic terminal, where China Eastern Airlines employees periodically received updated flight information via text message and transcribed it by hand to a white board. As with all travel nightmares this one eventually passed and we arrived in Hulunbuir, bikes and patience intact, in time to check into our hostel and rest up for the three hour bus ride to Enhe Russian Ethnic Township.
Pudong Airport Delays
Enhe is a small town of a few thousand people situated in the grasslands in the northeast of Inner Mongolia. It lies 30 kilometers or so from the Erguna River, which forms the border between China and Russia. This border was completely open until China and the Soviet Union had a falling out in the 1950s, sealing off residents from trading partners and family members alike. The people of Enhe remain a living testament to the diverse ethnic, cultural, and linguistic roots of this region.
We stayed our first night at the Enhe International Youth Hostel, which was listed on a few popular booking websites. They had dozens of beds and both bunk rooms and private rooms, and a nice common area with a restaurant and free wifi. Fortunately my girlfriend and I got stuck in different bunk rooms, otherwise we never would have stumbled upon the beautiful bed and breakfast down the street, which is not listed online because of the difficulties of navigating English-language travel sites as a Chinese-speaking small business owner. The rolling hills of grass and wildflowers are amazing, but the highlight of my trip was definitely talking with matron of the local inn about her family in Russia and China, and her life there in Enhe. Oh yeah - and sampling her delicious home cooking, which showed elements of both Chinese and Russian traditions. My favorite dish was a breakfast pudding made from potato starch and wild blueberries. I also loved the flowers she kept out front.
Bed and Breakfast Mongolian Style
Eli from Orucase on the Erguna River, The dividing line between China and Russia.
I love traveling in China because it has every sort of landscape and cityscape you could imagine, and still thousands more that you couldn’t possibly. I’ve perhaps seen more of China than I have of my own country because it is so inexpensive and easy to get around. Not only are flights convenient, there is an amazing infrastructure of high-speed and traditional railways, as well as buses. On our way back from Hulunbuir we took an overnight sleeper train to Harbin and then a high speed train back to Shanghai. Our Airport Ninjas fit right under our bunks and behind our seats, and we got to spend several hours looking out the window and talking to fellow travelers.
Traditional, not-so-high-speed, Railways
I am so glad I travelled to far northeastern China because it reminded me that these borders, while meaningful, were drawn only recently. It’s so easy for me to think of them as indelible lines defining monolithic entities. But this is a simplified picture that often ignores those living at the intersection between vastly different languages and cultures.
Wherever you decide to go, put yourself out there!
The best way to travel or fly with a bicycle
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