Wanderlust is a regular series where we speak with a notable individual from the travel industry.
My first impression of Pang Xinhua, who also goes by Mary, was in Hohhot back in 2018. With a contagious personality and passion for Inner Mongolia and its beautiful nature, she showed a group of us what the region was all about.
From bonfires on the grasslands to drunken singing in Mongolian garbs, it was a hell of a time, and her role as a tour guide was paramount to the experience. Below, we catch up with Pang to learn what Inner Mongolia tourism has to offer and how she handles the difficult duty.
What made you want to be a tour guide?
I studied tourism management when I was in university. I thought a tour guide would make for a very cool job – I can travel to many different places for free and meet various people. After I became a guide, I realized that this job is not easy by any means.
The bigger the group, the more exhausting it can be – and difficult to eat or sleep well. But I still love my job; I like working outdoors instead of an indoor office job. I can always enjoy nature, fresh air, sunshine and so on. Being an English-speaking guide makes me open-minded and understand the world better, so I feel grateful for this job.
From your perspective, what would the ultimate trip around Inner Mongolia entail?
If you ever come to Inner Mongolia, you have to ride a Mongolian horse. You can enjoy the gallop on the open wild grassland – it’s my favorite activity.
Here’s a breakdown of highlights and my personal must-do list of Inner Mongolia.
1. Landscape and tourism attractions
We have dense forest, big rivers and beautiful grassland in the east. Typical steppe, desert, old temples and the Genghis Khan Mausoleum in central Inner Mongolia. In the west, there is boundless desert as well as poplar forests.
You have to try Mongolian cuisine to really appreciate the province. We would cater roast whole lamb for important people or during weddings in the old times. With crispy skin and tender meat, only one bite will make you love it. Beef jerky is another favorite, while milk tea, yogurt, horse milk wine, cheese and mutton hotpot are some other must-tries that come to mind.
Horseback riding, like I previously mentioned, is a classic activity here. Besides this, there are so many activities in the desert, like sand sliding, zip-lining and sand surfing off-road, which is positively exhilarating when going up and down on the dunes. If you want to take it slow, you can ride a camel under the sunset and enjoy the peacefulness. If you like hiking, go trekking through the grasslands, mountains, or desert.
Mongolian people are well known for their singing and dancing. We especially like singing while drinking – we call it unceasing songs with unceasing wine. Long-tone folk songs and a horse-headed fiddle are essential aspects of Mongolian music. Wherever you hear it, it’ll remind you of the grasslands.
“The biggest challenge for me is that some tourists can’t understand that life is more modern now on the grassland”
What kind of challenges have you faced when guiding tours in the region?
The biggest challenge for me is that some tourists can’t understand that life is more modern now on the grassland. They have this impression that Mongolians should always stay in yurts and live a nomadic life.
Yes, we still raise sheep and cows, but we don’t have to move around anymore. Mongolian families have their own grassland, run their own businesses, move into houses and drive cars. Sometimes it’s just difficult to explain this to some stubborn people, and they think we didn’t take them to the real Mongolian grassland.
What do you hope tourists learn about the culture and scenery of Inner Mongolia when visiting?
I hope tourists know that we have not only have the grassland but also forests, mountains and deserts – we even have stone forests. Once you come here, you can explore different places and enjoy the different natural scenery. Since Inner Mongolia is connected with Mongolia and Russia, we have border tourism as well.
I think you should learn the Mongolian history and culture – Genghis Khan’s great kingdom and Kublai Khan’s big empire, which was the largest territory created by humans. Second, Tibetan Buddhism is the main religion here. Hohhot is called ‘Temple City,’ as there are many old temples from over hundreds of years here. Buddhist activities and celebrations would be held during festivals, and people pray for a good life. Lastly, Mongolian people are very open and friendly – we welcome friends from all over the world.
This interview has been edited for clarity. To learn more about Inner Mongolia tours, add Pang’s WeChat by scanning the QR code:
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[Cover image provided by Pixabay]