My partner and I travelled with another couple (friends of ours) to Inner Mongolia, and we wanted to make our own route and travel without joining a tour. We wanted to pay a driver to take us around the places we wanted to go for 3 days. We were referred to a company by Holiday Inn (where we stayed for the first night in Hohhot), called "Inner Mongolia Vast Scenery Travel Service Limited Liability Company" (www.dmfg.cn). They provide "tourism renting a car tour..." etc. The manager Mr. Ye agreed to provide a driver for us for 3 days at 1000RMB per person to include all meals, all drinks, all door tickets (such as entering deserts), and one night stay in a yurt in Xilamuren grasslands. He had agreed to take us to two deserts we wished to visit, and the grasslands and everything that we thought of doing. This was perfect and exactly what we wanted, 1000RMB seemed fair considering all inclusive. And any additional activities would come extra. Sounds fair?
BUT! WE DID NOT GET WHAT WE ASKED FOR. And here's where the story unfolds...
Our first suspicions came when Mr Ye consistently had our dates of arrival confused and couldn't even remember what day today was. We had not arranged yet for our night's stay while visiting the desert, he offered to arrange this for us for 1400RMB per person - already trying to raise the price. We told him forget it and we can arrange it ourselves (we found a good hotel for 295RMB per room!).
Later that day, we received a call from Mr Ye that the weather on Monday (the next day), would be really windy and unpleasant for seeing the grasslands, as we had originally planned, and if we were willing to reverse the schedule and see the two deserts first and then visit the grasslands last. We agreed that was fine, while struggling to communicate with him on the phone that we would book our own hotel for Monday night and that he should confirm that we will definitely be following through with this schedule. After 40 minutes of trying hard not to throw my phone across the hotel room and call him and stupid *&^*))(*&&%$$$^&*&%$##@@@@! we found a hotel and booked for the city he was attempting to advise us on.
Our first real surprise, was when our mini bus came to pick us up and a young couple was on the bus, apparently also booked in for the same trip. We were not told that we would be sharing the mini bus and was under the impression this was a private tour. Hence 1000RMB seeming fair. Later, we discovered that the young couple had only two days in Hohhot and they wanted to see the two deserts instead of the grasslands. Hence, the truth as to why we were seeing the deserts first.
After driving around for hours and getting lost, we finally arrived at "Kubuqi Desert", or so we've been told that it was Kubuqi Desert... We had arrived at Dalate, and without getting lost would've taken about 2hrs from Hohhot. Kubuqi and Hohhot were roughly equal distance away from Dalate City. After we had lunch, drove to Kubuqi Desert which took only 30 minutes! Once we'd arrived at the apparently "Kubuqi Desert", we asked some locals who had been thrill driving through the desert where we were on the map, they pointed us to exactly where we were, which was just above the Resonant Sand Gorge, which was were we were headed the following day. That was much more likely as we had only driven 30 minutes from Dalate City.
Oh by the way, during lunch, under the agreement "all drinks inclusive", we each ordered a can of coke with lunch, and apparently that was not included and we should pay in addition.
NOTE: Every place we went to, the tour guide (who we also did not know we were getting), was trying to rip us off every step of the way and asking us to take additional activities or tricking us into thinking that it was not part of the door ticket.
Oh and we also were supposed to have had dinner provided for but we didn't get this either.
The second day, Tuesday, we went to the Resonant Sand Gorge. The area around the Sand Gorge is very industrial. There is a very large power plant station near by. We saw the exact same power plant when were were apparently in "Kubuqi Desert" as when we were at the Resonant Sand Gorge. We had been taken to exactly the same Desert only once from the north entrance and once from the south entrance!
Once we'd arrived, our guide was responsible for paying for our door ticket, and the additional cost for taking the chair lift was up to us. Our wonderful guide tried to tell the doorman to shut up when we were trying to clarify that it was 80RMB for the door ticket or 120RMB to include the chair lift (an additional 40RMB). She tried to make us believe it was 80RMB for the door, and 120RMB just for the chair lift. Then after the doorman ripped off the little ticket stub for entering, she tried to keep the ticket as a receipt. We needed the ticket to get back on the chair lift. Then she stupidly tried to rip the little stub off for us and give us just the stub without the ticket. Lucky we had better working brains than she did or we could've ended up at the top of a desert and no way to get down.
That day we drove to Xilamuren grasslands and dropped off the young couple so they could go back to Hohhot. THEN we picked up another two people - one traveler and one guide. At the grasslands we had been promised ceremonies, dances, horse racing, wrestling etc. But I guess they'd forgotten to inform us that none of this is available during April. Was still fun there, but would've been good to know in advance!
We tried the horse riding at Xilamuren, the horse riding rate was 120RMB/hour. We paid 200RMB to see two sitings because it apparently takes longer than an hour. We were completely over charged and should've asked for just 100RMB.
Here's the fun part, on the way back to Hohhot, we had the additional two people on the bus, PLUS a couple of French tourists plus their guide. Half way to Hohhot, we picked up another lady who had her daughter with her. Our mini bus at this point was completely full. So much for the impression of a "private tour".
Here's the other fun part. We weren't sure who that lady was exactly, but we could see on a sheet of paper where she had calculated the cost of 6 of us tourists for the last 3 days, and that was just above 1000RMB (door price, meals etc). Which means they are taking a massive profit from all of us.
And finally, to top it off, the manager Mr Ye had apparently completely forgotten that he told us we would receive a free drop off to the airport and tried to tell us there was never any agreement on this.
TIP: DO NOT PAY EVERYTHING UP FRONT!!! Even if it's written in the contract, demand that they let you pay half now and half later.
Despite everything, the trip (when the tour company was not involved) was truly amazing and I recommend it. The locals are friendly and kind. Hohhot city is an eye opener with the two major religions clearly visible. We ate some fantastic local food (when not organised by the tour), some excellent hot pot and bbq meats. And for some lucky promotion, a lot of free beer at a restaurant 3000Pu. We travelled with great friends and while discovering Inner Mongolia on our own we had a fantastic time. A couple of tour-guide intern students had travelled with us and they were a lot of fun and a good laugh.
If you've got two working legs and not a lot of cash, you can still see the same sites without a horse or a 4 wheel motor bike. In Xilamuren, we walked all around the grasslands, saw sheep, camels, cows, were invited to a local's home, drank tea with him, and had a wonderful experience. In "Kubuqi Desert" we talked through in our own time.
FINAL TIP: It is likely here, that many companies will try to rip you off. If you don't feel like trusting them, DON'T. Remember NEVER use this company if you don't want to get ripped.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.