Take one of the regular buses from Hohhot to Baotou, ask the driver to stop at Meidai Zhao, scrabble down the bank on to the old road, and walk up the main village street till you see the monastery.
You'll first notice the well preserved Ming Dynasty wall, and gradually take in the splendour of the setting at the foot of the Big Green Mountains.
The monastery itself''s packed with interesting things. Much Mongolian Buddhism came by way of Tibet, and the guide (note: Chinese speaking only) told us that some Tibetan religious leaders had been Mongolian and were associated with Meidai.
The main building, the Sakyamuni Treasure Palace, has displays dedicated to Alatan Khan, descendant of Genghis and founder of the monastery, and his wife. At the back of the hall you can make out through the protective darkness, some 400 year old Ming murals.
There are lots of smaller religious buildings, two award winning sculptures, a small museum commemorating a guerilla band in the anti-Japanese war, and another dedicated to Ulan Fu, a revolutionary and eventual President of Inner Mongolia, who was based for a time at Meidai. Both these museums feature large kangs (heated beds).
Look up to the hills and you can see a small white Ger-shaped structure - Feng Shui Ta, for which see next tip.
NOTE: Please do not do what we did - do not attempt this climb without a local guide.
You can see Feng Shui Ta from Meidai Monastery (see previous tip). In early May, 2005 my wife Jane and I, accompanied bv Rich, another foreign teacher and a Chinese friend, set out to climb to up there. Rich has developed mountain walks in Armenia and our friend had a mobile phone, but I still felt pretty nervous at some points in what turned out to be a tough climb with no one clearly marked path.
Feng Shui here means something like 'good vibrations' - the tower's meant to bring happiness and luck to the local people. It's also rumoured to be the tomb of Alatan, Meidai's founder, but I got the impression no one really believed this.
When we finally got there, the tower turned out to be a small, rather uninteresting building, graffited over with the names of those who'd made it up there - nearly all Chinese, of course, but greetings to fellow Western mountaineer JW!
The views down were as good as we'd expected. We could see the layout of the monastery and the surrounding walls as a whole, and appreciate more strongly the greeness of the gardens than we'd walked through them.
However, enjoyment was mixed with apprehension at having to climb back down. In the end, though, this proved a lot easier than the way up, as we knew which bit of the mountain to avoid.
An excellent climb, but please heed my warning and give one of the local people a chance to earn a little money too!
Really only just off the beaten track, the Yuquan Spring is another subliminal advertisment for how incredibly lucky the Mongolians were for the Chinese to head up north.
In 1679, Emperor Kangxi came to these lands to put down the Gerdan rebellion. When Kangxi arrived at the Dazhao Lamasery, his horse scraped its hoof on the ground and water gushed out from nine springs. So goes the legend. The springs lie in the plaza outside the entrance to the lamasery, cunningly hidden behind the buses and cars.
The springs became known, somewhat predictably, as the Number One Spring Of The Nine Frontier Garrisons.
There were many celebrated inns and restaurants around the place (a Chinese version of "thirst after righteousness", I suppose). It is said that Emperor Kangxi decided, one night, to go down to the area dressed as a commoner and have a few drinks at the Yueminglow Restaurant in the plaza. Unfortunately he forgot to bring any money and when the bill came, it added up to 8.3 liang of silver (maybe more than just a few drinks then). The restaurant owner was somewhat unhappy with the man who had no money, and was getting his bouncers ready to beat him up. In the nick of time, a certain Liu San, who was a barman at the restaurant, leapt to the defence of the hapless king-in-disguise. He offered his anual salary as a 'ransom' for the man's safety. His annual salary, by a Disneyesque quirk of fate, came to 8.3 liang of silver. With one bound Emperor Kangxi was free.
Subsequently, the emperor called Liu San to Beijing where he conferred the rank of fourth class official on him, without requiring him to do any work to earn it.
These practices - of binge drinking and being paid to do nothing - continue to this day. The chances of a barman paying a year's salary to stop you being beaten up are rather slim.
This episode is spectacularly recorded in the Yueminglow Painting in the Dazhao Lamasery.
The mansion of Princess Kejing, the daughter of wily old Emperor Kangxi, is in the north of the city, just beyond the railway station. It also doubles as the Hohot city museum.
Unfortunately, the musuem and mansion are closed for refurbishment (like so many places in China!) but the work looks almost complete now.
From the quality of the workmanship I saw from the outside, this looks as if it might become a significant attraction. My bet is that it will reopen for 2004 National Day (October).
The complex is just north of the junction of Hailar Xi lu and Salhan lu, on the eastern side. It is NOT where the Atlas of China Knowledge Hohhot city map suggests - it is on the same street but at the western end, about one km away.
Maybe you can catch a game with some locals. Just down the food alley next to the Great Mosque are a few tables. I can't vouch for their quality as they sit uncovered outside. Are they level? I guess so.
As always in travel, I recommend the side streets; the streets that most tourists don't bother seeing, the streets that have the real people on them, the real smells, the real food, the real goings on. On our wanderings around the city, we spent much of the time on the side streets, and that has been some of the best parts. It's the best way, if you don't have all that much time, to get a feel for a place.
Unfortunately the Great Mosque is currently (Aug 2004) closed for refurbishment, and is not accessible at all. You can see some of the buildings from the street and from the staircase in the market building next door.
Many of the guide books infer that the old city (Guihuacheng) is the Muslim quarter. It is not; the Muslim Hui quarter is in this area, to the east of the mosque, especially the streets to the east of it. This is the area outside the old city, but just to the north of it.
Hohhot has some unusual architecture. Wander around the city, and the spectrum ranges from concrete block Chinese to Muslim-style to who knows what... it's definitely unique in China.