Ordos is know as one of China’s “ghost cities”.  It was built with the intention of housing millions of people, instead it only houses thousands.

If you’ve lived in China for a while, Ordos is strange.  People do live there, and there are a fair number of people wandering around, but the roads are nearly empty, there aren’t people trying to shove past you at every opportunity, and there’s free transportation with room for everyone on board.  The city still seems populated, albeit sparsely.

A colourful school we passed by.

You may have read in articles around the interwebs that the city is an abandoned and failed project.  This didn’t seem to be quite true.  There are still active developments in progress and people are still moving into the city.  It is true that most of the property is owned by entrepreneurs outside of the city, and you do get the feeling wandering around that most of the people are working merely to allow the city to exist.  It’s as if the city is just waiting for an event that will suddenly make it the biggest place in China.

The airport is probably the least busiest airport I’ve ever visited.  It’s the only airport I’ve ever been in that I haven’t felt the need to rush to get checked-in, through security and on to the plane.  It’s quite an impressive building as well.  We’d even got to the airport early to make sure we could catch our flights, but now we had 4 hours left to spare.

We spotted a building site and a hospital in the distance so we decided to go exploring before boarding our planes.  We got to the building site and confirmed the obvious:  we wouldn’t be able to explore this.  What we did learn, however, was that this area near the airport was empty.  The streets were ridiculously clean and there were no people wandering around.  It was eerie – it made me think of a nuclear test site without the dummies.  Despite the lack of people here there was still a free bus service running (all buses in Ordos are free to use).

We went to the hospital and spoke to the guards outside.  They were perfectly fine with us going in to look around.  The hospital was almost empty – hosting a skeleton crew who were just sitting there, waiting.  There were eight counters, with only one staffed.  There were several empty surgery rooms.  Several doctor’s offices – only one occupied by a doctor.  It was like the place was just waiting for their first customer.  On the way out we asked how many patients the hospital had.  Zero.  The answer was zero.  They were still waiting for their first patient.

On the way to the hospital we also spotted a school.  There were no guards this time so we just wandered in.  This was a sunday, so we were surprised so see staff in the canteen.  They were excite to see us and showed us around the school.  The kitchen was clean and well stocked.  They had students to feed, although not many.  Next, they took us to the badminton court.  I was surprised by how nice the facilities were in this school.  It seemed a shame that so few people would ever see them and take advantage of them, but then if there were a lot of people here would it be maintained as well as it was.

Ordos is a strange city.  It seems to be waiting for something, some kind of big event.  Maybe it’s China’s backup capital in case of some horrific event?  It certainly was more impressive than Beijing in many ways.  Conspiracy theories aside, it is still too early to call this city a failure.  It hasn’t succeeded yet either, but I wonder what this city will become in the next ten years?  It’s not the ghost city people will tell you it is – it still has investors and there is still development going on here.  It has enough people here to maintain the city, keeping it ready.  Ready for the day people finally come here.


While in Inner Mongolia we had the opportunity to try Mongolian food.  It was pretty expensive for Chinese food but we were in the middle of nowhere and pretty damn hungry so the only place we could find was this tourist trap.

Milk Cracker
One of the various foods made from milk.

They started by serving us Mongolian tea.  Once again I was reminded of Tibet – turns out Mongolians drink butter tea as well.  The tea was served with several other things made from milk – some small crackers, cakes and biscuits.

Mongolian Tea
Mongolian tea comes served with various extras.

We started out with Mongolian vegetables.  Or Mongolian vegetation.  It tasted like grass.  Don’t ask me how I know what grass tastes like…

Mongolian Vegetation
Tastes just like grass.

We ordered a bunch of lamb meat and dug in.  The lamb was pretty fresh – we were in Spring after all.  I volunteered to do the carving, which it turns out is extremely difficult with two knives and a round bowl.

Lamb meat!

They also had blood sausages – basically like black pudding from back home.

Blood Sausage
In my country we call it black pudding…

And that’s what it’s like to eat food in a yurt in Inner Mongolia.  It was pretty expensive tourist trap, but at least our bellies were full.

Waiting for a taxi.

Mausoleum of Genghis Kahn

Near the city of Ordos in Inner Mongolia can be found the Mausoleum of Genghis Kahn.  This is not the resting place of Genghis Kahn, since it is unknown where his remains actually lie.  Rather, it is a collection of his treasures and  a holy place.

Entrance Gate
The entrance gate to the Mausoleum of Genghis Kahn

Originally there was no fixed mausoleum – instead Genghis Kahn’s treasures were protected by the “Darkhad” who would wander around Mongolia so people could perform ceremonies in Kahn’s name.  In the 50s the government of China put a stop to this, forcing them to build a permanent mausoleum instead.  The 500 Darkhad were reduced to less than a dozen.

Genghis Kahn Statue
A statue of Genghis Kahn atop one of his holy horses.

During the Cultural Revolution the Mausoleum was destroyed, but has since been rebuilt.  As a result of this, many of the treasures housed here are replicas of the originals.  This doesn’t stop people visiting to pray – one of the locals said that people generally visit once per week to pray to Genghis Kahn.

Holy Horse Sign
People are reminded not to approach the holy horses.

One of the first things we notice on entering the Mausoleum site were the signs warning us not to approach the ‘holy horses’.  We didn’t see any of these horses while exploring the site, but my guess is that these horses are supposed to be the descendants of Genghis Kahn’s horses, and that they wander the site freely.

On approach to the Mausoleum
On approach to the Mausoleum.

As we approached the mausoleum we spotted the ‘sacrifice site’ to the right of the Mausoleum.  Approaching this reminded me of Tibet:  an alter covered in bright and colourful flags and scarves.  Many of the flags had Tibetan script written on them – this was definitely a holy place for Chinese Bhuddists.

"Sacrificial" Altar
The altar covered with Tibetan-Bhuddist flags.

Inside the Mausoleum we saw the treasures of Genghis Kahn.  Many were replicas and obviously fake (unless Mongolians used simplified Chinese back in the day), however the giant jade statue of Genghis Kahn was hugely impressive.  There are also several coffins for members of Kahn’s family – each contained within their own yurt.  Unfortunately no pictures are allowed inside the Mausoleum so if you want to see it you’ll have to pay a visit yourself.

Leaving the Mausoleum.