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Shiwei, Inner Mongolia

For a truly off-the-beaten path ancient town with a rustic “frontier” feel, Shiwei in Inner Mongolia allows visitors to experience an authentic Chinese-Russian ethnic town.

Sitting just across the border from Russia, there is a strong intercultural mix here, as evidenced in the architecture, cuisine and people. One of the northernmost towns in China, Shiwei was built along the Argun (or Eergun) River and is said to be the hometown of Genghis Khan. Shiwei dates back to the 5th century, when nomadic tribes settled along the river there to pursue farming and fur trade. Vast blue skies, birch forests, and horses and cows make up the landscape here. One of the main attractions is horse-back riding; this is mostly done along the picturesque river, but the vastness of Shiwei allows the brave traveler to gallop freely through the surrounding grassland.

The cuisine is also especially interesting, blending Mongolian dishes with Russian influences. Some of the local dishes include “shao kao” BBQ, “lie ba” bread, pickled cucumber, and even homemade red bean wine. The architecture in Shiwei is very different than in China’s more southern ancient cities. The traditional “Mukden” houses are built with stone foundations, then logs and stones – and were built without using a single nail. Today’s Shiwei has newer buildings popping up, but keeping in the Russian style. Peak travel season to Shiwei is in the summer (which doesn’t start until rainy season passes after June) or autumn, as the weather tends to be warmer before the northern winter chill settles over Shiwei.