Birding trip in the Alashan Desert, Inner Mongolia

Take the overnight train to Yinchuan and then head deep into the desert for a night in tents and birding sessions by oases deep in the desert. Includes a birding session at Yinchuan Wetlands Park before the flight back to Beijing.

This trip is not currently scheduled

Contact us for schedule updates or set up a private trip

RUDDY SHELDUCK fly over an oasis in the Tengger Desert
A pair of Ruddy Shelduck in flight over an oasis in the Alashan Desert.

Trip overview

Day One
Overnight train from Beijing to Yinchuan
Day Two
Birding and jeep travel between desert lakes and oases
Camp in tents overnight
Day Three
Birding and jeep travel between desert lakes and oases
Bayanhaote Desert Geological Museum
Overnight in Yinchuan
Day Four
Birding session at Yinchuan Wetlands Park
Afternoon flight from Yinchuan to Beijing


A tiny settlement by a lake in the Tengger Desert

A tiny settlement by a lake, deep in the Tengger Desert.

The Alashan Plateau and Tengger Desert

The name of the Tengger Desert comes from the Mongolian word for “sky.” The Tengger is classic sand desert: endless waves of sand dunes broken only by the occasional rocky crag. Located in the south-eastern part of Alashan, with an area of about 30,000 square kilometers, this desert is the fourth largest of its kind in China.

Many of the dunes found in the Tengger Desert are crescent-shaped, formed by winds that mostly blow in the same direction. Because of this, the Tengger is China's fastest moving desert, frequently threatening to bury railway lines as its dunes shift across the land. We’ll get deep into the desert, where it’s sand dunes in every direction, as far as the eye can see—quite a sensation!

Lakes and Oases

Somewhat surprisingly, more than 500 fresh- and salt-water lakes and oases can be found in the Alashan Desert. On previous hiking trips in the desert we’ve seen quite a lot of birds as we pass by the lakes and oases—on this trip we’ll stop at several of the lakes for a fuller investigation.

Birding in the desert

We’ll do a 3-4 hour session in the late afternoon of the first day in the desert. After setting up camp by Swan Lake, we’ll hike around the shore to find some good viewpoints.

On the second day of the trip, we’ll do a morning session at Yellow Grass Lake before moving on for lunch at the Moon Lake resort. After lunch we’ll take a quick stroll around Moon Lake to spot some more birds.

We expect to see swans, geese, ducks, gulls, and maybe cranes, plus birds of prey including eagles, buzzards, falcons, and harriers.

Yinchuan Wetlands Park

The Yinchuan Wetlands Park is a protected area where many species of birds stop over on a longer migratory trip. We’ll spend 3–4 hours exploring the area in a morning session on the last day of the trip.

Bayanhot Desert Geological Park Museum

We’ll visit the Desert Geological Park Museum in Bayanhot, the closest town to the desert, to see rocks, fossils, and dioramas that depict the history of the area, particularly the desert dwellers.


The temperature in deserts will usually vary greatly between the night time and daytime. In October it's dry and we expect daytime temperatures of around 15-26°C, with temperatures as low as 4°C at night. Even though it is a sandy desert, please be prepared to dress warmly. It is not expected to rain, although rain is not impossible. At this time of year, the chance of sandstorms is low, but we still need to be prepared.

Campsite in the Tengger Desert

Spend a night in tents, deep in the desert.


The first night, we'll be on soft sleepers on the overnight train to Yinchuan. We will spend one night in a local 4-star hotel, and one night camping in the desert under the stars! Tents, sleeping bags, sleeping bag liners, and ground mats will be supplied by Beijing Hikers, and we'll provide one tent per person.

You’ll be sharing a room at the hotel with another hiker. If you'd like a hotel room to yourself, it can be arranged at an extra cost of 240 RMB, if a room is available—usually not a problem!

Further details about room shares and single supplement can be found in the documents we send you as part of the registration.

On the train

Soft-sleeper berths are bunk beds with an upper and lower single berth. There are two bunks in each room for a total of four beds. We'll try to get everyone together, but the ticket booking process is rather opaque and we may end up sharing a room with other travellers.

Toilet facilities on the train are shared, and you'll need your own toilet paper.

Lights go out at 11pm, and you get a mandatory wake up call at 6am as the little speakers in the rooms come on!

There's a restaurant carriage in the train that sells basic Chinese food, and people will come around selling instant noodles and other snack items. Bring your own snacks, food, and drinks to supplement that.

Jeeps in the Tengger Desert

Travel by jeep through the dunes.

Flights and transport

We’ll be traveling by overnight train from Beijing to Yinchuan, and we'll fly back to Beijing from Yinchuan at the end of the trip. We’ll have a private bus for the drive between Yinchuan and the desert. while in the desert we'll get about in jeeps, perhaps a rough ride if you are prone to motion sickness. (Not prone to motion sickness? Then the jeeps are great fun, a bit like a rollercoaster.)

Frequent flyers: Please let us know if you would like to use your frequent flyer miles or if you are a frequent flyer member. If you would like to organise your own flights, we can provide further details.

Food at a farmhouse in the Tengger Desert

Dinner is served at a farmhouse in the desert.


Simple meals will be provided in the desert. At other times, we will take our meals at hotels or restaurants. Bring some spending money for snacks during the trip. We’ll be eating Chinese-style food. Please let us know if you have any special dietary requirements or food allergies.

Things to bring

  • Passport / ID card
  • Hat with wide brim
  • Sunglasses and suncream
  • Facemask to protect from blowing sand
  • Quick-dry/wicking clothing to prevent chafing from sweat
  • Comfortable, warm clothes
  • Warm hat and gloves, just in case it’s chilly in the morning
  • Waterproof clothing, just in case
  • Wash bag, toothbrush
  • Binoculars, if you have them
  • Camera and chargers
  • Torch or headlamp
  • Ziplog bags to stop sand getting in any electronics when not in use
  • Day pack for carrying water and snacks while hiking. Other luggage can be left on the jeeps or at the hotel.
  • Personal medicine, anything you can't do without but won't likely find in smaller cities or towns.

What to not bring

Bright coloured clothing and ‘noisy’ clothing (e.g. nylon and synthetics) can startle birds and scare them off.

Other notes

Birdwatching requires patience and silence, which might mean that this trip is not so suitable for young children.

Included with this trip

  • Train ticket Beijing-Yinchuan
  • Flight ticket Yinchuan-Beijing
  • Transport by private bus
  • Jeep support in desert (transport luggage, some driving)
  • Entrance tickets
  • 4-star hotel (two to a room), tents for one night of desert camping
  • Meals as described
  • Water
  • Local tour guides

Full itinerary

  1. Day 1
    19:30 – Meet at the train station for the overnight train to Yinchuan
    20:04 – Train departs

  2. Day 2
    08:00 – Breakfast on the train (buy or bring your own)
    09:00 – Load our things on to our bus and drive to Bayanhot
    10:30 – Meet our jeep team in Bayanhot and drive into the desert
    12:00 – Arrive at Swan Lake, lunch at local farmhouse
    13:00 – Set up camp by the lake
    14:00 – Birding session by the lake
    18:00 – Dinner at the campsite
    19:00 – Climb up dunes for sunset
    19:30 – Bonfire, free time

  3. Day 3
    05:00 – Wake up for sunrise (optional)
    06:00 – Pack breakfast and snacks
    06:30 – Drive to Yellow Lake for morning birding session
    10:00 – Back to the campsite to pack up
    11:00 – Drive to Moon Lake
    12:00 – Lunch at Moon Lake
    13:00 – Walk around Moon Lake looking for birds
    13:40 – Drive out of the desert
    14:00 – Visit Bayanhaot Desert Geological Museum
    15:00 – Drive back to Yinchuan
    16:30 – Check in the hotel in Yinchuan and wash up, rest
    17:00 – Take a stroll about Yinchuan
    19:00 – Dinner at the hotel, free time

  4. Day 4
    07:00 – Breakfast at hotel
    08:00 – Drive to Yinchuan Wetlands Park
    08:20 – Birding at the wetlands park
    12:00 – Lunch, and then back to the hotel to check out
    14:00 – Have lunch in Yinchuan
    15:20 – Arrive at the airport and check in
    18:10 – Arrive at the Beijing Capital Airport
    All times are approximate, and depend on our speed of movement