In regions that still harbour semi-nomadic herders, such as Inner Mongolia’s grasslands and around Tian Chi in Xinjiang, it’s often possible to ask a local family to put you up in their yurt (蒙古包, ménggǔ bāo). The genuine article is a circular felt tent with floor rugs as the only furniture, horsehair blankets, a stove for warmth, and outside toilets. Though it’s a well-established custom to offer lodging to travellers, remember that few people in these regions have had much contact with foreigners, and misunderstandings can easily arise. You’ll need to haggle over the price with your hosts; around ¥80 should cover bed and simple meals of noodles and vegetables. In addition, it’s a good idea to bring a present – a bottle of baijiu, a clear and powerful vodka-like spirit, rarely goes amiss. Liquor stores, ubiquitous in Chinese cities and towns, are the obvious place to buy the stuff, but you’ll also find it on sale at train and bus stations, restaurants, hotels, shops and airports. You might also want to bring a torch and bug spray for your own comfort.
Local tour companies may be able to arrange yurt accommodation, though where Chinese tour groups are commonplace, you may be treated to a very artificial experience – often basically just a concrete cell “dolled” up in yurt fashion, with karaoke laid on in the evenings. If you want something better than this, it’s worth at least asking to see photos of the interior when making a booking.