The trip to Mongolia had been on my radar for a year or so. Getting the visas was always going to be a pain in the arse given I’d be in Asia in the months leading up to it. I ended up getting Chinese visa in Chiang Mai, Russian visa in Phnom Penh and the Mongolian visa in Beijing. Makes sense yea?
Thankfully other than the niggly cost, it all went smooth as after making sure all the docs were 712% in order before leaving the embassies. Eventually the four of us were departing Beijing to Ulaanbaatar on June 4th!
- 1 Wandering Ulaanbaatar
- 2 Our Tour Guide And Driver
- 3 Day 1: Getting Acquainted With The Gobi
- 4 Day 2: To The Flaming Cliffs Via Camel City
- 5 Day 3: Sand Monsters On The Dunes, Puppy Love And Camel Riding
- 6 Day 4: Snowstorms And Hiking
- 7 Day 5: Vultures, Sunsets And Real Roads
- 8 Day 6: White Stupa. Not Like South East Asia.
- 9 How Can You Do A Gobi Desert Tour?
All my research said UB was a grey, dirty shit hole. The capital city, home to 1/3 of the three million population may well be polluted with chaotic traffic but I tell you what she has a charm to her. We headed to the black market with me having turned up with no long sleeve clothing passing many cozy restaurants and cafes on the way. The hostel, Sunpath we stayed at was awesome too. So warm and unlimited tea. Mmmmm tea.
Our Tour Guide And Driver
It is hard to relay this trip into a short readable post but the first thing I will touch on were our guide and driver an integral part of the group. Bilguun, three years of experience as a guide was great with helping us translate and answering all sorts of questions.
If he didn’t know the answer, he said so which is awesome rather than some bullshit theory. We had plenty of laughs. Best quote award went to: ‘so which countries does New Zealand border?’. Our driver, Jagga was a menace. Minimal English but we had plenty of laughs and with 37 years of experience driving through Mongolia we were safe as houses in his van. He attacked my beard with knife, lighter, scissors and a taser for good measure. All in good fun.
Beard 1 – Jagga 0.
Day 1: Getting Acquainted With The Gobi
Once on the road, we instantly felt like we were in the desert. We stopped briefly for gas and a feast before we got to the site we cannot quite work out the name of. It was a massive rocky mountain rising out of the wilderness. Of course I had to climb it, the rocks were mostly steady but it was a good challenge. Robyn and I eventually made it to the top.
After that fun, t’was a short drive to our ger camp for the night. We has a feast after awkwardly finding out info about the nomads and went to sleep roasting with the stove on. Until 2am that is, when apparently everyone woke up freezing and had to wrap up. I blissfully slept through it all. Win.
Day 2: To The Flaming Cliffs Via Camel City
We got our morning routine sorted pretty well early on. Wake up, maybe change the underwear, a wet wipes shower, drink tea, eat some fruit and toast and then jump in the Russian van and start driving. Today was the Flaming Cliffs day.
This was a verrrrrry long drive and I was most bemused by the crazy mirages creating lakes in the desert, legit thought there were lakes at moments. Yea right. We also passed an area we dubbed ‘camel city’ cause, well you can work it out. Camels here there and everywhere, Sally, Alice and the rest of the crew.
The flaming cliffs were cool to run around for an hour or so, I could imagine with the right lighting the red color would be epic. We also saw some camels headed for lower ground as the sun was setting, the clever buggers. We then were back to the ger for the night.
Day 3: Sand Monsters On The Dunes, Puppy Love And Camel Riding
Morning routine, check. Back in the van for some more driving, check. I believe this was the day I started reading (when it wasn’t too bumpy) having chatted and stared at all the amazing nothingness for the past few days.
The sand dunes appeared out of nowhere and before long we were told to wrap up and start climbing, hmmm k then. We started off with a hiss and a roar but were soon bought to our knees. We had a rascal in the form of a puppy run over to join us, happy with kicking sand in our eyes as we huffed and puffed like a dragon floundering in water.
Eventually all five of us made it. Stunning views were taken in before we threw our bodies back down and a great rate of knots. You can also make some epic sounds on the way down that echo through the valley (no idea on the science). At the bottom, a feast was waiting.
A short drive later, we were at ger camp. We actually slept for a couple hours in the avo before being waken for our camel rides. While I’m still undecided on the ethics of this (never ride elephants in Thailand) due to being vegan (which was hard in Mongolia) and I know linking to that sounds contradictory but I will save that for a later post perhaps. We all jumped on, it was so much comfier than riding a horse in Costa Rica (more contradiction, sorry).
I was at the back but it was cool hearing them fart and we all had a great time for an hour. Once that was settled, we had an epic Mongol BBQ with Mongolian whisky which I consumed most of for the others. It was weird tasting but you gotta take one for the team. A sandstorm came through and then we were asleep.
Wow. Big Day.
If you like potty talk, click the spoiler, if not carry on.
Day 4: Snowstorms And Hiking
We didn’t have too much driving today, we certainly did not expect snow though. That all accumulated in this. No problem for Jagga though. We made it to the valley and got to see a herd of yaks near the entrance. We hiked for an hour or so through the snow before reaching a treacherous pass. We made a snowman too! And saw a Gobi Vulture, a rare sight apparently which was cool.
Eventually we had too head back to base and then we said goodbye to Fung and Singaporean saviour. We then spent the rest of the time in our ger as a snowstorm passed on through. We played cards and drank tea happily as. In the evening I learnt the basics of Mongolian wrestling and a few more facts. No natural here.
Day 5: Vultures, Sunsets And Real Roads
We paid a quick visit to the nearby museum, it was really cool in fact and gave a good rundown on the area before going for another quick hike in the valleys. The drive was a large amount today and we finally saw some properly built roads again.
We stopped in at another village for supplies (this happened most days) before carrying onto the ger camp destination. We arrived quite late to camp but this definitely had the best sunset of the trip. T’was epic and I think we all just loved a bit of time alone thinking about the trip so far. We also saw a massive camel poo pile they’ll eventually use to keep the stove going.
Day 6: White Stupa. Not Like South East Asia.
Was not looking forward to this, it was only a 30km drive away but to see a stupa. Have seen plenty of those in South East Asia. Ignorant me however was jaw dropped when we arrived at the ‘stupa’. It was 30 metre high cliffs that extended a couple hundred meters with the wind and water over 1000’s of years displaying awesome colors in the various layers.
We had a blast hanging out here for an hour or so. We then drove quite a long way to the next ger camp for the night. We had a chance to go for a hike by ourselves on the granite mountains which was cool. The granite made for some epic views and a good bit of exercise before trudging back for dinner and more wicked sunsets.
Day 7: Home Time
The last day was sad, there was going to be no more sleeping in gers, waking up to cool weather after sweltering fireside when going to sleep, no peeing/pooing freely, no awkward ger moments with the Mongolian families and just a few precious hours in the Russian beast van. There was one more thing for us to see however, driving back towards where we climbed the previous night we visited a Buddhist shrine area, a cool cave and saw a hole in a rock that didn’t work but helped cure blindness or something.
It was then time to hit the road, we got on the paved road fast enough and just cruised. I was in a reflective mood having finished the last of my book and just gazed out the window thinking of not a whole lot. Eventually back at Sunpath hostel, the good byes to Jagga and Bilgoon were quick and with access to technology once again you almost would never know we had been offline for a week.
How Can You Do A Gobi Desert Tour?
There are plenty of ways, but I think a guided tour like we did was best for a first tim visitor to Mongolia. We let Sunpath know we were arriving the day before and they picked us up right on time from the train station. Once we arrived we started to talk our plans and were instantly quoted less than what we were getting online in emails with Sunpath.
For our seven days the five of us paid 50USD/day which seemed to be the best rate anyone had gotten (may be because it was before the peak season). We had a blast and next time I go back to Mongolia I will use Sunpath again (request Bilguun and Jagga) and probably explore Central Mongolia.
Thanks to the useful travel app maps.me, Robyn was able to track where we went in Mongolia. We entered on the bottom right of the corner and you can see we really only travelled a tiny portion of Mongolia. Impressive huh! (check it out her)
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