After an amazing time in Russia, I continued my Transsiberian trip to a quite touristically unknown country: Mongolia!!
From Ulan-Ude, we took a 12h bus that crossed the border towards Ulan-Bator, after a long day ride we finally arrived where our local guide was awaiting us. Regarding Visa, check updated info (changed in 2015) which countries need it, but all EU has free visa regime by stamp on passport on any border. This trip wouldn't have been possible without Dogii and Dream Mongolia Tours, she helped with everything answering my mails and FB messages, Dream Mongolia is also a top ranked tour operator in Tripadvisor!
It took me weeks to choose the right tour operator, many tried to offer me a "typical tourist tour" just to Terejl park (which is just a few Km away from UB, but actually has a bit of everything (steppes, yurts, Buddhist temples and the huge Genghis Khan memorial) or an extremely expensive tour to central Mongolia. Gobi Desert is south and you need more than 6 days to see it properly, so we didn't take it. So, our option was Central Mongolia.
What made Dogii and Dream Mongolia Tours so special? They have the "budget" option that is renting the vans, drivers, and 2 guides for a very good price... And let you choose your itinerary (for example we removed 2 temples but added several other landmarks). As I managed to have a 30-people group (filling 4 vans) price for 5 days was incredible, I won't exactly say it since it depends on what you want to see and due to changes in currency value, it may have changed, but let me tell you that the 30 of us thought it was the best price/quality tour we have ever had in our lives.
Now some basic info about the country, it's a huge one, there is no human way of seeing central Mongolia and Gobi in same week without flying, so plan your stay according to your traveling wishes, because although distances are short, average speed is about 60 km/h. Mongolians in general are friendly and welcoming, especially in countryside, but logically be respectful when you go inside their homes (if they invite you first) since after all, it's their home!
I read in the Internet that UB was a bit dangerous because pickpocketing, it may be, any of us had any problem even if we went out at night and some stayed for 1 full day there, but remember to be always streetwise and safe. The only "problem" we had is that in Khakorin we were in a Ger camp with other tour group that had a few beers and were particularly noisy and a bit annoying but nothing you wouldn't see in your homeland. So now it's time to start the journey
After the first night, our Vans and guides greeted us behind our hostel, and took us to an outskirts supermarket to buy supplies for the trip, food/water is included in price, but beers/vodka and snacks are not, so we bought some (later in the trip there are small продукты shops that sell food and alcohol as well.
First day is for driving mostly, but you see a lot of changing landscape as you go towards Central Mongolia as well as doing small stops to see some minor monuments, we had lunch in a roadside hotel and kept driving in the afternoon until we arrived to Elsen Tasarkhai sand dunes.
There we had an included camel ride and since it's the only "desert" we would see, it was pretty interesting and shocking to see the contrast between the dunes and the mountains behind. We slept in a nearby Ger camp where we got assigned yurts (4 people on each) and had one of the best sights I have ever seen in my life, the whole valley/steppe with mountains and sand dunes at sunset.
After waking up with incredible view we continued our trip. This day we made many stops on our way, to see different landscapes, from incredibly long and flat plateau where grass mixed with horizon, to a river canyon in a volcanic valley.
This day we enjoyed a lot in the van, after all you spend here long times during your day, we bought some vodka (4€ per bottle) and played some games, and atmosphere became magical, it's a really group-making activity! We also stopped to see some local families, and they invited us to their yurt, which was full of meat (literally) from a recent hunt.
We arrived to our Ger camp in Orkhon valley, which will become our home for the next 2 days! Camp was made up just by yurts and 2 containers having western portable toilets and showers (you really love them for this), and it was located under a nice rock formation where hundreds of eagles got their nest. It's owned by a local family that lives in a nearby yurt and all their herd, so you will literally live among sheep and yaks. Every night there is a bonfire and you can enjoy amazing light pollution free starry nights.
It was a cloudy day and we spent most time in the camp. This day is all the good you can make it, since you have a lot of free time, especially in the morning, you can sleep a lot and do nothing or... You can hike nearby mounts and forest, help locals get some wood with strange soviet tools, borrow a 50 years old hunting rifle and do shooting practice, improve your photography skills, spend some time knowing better your guides and finally and the best... Getting to know the locals... And their alcoholic milk "Kumis"!!
Now about that milk...it's Mongolia most famous alcohol! It has just 2-5% but since it's milk you drink a lot of it and get wasted... Now here are some warnings: Most westerners are not used to it so expect strong diarrhoea after it and also worry about Brucellosis, a bacteria present in cow’s milk quite present in Mongolia, it's wise to do a blood test quite fast once you are back if you tried some fresh dairy (Doctor's advice here).
In the afternoon, we had an awesome 2h ride by horses, going as fast as they could! It was one of the highlights of the trip! This day they also cooked a sheep in the traditional Mongolian way (this part is not for vegans, since they kill one of the herd).
Early in the morning we went to nearby Orkhon waterfall, an incredible site in this valley and also a shrine for Mongolians. There you can swim in the waterfall and enjoy nature at its finest! After that it was time to start going back so we had a long drive through wild areas (roads were almost non-existent) crossing even wide rivers!
In the afternoon, we arrived to Khakorin where we saw the old capital temple complex (northernmost Buddhist temples of the world) and it's incredible fortress. We slept in a nearby ger camp.
Time to go back to the capital! We stopped in a small village to see the penis rock (monument of fertility) and later continued towards UB. We arranged also the visit to Khustaii nu National Park, 3h away from the capital so we stayed there for several hours looking for the famous prehistoric horses. It's a real natural park, like in Africa's safaris you can see a lot of animals or none.
When we were about to return after 2h without animal sights our driver spotted some movement in the mountain and there they were, a family of about 14 horses! We hiked to get close and they didn't run away unless you get about 30 metres from them, pretty fair distance for nice pictures if you have a good camera. After that we came back to UB where we had dinner and went out!
Terejl NP and Genghis Khan statue
Earlier in the morning we went to see UB main attraction, the """"" temple. Because at 10 am we would start our trip to nearby Terejl NP and the Genghis Khan monumental complex (This part was another tour, althought we made it with Dream Mongolia as well).
his is the most touristic part of the country since many buses come here every day, it is just 40 min from UB so it has the "Experience Mongolia in one day" feeling. Anyway, Statue complex is incredible, you can get to the statue itself and enjoy incredible views!! There is also many touristic attractions around, like costumes or photography with birds... But since it cost just 1 or 2 € I did them all!
After that we went to nearby Terejl park, where we hiked for a bit to the Elephant Buddhist Temple, an impressive shrine after a long stair in the mountain! That night some of us went out and got ready for the next country!!
Since we decided to fly to China, we needed to get to airport so our hostel arranged the taxis which drove us there. UB airport is a medium sized one with several destinations. It is worth to mention, that there is a duty free shop, where you can buy 1 L of Russian Standard or Absolut Vodka for 6€, unlike EU "Duty Free" shops. Next post will be about Pekin! Stay tuned!
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