Why you need to see Kazakhstan now!

This is a country I never really expected to visit, and only really did because of its geography; basically it was in the right place at the time. Although having said that, I’m so glad I did. This was the first “Stan” I had visited, but would defiantly not be my last. This diverse country sparked a new fascination, interest and curiosity in this part of the world that I did not posses before my visit.

IMG_6798 2

Astana

I flew into Kazakhstan’s capital Astana from Russia, as I had previously read it was relatively easy to get a Mongolian Visa from here. Have a look at my ‘Getting a Mongolian Visa in Astana, Kazakhstan’ post from details on this.

Getting around.

Astana is a large city, as such many of its attraction are rather spaced out, I’d recommend taking advantage of the public transport. Even without speaking the country’s native tongue catching the local buses are relatively easy and super cheap, the standard fare converting to less than 0.30c. There is also the classic ‘Hop on Hop off’ Bus. If you’re tight on time these are a great option, allowing you to view the best parts of the city and its attractions as well as hear about its history all in a matter of hours.

IMG_6555.jpg

Chimkent

I was eager to get a real feel of the country and escape the mundane of a city, after a few hours of searching Kazakh tours I found myself communicating with a local guide I found through ‘Indy Guide’. Convincing me to take the 12-hour train south to Chimkent was easy after a quick Google image search. The south region of Kazakhstan has absolutely breathtaking natural landscapes that I was eager to get amongst, and boarded a train the next day.IMG_7044

I shared a cabin with a young woman and her two cheeky kids, an hour latter I found my self baby-sitting the 2 and 5-year-old boys while she had took disserved nap. None of us understood each other, however they soon came to refer to me as ‘Apa’, meaning sister. After a bumpy nights sleep I found my self swapping phone numbers and Facebook’s with my cabin buddies and saying good bye, as I jumped off the train and into the dusty hot air of the south.

I spent the day exploring the city and the night in a creepy looking hostel. The next morning the adventure began.

IMG_7102

To be entirely honest my guide was rather annoying and never seemed to know when to shut up, but undeniably loved his country and knew where the best place to visit where. On top of that he knew almost every fact, story and spiritual meaning for everything from the many amazing Mausoleum we visited to Carpet, like seriously this guy spent a good part of the afternoon taking me around a caplet factory and explaining the origin of Kazak carpet, the guy could not get enough of it, and confessed that his home was covered in it, floor, walls and roof???? (True story). During my week with him I was taken everywhere from the steps of the desert, to the mouthman’s and even spent a few nights with a local family in a small village with their 7 children, and couple of horses, cows, chickens, sheep and donkeys. Here I was spontaneously brought to the local school of 160 students from 5-18 to teach a lesson of English, as even the English teachers could not speak it, there was also a whole school assembly to show me of as a westerner, with a Q and A season.

In this village I also tried Horses Milk a delicacy of the area and many Kazak sweets as the locals believed that western people loved sweets would offer them to me constantly. I trekked a mountain and had a picnic at its snowy peak, explored ancient ruins, rode a rather grumpy horse, picked fruit from wild apple trees and watched men squat with a baby camel on their back (apparently it’s a traditional sport)

IMG_6941

After a crazy, weird and adventures week it was time to move on, and the city of Almaty seamed as good as any. I boarded yet another train and 13hours later I was wondering the streets in search for my hostel. After asking a handful of people if they spoke English, I found a woman with her mother in the park, that not only called the hostel for me, but helped me but walked me to it, and helped carrying my overly packed front-pack.

 

The city of Almaty has some unique and beautify sights; however just beyond its rim is untouched beauty that deserves to be on everyone’s bucket like. As I was to be spending my birthday in this city, I made a point make my time here memorable and found that to challenge. I organised a tour with some others in my hostel a few of Almaty’s best natural locations, including the famous Kolsi Lake, Charyn canyon and Kaindy Lake all of which are bewildering, exceptional and astonishing there own remarkable way. It took several hours in a craped car, on some of the bumpiest roads I’ve travelled on, with a guide that spoke next to no English, however he did spit out “Kangaroo”, when I told him I was from the land down under.IMG_7083

Before I know it I had spent over a week in Almaty and almost a month in Kazakhstan. And as my visa was due to expire I was to move on, next stop Mongolia. If you’re humming and Harring about visiting Central Asia, I’m hear to assure you. You will not regret exploring this antique part of the globe.

Happy Travels!

Advertisements

Mongolia and the Gobi Desert

Mongolia is one of the last truly nomadic countries left on our planet, this absolutely breathtaking expanse entails vast, rugged and fiercely wild wonders that will enlighten the raw nomadic sprit in all.  Mongolia’s ancient land delivers experiences, adventure and uncut beauty unobtainable anywhere else. You cannot help but feel a primal, humbling and emotional connection to this awe-inspiring terrain.22883966_1582272258501768_802089740_o

So, in order step foot in this remarkable land 9 out of 10 times you’ll be entering through Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, as there’s not much you can do to avoid this. Don’t let this city discourage or cloud your impression of the country, as the real Mongolia and the best of it is yet to come. Try not to spend much more than a day here, and if you have to, take a tour or hire a driver to take you out of the city and to Gorkhi-Terelj National Park and The Giant Chinggis Khaan statue. Its well worth a visit.

Keeping it cheap.

If you have looked into flights, accommodation and tours you have probably learnt that this is not going to be a cheap destination and unfortunately your not wrong, however as I have done this exact trip I can offer an insight on how you can experience an amazing trip and save a few bucks here and there. Sorry I can do much in the area of flights and unless you’re coming through China by Bus or Russia by train (both of which, you will need a visa), there’s going to be pretty pricy airfare, as Mongolia only has the one international Airport- Chinggis Khaan International Airport.

However as for accommodation and a Tour of the Gobi desert I have an excellent alternative to the inflated prices listed online.

Where to stay

First off, your going to want to book a room at The H7 Hostel in Ulaanbaatar, this place is basically an apartment so you wont have to worry about walking into a party hostel with 12 beds to a room and the constant fear of being robbed. There are only private rooms so you wont be sharing a room with anyone, additionally there is a kitchen at your disposal, the location is perfect, and it is very clean and modern. Although, even with all this in mind, the best part about the Hostel is the owner; Namjil. He is a super nice guy that goes well out of his way to meet your every demand. Namjil organised an absolutely amazing trip for my sister and I that allowed us to see the best parts of the country and truly get a feel for the real Mongolia. We spoke to him about our desire to explore the Gobi and he devised a tailor made trip, calculating the cost of a driver, fuel, food and accommodation in a different area and Ude each night. This met we knew exactly what we where paying for and that there was no hidden commission.23023399_1581224855273175_1953735191_o

The Gobi

Najil took us to the bus station the next morning, helped us by tickets to Dalanzadgad, in the south of Mongolia, this cost less than 10 dollars and took around 8-9 hours. The bus is nothing flash but comfortable enough making regular toilet and food breaks. Najil also sent us up with a sim card each with unlimited calls and data for FREE! So with spottily, Netflix and Angry birds the trip was over before we knew it. Once in Dalanzadgad we found a man holding a sign with our names on it; our diver; Baggy. Baggy did not speck English but was very accommodating and went out of our way to make our experience an enjoyable one. He drove us to a local store where in order to keep within budget we purchased 7 days worth of instant porridge, two-minute noodles and plenty of snacks. We were then taken to the Ude we would be spending our first night in. Here our host family greeted us with a home cooked meal of Horse and rice. Yes, you read that right … Horse. The Mongol people love their horses; they provide them with company, transport, milk and meat. As I am always eager to try something new and ‘when in Rome’ I tried my luck with it. It’s a rather tough meat, and the milk; very, very sour. All in all I’m glad I’ve given it ago, but won’t be ordering this from my local butcher or supermarket any day soon. We then retired to our Ude for the night.

Ude’s!!!

An Ude or Ger is a traditional dwelling distinct in Central Asia and have been in use since the Mongols began their nomadic life with animal husbandry 3,000 years ago. It is very portable and assembled and dissembled easily, aiding to their nomadic lifestyle. They consist of a wooden frame and wool cover, usually sheep or camel, with a fire at its centre. However Keep in mind the fire will not burn all night, and depending on season you choose to go in, it can get very, very cold. I found my self there in the heart of winter and found sleeping very difficult. I hid firewood under my bed to feed the fire at night with, and on one particularly cold night (-10°C) lit my toilet role on fire in order to get the fire started again as the wood had frozen solid.23107361_1582272171835110_762364324_o

I wont lie, the cold made for a rather uncomfortable sleep, but now its all part of the experience and didn’t come to the Gobi desert for the hotels, so took it all in my stride.

22906462_1582271868501807_1957159502_o

The next morning using a camper stove provided by Baggy we prepared noodles and coffee, packed up our things and Baggy drove us out to Yolyn am to explore the mountains and frozen Ice Rivers among wild horse and marmots.22882284_1581235561938771_1721087503_o

Then back to the road, or desert rather as I did not see a road once during my stay in the Gobi. We spent most of our time in the car with Baggy but found we were never bored. The desert is constantly changing, we saw many herds of camels, horses, and goats, and even hairs and gazelles. That night we visited a new host family, eat horse and noodle soup and spent another night in an Ude.23113000_1583260571736270_1443501732_o

This became our new routine; Baggy driving us to a new and interesting location each day, and then to our new host family for the night. We climbed sand dunes in Khongoriin Els, stood on the windy cliffs of Bayanzag, and explored the beautiful colourful rocks of Tsagaansuvarga, rode Horses and camels, and played with their babies (that where taller than us), watched shooting stars and developed a new appreciation for central heating, flushing toilets and showering.

22883832_1582275135168147_733365536_oTo get back to Ulaanbaatar Baggy aided us in purchasing bus tickets, loaded us on the bus, and Najil was there waiting at the other end.

Cost

All in all the cost of my 2 person trip broke down to:

  • Driver + Car -$100
  • Fuel   – $150
  • Week of horse dinners (for 3, drivier inc) – $180
  • A weeks accommodation in Ude’s (for 3, driver inc) – $ 180
  • Activities i.e. horse and camel ridding – $40

Total = $650 for 2 people!

 

Mongolia isn’t a holiday destination; you won’t be finding the Hilton in the Gobi desert nor a McDonalds or KCF. However if your after a real adventure and okay with outdoor holes for toilets, sleeping in sheets that may have NEVER seen soap, no showering for a week, and the probability of eating horse meat and drinking hose milk, then this is the trip for uou; get booking!

Happy Travels!