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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
To 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.
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!