Mongolia Travel Journal
> How it all began...
If you'd like to know how we got the idea of going for this Trans Mongolian adventure, please read the Russia Travel Journal.
> Our Plan and the journey to Mongolia
For everything about our plans and about the preparations for the journey by legendary Trans Mongolia Express we also direct you to the Russia Travel Journal. Here you can also read about our trip to Moscow and what it was like in the Russian capital and in Suzdal.
In Moscow we got on the Trans Mongolia Express and this train took us to Mongolia in almost 6 days. You can find out everything about this journey in the Travel Journal Trans Mongolia Express.
> Mongolia day 1
It feels a bit unreal to be finally there, when we're at the trainstation in Ulaanbaatar, capital of Mongolia, at 7.30 in the morning. Nobody tries to get off the train immediately after this trip by Trans Mongolia Express that lasted almost 6 days, and took us from Vladimir in Russia to Mongolia. When we slowly start to realize that we can get off we move towards the door and walk around on the platform which feels a bit strange. In a minute we find the hostess who shall bring us to the hotel, but it takes a while to collect all other travellers on her list. We're taken to the Peace Bridge hotel in a touringcar, but we do the sightseeing tour through Ulaanbatar, as we have to bring other people to their accommodation first. No problem, now we have a first impression of the noisy, stinking and hectic city that is called Ulaanbaatar. After this first meeting we could never think that we would fall in love with this country later, but at least we're with both feet on the ground again and we can finally have a shower and sleep in a real bed after the check in at the hotel. With our guide, whom we met in the lobby, we agreed to meet at 12.30 in the lobby again, where our excusrsions for the afternoon will start.
Our hotelroom is big and the bed is fine. The two hours that we have to sleep we're in a complete coma. But precisely at 12.30 we're downstairs to hear that we first will have lunch before the excursion will start. the food is okay, but not very much: rice, a bit of a salad and some meat. Unfortunately we have to wait untill 1.30 before we can finally get in the touringcar and head to the Bogd Khan winterpalace, a beautiful temple where you are not allowed to take photos, or you have to pay an extra 15 dollar at the entrance. When we're back at the entrance/exit the bus is already waiting for us to take us to the Kasjmir shop, only 100 metres further down the road. Parking the bus takes longer than the walk to it would have taken. This stop looks more like a promotion of the shop, they are only hoping that you buy something when they drop you off at the door. The people of our group are, like ourselves, not impressed at all and only 15 minutes later we're back in the bus. This time we're on our way to the Zaizan Hill, where the monument of the unknown Mongolian and Russian soldier is situated. This ride takes a little longer, but in fact you can visit all touristic attrractions of Ulaanbaatar on foot if you want to. If you're a little less of a sportsman you can go by taxi for only €0,50 and there are enough taxis in the city, just keep your eyes open or use the phone in your hotel to call one. We realize that booking excursions in advance is not necessary for the next time and that it probably is even more fun to be here without them, as you can do whatever you like and whenever you like. But for now we think it's nice to be shown around for one time. From the Zaisan Monument, high above the city, we have a splendid view over the great valley where Ulaanbaatar is situated. This is the last excursion of the day, but our guide tells us that we can visit a Mongolian Traditions Show at 18.00. In contrast with most other people in the group we think this will be fun, and we're in Mongolia only once, so: we go! In a large, empty touringcar we're brought to the theatre, together with Fred and Roelien, a couple we meet just now. It looks like we're a bit late, as the show already started when we arrive. What we see and hear during the next 75 minutes is absolutely fantastic: colorful dancers, beautiful instruments, traditional Mongolian throatsongs and tsam- and sjamanist dance and much more. We're glad we didn't miss this, and our opinion about Mongolia is already completely different from this morning: what an interesting culture they have!
After the show we get diner in the restaurant of the hotel, again rice, meat and salad. We go to bed early and sleep wonderful in our soft bed.
> Mongolia day 2
At 8 in the next morning we're having breakast. And again we have to wait for everyone (especially our guide) to be ready for departure. Also today the big touringcar comes to the entrance of the hotel, to make sure that everybody can come along. At 10 we're finally at the Gandan monastery. The 26 metres high Buddha statue is huge and beautiful. He's surrounded by 100 smaller buddha statues and many prayer wheels. Lots of Mongolians come here to pray. Meanwhile a fellow traveller explains to our guide that "The Russians" did "boomboom" here with the melted original of the statue. Our guide responds with a poker-face: "yes, the communists used it for bullets." In the annexes are lots of Mongolian monks who are praying and singing, very impressive to see this for the first time.
Next stop is the National Museum, where dinosaur skeletons and real dino eggs are on display. We have lunch in a restaurant nearby and we have pasta with meat for a change, instead of the usual rice. While we are eating there's a short but heavy thunderstorm outside, but when we go out a little later the sun shines again. The streets turned into rivers after this short shower and we arrive with wet feet in the workshop where Ger-tents are produced. In the surrounding district there's a lot of poverty: people live in Gers very close to each other and streets are nothing more than sandy paths. In the factory everyone is busy carpenting, sanding and painting, probably for a too small salary.
After this short visit we briefly stop at our hotel before starting the ride in a warm bus to Terelj national park, about 70 kilometers outside Ulan Bator. Only a moment later we see the beautiful, green steppes that Mongolia is famous of. There are no houses, only now and then we see a little village with some wooden huts. The quality of the roads is different all the time, but mostly we can only drive 60 kilometers an hour maximum and sometimes we slowly go up- or downhill on an unpaved path. Two hours later an enthousiastic 6-year-old boy is waiting for us and starts running ahead of the bus to our ger camp existing of 9 ger tents. The boy is the son of the owner of the camp and later we find out that he knows exactly where to go for the most beautiful pens and balloons and how to get them: "hello..., goodbye...," (friendly smile, head a little to one side). Together with Fred and Roelien we move into ger number 9, a colorful tent in the front part of the camp. We climb up one of the hills in the neighbourhood and see the most beautiful sunset, after we had another nourishing meal of rice and meat. After the sun is down and we're back in the camp Peter and Fred try to make a fire in the stove in our tent. Soon our tent is the warmest of all 9 and we name it "our sauna-ger". The smoke signals that come out of our chimney are very impressive and the warmth makes the hundreds of bugs that stay in the tent go away. As soon as the stove and the lights are out we hear the sound of falling bugs on the floor of the tent. Yikes. During the night there is the lightening of a thunderstorm far away, but at our place there is no rain or thunder at all.
> Mongolia day 3
The blue skies of Mongolia are not there the next day and it's also not as warm as we expected it to be. When we're on our way to the famous Turtle Rock, right after a too small breakfast, the weather's getting a bit better. And during our walk to the Terelj monastery we see more and more sunshine and temperatures are rising. The walk goes through great nature and the colors are so bright here. The green looks even greener than green and the blue sky is so very blue. We're lucky that there is lunch after the walk, but the portions of rice and meat are even smaller than before. For the first time we still feel hungry after we just had some food.
In the afternoon we visit a Mongolian family. For us it's a bit of a disappointment that we go there with 12 people at a time and the family is not a real nomad family, they have a washing machine and vcr in their ger. We'd expected something else, this family probably has tourists in their home every day, as the only two persons who are at home, the mother and daughter, are not very interested and just do what they are expected to do. The yoghurt and the food that the mother offers us taste very special and completely different from anything else we ever had in Europe. When we're allowed to look inside the "kitchen-ger", a separate ger where she cooks everything, we see that we are lucky that we first ate and drank what she gave to us before we came here to see all the black flies on the food and the drinks. If we knew this on forehand it all would have tasted even more special than it did now.
When we're back at the camp the owner has collected all neighbours (in the lucky possession of a horse) at the entrance of the camp, because we told our guide that we'd love to ride a horse. Unfortunately this activity also has the crowdy feeling, like before, because the owner of the horses come with us, walking next to their animal. It now looks more like riding ponies at the funfair than riding horses on the Mongolian steppes. Yvonne tries to urge the owner of her horse to let her trot a bit in the environments of the camp and it works. Of course that's much more like the real thing and a lot of fun.
We go for a last walk in the wonderful environments and see a herd of yaks. After diner, existing of 2 tiny bits of rice with ketchup and some greasy meat, we go to bed while we're still hungry.
> Mongolia day 4
The next day we get up early, really early. Just before 5 someone's knocking on our door and we have a little time to get some breakfast. We eat all of the bread (not much) presented on the plates and almost eat the placemats with it. At 6 we're in the bus which brings us back to Ulan Bator. We arrive in the hotel before 8, so we have more than an hour to get a shower and wake up before we will take off for a 370 kilometer ride through the Mongolian steppes. For a few dollars you can get a used hotelroom and some clean towels and we gratefully take this service. Right at 9 we're back in the lobby, all fresh and almost awake. With some questioning around we find out that we're on the next tour with 4 people: Hans, Marloes and the two of us. Some moments later our guide Otgoo arrives as well and she'll accompany us to Karakorum, the former Mongolian capital in the Ghenghis Khan period. She's 28 years old, very friendly and helpful. Outside the hotel we meet our driver for the next couple of days, a friendly man in his 40s. He puts our luggage in the back and we all take our seats in the 4 wheel drive, a Japanese van. After a last stop for shopping at the baraar in the outskirts of Ulan Bator (mmm... when you're hungry even those funny, hard cakes taste delicious) we leave the capital behind.
Next there is a long ride on bumpy roads and through great nature. Soon we feel like we would have missed the real Mongolia if we hadn't booked this excursion. We see many birds of prey and some ovoos, holy places consisting of piles of rocks and the sacrifices that people made there. The first stop is in a tiny village with just a few gers and two small, wooden buildings. These people live here in this great, extensive landscape with hills covered with grass and the endless road running through, going on and on. From time to time herds of horses, goats and other cattle crosses the road and our driver has to hit the breaks immediately. The last one proudly shows us his new dvd player with small screen and he puts on a "cool" Mongolian video-cd, very popular amongst the Mongolian youth is what our guide tells us.
After lunch in a road-house, in a slightly bigger village, our guide spots a huge herd of horses, somewhat off the road. We check it out and it turns out that the 70-year-old owners are just milking the mares. They invite us over in their ger to taste the milk. Inside we also meet the two grandsons of the family who are helping their grandparents with the horses during summer. The whole family lives on mats on the floor, there are no beds or other furniture. Via our guide we talk with the elderly people. They are surprised to hear that we give horses names in The Netherlands. They don't do that, all horses are just called "horse". Meanwhile grandma lights a cigaret while grandpa smokes his pipe. We all drink the fermented horsemilk from the same cup. It tastes really special and I get full of it very quickly. The family is very hospitale to ask us inside and share their milk with us. We stay around to see something of the environments for a while and then we move on through the most extended countryside I've ever seen. In the evening we arrive in our gercamp, only 100 meters from the Erdeene Zuu monastery in Karakorum. Again a great sunset and a pieceful night in our private ger.
> Mongolia day 5
Breakfast now is enough, finally, and it tastes wonderful. We get a tour through the Erdeene Zuu monastery and visit the archeologists that dig for the ancient city of Karakorum. In the afternoon we visit the Genghis Khan monument on a hill that offers a spectacular view over the surroundings. At lunch we found out that our driver, like many Mongolians, is a big fan of Abba and Boney M. As we then assured him that he can play whatever music he likes, in his own van, we now hear "Ra Ra Raspoetin, Russia's gatest love machine..." again and again. For the 5th time we're swinging with this same song in the back of the van. We also have a look at the valley of the kings before we return to our camp to have a nap in the warm sun. At 5 there would be a man at the camp whom our guide talked to at the Ghenghis Khan monument. She made an appointment with him to let Marloes and Yvonne ride his horses for a small compensation. At 5.30 there is still nobody and we almost expect that he's not coming anymore when he suddenly shows up at 6. The horses are pretty wild animals this time and Yvonne has a great time when the man lets her trot on the easiest animal. Finally I did some real horseriding in Mongolia!
In the evening we go to a Mongolian Traditions Show close to Karakorum, where we see wrestling, practising archery, horse racing and building a ger tent. Our driver enjoys the show even more than we do.
> Mongolia day 6
Unfortunately it's time to take all 20 sandy roads, 500 hills and 30.000 holes back to Ulaanbaatar. The weather isn't that beautiful today, but the landscape is still breathtaking. In another road-house we eat transparant noodles and sheepmeat. We don't eat much, but in the evening Peter and I feel very sick though. Peter gets rid of his noodles in a park and mine flush through the toilet in the hotel as quickly as you've ever seen. Our medication and even water are too much for us right now. We go to bed early and hope to be better tomorrow.
> Mongolia day 7
But no! This morning we feel that it's not a good idea to move away more than 10 meters from the toilet, but we do have to catch the train, so we get in the van that will take us to the station, where the train to Beijing will leave at 7.30. Our guide and driver both bought presents for the four of us and as it's the driver's birthday (just like Peter who has the worst birthday ever) we give him a box of chocolates. Too bad we have to say goodbye, the train is not waiting. We're lucky to be early, so that we both have 10 minutes left to run to the public toilet in the station, where we find an endless long line of waiting Chinese. Fortunately we both reach the toilet and the train right in time and we find out that we share a compartment with Hans and Marloes.
We are too sick to see much of the Gobi desert, but at least we're on our way to China. So our farewell to Mongolia is less spectacular than our first meeting, more than a week ago with that fantastic sunrise.
> Next part of this Trans Mongolia trip:
Do you want to know how our trip continues? Check the China travel journal.
> More Info
Also check our Mongolia info page, where you can find a lot of information about Mongolia and come see our Mongolia Photos.