In August this year I went to Mongolia. It happens to be one of those placed which, when you tell people you’re going there on holiday, then respond with something along the lines of:
Mongolia, was, and still is for many people, a mystery. Regarded as a landlocked backwater with very few people and little development. Indeed, the majority of people couldn’t find Mongolia on a map of the world, couldn’t tell you which countries it borders (Russia and China are the answers) or why you would want to go there. That wasn’t a problem for me though.
I began thinking about visiting Mongolia when I was travelling in Kyrgyzstan in Summer 2013. A couple of people I was travelling with had been there previously (albeit not in the recent past) and were expressing a wish to see it again. I began to think that if this country was a draw for a return trip for my most adventurous of friends, it was definitely worth a visit for me.
I looked around at companies that would facilitate travel in Mongolia, in the end settling on the same company I had traveled with in Kyrgyzstan; Dragoman. I’d found the company to embody what I like to call a ‘strong sense of adventure’ so was only to happy to book with them again and expect a true ‘out of the ordinary experience’.
As with most of my trips, I don’t like to do too much research in advance. I prefer to turn up with few expectations and go from there. The only research I did was with regards to weather (specifically how cold it would get) which as it turns out, is quite difficult information to find. Its not surprising that this information is scant, and to be honest, most online temperature readings would be pretty useless anyway because the country is so vast and disposed to micro-climates. I decided to pack similar levels of warm clothing to my Kyrgyzstan trip in the hope that it surely wouldn’t get any colder than that as we were due to camp or stay in Yurts most nights.
Happily, I was pretty much right, but that doesn’t stop you from waking up surprised by how much cold your body can tolerate whilst sleeping in a tent. We woke up to frost/ice on our tent one morning, which was a bit of a shock to the system and it took quite a few hours to warm up that day.
Mongolia turned out to be a better experience than I could ever have imagined it to be. The landscapes, weather and vastness of the country were breathtaking and I couldn’t help but feel healthy and inspired by the beauty and remoteness I was experiencing. Travelling overland on tracks, seeing not even a village, let alone a road, for days on end was exhilarating.
Highlights of the trip were bathing in Hot Springs in Tsenkher, cooking yummy dinners beneath beautiful sunsets, and spending three weeks with awesome new friends. The group (there were 25 of us on my truck in total) included 3 young Mongolians, who were an absolute delight. They told us about the history of the country and the places we visited, showed us how to cook traditional dishes and took us to meet their friends. We drank fermented mares milk and ate local curd, yak meat, mutton dishes and fresh fish (from Ogii Lake).
My tips for visiting Mongolia
- Take a headscarf or baseball cap – you’ll need it if you’re travelling overland as the dust and wind can turn freshly brushed hair into a solid mass in less than five minutes
- Stoves in yurts can go out just like our wood burners at home can. I fashioned a pair of bellows by squeezing the air out of my inflatable pillow directly into glowing coals. This became invaluable on some particularly cold nights.
- Take some pegs/bits of string to hang up swimsuit/rain soaked/washed clothes in your yurt. If the stove is lit, your clothes will be bone dry within minutes.