I was inspired to head to Mongolia by a friend who inspired me to do solo travels. His experiences and photographs made me want to experience them myself.
Why is Mongolia so interesting?
- The coldest capital city in the world is not in Canada or in Northern Europe but in Mongolia; it’s Ulaanbaatar!
- It used to move three times a year as it was a nomadic city!
- It is one of the top ten largest landlocked countries.
- Many dinosaur fossils still lie exposed.
- The two-humped camel comes from Mongolia.
- If you count carefully, you will notice slightly more horses than people.
- Genghis Khan!
Before I went to Mongolia, I was really stressed about several issues. I was alone and I’ve heard that you have to usually leave your name in hostels and wait for the numbers to gather before they would go out on a trip that you want to go. It is the first time I felt like traveling solo is expensive. I emailed several companies that bring people out on trips, and signed up on virtualtourist just to find some companions to lower the costs. No doubt, I was quoted high prices by some companies – 1350USD by Dreammongolia and 794 USD by Golden Gobi for about 6-8 days.
On top of that, I could not decide if I wanted to stay in a hostel or do couchsurfing but I send my requests out anyway. I was so thankful Minjin replied really fast. And so…I managed to get a host!!! Minjin came to pick me up at the airport and in my opinion, that was beyond a CS host’s responsibility. She was really sweet.
I spent some days in her summer cottage doing almost nothing but play with her kids who barely knew any English. My time spent in the cottages allowed me to experience the simple pleasures in life. It was really simple – no showering facilities or water system as they were still building and furnishing the cottages. They have a beautiful apartment back in the city but they were genuinely happy to be at the cottages instead.
Minjin’s brother and husband, Г. Билгүүн and Erdene brought us out on tours. I paid for it, but its really way cheaper than the prices quoted to me outside, about 200USD for a week – ALL MY PROBLEMS SOLVED. She runs a small tour agency and our trips were customised for us, according to what we wanted to do, different from all the other companies in Ulaanbaatar.
I was not completely alone as there was another couchsurfer at Minjin’s place. Simona was someone who took care of me, made me laugh so much, taught me how to pick wild flowers to make flower headbands, assured me that pickles taste amazing and explained to me about Compostela. She is someone I would always remember. I do hope that we would meet somewhere else in the world again! 🙂
Our trips were joined by Ed and we were so thankful for the great camaraderie although we came from totally different backgrounds. It was a crucial factor because we were spending a week with strangers. It could make or break the trip. Well, with an emergency doctor on board, I really felt even more well taken care of…
…as you can see, I ended up injuring myself from a fall while hiking Khugnukhaan mountain. I blamed the lousy shoes.
Honestly, I don’t remember where we actually went, I should have asked for more details but I was car sick almost all the time. We spend quite a lot of time on the bumpy roads for the entire week of road trip.
For all the other times when I don’t feel car sick, it was really nice to wind down the window and look at the beauty all around.
Being a city girl my whole life, here are some reasons why I absolutely loved my time there.
- It was summer in June.
- There were almost nobody else around.
- Fresh air!
- Big empty lands…my mind felt free.
- No internet connection at all! Yes I do treasure this.
There were also no supermarkets or stalls on the road, so we had to stock up our meals before the trip. We ate really basic food, bread, cheese etc and did some outdoor cooking.
We also had a chance to stay with the nomadic family! I had a really great experience although it was just a few days. There was a bigggg communication barrier but we still had great conversations thanks to Erdene! We rode horses during sunset, watched the sheep and horses return home in the evening, milked the cows in the morning, had fresh cow and goat milk, traditional Mongolian milk vodka, watched a sky full of stars outside our gers, had midnight astronomy lessons and pooped in the wild. I loved every single bit of these experiences. I felt like I was living in a beautiful painting.
We stayed with Arya and her family. I really have no idea how to get to this ger in the middle of nowhere, only Erdene knew and I still find how he navigates around without a GPS amazing.
Arya and her family was really lovely, they were not like some other nomadic families that tour companies always bring to. The unfortunate fact is that as more tourists visit the country, some commercialised nomadic gers will start to evolve and become more money-oriented.
There are two beds in their bedroom ger, its a middle sized one so some of us to the sleeping bags at night. It was really cold at night but cozy with all of them around.
Our last day was funny, they suggested that we put on their mongolian traditional costume and we did! Now who looks more Mongolian?!?
I got my desert and sand dunes and I was really happy to see wild camels too.
I believe that for every traveler, it is not the scenery, not the food, not the weather, and not the activities that make the trip so special. It is always about the people, be it new friendships, stronger old friendships or knowing each other better as a couple.
For me, I’ve made great friends, people who are different from me but taught me a lot about life, people I would still do my best to keep in contact with! 🙂
One cultural fact: This is an Ovoo, there are many different types along the road, big ones or small ones, but this is the one that we came across at the start and also at the end of our road trip.
Mongolians use this when travelling as a way to offer thanks to the surrounding nature and the gods. They also use this to seek safety when they are continuing their journey. Offerings are made by throwing three small rocks onto the ‘ovoo’ and then walking around the pile three times, in a clockwise direction.
I’m not a foodie but I managed to try some local delights!!! The four main dishes are called Tsuivan – A stew with vegetables, meat, and fresh or fried noodles. The one in the middle is called Gulyash – stew of meat and vegetables, seasoned with paprika and other spices. They are all very tasty and its a MUST TRY when you are in Mongolia.
On my last day, Ed and I chanced upon this shop in Ulaanbaatar that sells Gambir – Mongolian Pancake. We have been looking for places that sell it because it is another must try in the country!
I am extremely thankful for Minjin and her family. They shared their home generously with all the couchsurfers and made us feel like home too. Are you able to fully experience Mongolia if you drive on your own? I really doubt so, its much better to have local people with you. I’m lucky to have met amazing ones.
Minjin is currently running a guesthouse in Ulaanbaatar named Taiga Guesthouse. 🙂
I would surely and definitely return to Mongolia again, төлөө (cheers in Mongolian)!