Most of our time in Mongolia was spent either on the road or in gers. I will get to the gers in a moment, but first I want to talk about being on the road. The only way to get around Mongolia is on the roads and most of these roads are not paved, they are very bumpy dirt tracks.
There are different ways you can travel these roads, we came across other groups who were riding motorbikes, horses and even mountain bikes from place to place. While I can think of friends and family who would enjoy each one of these methods we had the more comfortable mode of transport in vans. We were in the slightly more modern Mitsubishi vans which my husband was slightly disappointed about as we had watched several vlogs where tourists to Mongolia went in the old Russian style vans, but I was quite glad as I think the Mitsubishis had a much higher level of comfort and AC.
We had three amazing drivers who navigated through what often seemed like featureless wilderness and got us through the roughest terrain. Our guide also did a wonderful job of splitting the group up between the white, black and what became known as the charcoal van. This was not an easy task as he managed to ensure that most days we were in a different van with different people, a bit of a logistical nightmare really, but somehow he managed it and we became used to not leaving breakfast until we had the van assignments for the day.
We traveled through some fantastic landscapes with very few problems, apart from what came to be known as the “massage” that the bumpy roads provided.
There were a couple of problems of course: the black van’s tire got a puncture which wasn’t surprising given the amount of metal and glass we saw at stops on the way; and while we were in the charcoal van a rubber bolt came out of the window I was sitting at so it came loose, which was nothing some packing tape couldn’t fix of course.
Our good fortune on the roads could of course have been because as we set off we reached an ovoo, which is a sacred stone heap which is meant to bring good luck on your travels if you walk around it three times and each time throw a stone onto the pile or offer vodka to it as the drivers did; but I personally think it was down to the skill and experience of our drivers.
I should also mention that I get travel sick, I know crazy for someone who is spending six months traveling but it tends not to affect me so much on trains and planes. It most definitely affects me in cars though. I had been prepared in this case as I knew that the Mongolia trip would be mostly in a van my friend recommended these travel pills and that together with looking out the window instead of reading or anything of that sort meant I barely suffered from it at all. I did tempt fate slightly by mostly sitting in the back due to the fact that as well as getting travel sick I am also a nervous passenger, but it seemed to be ok.
As suggested above most or our time in the vans was spent looking at the amazing scenery, chatting to other folk in the van, sharing drinks or snacks or on one particular occasion partying to disco music that the driver put on (that last one was not my scene at all and I may have shoved my earphones in to listen to some Slipknot instead).
All of this was punctuated with regular photo stops that doubled as toilet stops so you had to be careful where you pointed your camera. One stop I was feeling particularly restless and decided to practice my Tai Chi, how many people can say they have done Tai Chi in the Gobi?
The toilet stops were much easier for the men in the trip, I know this is usually the case but it was even more prevalent due to the lack of vegetation and how flat a lot of the land was. The land was so flat at one point that I couldn’t get the panorama mode on my camera to work because it couldn’t pick up enough variations between shots.
As well as the men with their backs to us we also saw a variety of wildlife, herds and herders on our stops.
And on one stop near the end of the trip my husband decided he wanted to learn Mongolian wrestling from our guide.
We had lunch stops at local villages we passed through where we were fed an enormous amount of meat in various forms, most of which was mutton or beef in some form or another. My favourite were the fried dumplings we had, they reminded me of getting a battered hamburger from the chippy at home.
While stopped at these villages we had a chance to use a toilet as well, although these were somewhat reminiscent of the ones in the beginning of the film Slumdog Millionaire and made me miss the comparatively clean porcelain squats we had in China.
Finally we would always go to the local shop for supplies, mostly snacks and water. For our guide and one of the group members this became the ice cream stop as they bought an ice cream no matter the weather or if it was before lunch.
At the end of each days driving (with one exception that will be covered in a future post) we arrived at a tourist ger camp. Now I know you will probably be wondering what a ger is, it is known as a yurt in the west but I think this comes from the Russian and the Mongolian version is called a ger.
We stayed in a variety of these ger camps, none of which were as basic as I had been lead to believe from our itinerary. We had one ger between two and there were always western toilets and showers available in a separate building. Even towels were provided in most places.
The camps provided dinner and breakfast, the dinner was always too much food and the breakfast was usually a buffet with some exceptions. I managed to totally embarrass myself one breakfast where I picked up what I thought was a pancake (there were pancakes on the table but I missed them) and smothered it in chocolate spread, only to find when I bit into it that it was actually an egg. I swear it looked ridiculously like a pancake.
There was variation in the camps of course, some had an incredible amount of bugs, some had a slightly funny smell and in one case where the ger walls had been pulled up slightly during the day to let some air in we had ground squirrels coming in (I may have been napping at the time and woke up with a scream). It was all part of the experience.
Travel and accommodation are definitely different in Mongolia, I would recommend the experience to anyone, but make sure you have someone or a few people with you who know their way around.