I only knew a few other people who have been to Mongolia. So the idea of visiting this far-off country seemed so exotic and exciting!
Also, it’s one of my big dreams to take the journey on the Trans-Siberian railway. And Ulaanbaatar is one of the stops on the way. It was a little glimpse into a future dream trip for me!
We planned to stay for a month and had booked an outbound ticket to Vietnam what we thought was 30 days after our arrival.
But, guess what?? August has 31 days. So, we had to apply for an extension to cover one extra day.
It was a hassle and I don’t recommend it.
That whole story was enough for a separate post which you can find here:
Arriving in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, and by far the most populous city in Mongolia with a population of around 1.3 million (The whole country of Mongolia has only 3 million people), I was surprised to see how close the airport was to the city itself. That was before realizing just how sprawling the city is. It just goes on and on!
The city is surrounded by a beautiful countryside of rolling green and brown hills that you can see no matter which direction you look.
At a higher elevation, over 4,000 feet (for a comparison, Denver is 5,280) we felt the impact right away. The first couple of days wiped us out. The time change of +6 hours, a red-eye flight, and the elevation meant we slept a good part of those first few days. This was the worst jet-lag and travel exhaustion I think we’ve had on this whole trip.
Ulaanbaatar is much like many other cities with many of the same problems. It’s crowded. The traffic is a nightmare and the busses always seemed packed. This was also the first place where we really felt like we stood out because of our skin color. We were mostly met with side glances, except children who just full-on stared. It was pretty adorable, actually! Children cannot hide their curiosity, so we always greeted them with smiles and waves back.
We took this time to really settle into a bit of a routine. We joined a gym. Cooked a whole bunch more… Well, Jake cooked a whole bunch. I dove into a more solid work schedule. I ventured out on walks and found several coffee shops I liked to work from. Unfortunately, I didn’t find my favorite until the last week we were there!
Ziferblat is a shop/event space with locations all over Russia, and a few in Asia and Europe, that is built all around creativity and community. You pay by the hour but have all the free coffee and wifi you can use. I was in heaven. 😃 They have movie nights, music, and art nights. If only I caught them sooner, I would have spent much more time there. But, I had some really enjoyable days at least.
Check them out here.
We knew we wanted to see more of the countryside and check a few things off our Mongolia bucket list.
Our list included riding camels and trying fermented horse’s milk. We found a tour that appeared to provide those things! So off we set on an epic journey to the Semi-Gobi Desert.
The journey was a four hour VERY bumpy and swerving ride there and another four hours of the same back.
The tour brought us through the countryside, with traffic jams:
And beautiful scenery
Once we were out of the city, the population is very spread out. A culture of nomads in the country, yurts (or gers) dot the countryside which are used mostly during the spring and summer months. You see many strategically placed next to a hillside in order to shield themselves from the harsh winds that move over the land.
Mongolia doesn’t see a lot of snow in this area, but they see some of the coldest temperatures on the planet.
It was actually colder in Ulaanbaatar than it was in Antarctica last year.
Yeah. Let that sink in.
COLDER THAN ANTARTICA!
Our tour guide was a lot of fun. Our group consisted of Jake and myself, our guide and driver, and three middle-aged Korean gentlemen who spoke very little English.
Jake and I were very excited about the camel riding portion of our trip, but when we finally arrived at our destination, the camel ride left a little to be desired. There was one camel that we took turns on (despite there being dozens of camels there) and we pretty much got on, got walked up a hill of sand, took photos, then walked back.
Still, we got to ride a camel!
I named him Cary.
We were then treated to tea and lunch of steamed dumplings and visited the home of the nomadic family who were hosting us.
Have you ever seen a horse being milked? Us either! It was really interesting. They first have a baby horse come up to start to feed to soften the teet, then the baby gets moved away and they can start milking.
Then the milk is fermented and served in bowls like this.
It tastes a bit like kefir, a mellow yogurt drink, but it does carry a bit of a punch.
After our tour to the countryside, we were back to our routine. We both fought off some sickness here as well. Jake with a wicked case of food poisoning and me with just a cold.
We really enjoyed our time in Ulaanbaatar. I think next time we would rather stay out of the major city and see more of the countryside. It’s really a beautiful place!