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:
Extending a Tourist Visa in Mongolia
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!
Ha! The Mongolian rush hour gave me a chuckle 😉 Really interesting post – this is definitely not the type of trip that I would normally consider for myself (I’m more of a city slicker), but you make it look fun! Big props for being brave enough to try the fermented horse milk. Thanks for sharing!
Ha ha! You bet! It was quite the adventure for sure 🙂
Totally my dream of an exotic destination! I’m more interested in life in the countryside though, not the city, except perhaps the toilets/bathrooms -.-. Thanks for sharing, looking forward to seeing more Mongolian posts!
This was really interesting to read… now I want to visit Mongolia. 🙂
The hospitlaity of the Mongol people is just amazing. I visited the western region two years ago and loved it. So jealous that you got to ride a camel. On my next visit I’ll be sure to do that!
Wonderful! I’d love to see the western part of the country as well. The countryside is so amazing! Highly recommend a two-humped camel ride. 🙂
OMG I’ve been wanting to go there for sooo long already! *-* It looks so specail! I didn’t know there were camels there though, I only expected to see camels in north Africa and the Middle East but apparently they’re there too. Awesome!
That visa story sounds awful. Just for one day? Come on, they could’ve gone a bit easier on you.
Mongolia is the only place with two-humped camels! So amazing. 🙂 Mongolia is a really amazing place for sure. I’d love to go back!
I really want to do Mongolia one day, and go riding/galloping in the desert. I think they do longer trails as well. That would be my dream!
They do! That would be a wonderful adventure. Sleeping in yurts, riding camels and horses across the Gobi desert. Dream trip for sure!
Great post! I don’t think I have ever read a post about Mongolia before. Sounds like such an interesting adventure! Never thought there would be camels in Mongolia or that it gets so cold 😀
Thanks so much! It really is an amazing country. And Mongolia is the only place that has two-humped camels! So fun 🙂
Mongolia is right up at the top of my ever-growing bucket list! It looks just amazing!
Sorry to hear about the Visa issue, I hate when stuff like that happens…but I guess it could’ve been worse!
It so could have been worse! And we lucked out big time with our driver. Lesson learned 😉
Wow! Mongolia looks incredible! While I have milked a horse, I haven’t tried fermented horse milk. It sounds interesting! Those nomadic homes look very cool! Maybe I should invest! LOL
Really! Wow, we weren’t even sure HOW you milked a horse until we visited! Yurts are so cool! I still really want to stay in one. A lot of National Parks in the States have them too. Someday 🙂
Mongolia looks beautiful! I would love to explore the countryside of it because crowds of people stress me out
Yeah, for being the 14th largest country in the world, outside of Ulaanbaatar, it’s very sparse. Just beautiful and no crowds!