There is something magical about this place
Whether it’s the due to the people, the amazing history of the country, the breath taking landscapes, the cultural traditions or the ruthless strength of nature, this place won’t leave you indifferent, it breaths authenticity and will inevitably transpire you some of it’s energy. If you decide to go there you will be in for some adventure full of anecdotes, for me it’s right up there with Iceland.
Are we there yet?
The question not to ask to drivers when on your way to an excursion as it will bring you bad luck on the road, according to them. I rather think they don’t want to be bothered with annoying tourists asking them this every hour, as the trajects to get from one place to another are soooo looong.
The country is huge and the roads are not in top shape. So be prepared to bring with you your good mood and some books, puzzle games, music,… when leaving for an excursion as your patience will be tested. It is however and thankfully worth all the hassle 🙂
How long do you stay in Mongolia and what are your plans?
This will most likely be the first question your hostel will ask you at your arrival. They know it’s quite unlikely one would travel there independently because of the bad travel conditions in the country (bad roads, no signalisation, weather conditions, language barrier,…) and want to earn some extra cash. I believe this must be our biggest frustration with this country. If you want to see something you need a driver and in some cases both a driver and a guide, which is not ideal when travelling according to a budget or when disliking to be dependent of a fixed travel program. For some sights you can make it by public transport but the timetables are not ideal. Tourism is an important business in Mongolia and makes the living of a lot of Mongolians. (hostel hosts, drivers, guides, nomads, shops) Therefore I believe the system won’t change anytime soon. In other words be prepared to spend a considerable budget in Mongolia as it’s definitely not a cheap itinerary. Then again, you wouldn’t get a guide, driver, car, gas, accommodation, museum visits, camel rides and three prepared meals a day for 55 dollars per person per day in Belgium or Finland, so there’s definitely value for money.
NoMAD or MAD?
During our visit to the Gobi desert we stayed with two nomad families.
Throughout our short time there we could witness the amount of work the WHOLE family produced. Even the children have there share of responsibility, I admired an 11 year old girl that was all over the place handling one task after the other in the most natural way without any sign of complaint.
Being a nomad is not easy, certainly not in Gobi. The families are obliged to change at least four times a year from location due to the harsh/extreme weather conditions. They live from there livestock which is mainly composed out of goats, sheep and in some cases horses and camels. They mainly eat meat in the winter and milk based products in the summer.
During the summertime some nomads offer the possibility to tourists (tourist tours) to sleep in one of there gers and horse/camel riding tours, this to make an extra living.
Even though the nomad life is not easy. Some still choose this lifestyle and seem to be happy. I could almost understand them:
-They are surrounded by a wonderful scenery
-They can choose where to live
-They are not confronted with pollution problems
-They can live by their own rules
Would you be up for it?
When asking to our guide where the toilets were, the driver looked at me and spread his arms towards the large empty plain all around us and said to me : “you can choose there is place”. I already heard stories and was prepared for the worst when going to the Gobi/(rural Mongolia). But as a first timer it’s a difficult barrier to cross, certainly when the field is flat and empty and you want to find privacy from your co-travelers before passing to the act of number 2 :s. When staying with nomad families, they usually have squat toilets in a small shed where you can go to. Anyways I survived it and after a week I was totally comfortable with it, it even felt liberating. But I won’t hide it, I was quite happy to find the urban loos again 🙂
Naadam is the most important event of the year that mobilises the whole country. You could compare it to the Olympics but in very very small and only in Mongolia. The three most important disciplines are archery, horse racing and wrestling. This traditional event usually takes place in July (mid). Every city/village will host there own version of this festival. I have heard that in small villages even foreigners could participate, not sure if this is true though.
The main version is of course held in the capital of the country Ulaanbaatar, where thousands of participants and supporters are attending this big celebration during these three days, which kicks off with the spectacular opening ceremony.
When attending Naadam you will be thrown into the Mongolian culture and get the opportunity to taste different food, watch a throat singing concert, opera, see traditional dances or watch fireworks. Eva and me really enjoyed it and recommend it to all. You haven’t seen fireworks if you haven’t seen a Mongolian one : MAGNIFICENT!!!
There is so much more to experience and see there. That is why Eva and me will definitely return !!