JUL 15,2012 - AUG 15,2012 (32 DAYS)
A bit in general - one of the largest countries in the world, with a population of 3 million people, 2 million of whom are living in the capital. Meaning there isn't an over abundance of people and there's plenty of room for nature.
The Mongolians who live outside the city, usually live in a yurt called Ger with a herd of sheep and horses. They are very hospitable people, but also a bit like the Soviets.
Mongolia is unique, outside the capital, there are no real guest houses, and no real showers. We took our showers in the rivers, and we drank from the rivers, you can bring purifying drops to purify the water.
no roads, just driving directly to the destination!
after a shower
It's cold! Especially in the north and the west. Take warm clothes. Don't get lazy - long thermal underwear, fleece shirt, hat, gloves and thermal socks. You need a good sleeping bag and a good three seasons tent.
Getting there - you can fly directly to Ulan Bator (sometimes it can be expensive) or fly to China/Russia and take the train from there. If you arrive from China, the Trans-Mongolian Railway is very famous but also not cheap at all. So an amazing way to save money is as follows:
Buy the train ticket to the border town Erenhot (Erlian) where everyone is going down from the train for three hours because they change the wheels to Mongolian wheels. At this time you go and buy a ticket to Ulan Bator. It saves almost half the ticket cost (~$260). The train from Beijing to Ulan Bator is approximately 24 hours.
What does Mongolia offer? In the west; mountains, hunters, snow and treks. In the north; amazing views, Lake Khövsgöl (largest fresh water by volume in Mongolia, second in world), plenty of horses, reindeer and shamans. In the center there're lakes, treks and hot springs. In the south there's the Gobi desert with amazingly beautiful sand dunes. On the east? Don't know. Just Google it.
If you arrive from China you can buy all equipment (tent, sleeping bags, begs, everything...) with high quality and extremely low prices in Dechatlon in Beijing. If you need special instructions, just ask in the comments below.
From the railway station at Ulan Bator there's a van from the a guest house named Golden Gobi which provides free rides to the tourist area. You can use it to get to the guest house. I highly recommend not using the guest house's service. They are very bad people. Don't fall for the trap of their niceness. But you can catch the free ride with them.
Another tip - in Ulan Bator there aren't a lot of Taxis. A common way of transportation is paid hitchhiking. Make sure that before you leave the guesthouse you have a note written with where you want to go, and more importantly to where you want to get back to. You just hitchhike, show the note and agree on the price (2000-7000 tögrög for a drive), and you're on your way.
I recommend a guest house called Mongolian Step (http://www.hostelbookers.com/hostels/mongolia/ulaanbaatar/7336/) located behind the large super market, with a nice charming owner, a lady named Eggi. Who ever needs a map can talk to me.
How to get there: stand so that the Golden Gobi is behind you, the super is in front, turn right and enter between the two stores, and there inside an apartment building, third door on the right, a small modest sign directs you to the Mongolian Step. Sometimes the door is locked and you need to call the guys on the porch above to open.
The travel arrangement - after market surveys we reached the conclusion that the cheapest and most comfortable way to get around is to rent a van. You need to find good fellows to share the van with you. It's an intensive experience, and you should have guys you can handle 24/7. Of course you don't have to do all of Mongolia in a row, you can divide it to sections.
We rented the van for 25 days in a row and drove from the north through the center to the south and back to the capital. We rented it through the Golden Gobi (Mistake!) and it cost us around $110-115 for a van per day, including the driver and gasoline (you pay also for days without driving). They brought some pots and two camping cooking gases.
Before you leave, you should stop at the food market and buy all your cooking needed for the remainder of the trip - make a calculation of how much pasta, rice, salt, sugar etc. Buy everything you need in advance because outside the capital the prices are much higher. Find cookies in black/purple wrapping called Mon Amour, it's the tastiest thing in all of Asia. Period (!!).
We started with three days of driving to Tsagaan Nuur village, of Mongolia’s northernmost province, Hovsgol (http://visittaiga.org/plan-orientation.html).
Tsaganur its white lake in the mongolian language so their are a few places with the same name.
on our way to Tsagannuur, prepering dinner.
In the village we found some nice lady who spoke English named Tume. She organized us horses and a guide. It cost around 15,000 tögrög for a horse (each one has a riding horse, draft horses and the guide horse).
From there we rode toward the reindeer. In Tsagaannuur they divided the reindeer to northerners and southerners. It's better to ride toward the north, it's a little further and requires another day of riding, but the ride there is more comfortable because the south requires riding inside the forest, and the horses mess up there, and it's a nightmare. The north should be something like 5 days of riding back and forth. We did the south for three days - 6 hours riding on the first day, another six hours riding on the second day in which we arrived to the reindeer at noon, and the next day 12 hours of riding - not fun! take your time and dont be all day long on the horses.
With horses specifically, and in Mongolia in general have some spare days. Enjoy and don't hurry.
From the reindeer we continued to Khovsgol Lake. We located some tourist agent who offered three days of cool kayaking, but he was fully booked. So he organized us a horse tour, and he did so quite charmingly. Whomever is interested I can send you his business card.
We stayed in Khovsgol for 3 nights. We did a day horse trip around the lake. There's also a trek you can do from Tsagaannuur area to the lake. Plenty of things to do there.
From Khovsgol we continued to the Terkhiin Tsagaan Lake (White Lake). The white lake is just a large lake. We slept on its beach and continued from there to the hot springs.
And back to Ulan Bator. Naturally between the different places there were several days of driving. I recommend taking some spare days. It's not fun driving from 8am to 8pm. Take your time. Plan that you'll stop before it gets dark, so you'll have time to build the tent and cook the meal.
If there are more questions, just ask them here and I'll try to help.