10th July – 6th August 2017
Mongolia is an incredible country which I awmpressively managed to exceeded our already high expectations and provided some unforgettable experiences. The local people were exceptionally friendly, their nomadic culture was unique and unlike anything we have seen before and the steppe was staggeringly beautiful.
Alongside this came difficult challenges. Transportation outside the capital was long, the roads were in a bad condition and when no public transport existed you had to rely on lift sharing with locals. I became ill on two occasions due to the different food and also the draining and different living conditions in the countryside. By the end of our month however we admired the people for their continuation of the nomadic way of life and had gained a lot of respect for their culture.
Food and Drink
When you arrive at any ger in Mongolia the first thing you are offered is ‘Milk Tea’. There is always some already made whatever time of day you arrive. It is normally served piping hot in a small ceramic bowl. It is exactly what it sounds like; hot water, tea leaves and milk (often horses milk). It’s often exactly what you need after a long day on the Mongolian steppe.
Aarrul is dried curds. This was not one of our favourite Mongolian foods (not mine anyway) however similar to milk tea, it was absolutely everywhere we went. Each ger produced what seemed like infinite amounts of aarrul from yak, horse, camel, goat or cow milk. Due to the long drying process involved in making aarrul this resulted in all the gers having a faint smell of curds which took some getting used to. Each piece of aarrul tasted different depending upon how it was produced. Most were were like a very hard sour cheese whilst some were softer and slightly sweet.
One thing that is important to know before visiting Mongolia is that you will eat mostly mutton. Mutton with noodles, mutton with rice, mutton in soup or mutton in pastry. Luckily we both like mutton although we were looking forward to a change when we left.
Places (Things to do)
I think it is important to see the capital of any country and I have to admit Ulaanbaatar is no exception. The city is such a contrast to the nomadic life in the countryside that it is important to see it to understand the country as a whole. We also got the opportunity to see Naadam here. This was a highlight for me and I have written about it in more detail in my previous blog.
Tsetserleg and the Arkhangai Province
We based ourselves in and around Tsetserleg for about two weeks of our month in Mongolia. We stayed at the Fairfield Guesthouse which offered excellent facilities, excursions and equipment to allow us to explore the surrounding area. From here we did a three day cycling trip in the Orkhon Valley (see video), three days horse trekking and a trip to White Lake. It was an amazing area to see the countryside and the nomadic life of Mongolia.
We did a 7 day Gobi Desert tour with Sunpath Hostel. The Gobi Desert covers a large proportion of Mongolia and it is important to visit here to see how people survive in these extreme conditions and also to ride a camel of course!
Things we learnt
- It’s difficult to be vegetarian and I expect near impossible to be vegan. As previously mentioned most meals include mutton, and if not mutton another meat such as goat. The vegetarians on our tour were often only offered rice, potatoes and a simple salad for their main meal. Mongolians also love their dairy due to their self sufficiency from livestock. Therefore I imagine it becomes near impossible to be vegan particularly in nomadic ger camps (less so in the capital).
- How far reaching nomadic life is out of the towns and cities. I have spoken a bit about some nomadic traditions particularly with regards to food. There are so many other traditions from horseriding and livestock to family hierarchy and seasonal migration. The scale of the nomadic population is very difficult to describe, even with Mongolia’s vast size wherever we found ourselves there was always at least one ger in sight.
- How sore your bum gets horse riding. We did a three day horse trek and it’s impossible to describe how much my body ached after each days ride. It took a long time to recover. We later found out that this was due to the poor quality Mongolian saddles we used. They are a basic construction and do not have the support of normal westernised saddles.
Top three phrases/words
- Let’s go – yavtsgaaya (явцгаая)
- Thank you – Bayarlalaa (Баярлалаа)
- Hi – Sain baina uu (сайн байна уу)
Travel Statistics for Mongolia
Beers drank: 8.5 (each) Beds slept in: 20 (each) Bribes paid: 0 Journeys:
- Plane: 1
- Bus: 5
- Minibus: 1
- Taxi: 2
- Car: 7
- Bicycle: 1
- Horse: 1
Spending in Mongolia
Currency Conversion: £1 = 3,220 Tugrik
Number of days in country: 28
Breakdown of spending (together) –
Food & Beverage: £208.86
Total (together): £2770.88
Total (per person): £1385.44
Average Daily Spend (together): £98.96
Average Daily Spend (per person): £49.48
NOTE: The spending in Mongolia was slightly skewed by some medical costs we had to pay whilst I was ill. We are in the process of working with the insurance company to get this money back and so these costs should go down. If we are successful the average daily spent will be as follows:
Average Daily Spend (together): £80.30
Average Daily Spend (per person): £40.15
Please let us know if you have any questions.
All photos by Rich Grundy.