I flew out of Seoul at 2.30pm on the 27th September and landed in Ulaanbaatar around 6pm local time, got an airport cab to the Hostel which took about 1hr, twice as long as normal due to the peak hour traffic which turned the city into a carpark.
My plan was to try and get my Chinese visa application started the next day and also book a tour for a few days later. However, when I went to ask the hostel manager about the tours, she suggested I go on a tour that was scheduled to leave in one hour, as there weren’t any 7 or 8 day tours leaving the following day. So I figured, fuck it, I’ll go! One hour later I was in a restored Russian van heading out to the Gobi Desert with two other Australians, Jess and Victor from Essendon.
IF you can’t be bothered reading about it, here it is, six days condensed into two minutes of video. Otherwise, read on below.
None of us knew much about the tour we were on, even how long it went for. Somewhere between 6-8 days we figured. The first day saw us leave Ulaanbaatar (UB) around 11am. We stopped for lunch at a roadside restaurant in the middle of nowhere, and tucked in to a bowl of traditional tough beef and noodles. It was edible, just. A few more hours in the car and we got to White Stupa I’m not sure why it’s called that, but it is basically a cliff formation with different coloured layers visible from erosion. Apparently the whole area was covered in an ocean 100 million years ago and thats how this formation was created. Only 5km from White Stupa was our first camp for the night, where we stayed with a nomadic family and in a traditional Ger. This was also the start of the mongolian dairy experience. We tried salted milk tea (as it sounds), homemade biscuits (tough as rubber) and cheese (weird taste).
Day two we woke up early to see the sunrise. Because there is no fences out here, the family herd the animals up in the evening, and the animals mostly stay put overnight. In the morning, they start to wander again, eating the grass and following each other, so the herding repeats every day.
We had homemade yoghurt for breakfast which was actually pretty good with some sugar added, and then took off to our next destination at about 9am. We arrived in the “city” of Mandalgovi (population 10,000) for lunch. We ate at a weird karaoke place where I played it “safe” with the same tough beef and noodles from the day before. This was also the last time there would be a toilet for 4 days. Given how much downtime we had after dinner the night before, we stocked up on Mongolian beer from the supermarket, $18 AUD for 24 pack of 500mL cans.
Not far from Mandalgovi we reached a gorge in a protected area, where we walked through the narrow opening, following the stream.
Our camp for this night was at the entrance to the protected area, and we also made a start on the beers we bought earlier!
We had an early start on Day 3, as we needed to arrive at our camp in time for lunch – there were no restaurants or towns between these two camps. On the drive to the camp the sand dunes started to appear in the distance, and as we arrived at our camp, the sand dunes towered over us at 300m high.
That afternoon we rode the camels. My camel was not interested in going for a stroll. He sat on the ground and snorted and spat the owner, who got covered in yellow crap direct from the camels nose. Eventually, he stood up, with me on his back and we were off. It was a lot of fine, despite the terrible smell of the camels and my camels severe bout of diarrhea.
Later in the afternoon, the wind really picked up. We were supposed to climb the largest sand dune at sunset and eat dinner at the top, but the sandstorm was almost strong enough for us to not climb it at all. In the end, Bogi, our guide, convinced us to try and climb the dune despite the wind.
The climb up the sand dune was tough! 300m high, it took about 30 minutes to get to the top. It was definitely a case of two steps forward, one step back, sinking into the sand. But at the top, the view was worth it, and I stayed up there for the sunset, before running back down as fast as possible.
Day four started with another sunrise, and another six or so hours in the van on the way to the flaming cliffs. We stopped at a typical town of a few hundred people for lunch in a restaurant, which better resembled the owners living room. Lunch was homemade dumplings and coleslaw.
Finally we arrived at the flaming cliffs, which is famous as the first place that fossilized dinosaur eggs were found, back in 1923.
On our second last day, we were on our way back towards Ulaanbaatar. On one of the tiny towns in the middle of nowhere we stopped for fuel, but power was out in the entire town, so we were stuck there for one hour waiting for the power to come back on so the pumps would work.
After arriving at our camp that afternoon, with probably the most hospitable nomadic family so far, we did some horse riding. I hadn’t ridden a horse since I was probably 5 years old, and it was a little scary – they told me that my horse likes to run! The owner kept telling my horse “cho!” to make it run, and I had to pull back on the reins to slow him down again.
Our final dinner here was a traditional Mongolian BBQ of boiled mutton and vegetables, which was tastier than it sounds.
Day 6 was a return to Ulaanbaatar where I would explore a little and wait for the Chinese Embassy to open for my visa application.