When I announced that I was going solo to Mongolia for my summer vacation, the words of doubt started creeping into the conversations with my friends. The idea that I would have to “rough it” seemed incredulous to them. Secretly, there was one part of me that was terrified of going there, for no other reason but the lack of first hand knowledge. Only one person I knew had been there before and she just told to go. So off I went.
I’d love nothing more that to post all 181 pictures of this trip here and give you a detailed analysis of each picture but I’ll spare you this one time. Instead, I’m going to tell you what I learned from this journey to this relatively untouched country.
Upon arriving in Ulaanbatar, I spent a day exploring the city before my trip to the country. Instantly, I felt as if I had walked back in time. The buildings are rickety looking, the roads have holes the size of craters and the people dress like the 90’s. Yet, the city itself had this most wonderful charm. It was like a laid back, comfortable with itself kind of charm and so I spent the day wandering from place to place and generally taking in the atmosphere.
It was the next day that the journey really began. I joined a group leaving from my hostel and we set off to Terejl National Park about 2 hours from UB. The next 3 days were utterly incredible. An Indian, 2 Austrians and I lived together in a Ger next to a Mongolian family. We hiked the mountains, rode horses and survived without electricity, running water or toilets. I can honestly say that it kinda reminded and brought me back to the days when I was a young wan in Ireland. Growing up on a farm meant plenty of visits to the ditch if you were too far from the house! So in this respect, the freedom of having nothing meant we free to be the simplest version of ourselves. Gone was the Shauna who dressed up for school and wore makeup. Mongolia brought out the Shauna who wore the same clothes for 2 days, never brushed her hair and only ever put sunscreen on her face.
On the 2nd day a terrible storm came and we were forced to retreat to our Ger snuggled up in all our clothes and our sleeping bags. What did we do? We laughed. It came so easy. We laughed at everything, the whole idea that 4 grown ups were afraid to go out and get wet, the fact that we went out when it dried off only to be caught in another storm and soaked, the fact that the horses we rode were possessed and thankfully we wouldn’t have to ride them again and anything else that came to mind.
Of course, we eventually headed back to the city with our driver called “Enda” and booked ourselves on a trip to the Gobi the day after. Just enough time to take a shower and sleep in a proper bed and eat chocolate.
The Gobi trip involved 14 of us. 2 Austrians, 3 Germans, 3 Danes, 3 Swiss, 2 South Afrians and myself. We bundled into 2 mini buses and a 4×4 and off we went. Every hour of so we would stop at the side of the road to enable the drivers to rest. Included in this was some horse milk tasting which actually wasnt as bad as it looked and lunch ( although I use that in the broadest sense of the word). Each time we stopped we would jump out, have a little chat and then continue in our vehicles. Before the trip we didn’t know each other but the country and the circumstances helped us build trust, not only amongst ourselves but with the drivers.
After 8 hours of this, we end up in a place miles and miles from anywhere. As we approached our “tourist camp”, the children of the area waved and greeted us. Really they had nothing here but to see them run for their basketball when they saw us was touching. We spent the last hours of sunlight playing basketball and volleyball with them before settling in for the night in our Gers with some beer and a few tunes from my good self.
The following days we spent in the Orkon Valley, exploring Kharakurin and eventually making it to the Gobi. Again, we stayed with a family who had nothing but they made us feel so at home and even went to find a translator among their neighbours to make sure everything was sufficient. Camel riding and hiking followed and watching thunder storms in the distance thanks to the light of the full moon. The whole thing was extraordinarily simple but so perfect and so peaceful. No communication no amenities, just us and the desert.
Mongolia, while the fastest growing economy in the world, has a long way to come. Some people here are clearly struggling but what struck me most is their attitude. When you travel in Asia, you get used to beggars and I thought it would be the same here. I was mistaken. While the Mongolian nomads we stayed with had nothing, the were happy with what they did have and made the most of it. The were enterprising enough to ensure a constant flow of visitors so as to make sure of that essential money. They made their own little souvenirs to sell and sold the horse milk and horse yogurt to the drivers who would bring it back to the city.
On my way to the airport I realized how sad I actually was to be returning to Korea. I met so many wonderful people both Mongolian and foreign and experienced things that few get to experience. This trip is definitely up there with the top 3 trip I’ve take to date.
I’m going to upload a video I made in the tourist camp in the Orkon Valley My time in Mongolia. I had some technical difficulties so it’s a link to my facebook page. I’ll see if I can change the settings so everyone can see. If anyone is interested in getting more info about Mongolia and where to stay etc just drop me a line firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out my facebook page for the pictures.