AN UNFORGETTABLE roadtrip and one that we almost had to forgo given the difficulties liaising annual leaves for everyone. It started out as a casual talk about going on a Trans-Siberian railway – but we felt it was too pricey and we didn’t have enough leaves from work to spare. So a 16D15N trip to Mongolia it was!

We went with a guided tour Dream Mongolia, which provided us with an English-speaking guide and a driver. The package was inclusive of transfers, most of the lodging and meals, with the exception of free-and-easy days in Ulaanbaatar city.

Cost breakdown
Visa
Insurance
Return Airfare
Tour Package
Tips
Additional meals

SGD 105

SGD 39
SGD 117 (Air China)
USD 1390 (Dream Mongolia)
USD 176
USD 30

Our travel route in Mongolia

© emapsworld.com with permission

DAY 1: Ulaanbaatar (Capital of Mongolia)
Arrive from Singapore via Beijing, Overnight stay at Hotel Nine



The day in Ulaanbaatar gave us a sneak peek into the rich culture of Mongolia and its war history:

  • Chingis Square
  • Chingis Khan equestrian statue
  • Mongolia traditional concert by Turmengik “Trillion Mothers” Ensemble
  • National Musuem of Mongolia
  • Intellectual Musuem

DAY 2 & 3: Ulaanbaatar → Murun, Khuvsgul (North)
Via 2.5h flight on Aero Mongolia, 2-nights stay at Olymp ger camp

Nomadic reindeer family and their livestock

The interior of a Ger belonging to the reindeer family

Nomadic children helping out with the family’s livestock

Olymp Camp

Photo credit: Cherie Choo via GoPro Hero

Overlooking Huvsgul Lake

Day 3 travel woes as I came down with diarrhoea the night before (oh, failed immunity). We were an hour into our hike up the 2300m Kyasaa hill when I started vomiting and pooping. So I left for the van with our guide Mymy, whilst my friends continued on the hike with our driver Uncle Jaga.

Wasn’t long till another group of travellers came by – an enthusiastic bunch of Koreans and and Mongolians. Amongst them …  a doctor of internal medicine! My oh my, I was in such good care as the doctor checked my pulse and started stuffing cotton wool in my belly button then wrapped a scarf round it. To keep the cold winds out, he said.

I don’t know how, from feeling miserable lying in the van, I ended up 15-minutes later sitting on the grounds for a semi-picnic of pine nuts with our new acquaintances. We held conversations over 4-way translations. I sang them a Malay song on request. They offered a lift on their 4WD. Heck yes!

So I was squashed in the backseat with my tour guide, the doctor, a Mongolian hiphop star and 3 other Koreans. 20-minutes and we were at the top of the hill! Reunited with my friends! Our new acquaintances had a stove going on, cooked Korean ramyeon and amidst the hoo-haa a hailstorm came! But hey, no hailstorm no matter how wet and cold was going to stop them (and us). Truly epic! And an epitome of living life.

My new acquaintances from Korea and Mongolia, atop Kyasaa Hill

Me and a celebrity Mongolian hip-hop star

There’s a Mongolian saying that if people are meant to meet, it will be a great meeting. Indeed it was!

DAY 4: Khuvsgul → Jargalant, via Zuun lake
Overnight stay at Jarganchiguur “Happiness Wings” ger camp

We arrived in the evening at Jarganchiguur. Just before sleep, we filled our time with starry night gazing and hitting the warm outdoor hot springs. Weather was at 7°C by sunset, so not cool having to run butt-naked to the indoor showers straight out of hot springs. 

DAY 5: Jargalant → Arkhangai (Central)
Overnight stay at Maikhantolgoi “Tent Head” ger camp

More driving of up to 380km, and observing the changing landscape from the more mountainous regions in the past two days. Our mode of transport was an old Russian van that looked similar to a VW camper. But don’t be fooled by this 4WD! I was surprised by its ruggedness and Uncle Jaga’s superb driving skills up and down terrains with manual gear. Gosh, at one point we were literally driving across a river. 

There were miles and miles of sheeps and cows! We stopped for a moment or two to collect some cow dung for a community project Mymy had in mind – the dung, as we later found out, were given as gifts when we reached Gobi desert (more on that later). 

Terkhiin Tsagaan “The Great White Lake”, 16km in width

Terkhiin Tsagaan (The Great White Lake) was gorgeous, and the ger camp we stayed was one of my favourites amongst all, just because of the view! The water so pristine and nature so untouched… absolutely breathtaking. The lake offered opportunities for fishing and bird watching. We mostly lazed by the pontoon and played frisbee on its shores.

Ovoo, a shrine

As we continued on in our trip and mini-hiking excursions in between, it became apparent that there were always a collection of stones and rocks throughout. This was known as Ovoo which is usually a shrine for the shamans. When travelling, it is customary to circle an Ovoo 3 times in a clockwise direction for hopes of a safer journey. The blue silk represents the sky.

One-man cave

Photo credit: Petrina Liew

We made a pitstop at what was known as the one-man cave. Literally because only one person could get in/out through the hole at a time. But no not really, because one by one we could fit 30 people in the underground cave. It was quite a respite though from the scorching sun as the interior is rather cooling.

Photo credit: Petrina Liew
Photo credit: Petrina Liew

We hiked up Khorgo volcano, and did a half-hour descend on hands and knees into the bottom of its 70m deep crater. The terrain were mostly rocks and loose gravel, so the coming back up from the crater took a little more than half-hour.

DAY 6: Arkhangai → Orkhon Waterfall
Overnight stay at Orkhon Waterfall ger camp

Photo credit: Cherie Choo via GoPro Hero
Photo credit: Petrina Liew

Orkhon valley (UNESCO World Heritage) was a landscape of lush greens and I absolutely loved the horse riding experience into the vast countryside. Orkhon waterfall is a must-see when in the region. While it is only 25m in height, it is the peace and serenity that its surrounding nature has to offer that I felt was worthwhile. We were lovingly invited into the homes of a nomadic family and were introduced to the makings of curd and cheese. I got to wear a traditional Mongolian costume! 

DAY 7: Orkhon Waterfall → Arviakheer, Ovorkhangai (Central-South)
Overnight stay at village hostel

Friday night community dancing in Bogd village

Photo credit: Cherie Choo via GoPro Hero

We arrived in the village of Bogd and went hunting for a home that could offer beds for 9 travellers. The daughter of the homestay owner was a girl our age and she brought us to their Friday night specials… disco! But really, it was more of social dancing held in a community hall in the middle of the village. No language barrier was going to stop us and we were immediately whisked to form partners with the locals. Spent the rest of the evening doing what I think was a Waltz and the rest of the time spinning and spinning and more spinning. I remembered us breaking out into a macarena halfway because honestly, our dance moves suck so bad. 

DAY 8: Ovorkhangai → Omnogovi (South)
Overnight stay at Gobi Erdenes “Gobi Treasures” ger camp

A nomadic family and their Ger in Gobi desert

From the lush greens of North and Central Mongolia, we travelled to the desert terrains of the South. Here, we made a stopover to visit a nomadic family in Gobi. Remember the cow dungs we collected earlier from near The Great White Lake? That was one of the many gifts we brought for the family. 

So I learnt that because wood and other resources are so scarce in the desert, the nomads here would use dung as their main source of fuel to light fire in the cold nights. Not many local Mongolians get to travel the vast lands and so it was also a pleasure to receive gifts from as far North – even if it was as simple as cow dung.

The only country with double-humped camels

Photo credit: Cherie Choo via GoPro Hero

Khogor “singing” sand dunes

Photo credit: Petrina Liew

Our time in the Gobi involved a lot of camel riding and climbing sand dunes. These sand dunes are unlike the ones I have come a crossed in Australia or UAE, because it offered the opportunity to witness singing sand. Basically the sand produces a high frequency, almost like whistling, when triggered by wind passing or when walking down the sand. It was almost haunting at one point! The climb was exhausting but was quickly overcome by the pure thrill of rolling downhill – falling at high speed and listening on to the singing, if not laughing, sand. 

Never had so much sand accumulated in my undergarments after that experience.

DAY 9: Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park
Overnight stay at Delgerekh hotel

Bayanzag “Flaming” Cliffs

Yol Valley and “vulture” canyon


More hiking and building ovoos! The Bayanzag cliffs are known as “flaming” because of its orange/red colour – a beautiful contrast to the bluest of skies. This was also where dinosaur fossils were found in 1924. Throughout the landscape, we could find little pockets of oasis where herds of animals would gather.  

We didn’t hike too far deep into Yol valley, but it was obvious that the deeper we got, the colder it was. Some parts of the deep canyon were still covered in ice but most of it would have melted in July.

DAY 10: Omnogovi → Ulaanbaatar → Terelji National Park 
Via 1.5h flight on Aero Mongolia, Overnight stay at Terelji “Warm by The Sky” ger camp

Photo credits: Petrina Liew

Turtle rock, and my friend the turtle in her green outerwear

Aryabal Monastery

Terelji National Park

Terelji National Park was not too far out from Ulaanbaatar city. Here, we had out second opportunity for horse riding across rocky terrains. We made pitstops at the famed turtle rock and a short climb to visit the Aryabal monastery set atop the high hills.

Uncle Jaga gave each of us a Mongolian name, from L to R:
Бамьарууш (Baby Bear), Маамуу (Child-like), our guide Mymy, Тyшиг (The leader), Дөлгөөн (Calm and friendly), our driver Uncle Jaga, Сзргзлзн (Cheeky and smart), Алагнvдзн (Beautiful eyes)

Needless to say, I have beautiful eyes guyssssss 😂

DAY 11: Terelji → Ulaanbaatar 
Overnight stay at Hotel Nine

DAY 12 & 13: Ulaanbaatar → Khentii (East)
2-nights stay in outdoor tents


Highlights of our East Mongolia trip were more hiking along Khar Zurknii Khukn “Black Heart Mountain” lake, looking out for marmots (didn’t find any), outdoor camping in 5°C with only cows and nature for company, fighting for the best shrubs to poop/pee whilst staying hidden (on hindsight, there were only cows around). When we were not hiking, we passed time playing cards with the competitive Uncle Jaga or pretending to be domestic helping the motherly Mymy cook soup.

On our second night, Uncle Jaga and Mymy surprised us with a birthday treat for Cherie! Celebrated her 28th with wine and cake (stuffs that they sneakily had hiding at the back of the van since our last pitstop in Ulaanbaatar). 

Such pleasures of life and a good retreat from our usual technology-driven city life! Blessed with no wifi and reception in the middle of the countryside.

DAY 14: Khentii → Tev (Southeast)
Overnight stay at Steppe Nomads ger camp


Guun Galuut Nature Reserve in Tov province was where we did most of our remaining hikes and horserides. More vast countrysides to explore and wind down!

DAY 15 & 16: Tev → Ulaanbaatar
Overnight stay at Hotel Nine, return flight to Singapore via Beijing

I had never expected such a fulfilling trip and the 16 days flew by too fast. We gained so much in lessons of life and culture, friendships emerging stronger and hilarious stories to tell. 

When skies are clear, daylight is 3-hour longer, the mountains echo and vast fields aplenty … my heart is full with roadtrips like this. Bayartai for now!

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About Nani Adilla Zailani

Essentially, living in the moment and loving all things beautiful.

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Photography, Sports & Leisure, Travel Stories

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