LAND OF EXTREMES – MONGOLIA

Mongolia should be the adventure capital of the world, so beautiful rugged and remote. The winters of Mongolia are legendary, but don’t let it stop you. It is the most amazing time to visit this beautiful country. The steppe grassland will be covered in snow and ice. It is the most incredible landscape together with Siberia, Russia you will ever see in your life. It is such a unique place, somewhere where you have time to think and reenergizes your soul in the snow covered landscape.

Interested already, follow us on this adventure of Mongolia.  

MONGOLIA ITINERARY MAP

Map of our six day trip thru Central Mongolia

MONGOLIA TRAVEL VIDEOS

See Our YouTube Traveller’s NEST Overland channel for our travel videos on this magnificent country:

  • OVERLANDING MONGOLIA S1E12: 4WD DRIVING ADVENTURE IN WINTER EXPLORING MONASTERY
  • OVERLANDING MONGOLIA S1E13: WINTER EXPEDITION ORKHON VALLEY & HORSERIDING
  • OVERLANDING MONGOLIA S1E14:WINTER 4X4 EXPEDITION ORKHON VALLEY MONGOLIA
  • OVERLANDING MONGOLIA S1E15: END OF 4X4 WINTER EXPEDITION MONGOLIA TRAVEL

 WHY GO TO MONGOLIA?

Mongolia is an rugged adventure destination where travellers can experience nomadic culture and vast, untouched landscapes. It is this wilderness about Mongolia, that is so unique and appealing. Not to be found anywhere in the world, expect the remote outback deserts of Australia and in Siberia, Russia.

Mongolia was an amazing county for several reasons:
1.0 Great 4wd driving, even in winter,
2.0 Remoteness,
3.0 Beauty like nowhere else in the world, and
4.0 Friendly people and great hospitality.

Mongolia has some of the best 4wd driving to offer in Asia. It is a big bucket list item for most overlanders and 4×4 enthausiats. It has been on our list for years. After overlanding around Australia for 22 months, we decided to go back overland from Hong Kong back to Amsterdam in the Netherlands. We had to stop in Mongolia to experience this magnificent country.

The remoteness in Mongolia was amazing. At times, it was overwhelming the quietness, but at other times when taking sunset photos it was very welcome. Populating density in Mongolia is 2 person per km. The country is 1.566 million square km with a population of 3.225 million people. In comparison, Australia is 3.26 persons per km and New Zealand is higher 18 persons per km. Some areas of Mongolia are so remote one can drive a full day and see almost no signs of human habitation. It’s this true wilderness experience, that is so captivating.

WHEN TO GO TO MONGOLIA

Summer

The best time of the year to go to Mongolia is in summer from June to August, which is in the NZ and Australian winter season. Most overlanders are gone by end of August as it starts to get cold by then.

It is 20 to 25 degrees during the day in summer in the mountains. In the Southern Gobi Desert, the temperature is noticeably higher. Indeed, in this region, shade is hard to find, the thermometer reaching average temperatures of 40 degrees.

Even in summer, be prepared for all kinds of weather as it can change quickly, especially in the mountains.

Autumn

We went in late Autumn, late October and November. The temperatures start to cool and it starts to snow.

We arrived in early November at -5 C, by the end of November it was already -10 C during the day. During the night it was already -15 C to -20 C.

Winter

The winters in Mongolia are legendary for their length and severity. In fact, Ulaanbaatar holds the distinction of being the coldest capital city in the world, with temperatures routinely dropping to minus 30 to minus 40 degrees in January and February.

The winter season is an exceptionally beautiful time to see the Mongolia landscape, especially the steppe, or endless expanses of grasslands covered in frost and snow.

It is important to note that the capital of Mongolia is the coldest in the world, with a yearly average of 0.4 C so remember to pack accordingly, with this in mind it is best to avoid the winter months as the average temperature of minus 24.5 C  is not for the faint of heart.

HOW TO GET TO MONGOLIA

We have decided to not fly to Mongolia, but travel overland by train.

TRANS MONGOLIAN RAILWAY

The train runs once a week all year and twice a week in summer.  This train is operated by the Mongolian Railways one year and Chinese Railways the next year, switching over each year at the end of May when the days of operation also change. 

We had taken Train 33 from Beijing, China direction Moscow, Russia on Tuesday in winter at 7.35 am from Beijing South Railway station. 38 hours later  or 1,400km we arrived in the capital of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar, the following day on Wednesday at 14.35 pm.

In summer the train goes twice weekly from Beijing South Railway station in Beijing on Saturday at 7.35am,

See my two blogs on the Trans Mongolia railway:

https://travellersnestoverland.com/2021/02/10/epic-trans-mongolian-train-033/

https://travellersnestoverland.com/2021/02/17/ancient-tea-caravan-route-of-mongolia/

https://travellersnestoverland.com/2021/02/24/ulaanbataar-mongolia-meaning-red-hero-city/

FLIGHTS

Flights to/from Ulaanbaatar can be pricey, as there is a limited number of carriers. The main carriers are MIAT, Air China, Korean Air, Turkish Airlines and Aeroflot. Apart from to major cities like Beijing, Seoul and Moscow.

TRAVEL INSURANCE

In our years of overlanding and travel around the world, we have used Cover-More in NZ, Allianz  in Sydney and World Nomads in London.

If you are going for a holiday trip,  Cover-More and Allianz are more the sufficient as you intend to return to your home country. For long terms travelers, like us, that might not return to their home countries for years, a more detailed plan is needed. We choose World Nomads including kidnapping insurance.

We carry PLBs each on us at all times and send our location GPS coordinations in remote places every night to 3 friends and our website, which our direct family and a few good friends can access. We don’t want every one knowing where we are, just for personal safety reason. One has to understand that border crosssings can be dangerous, and we can be  a target as NZL European travellers.  We never made our location known that day, it is always the next day after we have left.

We felt very safe in Mongolia, as we had a driver and guide with us at all times. In China and Russia was another story for another day..

VISA APPLICATIONS

How to apply for your Mongolian visa. See my blog:

https://travellersnestoverland.com/2020/09/12/how-to-select-the-starting-point-for-trans-siberian-train-in-winter/

TOUR  OPERATOR IN MONGOLIA

Some say the best way to look for a tour is to do it when you are in Ulaanbaatar. The tour you booked from abroad is almost always more expensive then when you book it in Ulaanbaatar.

We decided to travel with SUNPATH MONGOLIA as it came recommend by some friends in Australia.

They are extremely reliable and professional. The guide was well-informed and speak excellent English while all the vehicles and gears they provided were reliable and sufficient to make our lives quite comfortable. Included in the price was unlimited drinking water, 3 meals per day, transportation, unlimited snacks and sleeping bags provided.

I need to be gluten free plus a few other dietary requirements. It was all perfectly catered for every night.

We were greeted by the staff of our tour company Sunpath Mongolia on the platform at the Railway station on arrival and driven to the guest house of Sunpath Mongolia. After showers, the owner of the tour company, Doljmaa Songorov and her sales manager came to meet us to discuss the final details of the trip.

We did the 6 days spectacular central Mongolia tour at USD1,154 for 2 persons. It might seem a lot of money, but you don’t spend another cents while you are with them expect for your snacks.

In other words, highly recommended. We would travel with them again in Mongolia.

Doljamma email is info@sunpath-mongolia.com or her website at https://tourinmongolia.com/tour/6-day-spectacular-central-mongolia-tour/

WHAT TO PACK FOR MONGOLIA

As Mongolia is the land of extremes, the weather can change fairly quickly in the mountains. For the trip, we did the Central Mongolia, I would suggest layers, even in summer.

Those who don’t mind braving the cold will find amazing opportunities for winter adventure here, including one of the most unique travel experiences imaginable. One thing we have learnt after all our travels to Mongolia, Russia and the Arctic circle. All that is stopping one from enjoying this amazing frozen landscape is good artic gear.

It took me a good few month of research to find the right clothing in New Zealand, in Australia I had real difficulties finding good gear. We waited until we returned to NZ to get our gear. Plus, we replace gear along the way as we went, in fact my gloves were bought in the tube in Moscow for NZD$4.50. My NZ merino gloves were finished by then after 2 months of minus 20. It is sometimes best to buy the gear in the country concerned. Asia and Russia are very affordable to buy winter gear and the quality is good.

We packed for our 24 months journey thru Asia, Russia, Europe and Balkans for winter conditions:

  • Ski jacket each with woollen gloves, hats, scarves
  • Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GORE-TEX hiking boots
  • 2x Macpac Merino 220 Long sleeve top and pants
  • 1x Kathmandu Merino T- shirts and 2x KMART cotton singlets
  • 2x Kathmandu Zip Off Hiking Pants
  • 2x Kathmandu Fleece 200 jackets
  • 5x Woollen socks from Macpac

ONE WEEK ITINERARY IN MONGOLIA

DAY ONE – KARAKORUM

After a night’s rest in Ulaanbaatar, stocked up on supplies and more warm clothing we set off with our driver and guide/translator direction Karakorum. 4 hours later we drove into Karakorum as the first snow for the season was fallen.

Karakorum is the ancient capital of Great Mongol Empire. It is situated in a beautiful valley to protect it from the winds from Siberia, Russia. From the moment we got out of the car, and the monastery was opened for us, I knew the Erdene Zuu Monastery was going to be special. It is an incredible feeling to walk thru the beautiful western gate as the snow is falling to know you are entering a city built by the son of Genghis Khan.

The iconic wall of Kharkorin was built after the death of Genghis Khan to protect his city from invaders.

The Erdene Zuu Monastery founded in 1585 is considered one of the most important Buddhist temples and monasteries in Mongolia.  

Erdene Zuu Monastery is probably the earliest surviving Buddhist monastery in Mongolia under Soviet rule.

Under Stalin directions  in 1939 all monasteries and churches were to be destroyed in Mongolia. All, but three temples in the monastery were destroyed. The stupas of walls were saved as well.  In addition, 100s of monks were either killed or sent to Siberian gulags in Russia. The monastery was shut down in 1939, and reopened in 1990.

The pray wheels at the Erdene Zuu monastery

The second night we stayed in our first Ger camp, Munkhsuuri Guest house Ger Camp, just outside the old capital of Mongolia Karakorum. The local Mongolian family welcomed us with tea and biscuits into their home. A truly wonderful experience to see how the local people live.

DAY TWO – ORKHON VALLEY

After a night’s rest at Munkhsuuri Guest house Ger Camp we set off to explore the town and get supplies for our next family, who live very remote in the Orkhon valley. The markets in  Kharkorin were not quite open yet as we arrived, but the butcher was open already at 7am.

View of town of Kharkorin from the surrounding hills.

After a visit to the local markets, we set off for a day of 4wd driving thru the Orkhon valley. As we entered the Orkhon valley at Uurtiin Tokhoi Cliff we had a beautiful view over the valley.

Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape is unique due to its volcanic rocks  and sprawls along the banks of the Orkhon River in Central Mongolia, some 320 km west from the capital Ulaanbaatar or in 4-5 hours from Karakorum by 4×4. Orkhon River itself is the longest river in Mongolia with length of 1,124 kilometers. It originates in Khangai Mountain Range and merges to Selenge River, eventually reaching Lake Baikal, in Russia.

Notice the direction on the side of the road in remote Mongolia. Good thing our driver knew where he was going.

DAY THREE – ORKHON VALLEY

We spent two days in the valley with the nomadic family. We shared meals with the family, watched TV, went horse riding with them and even watched the stars in minus 16. With one of the most beautiful night skies above your head, it would be a shame not to explore it. A truly amazing experience.

It was an opportunity to see how the nomadic herders of Mongolia live in their winter homes. The family will transfer before the onset of winter from their summer grazing areas. The family keep four Gers, one for the family, two for tourists and one as a garage. Everything freezes in Mongolia over the winter months, our family had to get the blow torch to unfreeze the brakes of his motorbike to pick up the horses for Mark horse-riding in the morning.

The Orkhon valley played an important role in the history of Mongolia. Once the home of the great Khans and the epicenter of power that fueled the onslaught of the Mongol Horde across Asia and Europe. Genghis once rode thru this valley on this way to some of his great battle fields.

Today, this rich history is honoured by its inscription of UNESCO World Heritage List. It was inscribed by UNESCO in the World Heritage List as representing the evolution of nomadic pastoral traditions spanning more than two millennia.

The Orkhon waterfall, also called Ulaan Tsutgalan, is one of the best sights in central Mongolia.

Approximately 20,000 years ago, the waterfall was formed due to earthquake and merged from volcanic eruptions. However, the water doesn’t run all year and will only start to flow after the first good summer rain. Best time to see it is late July and August. By December it is totally frozen. It is however the water source for the local nomadic family, who stay behind over winter in the valley. They store the water in big drums, and break off the ice, put it on the fire to melt the ice.

The winter season is an exceptionally beautiful time to see the Mongolia landscape, especially the steppe, the endless expanses of grasslands covered in frost and snow.

DAY FOUR – DEER STONES & KHUSTAIN NURUU NATIONAL PARK

We started the morning by 4×4 driving out of the valley. After several frozen river crossings we made it to the Deer Stones. Deer stones are unique monuments dating to the Bronze Age and the Early Iron Age that are found mostly in Mongolia and in some Central Asian countries.

The Bronze Age funeral practice, sacrificial ritual and ideology and animal style art, which were spread among ancient nomads, are all together represented through deer stones.

Next was a few hours’ drive towards the sand dunes of the Mini Gobi Desert at Elsen Tasarkhai sand dunes, a semi-desert type beautiful landscape with big sand dunes, where we went camel riding at minus 5 plus wind factor of minus 10…Elsen Tasarkhai is a part of the Mongol Els sand dunes, that continues 80 km long 5 km wide. It is located 280 km west of Ulaanbaatar and 80 km east of Karakorum – the ancient Mongolian capital.

Next we drove over 4×4 tracks towards Khustain Nuruu National Park, where we were met by another nomadic family. It was Mark birthday, our lovely guide and driver prepared a typical Mongolian BBQ meal for us and shared it with the family.

Sunset over the steppe grasslands near Khustain Nuruu National Park

DAY FIVE – TERELJI NATIONAL PARK

After an early sunrise to take these beautiful photos, we drove direction Khustain Nuruu National Park

Next was a long drive back to the concrete jungle of Ulaanbaatar, but we kept on going towards Terelj National Park with its rising peaks and ochre-hued ridges. The iconic turtle rock, if you like rock climbing this is the spot in Mongolia.

We drove to Aryabal monastery & Meditation center. The temple is located on the hillside of a mountain covered with larches and granite rock. To reach the temple, you will have to pass a small wooden bridge on which a sign tells:” The bridge that leads beyond wisdom”.

DAY SIX – CHINGGIS KHAAN STATUE COMPLEX

The panoramic views of the valley of Genghis Khan statute near Ulaanbaatar. Our final stop was the Chinggis Khaan Statute complex is situated 54 km from Ulaanbaatar City, with the view of beautiful natural scenery on the bank of the Tuul River. It is believed the rule of Mongolia was born in this valley.

The monument dedicated to the Mongolian leader was completed in 2008 at a cost of USD 4.1 million. There is a museum on the ground floor covering Mongolian history and the life of Chinggis Khaan. Visitors walk to the head of the horse through its chest and neck, where they have a panoramic view. The main statue area will be surrounded by 200 Gers designed and arranged like the pattern of the horse brand marks that were used by the 13th century Mongol tribes.

What a way to end our 4×4 expedition trip to Mongolia. We left Mongolia the following day on the 1.30pm Trans Mongolian train direction Russia.

We have the intention of returning to this beautiful country again one day, but next time with our own 4×4 truck from Australia.

Published by travellersnestoverland

What might seems extreme travel to some is normal to us. Two Dutch Kiwis, Rolanda and Mark, with Passion for Overland travel either with our overlanding truck, cars or by train. We have been on the road now for a number of years, 70 Countries done and dusted

6 thoughts on “LAND OF EXTREMES – MONGOLIA

  1. Hi Rolanda en Mark, wat een prachtige reportage hebben jullie samengesteld over jullie reis naar en door Mongolie. Complimenten daarvoor, en op deze manier kan iedereen meegenieten, en jullie zelf ook nagenieten. Xx Loes.

    Op 10-03-2021 07:55 schreef Traveller’s Nest Overland :

    travellersnestoverland posted: ” Mongolia should be the adventure capital of the world, so beautiful rugged and remote. The winters of Mongolia are legendary, but don’t let it stop you. It is the most amazing time to visit this beautiful country. The steppe grassland will be covered in “

    Liked by 1 person

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