Mongolia is the second-largest landlocked country (behind Kazakhstan) in
the world. Its area (1,564,116 square kilometres (603,909 sq mi)) is roughly equivalent with the historical
territory of Outer Mongolia, and that term is sometimes used to refer to the
current state (and when we refer to our old history books). It is sandwiched
between Russia to the north and China to the south, where it
the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Mongolia is a marvelous country
where you can witness an exceptional merger of the ancient culture and
mother land of Chinggis Khaan. This is the land of blue sky, nomadic life
style and untouched wild nature. Mongolia encompasses a wide range of
terrain, with mountains, grassy steppes, and vast flat desert. Most of the
north and west of the country is mountainous or hilly grasslands; the Gobi
Desert takes up most of the south and the east.
Getting there ...
|Seeing the Mongolia steppes and
Gobi desert has been my father's dream for a long time. Since
we had a good time to travel together with my parents to
Vienna and Danube last
year, we decided to make another trip to take them to Mongolia this
year. I have arranged this 10-day/9-night private tour through
a Mongolian travel agency
Amicus. Woanyu and I flew back to Taiwan on 8/24, and then
flew together with my parents to Ulaanbaatar via Seoul in the early
morning of 8/26. It's already 5PM when we landed in
Ulaanbaatar, and our guide Tuya (Chinese-speaking guide) and driver
were waiting for us at the arrival lobby.
Ulaanbaatar is the
capital and the largest city of Mongolia. It's home to about
45% of the country's population (~1.45 million of total 3.2 million
population). The traffic into the city during the rush hour
was so bad just like any other big cities in the world.
Another interesting fact about Ulaanbaatar is that it is the
coldest capital city in the world with the annual average
temperature of -1.3C/29.7F (luckily it is still summer here now).
8/27 (Day 2) ...
- Gandan Monastery, Ulaanbaatar
Gandan (Gandantegchinlen) Monastery was constructed by order of the
5th Jebtsundamba Khutuktu in 1809, but only one wooden pillar remains from
the original temple. In 1838, it was moved to the current location
on Dalkha Hill, and took its current name and became the main religious
center of Tantric Buddhism in Mongolia. In the 1930s,
the Communist government of Mongolia destroyed all but a few monasteries
and killed more than 20,000 lamas. Gandantegchenling monastery, having
escaped this mass destruction, was closed in 1938, but then reopened in
1944 and was allowed to continue as the only functioning Buddhist
monastery, under a skeleton staff and strict control of the communists, as
a token homage to traditional Mongolian culture and religion. The fall of
the communist system in 1990 in Mongolia led to the end of the
restrictions of cult and allowed the monastery resuming its activity.
The original statue of Migjid Janraisig, made of gold and bronze, was
erected in 1913. The statue was demolished by Soviet troops in 1937
(the debris was supposed to have been used to make bullets during the
siege of Leningrad). After the end of the Communist era, the
26.5-meter statue of Avalokiteśvara was rebuilt in 1996, funded by
donations by the Mongolian people.
- National Museum of Mongolia
The National Museum is a good place
to get an overview of Mongolia’s history and culture including nomadic
life, traditional costumes of ethnic groups, sacred religious relics,
and Stone & Bronze Age artifacts. Of course, we were particularly
interested in the history when Genghis Khan united
Mongolia and his descendants conquered the world and established Yuan
- Sukhbaatar Square (or Chinggis Square)
The square was named for
Mongolian's revolutionary hero Damdin Sükhbaatar shortly after his death
in 1923. In 2013 the square's name was changed to Chinggis Square in
honor of Genghis Khan, considered the founding father of Mongolia, but
the original name was restored in 2016. The center of the plaza
features an equestrian statue of Sükhbaatar, while a large colonnade
monument dedicated to Genghis Khan (成吉思汗), as well as to Ögedei Khan
(窝阔台) and Kublai Khan (忽必烈), dominates the square's north face directly
in front of the Government Palace.
- Zanabazar Fine Art Museum
Zanabazar, born in 1635 in
present-day Yesönzüil, Övörkhangai, Mongolia, was the
sixteenth Jebtsundamba Khutuktu and the first Bogd Gegeen, or supreme
spiritual authority, of the Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) lineage of Tibetan
Buddhism in Outer Mongolia. Zanabazar was declared spiritual leader
of Khalkha Mongols by a convocation of nobles in 1639 when he was just
four years old. In addition to his spiritual and political roles,
Zanabazar was a polymath – a prodigious sculptor, painter, architect,
poet, costume designer, scholar, and linguist, who is credited with
launching Mongolia's seventeenth century cultural renaissance (e.g.,
Michelangelo of Asia).
The building known as the Zanabazar Museum of
Fine Arts today was built in 1905 as a trade center, the first ‘European
style’, two-story building in Ulaanbaatar. In 1961 the Union of
Mongolian Artists used the building for a permanent exhibition and in
1966 it became a museum, renamed the Zanabazar Museum of Fine Arts in
1995. The museum houses pieces from ancient civilizations and
contemporary artists. As expected there are also many pieces by
Zanabazar himself, these include the Five Dhyani (Contemplation Buddhas)
cast in 1683.
- Tumen Ekh
lunch at the "Modern Nomads" (traditional Mongolian cuisine with some
western touch), we went to see the performance of Tumen-Ekh Folk Song
and Dance Ensemble. The Tumen Ekh ensemble was founded in 1989 and
has gone on to win awards across the world. The ensemble comprises
artists who perform all types of Mongolian song, music and dance. They
play traditional instruments including the morin khuur (horse head
fiddle) and perform Mongolian epic and eulogy songs (including very
interesting throat singing), a ritualistic shaman ritual dance, etc.
Their performances are highly professional but retain the authenticity
and traditions of nomadic culture. I paid an additional fee to get
the permit to take photo and video during the show.
8/28 (Day 3) ...
- Fly to Gobi
We had an early morning flight (Hunnu Air) at 6:20AM
to Gobi (Dalanzadgad) so we had to leave the hotel before 5AM.
When we prepared to board our plane (we needed to walk to our plane), we
spot a few advanced Sukhoi Su-30 fighters. I was surprised to see
Su-30 in Mongolia (as Mongolian Air Force does not have any fighter
jets), and it turned out to be Russian's aerobatic demonstration team
Russian Knights as Russian president
will visit Mongolia (we did not know that until a few days later
when we were back to Ulaanbaatar on 9/3).
The Gobi measures over 1,600 km (1,000 mi) from southwest to
northeast and 800 km (500 mi) from north to south, covering parts
of Northern and Northeastern China and of Southern Mongolia. It is
the sixth-largest desert in the world and Asia's 2nd largest. It
occupies an arc of land 1,295,000 km2 (500,000 sq mi) in area as of
2007, and is expanding at an alarming rate through desertification, most
rapidly on the southern edge into China, which is seeing
3,600 km2 (1,390 sq mi) of grassland overtaken every year.
exited the airport, we immediately felt the rural part of Gobi:
there will be no paved roads for the next 3 days!
- Nomad family with horses
We passed by a herd of horses, and our
guide had a spontaneous plan to talk to the nomad family for us to visit
their home. We were welcome by their warmness and hospitality even
it was an unplanned visit. We were treated with their traditional
fermented horse milk and Mongolian milk tofu, but to be honest, I don't
think I would like to try them again... :-( They also
happened to do their daily chores of milking horses so we got a good
view of how they handle their horses.
- On the way to Moltsog Els sand dunes, it was a vast plain with
endless openness. We encountered many goats, sheep, and camels,
and only saw one person (who drove his sheep/goats to a water well to
- Moltsog Els Camel Ride
We had the plan to
visit this camel herder family near the Moltsog Els, which is one of the
few regions of the Gobi covered by sand dunes. These magnificent sand
dunes are surrounded by hills with willow trees, streams and bushes.
Mongolia is home to 2/3 of the two-humped Bactrian camels in the world.
It is a gentle, calm and extraordinary patient animal. My parents
were very nervous about riding camels initially. But after they
got on the camels (with some struggle and effort) and smooth pace led by
the guide, we all had a good time to experience the nomadic way of
- Flaming Cliffs at Bayanzag
After lunch at a local ger camp, we
visited the flaming, red cliffs at Bayanzag - famous for the first
discovery of dinosaur eggs, bones and complete dinosaur skeletons which
was first discovered by Roy Chapman Andrews, American expedition in the
1920. This area is well known for red tall rocks formed as a
result of wind and water erosion which look like fire in the middle of
the desert from distance, especially in the late afternoon sunshine. As
scientists defined it was an inland sea bottom some 200 million years
The trail became a little bit too steep and slippery so my
parents did not go on and waited for us at the top of the trailhead.
This photo is actually a
family photo of all four of us (can we see them at the top? :-)).
- Three Camel Lodge
We checked in the Three Camel Lodge in the late afternoon. Before
getting to the lodge, we detoured to a small town
Bulgan for our guide and driver
to buy their dinner/supply. It is a real Gobi town without any
The Three Camel Lodge, a National
Geography Unique Lodge of the world, is a remarkable Eco lodge in the
heart of the desert that celebrates the traditions of Mongolia’s nomads
while seeking to preserve its awe-inspiring surroundings.
Against the backdrop of the Mongolian Gobi Altai mountains, a scattering
of felt-covered gers dots the wild expanse of the Gobi.
Woanyu and I hiked up the hills behind the lodge and
enjoy the sunset (and a free glass of wine by mistake....).
The dark sky without any light pollution in Gobi is a
heaven for astronomy photography. Tonight was especially perfect as it
was a new moon night with cloudless sky.
8/29 (Day 4) ...
- Sunrise at Three Camel Lodge
- Goat/Sheep/Horse at Three Camel Lodge
- Petroglyph of Havtsgait Rock
Havtsgait Valley is a site of
ancient rock drawings left by early Gobi settlers for more than 15,000
years ago. Hundreds of petroglyphs adorn rocks scattered on the top of
the mountain and you will be rewarded with this amazing view after your
hike up to the hill. The trail was too steep for my parents that
they waited at a pavilion at the foot of the hill while we hiked up to
the top (~15 min one way)
- Three Camel Lodge
We were back to the lodge for a refreshing
lunch and a quick nap...
- Sand Dunes at Moltsog Els
We decided to go
back to Moltsog Els in the late afternoon so we could have more time to
explore the sand dunes on foot. You have to climb the dunes bare
footed to feel the warm and soft sand.
And then we were told by our
driver that the nomad family was going to drive their camels for a drink
and we were lucky to got the chance to witness this event as they only
need to drink once a week.
- Back to the Three Camel Lodge
8/30 (Day 5) ...
- There was some free time this morning, so we got the free bikes from
the lodge to ride around to explore our surroundings (my parents got the
bikes for some picture time :-)). It's getting cloudy today so it
was perfect to ride bikes without worry any sunburn. We later
found there were also some
so we got 2 of them to ride around the lodge with my parents.
- We were moving to our next destination, Gobi Nomad Lodge, for
the lunch and for one more night at Gobi. Along the way we stopped
at a big ovoo -- a mound of
stones with blue cloth pennants -- for the good luck ritual, which
involves adding a stone to the pile and walking around it clockwise
three times. Ovoos are often found at the top of mountains and in high
places, like mountain passes . We encountered another nomad family
who has to use a truck to carry water from miles away for their
goats/sheep as their water well has been dried up already. They
put all animals inside an enclosure and then let them out group by group
(about 10 each time) to drink water in a very orderly way...
- Gobi Nomad Lodge
Gobi Nomad Lodge opened its doors in 2016 and it's new Super Deluxe ger
(45m^2) is spacious and nicely decorated (all the traditional furniture
inside the ger is fully carved by Mongolian craftsmen) to give you the
spirit of Mongolian nomadic dwelling (it might be a little bit "over"
decorated in my opinion...). There is a special ger where it
has traditional Mongolian setup and costumes that we can use and take
After lunch, we borrowed a bow and arrows that we can play
archery, and we found Woanyu is quite talented in archery (as usual like
many other sports :-)).
- Yol Valley
After a short break, we took a drive to explore the
Yol valley (Eagle or Vulture valley) cradled in the foothills of the
Altai Mountains in the eastern Gurvan Saikhan Range. This valley
is originally established to conserve birdlife in the region, but it’s
now more famous for its dramatic scenery in the middle of the Gobi
Desert with thick ice almost all year around (as late as July). We
hiked through grassy meadows, small streams, long and narrow valley with
sheltered by high cliff walls (but my parents turned back after about 30
min with our guide before we entered the narrower section of the
8/31 (Day 6) ...
- Leaving Gobi and going to Terelj
We had an early flight from
Gobi back to Ulaanbaatar, and then continued to our next destination,
Terelj National Park.
The scenery along the way was quite different
from Gobi: it's much more green-ish with gentle rolling hills.
We stopped by a supermarket in Zuunmod (about 50km from
Ulaanbaatar), and my father was very interested in checking the prices
of different daily goods. We also stopped by an eagle hunter
display at the roadside, and with a small fee, we could take pictures
with their eagles (but to be aware, these eagles are heavy....).
- Terelj National Park
After about 90km from Ulaanbaatar Chinggis
Khaan Airport (we took the route going around the south of Bogd Khan
Mountain because there was too much traffic around
Ulaanbaatar city), we reached the Terelj Lodge in Terelj National Park
which is one of the most visited national parks in Mongolia. You can see
the extraordinary formation of rocks and stones among towering peaks and
Turtle Rock is the most famous rock formation in
the park. You will be amazed by the size of the rock when you are
getting close by.
Ariyabal Meditation Temple is surrounded by scenic
mountains with massive rock formations. The distance between the gate
and the actual temple is about 1 km and it is only accessible by walking. To
get to the top, you would cross the suspension bridge and climb up on 108
stairs, according to Buddhist prayer beads. This small hike is seen as a
ritual to cleanse one’s sins. From the top, you can enjoy the breathtaking
view overlooking the Terelj National Park. We brought two foldable
chairs along so my parents could
sit and waited for
us in a pavilion after walk only the first section of the trail.
It was quite cool at night so we had the staff to make a fire in our ger
to keep us warm during the night.
9/1 (Day 7) ...
Woanyu and I took a hike to the mountain behind our gers
together with our guide and driver just after sunrise. It was
steep but with magnificent views and gorgeous morning golden light.
It took about an hour and we were back in time for a hearty breakfast.
- Chinggis Khaan (Genghis Khan) Statue Complex
The equestrian statue of Genghis Khan was built in 2008 on the occasion
of the eight-hundredth anniversary of the foundation of the Mongolian
Empire, in honor of its founder, Genghis Khan. The
statue is a 131-foot (40 m) tall statue of Genghis Khan on
horseback (the biggest equestrian statue in the world), on the bank of
the Tuul River at Tsonjin Boldog (54 km (33.55 mi) east Ulaanbaatar),
where according to legend, he found a golden whip. There is a
recreation area with museums, restaurants, and souvenir shops occupying
the base structure. From here, you can ascend to the head of the horse
with an elevator to have a good panoramic view over the complex area and
the scenery beyond.
- HS Khaan Resort
After lunch at a restaurant in the statue complex, we continued the
drive for our next destination: the award-winning HS Khaan Resort Hotel,
located on vast prairie surroundings and continuous boundless, extremely
peaceful grasslands. The individual gers/cottages are quaint and
luxurious. The spacious suites of 120m^2 (1292 sq ft) are far from
rustic and provide guests with all the desired comforts during their
Mongolian adventure, including fantastic views of the extremely scenic
grasslands and vivid blue sky above. The horses were roaming
freely across the open prairie just right outside the terrace of our
9/2 (Day 8) ...
- Mongol Nomadic
After breakfast, we took a little drive at 9AM to
Mongol Nomadic Ger Camp for Mongolian nomads show which will show the
Mongolian nomadic way of living and traditional customs and culture for
the past period. The show demonstrates traditional living way of real
Mongolian nomads and breeding and using of five kinds of livestock (yak,
goat, sheep, horse, and camel). We also got the chance to ride on
some of these animals to carry us from the parking lot to their gers.
We were served with some warm milk and Mongolian deserts (and their
flavors were much "mild" than the ones we tasted in the nomad families
we visited in Gobi so they were probably more suitable for tourists).
Hustai National Park
We drove to the Hustai National Park in the afternoon. This area
is home to the Mongolian wild horse known as Perzevalski horse (takhi)
with unique landscape that features mountain and steppe. The
Przewalski’s horse (aka takhi or Mongolian wild horse) is considered to
be the last and only remaining wild horse species in the world (other
wild horses such as the American mustang, are actually horses descended
from domesticated animals that escaped and adapted to life in the wild).
However, it was extinct in the wild by 1969 and was reintroduced back
into the wild in Mongolia, China and Kazakhstan in the 1990s.
Reintroduction started only in 1992 by the import of 16 Przewalski´s
horses from the Netherlands to Hustain nuruu in Mongolia. During
1992-2000 at five times 84 wild horses from European countries were
reintroduced in Hustai National Park. At present 335 individuals of
Przewalski’s horses exist in Hustai with 34 breeding harems.
waited along with a park ranger who set up a nice monocular to see some
wild horses in the distant mountain slopes. When it was close to
the sunset time, they started to move down from mountains to stream for
water. However, a small group of wild horses retreated before they
got to the water because there were some people moved in too close to
the river band. Although we did not have the chance to see these
wild horses up close, it was still nice to see these animals striving in
the wild after such international conservation efforts.
9/3 (Day 9) ...
- HS Khaan Resort
We enjoyed our last morning at the HS Khaan
Resort with another splendid day before driving back to Ulaanbaatar.
Cannot ask for a better view...
- Zaisan Memorial
The Zaisan Memorial is a memorial in the southern
area of Ulaanbaatar that honors allied Mongolian and Soviet soldiers
killed in World War II. We had to make a climb of three
hundred steps before reaching the monument, and we were rewarded with a
panoramic view of the entire city of Ulaanbaatar in the valley below, as
well as the Tuul River flowing past the city.
- Bogd Khan Palace
Built between 1893 and 1903, the palace complex consists of seven
temples, grouped symmetrically around two courtyards, with exterior
painted finishes in bright red, green, blue, white, and gold colors, and
the Winter Palace, a two-story European-styled building built by Russian
architects. For about twenty years, the Winter Palace had been
serving as winter residence for the eighth Jebtsundamba Khutughtu, who
was later proclaimed located Bogd Khan, or emperor of Mongolia.
The palace is the only one left from originally four residences of the
We were told that Russian
Vladimir Puting was visiting Mongolia and there will be traffic
control in the city today. It turned out that the traffic in the
city was not bad (much better than the first day when we just arrived in
Mongolia) and the only road block was when we got to our hotel
Shangri-La because Puting was staying at the same hotel! The hotel
lobby has set up security check with X-ray scan just like airports.
We even sit in the lobby for a while to see if we could meet Puting :-)
- We had a late fancy lunch at the nearby Central Tower. At 17th
floor, it has a nice view of the
Square and Parliament Building below. After a short break back
in the hotel, we got out for our last activity of this trip:
9/4 (Day 10) Going Home ...
It's time to travel back home. We had an early flight that we
checked out from the hotel at 6AM to head to the airport. With a
relaxed 3-hour transit at the Incheon Airport, we were back to Taiwan at
5:30PM and concluded another fantastic trip with my parents. Seeing
the vast boundless Mongolian Steppes and Gobi Desert is really a dream come
true for all of us. It was quite an experience to visit real nomad
families to learn their lives. Riding horses, camels, and yaks was
another unique experience especially with the endless and wide-open steppes
and grasslands as the backdrop. It was another nice family vacation
with my parents that I will treasure forever.
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