Take a Tour from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
After a day or two in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, you have seen pretty much everything worthwhile in the city. You’ve seen the statue of Genghis Kahn, known as Chinggis Kahn to every local, on the town square and visited the local Tibetan Buddhist Temples. Now is the time to get out and really explore the vastness of Mongolia and the best way to do that is to take a tour. Due to our tight Trans-Mongolian train schedule we opted for a two nights and three days tour.
Before you automatically book a tour through your hostel agent I’d recommend doing a little shopping around. My friends and I visited 3 hostels/tour agencies before we settled on a tour and the tour ended up being from a different hostel than we were staying at. Also, remember this is Asia; so haggling is an acceptable method of getting a better price. Additionally, it helps to get a tour price down by having more people going on the tour, so you’ll definitely get a cheaper price with five people than two. We the got the price of our tour down from $80 a day to $50 a day, which ended up saving us each $90 when all was said and done. Not too shabby for a couple of budget travelers.
Another tip when scheduling a tour is to ask a lot of questions about the sights they recommend you to see. For example our first tour company was pushing us to go an extra day to see the Orkhon Waterfall, which looks beautiful from the pictures. But after doing a bit more asking about it we came to find out the waterfall is completely frozen and non-existent this time of year, (March-April), and would have cost us and extra $50 at the very least to see.
So, after settling with what we felt was a good tour company for a good price we set out in our 70’s style van in an epic quest across the barren landscapes and rolling mountains of Mongolia.
On day numero uno, after a good but not excessive amount of van time, we made our way to Kkarkorin village, the place that ol Chinggis Kahn decided back in the day would be the capital of the Mongol Empire. While in the ancient capital we climbed a small hill that overlooked the village and made a stop past the famous “Penis Stone.” Which is literally a big penis carved from a stone surrounded by prayer flags that faces in the direction of a large crack in the hill that represents, you guessed it, a vagina. After getting a beautiful sunset view of the city and stumbling across a cool stupa at the top we headed back for a traditional Mongolian dinner, (all our meals were included with the tour). After dinner we got offered a chance to have a private concert in our ger (tent) with a traditional Mongolian throat singer and musician. Once again, we haggled the price down for fewer than four bucks each and it was most definitely a worthwhile experience. I highly recommend it.
Day two, after sleeping under a full moon we woke up, had some toast and jam and headed to the Erdene Zuu Tibetan Buddhist Monastery and got to hang out with chanting monks, which was awesome. After the monks we headed to a museum and learned a little history about the Mongol empire, which was pretty cool, and then we got all our stuff into the van and headed to the Mongol Sand Dunes. After snapping some slick shots of the big white dunes we headed to towards our next ger by the Khognokhann Mountain where we rode horses through the Mini Gobi Desert at sunset. The family that hosted us in their ger also contained the local shaman and we got a pretty interesting insight into the religion and local family life.
After falling asleep in a sandstorm and hearing the wild horses running around our ger all night we woke up had some toast and jam and headed out to check out some huge and unusual rock formations in the desert. From the rock formations we headed to check out the Ovgon Tibetan Buddhist Temples in the mountains, which were small, but beautiful and surrounded by some cool ruins left during the Soviet destruction and invasion of Mongolia in the 1930’s. Upon our departure from the temple we discovered a wounded newborn baby horse that had been born and quickly attacked by wolves in the dead of night. We spearheaded a massive (simple) and complex (put the baby horse in the van with us) rescue mission. After returning the baby horse to our host family back by our ger, they attended to its wounds and assured us it would not turn out as dumplings. Feeling very heroic, relaxed, and cultured from our time in the stretches of the Mongolian deserts we headed back to civilization in the UB.
All in all the tour was an excellent experience; I saw chanting monks, slept in a ger, heard authentic Mongolian throat singing, and saved a baby horse. What more can you ask for? Therefore, I highly recommend taking the tour and cruising across the land like Chinggis! HOOOOOOOOO!
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