If Genghis Khan, so can we.
Trip Start Jul 02, 2010
17Trip End Aug 02, 2010
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We were awake by about 6.30am and packed up, eager to leave this crazy freight train. A weird thing happened when the Mongolian monolith in the next cabin (picture the woman from "Gilbert Grape") kept coming into our cabin and pointing at my bunk. When we lifted it up we found a pair of her shoes there. So we think she decided to make herself comfortable in our cabin before we arrived.
We stood by the door knowing there would be a mad rush for the exit when we arrived, and disembarked at Ulaanbaatar
Our itinerary stated we would be given a chance to have a shower and have breakfast before starting our city tour, so we assumed we would be taken to a hotel room. Uh, not quite – we were taken to a communal bath-house. Ted was a bit surprised by it but I didn’t care less at this stage. A shower is a shower right?
We then went on a walking tour of Ulaanbaatar. I’ve seen many descriptions which have described the city as drab, but we much prefer to see it as progressive. Ted said it has a very similar feel to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, but without most Western influences. Our guide Buyanaa is very different to our Russian guides. She takes us to the sights but doesn’t give any commentary! I think her English might be a bit less as well.
There aren’t many sights in this city as most of them were destroyed by the Communists
When we went to see the Genghis Khan temple built in the town square, Ted and I made the faux pas of befriending a local dog because we were missing you-know-who. Little did we know that this act of kindness would encourage him to follow us everywhere around the city for an hour. It probably made us feel worse when we had to part company with him.
The only other sight was when we were taken to the city shopping centre and taken to a shop selling Mongolian souvenirs (read: tourist trap). Even though we were still quite full from breakfast, we had an early lunch at a Mongolian BBQ restaurant. The place was so modern it looked out of place in Ulaanbaatar. After stocking up on water, we went on our drive to our ger camp. This city is similar to Las Vegas, in the way that it’s a town located in the middle of the desert but trust me, that’s where the similarities end!
Prior to reaching there, we stopped at the newly built Genghis Khan statue about an hour out of town
We went off-road to reach our ger camp – a selection of about 20 Mongolian tents literally, in the middle of nowhere. There is so much open land, it’s like looking at partly green desert, with mountains on the horizon and ger camps spotting the landscape. Our camp is more modern than we expected – they have a dining room and kitchen, toilets and running showers. We have a huge tent to ourselves, complete with a fire stove in the middle (not that we’ll need it). Buyanaa showed us how to play the game ankle bones (similar to jacks) except that it uses real ankle bones. We then showed her how to play UNO.
Dinner was great – it comprised of sautéed vegetables, dumplings and banana slice. Afterwards, Ted suggested we play a game of volleyball as they had a net set up on the sand nearby. We played with a whole group of other travelers including an ex-pat Scottish family living in Hong Kong, as well as a German, Spaniard and Brit, and our Mongolian guides
Today was incredibly hot – around 39 degrees. But we expected it to be like this in Mongolia. It was the heat in Russia and Finland we were definitely not ready for. Since you couldn’t do much in the middle of the day heat, Ted and I lay in the shade of one of the tents in two lounge chairs. There’s always a cool breeze blowing so you rarely feel too warm.
After another well-needed sleep in, and a breakfast of porridge and pastries, most of the group went off for their horse riding expedition. I opted out of this one because of my back problem, and Steven is allergic to horses, so we stayed behind. The group was gone for about an hour but Ted told me something unfortunate when he got back. Apparently his horse tripped, causing Ted to fly over the front and having the horse land on top of him
We played some games in the dining hall just prior to lunch which was massive. After salad and naan bread, we also had a meat soup and beef curry with rice, and raisin sorbet as well as Grape Fanta which brought back memories of our African restaurant. Ted was enjoying the meat stew immensely until he asked Buyanaa what the meat was, and she told him it was horse meat. Suddenly he decided he didn’t like it anymore. I guess after today’s incident, he’s had more than a gutful of horses, so to speak.
During the afternoon, we relaxed outside until Steven, Katie and I went to the nearby nomad ger camp. Ted opted out of this one due to his accident, so we packed up some supplies and headed off. It was about an hour walk in each direction. The sun was so hot that I decided to try the elderly Japanese tourist look and take an umbrella for shade. At one stage, we had to arm ourselves with rocks to keep wild dogs away. None of them looked like our dog
When we arrived at the nomad camp, we tried mare milk (tasted warm, fizzy and can get you drunk) as well as dried yoghurt sticks (feh – jaw breakers that tasted like crap). We also saw yaks, horses and other cattle and learnt how every season they will pack up their entire belongings and move to another area. It’s interesting that in a country of just over 2 million people, one million of them live the nomad lifestyle.
We arrived back in time for dinner – this time having lamb (Mongolian lamb?) and vegetables. Then we tried our hand at archery before kicking back for the evening by drinking beer and wine under the stars, in the middle of nowhere. We head back to Ulaanbaatar tomorrow after breakfast.
After another amazing sleep-in (which we might not get again until China) we packed up our belongings after breakfast. Driving back to Ulaanbaatar took longer than expected due to all the sheep, goat and horse crossings. When we arrived at our hotel, we were surprised to see it didn't have air conditioning - for a four star
We weren't keen to drag ourselves around a hot city looking at even more temples, so we settled on some shopping instead. We ended up seeing Jonathan from two train trips ago (small world) as well as the German and Spaniard from our ger camp. For lunch we went to a Mongolian BBQ again (awesome food) before buying yet more supplies for tomorrow's train journey.
For dinner, we met up with Katie and Steve and settled on a nearby Irish pub. Ulaanbaatar is so alive at night with an amazing dining scene. I think the big surprise has been how much we like Mongolia. It isn't a place you'd visit for a thriving party atmosphere, but it is however full of warm hospitality in a fast changing country.
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