This is no holiday, but if you want to see Mongolia as the Mongolians do, you have to do it from a horse, and travel independently, staying and eating with nomadic families or kipping under the stars. The Adventurists have made this possible, having reinstated the 'pony express' postal network initiated by Ghenghis Khan in the 13th century, and created a very ambitious equine adventure race. You navigate using a GPS, changing onto a fresh horse at horse stations posted every 40kms, travelling 1000kms in around ten days. As well as allowing you to maintain a swift pace, this brings you into contact with a series of Mongolian herding families, an unforgettable experience. I crossed virgin steppe, pristine rivers, forest, flood plain, mountainous and even desert sections, braved storms and sunstroke, made friends for life and found an even deeper respect for horses than a lifetime around them had kindled. It was the journey of a lifetime and I would have ridden all the way home again if I could have! It's a completely inspired event, totally unique.
This is possibly the best country in the world to horse ride in, and Nomads make this an even more incredible experience. There's plenty of riding each day, tremendous itineraries and fantastic Mongolian guides and horsemen, who will ensure that horse riding across Mongolia will stay in your heart forever.
With its wide open spaces, lack of fences, few cars and friendly people, Mongolia is the best place in the world to explore on horseback. Flying to Olgi from Ulan Bataar and then a truck ride to the Altai Tavan Bogd national park we hired horses (for riding) and camels (for baggage) from Kazakh herders and trekked to the base camp of the Tavan Bogd (five saints mountains). The views of the mountains, the glaciers and lakes were stunning and we had them all to ourselves. We climbed Khuiten mountain from where you can see Russia, China and Mongolia. Returning to our base camp our Kazakh guides returned with our horses to conclude our memorable trek.
Altai Tavan Bogd national park in Bayan Olgii province of Mongolia
Google map: tinyurl.com/389extf
Mongolia is a notoriously tough place to get your 5-a-day and wholefoods, but if you're craving fresh produce while visiting Ulaanbaatar you no longer need rely on those suspiciously glossy looking imports in the State Department Store. There's now a single row of stalls in the square outside the former Museum of the Revolution every Saturday selling home-grown berries, vegetables caked in the soil of the steppes, honey, fungi, an array of sour but sumptuous cheeses and other intriguing commestibles. The atmosphere is typically friendly and down to earth, and you can sample the cheese and honey. Best of all, you can duck into the guanz (cafeteria ger) at the end of the row and hunker down with the locals to quaff bowl after bowl of fermented mare's milk while chewing a plateful of horsemeat (the Mongolian equivalent of mother and child reunion) boiled up with jacket potatoes.
About a kilometre west of the Natural History Museum on Khuvsgalchdyn Orgon Toroo, the street north of and parallel to Peace Avenue.
Horseback riding tour in Mongolia. Genuine meeting with locals far from the tourist spot, great service and friendly staff, great materials, included European trekking saddles and amazing food served duing the trip (yes, in Mongolia !)
Last year I went on this tour called Vodkatrain that takes you on the Trans-Mongolian Railway and you get to visit all these far out places like Mongolia (my favourite) and China and Russia.
It's really cool because it's like a tour but with younger people on it and you get to do your own thing but have these Honchos that tell you the best places to go and cheapest way to get there.
I got to stay at a Ger camp and visit Mongolian families, it was awesome. And there's as much vodka on this trip as your belly can carry!
Going to Vietnam with them this year!
Can't remember what the Ger camp was called that we stayed at but i got my info on Vodkatrain from their website:
A site in the Bogd Khan National Park not far from the capital where travellers can experience the beauty of the steppes on horseback - you stay in a traditional ger and can book single days trekking or several if you want. Run by an English woman together with a Mongolian family to provide a budget experience of Mongolian culture and countryside for independent travellers - new this year and, so far, with excellent feedback. Try it!
Why would you want to come all the way to Ulan Bator, only to end up drinking in an Irish pub? Good point. However this brand new bar is the place to be in Ulan Bator at the moment of writing. Packed every night with excellent live music (not just cover versions of Hotel California), the Irish Pub has very little Irish about it, aside from the token (bad) Guinness. Stick to local beers or indulge in sharing a bottle (or more) of Chinggis Black vodka like the locals. Nice outdoor patio in summer.
Opposite Khan Brau
If you fancy a quick, satisfying meal on the cheap, check out a Korean restaurant. Generally speaking it is hard to go wrong. For no less than 5000 tugrugs, you can have an excellent kimchi soup, or maybe a pork, beef or chicken based spicy dish with rice. This comes along with unlimited tea, plus a random selection of side dishes for free, comprising of whatever the restaurant has in the fridge. Common surprises include seaweed, beansprouts, kimchi, cold potato salad and much more. Three of the best are situated on the east side of the state department store.
Near the state department store and all over town.
The best place to eat in summer. Upstairs has a European-style menu with excellent dishes at prices not dissimilar to other less impressive restaurants in town. The balcony is the best place to enjoy a beer in summer whilst looking at the view of Choijin Lama Monastery Museum and feeling the peace away from the main roads. Downstairs is a newly-opened Asian restaurant with great Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian cuisine. Lovely décor, good service and a good location completes the picture.
Tel: +976 91914455
A Korean restaurant in Nairamdal park. It has scores of truly delicious Korean dishes with lots of fresh vegetables and salads. If you are a vegetarian and have found slim pickings in rural Mongolia, this is the place to go for a feast! Not cheap by Mongolian standards, but very reasonable by Western standards.
Sit on the glassed-in terrace with a view over the park if you are having a la carte, or in the red-carpeted interior if you are going for the buffet. The menus have helpful pictures and English translations.
Off Chinggis Avenue in the south of Nairamdal park. 326554
Chojin is one of the most accessible Buddhist Temples in the Mongolian capital. Situated in what appears to be a large car park, with a view of distant mountains, it is within easy walking distance of Peace Avenue and many of the hotels. Although it is now a dedicated museum rather than a fully functioning temple, it still has a calm atmosphere and provides a good 'taster' for the other temples you may visit. When I visited in May this year it was almost deserted, but felt fine to walk around on my own.
The several scattered temple buildings have the common carved wooden pillars and lintels, intricately painted and gilded. The dim interiors are crowded with jewelled figures and rich tapestries. (Note that taking pictures outside is fine but if you take photos inside you will be asked for money!)
All the levels of life and death are here portrayed. For anyone who thought that Buddhism was all sweetness and light, all the tortures of hell are graphically depicted; freezing, boiling, being skewered and roasted and -apparently a fate worse than death - having camels afflicted with worms!
There is a special level of hell reserved for people with huge bellies and tiny throats. Their appetite is enormous but forever insatiable. (The woman who pointed these out to me was a visiting Russian expert on Tibetan and Mongolian antiquities and undoubtedly was putting an anti-consumerist slant on all this.) There is a well-stocked souvenir and bookshop housed in a 'ger' in the grounds.
In the block just north of Nairamdal(friendship) park and south of Jamyan Gun Street.Tel 324 788
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