Ulaanbaatar and beyond

Posted by on Oct 12, 2015 in Asia, Mongolia, Travel | 0 comments

Ulaanbaatar and beyond

We fly into Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, and I can’t believe the massive temperature change from Beijing.

After a two hour flight we’ve gone from a hot 27 degrees celcius to what feels like a chilly winters day.

Of course for Mongolians it’s balmy compared to their actual winter, which hits a seriously cold -40 degrees celsius.

We drive through the city to our hostel in an electric Toyota Prius, which seems to be the car of choice in Ulaanbaatar.

Many of the cars are right hand drive, yet they drive on the right side of the road.  This gets pretty scary when overtaking as you are completely on the wrong side of the road before the driver can see whether it’s clear or not.

Passing by soviet era concrete buildings and power plants pumping out smoke, I am not immediately inspired by the city.

We only spend one day and night in Ulaanbaater, as the purpose of our trip to Mongolia is to head into the countryside on a week long horse trek.

I somehow manage to convince two carnivorous men to accompany me to a cute vegetarian restaurant for lunch, which they admit was better than expected!

This is my first taste of sea buckthorn, an orange berry that grows on shrubs and is thought to have many health benefits.  We have it as hot tea which is delicious and warms us up, ready to explore the city.

 

Sea Buckthorn Tea

Sea Buckthorn Tea

 

We wander through Chinggis Square and browse market stalls selling various meats and dairy products.

Continuing in the direction of a park our hostel mentioned, we discover what looks like an abandoned amusement park.  On closer inspection we realise the rides are operating, and the children inside us take over!

We end up riding the soviet era ferris wheel, which feels ridiculously unstable and has obviously not had any renovations since the 1970s.

But that wasn’t enough, so we decide to ride the rollercoaster, which has four loop-de-loops!  I am somewhat intimidated after we get in our seats (front row of course!) and I notice a significant gap between my shoulders and the harness.

My confidence is shaken further when they use our seat belts to hold said harness down – now I’m just hoping we make it to our horse trek!

Of course it’s totally fine, and other than some whiplash I walk away unscathed with adrenaline pumping.

 

Ferris wheel

Rollercoaster selfie

Rollercoaster

 

We head to Modern Nomads for dinner, where I have a delicious cocktail made with you guessed it – sea buckthorn!  To make up for having a vegetarian lunch my friend devours a plate of stir fried vital organs.

In the morning a van picks us up for our long drive into the countryside.  The van is not in it’s prime, but the interior has been decked out with a quilted fabric, coloured LED lights, and some fancy looking bauble seat covers and accessories.

The “main roads” we take out of Ulaanbaatar vary from a decent recently paved roads, to gravel and dirt potholed tracks.

We encounter frequent road blocks of herds of goats, cattle and horses crossing the road, but they recognise car horns as a signal to stop crossing.

We pass huge vultures sitting like statutes in the fields, and eagles perched on rocks.

 

Goats countryside

 

To break up the trip we make a couple of stops, firstly for a camel ride over the sand dunes.

My camel is particularly tall and I briefly think about the long way to the ground.  I needn’t have worried though, it would be Wayne who would have a spectacular fall!

We were having a great time and the camels were running (if they were horses I would call it trotting), with five of us in a row.

I looked over and saw Wayne attempting a very energetic rising trot, but the next second I could no longer see him!

He fell off completely, even taking his saddle with him.  Luckily he wasn’t hurt other than his ego and a large purple bruise on his bum, and he definitely gave us and the locals a good laugh!

 

Emma on camel

Group on camels

 

Next we stopped to admire a hill that supposedly looks like a vagina, where we were told to pray to get pregnant (Wayne vehemently shook his head no at our driver after he explained this by mimicking a pregnant belly and pointing to me).  Hilariously there is even a penis shaped rock at the bottom of the hill, pointing up into the crevice of the hill.

Our last stop is a bit more serious, the Erdene Zuu Monastery.  A beautiful Buddhist monastery it is a calm and peaceful place, monks quietly going about their business while brightly coloured cloths blow gently in the breeze.

 

Temple

 

After returning from our horse trek to Tsetserleg we decided to hire a driver to take us to the hot springs for a relaxing soak.  In my mind I pictured the onsens of Japan, but our experience could not have been more different!

The driver picked the four of us up in a small hatchback, so we are already feeling pretty crammed with three adults in the backseat.  Next minute we stop on the side of the road and a Mongolian woman joins us, making my sister sit on my lap!

We assume she must just be going a few blocks down the road and we all have a laugh.

Twenty minutes later, myself with a dead leg and my sister with a sore neck, we realise this woman is showing no sign of getting out anytime soon.

We try to ask her and the driver where she is going as we know it’s at least an hour to the hot springs, but they don’t speak a word of English.

She did however get the picture when my sister pointed to her and then to the boot of the car!  She gave a look of indignation, and then laid down in the boot and promptly fell asleep.

The drive was an adventure in itself involving mud and stream crossings, and was definitely more suited to the Jeeps and other four wheel drives we saw along the way.

When we finally arrive we can’t wait to sink into the hot springs.

On arrival we were told that as high season was finished they were understaffed and therefore the place was pretty dirty.  They weren’t lying, the floor of the bathroom was covered in a mysterious dark substance and the toilets hadn’t been cleaned in a while.  Not quite the start we were expecting.

We showered and headed out to the hot spring where a group of Mongolian tourists were already in the water drinking cups of straight vodka, much of which was being spilled into the pool.

The water was luke warm, and disturbingly murky with various particles floating past.  I made a mental note not to get water on my face.

One woman in particular was feeling the effects of the vodka and was very friendly, flashing us her breasts and repeatedly yelling “Happy Teachers Day!

My sister and I didn’t last long before jumping out and showering off, sitting in the sunshine for the rest of our time there.

Finally the driver picked us up and took us back to town, including of course the extra woman in the boot 😉

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