My plan in Mongolia was to see the Gobi Desert in all its glory and when I realised that there was nobody to go with due to visiting Mongolia during winter/off season (costs are much lower when there are more people) I needed to put my resourcefulness to action.
My first step was to locate hostels in the city that I could comfortably walk to and ask them if they had any guests. After 5 hostels told me that they hadn’t any, I was starting to feel deflated, I even stopped a Spanish lady in the street to see if she was interested in going but she was leaving Ulan-Bator that day and she had visited the Gobi in November. But I refused to give up, I was getting to the Gobi one way or another…
Luckily, upon returning to my own hostel, the manager told me that two new guests were arriving the next day and they were both interested in going to the Gobi. Sheer gratitude to Doljmaa, AM and SR. So, we booked with Sun Path Tours which provided us with a guide, Galaa and a driver, Baagi.
And the journey began…
Day 1: New Years Eve
We loaded our Soviet Russian van with our few belongings (no change of clothes necessary as there is no running water, just grab your toothbrush and toothpaste) and headed to a supermarket to pick up some baby wipes, toilet roll and snacks… A LOT of snacks as we had all experienced and travelled the Trans Siberian/Mongolian within the last week…
N.B: you will not need any snacks. Not only do you get fed incredibly well on the tour 3 times a day, the families you stay with are so generous and hospitable you will never go hungry. Just bring some small gifts of chocolate for any families with children and beer for any parties you’re planning.
We then drove across the Steppe region, had a quick lunch of mutton and noodles at Erdenedalai town and then spent NYE with Khuugii’s family where we discovered just how friendly and hospitable the Mongolian people are as we brought in the new year.
We ate and drank so much and the food and drink just didn’t stop coming. We also discovered Cheese cookies here (Cheese curd) and how we will never try them again. The flavours take you on an intense journey; sweet to tangy and then a combination that we ended up dreading with each bite. But the best part was watching AM take a rather large piece thinking that it was a cookie and having to eat it. Trying to stifle laughter so that we didn’t come across as being rude was incredibly hilarious… but it couldn’t be helped.
We also discovered the toilet situation in the Gobi; a wooden box covering a hole in the ground… which isn’t as unpleasant as it sounds. It’s actually pretty healthy. Plus, in winter there are no flies and it doesn’t smell as everything is frozen.
We finally reached the Gobi Desert and saw the Flaming Cliffs/Bayanzag. Dinosaur eggs were first discovered here along with other skeletal remains and fossils. Walking and scrambling around the cliffs was just so much fun and we got some epic shots before heading to our Ger with the Geleg Family.
Our Ger camp was awesome but we couldn’t locate the toilet box in the dark (mainly out of fear haha) and decided to just head to the middle of nowhere in hope that a wolf didn’t bite our backsides mid relief (Which would never happen as they’re too shy to approach humans and their camps). In the morning, however, we eventually discovered Gelegs family toilet with the help of sunlight and I must say they have the best toilet (still a hole in the ground with a box surrounding it, but the wind has blown in sand for your comfort)
It’s also important to note that a man that we affectionately call “Caveman” lives here. He used to be a wrestler at the Nadam festival and oversees the fire. No, seriously, don’t mess with his fire. He’s in charge… But seriously, he was so awesome and although he didn’t speak English, it didn’t stop him from trying to communicate with us.
Wondered around the North of Yol Valley before having a picnic and then driving to Khongoryn Els (sand dunes which are 100km long and 260 ft. tall). Now these sand dunes may look easy to climb but they are steep and covered in ice in winter. You must zigzag your way up and honestly it was a struggle. I had to monkey my way up on all fours as the ice cracked and sand slipped beneath my feet. But the effort was worth it as the views from above are just stunning.
We then headed to Gobi Natural Reserve: Gobi Gurvan Saikhan/Three Beauties of Gobi where we rode camels to collect the rest of the herd and brought them back to the Ger camp with a woman that we affectionately call “Wonder Woman”, she was honestly amazing; herding camels, cooking dinner over a coal stove and just being a general legend whilst looking immaculate the entire time.
We then drove to Yol Valley (Gorge of Lamb Vultures) and hiked over a frozen river to get deeper into the Valley. Walking on the ice was terrifying as some of it crunched beneath our feet but it was just so funny as the river itself was frozen 50 cm underneath but the top layer was still fresh, so we were completely safe the entire time.
We then later stayed with Gansukhs family and had one of the best evenings with 4 generations of his family. We decided to throw a party in their Ger as we were close to finishing our trip. We also witnessed AM try another cheese cookie here but in a different shape… a memory that I will always cherish as he winced with every chew whilst smiling at the family in agreement of how delicious it was.
Headed to the White Stupa and hiked around to get a great view of the stone formations, but mainly just posing in the sun on various points further down inside the rocks before starting our long journey back to Ulan-Bator.
Arrived back at Ulan-Bator in need of a long shower, a chance to get some clothes washed and a lot of great memories.
The Gobi Desert is an amazing place with a variety of landscapes. The land is vast and you will be on the road for a while. But the real highlight of this experience were the people that I met and travelled with. I genuinely can’t remember a place that I have laughed more.
Doljmaa the manager of Sunpath Tours outdid herself in getting this trip together for us and catered it to our wants and needs. Our guide Gelaa and our driver Baagi kept us entertained and did everything in their power to make our trip as adventurous and wonderful as possible. The families we stayed with welcomed us in as though we were one of their own, and the Gobi Desert itself enchanted us with all her wonders.
Most people visit Mongolia in the summer, but I recommend visiting in winter. Yes, it’s cold BUT the Gobi isn’t overrun with tourists and the experience is far more authentic as you truly experience how Nomadic people live. It genuinely has been one of the best experiences of my life (so far).