Mongolia was my 12th stop on the journey around Asia and the stop that I was most excited about. It was also the country that I had decided to spend the most time in, mainly because I was so intrigued by the nomadic culture that still exists in Mongolia. In fact, Mongolia is the last country on earth where people are still living as nomads, travelling from place to place with their gers and large herds of animals.
Mongolia is also said to be the least densely populated country in the world with just 3 million people sharing 1,566,000 km2 of land. Mongolia is a landlocked country and apart from a few large lakes and rivers, there is not much water to be found. In fact, only 0,43 % of Mongolia is water. Mongolia is a country of vast lands of varying landscapes, such as endless steppe, mountains and the diverse Gobi Desert. Mongolia has an average of 250 sunny days a year, so it’s not without reason that the country is called “The Land of the Blue Sky”. During my 16 days in Mongolia, I only had a few hours of grey clouds, but the sky cleared quickly afterwards. I also experienced a few days of snow, but even then it was sunny and clear weather. Mongolia is truly an amazing place.
While most of Mongolia is uninhabited and lacks any kind of infrastructure, this cannot be said about the country’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, where half of the country’s population lives. It’s a city full of beautiful people with high cheekbones. I swear I’ve never seen more good-looking people than in Mongolia! I have major cheekbone envy.
Ulaanbaatar surprised me in many ways. Not only have the inhabitants left their nomadic lifestyles in rural Mongolia behind, they also seem to have fully adopted the western way of life with international brands available throughout the shops, an impressive amount of English-speaking citizens and fashionable Western-inspired style among the youth. Not to mention western toilets and actual showers, which are hard to find anywhere outside of the city.
While some would argue that this development is a sad result of globalization and westernization, but I think that it’s just a natural development in a world that is becoming smaller every day. It’s inevitable that a city with 1,5 million inhabitants will follow the global modernization, and this has meant big changes to the city in recent years.
Ulaanbaatar is a modern city, but the rest of Mongolia is still bound by traditions and a strong will to keep the nomadic lifestyle of their ancestors alive. Thus, after spending a week in the dusty Gobi Desert with no showers, no western toilets or much variety in food, Ulaanbaatar was a breath of fresh air. A place to recharge, get clean and eat some good food before once again heading out into rural Mongolia. I came back to Ulaanbaatar four times during my 16 days, so I had plenty of time to get to know the city. I didn’t want to spend too long there though, as the real Mongolian experience awaits beyond the city, but I did enjoy my days spent there.
Mongolia is very much off the beaten path and travelling in the country can be a real challenge. Basically, if you want to explore the Gobi Desert, you have to book a tour, unless you want to get lost. Dirt roads are much more common than paved roads and in some places, there are no roads – you just drive for hours on bumpy terrain until you reach your destination that only the locals will know how to find. The main thing that I wanted to see in Mongolia was the Gobi Desert, so I booked a 7-day tour as soon as I arrived at my hostel in Ulaanbaatar.
I booked the tour through Sunpath Hostel, where I also stayed whenever I was in Ulaanbaatar, and I had an amazing time with my four new travel buddies; Aida, Lisa, Luke and Alex. We explored some amazing landscapes, watched the most vibrant sunsets, stayed with nomadic families in gers and played with their many animals. I have since decided that I need baby goats in my life! The gers, which are the traditional, portable homes of the nomads, were subject to many bad jokes, such as “Let’s ger to the ger” and “where did you ger?”. The girls and I also ended up calling each other “GERls”, haha. That’s great humour, if you ask me!
My last week in Mongolia was spent chilling and hiking in Kharkhorin, the ancient capital of Mongolia, and in the beautiful snow-covered Terelj National Park. I had an amazing time in Mongolia and so far, I can honestly say that it’s my favourite country in Asia! I have many more posts coming up from the Gobi Desert, Kharkhorin and Terelj, so stay tuned for more stories from this beautiful and diverse country.