When I returned to Ulaanbaatar from my little adventure in Kharkhorin, I was already ready to escape to nature again. I had a plan for my last few days in Mongolia; I wanted to visit the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, famous for it’s beautiful landscapes and crazy rock formations. I soon made plans with Jimmy and Charles, who I had met at the hostel, to go on a tour the following day.
The next day, we woke up to a world covered in snow. It was beautiful and once again proved to me how quickly the weather in Mongolia can change. I couldn’t believe that I was seeing so much snow in May! Prior to coming to Mongolia, I expected May to be a summer month with hot weather, but I was clearly wrong – and quite happy that I was wrong as well! Because the snow made for a unique visit to the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, a place that most tourists visit during the summer months, when the nature is green and lush. Instead, we would get to see it covered in a thick blanket of snow. To say that I was excited would be an understatement!
Jimmy, Charles and I booked the tour with Sunpath Hostel, which cost 120.000 tughrik for a full day with a driver, who would take us first to a big Genghis Khan statue and then to the national park, where we would spend some time climbing rocks, hiking and hanging out in a ger with a cooked lunch. After the tour, Jimmy and I would stay for another two nights and Charles would head back to UB.
The statue was way bigger than I had expected – it was ginormous! In fact, the Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue is 40 metres tall and it’s possible to get to the top of it, which Charles decided to do, while Jimmy and I decided to be cheap and give it a miss.
Outside the visitor center by the statue, we saw some tied-up eagles and a vulture, who I naively thought were just sitting there chilling, but then I saw that they were tied up and drugged for tourists to take pictures with them. I immediately deleted my photos, but all I wanted to do was to punch the “owner” in the face.
The ride from the statue to the national park was beautiful, revealing some of the stunning nature that Jimmy and I would be surrounded by for the next few days.
The driver stopped at two of the famous rock formations on the way to our lunch destination; The Turtle Rock and the Praying Lama Rock. Unfortunately, my hands were freezing cold, so I didn’t do any rock climbing that day, but Jimmy seemed to really enjoy himself as he climbed to the top of both rocks! While we were waiting for Jimmy to come back down, we saw some large birds flying above us; it made me happy to see them in the wilds as opposed to being tied up.
We then went on to the ger accommodation, which is owned by a lovely family, located in between mountains in the national park. We had a nice lunch there and then a small siesta, before heading off again.
After the siesta, our driver was seemingly more interested in leaving than giving us our money’s worth. We tried to communicate that we wanted to go hiking, which we thought he understood, but then he drove us to this weird fenced-in picnic park within the national park just 200 metres away from the gers, where we could walk for 20 minutes at the most… He sussed that one out well.
After the “hike”, Charles and the driver went back to UB and as it was getting close to sunset, Jimmy and I decided to go for a proper hike this time to see the sunset from the mountains.
It turned out to be quite a dangerous hike on a small rocky mountain behind the gers. It was slippery and the sun was about to set, so I felt it was too risky to keep going, despite us both really wanting to get to the top. A dog ran after us up the mountain, but he also decided to come back down because of the slippery rocks. The next day, we found out that there’s a much easier way of getting up there and it took us just 10 minutes to do it, haha. It was literally a piece of cake to climb. There was no need for the risky rock climbing, but at least the view for the sunset was amazing from there.
What I had originally thought would be a place full of tourists, ended up having just Jimmy and I as overnight guests. We had a warm and cozy ger all to ourselves and spent two days in complete solitude with just nature, the family and each other.
The next day, we spent a good part of the morning playing with the family’s little son, who I would guess to be around five years old. He was really adorable and wanted to show us all sorts of games. We also got to participate in some wood chopping, which was actually surprisingly easy (or the axe was just really good, haha).
After hanging out with the family and their cat for a while, we decided to go for a walk to the small village nearby, where we bought some beer and snacks, before climbing the Praying Lama Rock once again. This time, my hands were alright, so I managed to do it, and we had our picnic on the rock before walking back to the gers.
When we got back to the gers, we cooked ourselves some pasta for dinner, before heading out on our last hike, which would also be the longest one.
We decided to head for a mountain located further away from the gers to see the sunset, but it took us way longer to get there than we had expected, so it was almost dark when we eventually started climbing it. It didn’t look like a very tall mountain, but getting to the top took forever and it was pitch black when we finally got there. The sunset on the way was pretty amazing and as we were going down, we stopped to gaze at the dark sky full of stars for a moment. Despite us walking in the dark, it was an enjoyable hike and a lovely last evening in Mongolia.
Here’s some information on how to travel to Gorkhi-Terelj National Park:
- You can book a tour through tour companies based in Ulaanbaatar. Most of them go for a day or half a day and include the Genghis Khan statue on the itinerary. We booked it through Sunpath Hostel, which cost us 120.000 tughrik for a full day with a driver and petrol. The more people you are, the cheaper it is! Food is not included, but can be bought seperately at the gers.
- It’s also possible to travel to Terelj by yourself from the Dragon Bus Center in UB, although it’s a lot of hassle getting the bus first to the statue and then to the park, as they don’t run very often, and they won’t drop you off at your accommodation in the national park, which is about 2 kilometres from the bus stop.
- Sunpath Hostel can arrange for you to stay at the family-owned ger camp, which costs 15.000 tughrik per person per night in a mixed ger-dorm.