Mongolia | Land Of The Blue Skies
Travel Places, along with the Asia Pacific representative from TSA were invited to attend the HOC meeting to collect information and ask questions on behalf of the UK Scout groups planning on attending the 31st Asia Pacific Jamboree in 2017.
Having never been to Mongolia it was difficult to know what to expect – you can never and should never judge a country by what you read on the internet or in a guide book.
We planned an action-packed 8 days in Mongolia to make the most of our time in the country, and we definitely weren’t disappointed with what it had to offer. As soon as you arrive at the airport you are greeted with smiling faces – their hospitality and friendliness is amazing!
Unfortunately flight options from the UK are limited, as Ulaanbaatar is not a main holiday destination. You definitely won’t find it in a Thomas Cook brochure! We flew on Turkish Airlines via Istanbul and Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) and 16 hours later arrived in Ulaanbaatar. Other options include flying on Aeroflot via Moscow and MIAT Mongolian Airlines direct from Frankfurt.
A more leisurely option (if time allows) is to travel to UB via Trans Siberian Railway from either Moscow or Beijing. A great option if you want a multi-centre tour.
There are a number of hotel options available in UB – they seem to be basic compared to UK standards but are definitely comfier than sleeping in a tent on a campsite. They are situated in key area’s making walking to some of the sights of the city an option.
Outside of the city there are a number of Ger Camps, especially in the national parks. We were lucky enough to stay at a Ger Camp in Terelj National Park in a traditional Mongolian Ger tent, which was surprisingly comfy. It was great to experience traditional Mongolia.
The countries Russian influence was evident in terms of their transport used for tourist groups – they use a UAZ, which is like an old fashioned people carrier that seats around 6 people. They are used because they are functional and practical especially on the uneven road, or non existent road in the countryside.
When travelling out and about for the day the vehicle is equipped with a well stocked box with snacks, refreshments, first aid kit, traditional ankle bone games and relevant books for everyone to read.
Mongolia is a meat lover’s paradise, so vegetarians might struggle to have a varied diet. Their traditional dish is a Khorkhog (Mongolian BBQ) and if you are lucky enough to stay with a nomadic family they will cook this in the traditional way by placing hot stones inside the animal.
One of the best meals we had was when we stopped at a road side café and ate traditional Mongolian pancakes (with a lamb filling) – they really were delicious! The café owner let us enter their ger tent kitchen to watch her and her son make them too.
Our first day was spent exploring the capital city – Ulaanbaatar. We were taken to the National History museum, just off Chinngis Khan Square. This museum is a must and should be at the top of the list – it gives a thorough explanation of Mongolian History which is so interesting (it is better to go with a guide as most of the writing is in Mongolian) It is incredible to think that Mongolia was under Russian communist control until the 1990’s! When the country became democratic in 1992 they also founded their Scout Association, so compared to the UK their organisation is very young at only 24 years old!
After a night in UB we headed out to Terelj National Park, to experience their typical ‘countryside’ lifestyle. Cities are pretty similar around the world apart for the main landmarks, but it is definitely the countryside that determines the heritage of a country and this is especially the case in Mongolia.
Whilst in the national park we visited Turtle Rock and Aryabal Meditation Temple up a hillside which was beautiful and peaceful. We then headed back to camp for dinner and then helped build a ger tent with the camp owners.
We were lucky enough visit to a nomadic family in Terelj National Park; this was really interesting as we were introduced to their culture first hand including a breakfast bowl full of home made vodka (made with fermented yak’s milk!). We then ventured out on their horses to explore the countryside.
Although we travelled during their peak season, places were not really busy. The first time we came across proper tourists was at the huge Chinngis Khan Statue – here you had to fight for your spot at the view point at the top of the horses’ mane! It is definitely worth a visit though.
A definite highlight of Mongolia was visiting Gandan Monastery, if you time the visit right you can enter the temple and hear the resident Buddhist monks chant. The locals still flock here in their crowds to take part in the daily rituals and it is great to be a part of it.
For another traditional musical experience, take the time to visit the Tumen Ekh ensemble. It is a small intimate theatre so you can really see the musicians, instruments, singers and dancers up close. Their traditional ‘throat’ singing is amazing!
It is useful to bear in mind that some tourist attractions charge a fee in addition to the entrance fee to take photos. You are also not allowed to take photos inside some religious establishments.
We only had time for a flying visit but I can’t wait to go back to explore the country and venture further afield. Why not think about visiting in 2017 and combine visiting this amazing country with an international Scouting event – it really will be a trip of a lifetime!
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