What we loved…
The Wild East – Mongolia is hard to describe – It’s wild! It’s crazy! It’s wonderful! Maybe it’s that they are descendants of one of the biggest badasses in history – Genghis Khan (or as Mongolians say, Chinggis Khan). Mongolia has no rules. Millionaires shop at one of the highest grossing Louis Vuitton stores in the world, drive luxury SUVs, party all night in posh nightclubs, and live in luxury skyrise apartments. In the alleyways of those same skyrises, are families living in gers (yurts), riding horses to work, making their own clothes, and brewing their own moonshine. Nothing about Mongolia makes sense. It’s chaotic and romantic at the same time. Traveling Mongolia is like unraveling a beautiful mystery.
Truly getting away – With only one city in a large country, it doesn’t take long to get out into the middle of nowhere. The Mongolian steppe provides an opportunity for a country drive like no other. There are literally no roads, but that isn’t stopping anyone from driving…at insane speeds, in crappy old cars, down dirt paths that most people would think twice about taking a 4×4 down. You’ll see wild horses, huge eagles, rolling green hills, rainbow colored ovoos, nomadic ger camps with their herds of sheep, yaks, or camels – it’s all stunning scenery and truly in the middle of nowhere.
Unique – It’s a little Chinese. It’s a little Russian. It’s 100% Mongolian. They have their own unique food, their own unique language, their own unique sports, their own unique homes, their own unique clothes, and their own unique way of life. The people and their culture are stunningly exotic. Unique adventures and unparalelled experiences await you when traveling Mongolia.
What we didn’t love…
Difficulty of travel – We were really lucky and had a friend in Mongolia who took us everywhere we wanted to go. Getting around is not easy though, even in your own car. The traffic in Ulaanbaatar is unparalleled. There are way too many cars on the road (and horses, buses, bicycles, trucks, motorcycles, camels, pedestrians, etc.) There are no stop lights, just go-at-your-own-risk intersections. There’s no such thing as a taxi, but it’s normal to hop in anyone’s car who’s willing to pick you up. Just negotiate the price before taking off, and good luck communicating. Beyond the city limits, there are no roads. There aren’t even road signs, or any real landmarks for points of reference, unless you know your ovoos. Traveling Mongolia is not easy, but it is so worth it!
Communication – Mongolian is not exactly an easy language to pick up, and certainly not an easy alphabet to learn or read. Unlike many countries in the world, there are very few people who speak English. It’s not an easy place to tour on your own and there’s not really a tourism infrastructure in place. You can hire a private guide or join a tour, but if you’re brave, get your own wheels (everything always works out, right?!).
Food/Drink – Good luck finding fresh fruit or vegetables, and don’t expect any spices in your dish. Maybe your meat is horse, maybe it’s goat, or perhaps sheep or even bull penis – who knows? Would you like a Mongolian candy? Try milk candy (aka fermented milk nuggets) or milk tea (more like warm sour milk with a hint of tea). It’s not all bad though.
They do have their own empanada, Khuushuur. Like all deep fried pockets of meat, are pretty tasty. Rob still claims that the best food he’s ever had was the boodog (soup cooked with hot stones inside the stomach of the animal). Some locals shared their boodog with us while camping on the Mongolian Steppe. We had taught them how to throw an American football and given them some of our airag (fermented mare’s milk). In true Mongolian fashion, they felt they owed us something in return, hence the boodog. So, there are some delicious foods in Mongolia, it just takes a little more effort to find it.
Watch this Video of Rob and Kari trying Mongolia’s ‘moonshine’, airag, while camping in the steppe.