Escape with Backroadvagrants

Unforgettable road trip in Mongolia

 

Mongolia was one country at the top of our "big expectations list" when we planned our world trip two years ago. It seemed to be the perfect country for nature lovers on their own wheels.

To be honest, when we entered Mongolia, we thought, it looks like the rest of Central Asia. Just a little bit bigger. But we were proven wrong, very wrong.

The incredible vastness around every corner of this country left us speechless until the last day.

We came into Mongolia from its Western border with Russia, close to the town of Tsagaanuur. On our first day, we drove to Ölgii to organize a SIM card, buy some groceries and fuel up our car. From there on, we left the main road and enjoyed those typical Mongolian tracks. We drove North and passed by the first of many beautiful lakes on our way – Achit Lake – with many birds and incredibly blue water. A nice road took us to Uureg Lake, where we could fly our kite thanks to the windy but sunny weather.

In Ulaangom, we filled our food cabinet before spending another great day at Bayan Lake. This lake is surrounded by the northernmost sand dunes in the world.

The scenery is breathtaking and we could not get enough from watching it.

       Our favorite places and roads in Mongolia

  • The remote sand dunes around Bayan Lake are the world’s northernmost dunes and – together with the lake – make a great scenery.
  • The road from Mörön to Terkhiin Tsagaan Lake via Zurkh Lake/Erdenet is just beautiful.
  • Driving through the Gobi from Servei via Bayanlig to Bayankhongor offers a great experience of remoteness and constant changes of the landscape.
  • Do not miss the road through the mountains from Bayankhongor to Tsetserleg via Erdenetsogt through Khangai Nuruu National Park. Wonderful scenery, but prepare for several water crossings. 
  • Visit Khentii aimag in autumn and get amazed by all the colors!

A couple of days later, we came into Mörön. This bigger city is the gateway to the second biggest and probably most famous lake in Mongolia – Khuvsgul Lake. It is not too far from Ulaanbaatar, so it is a major tourist destination. Many ger camps surround the lake. We also enjoyed a hot shower in one of them after we had rented two kayaks to explore the shore.

From Khuvsgul Lake, we started our way towards the capital. For a couple of days, we drove some smaller roads and passed through a few muddy holes (but did not get stuck!). We explored the beautiful Terkhiin Tsagaan Lake with a volcano next to it where we saw the first snow for the year. The last lake before we entered Ulaanbaatar was the relaxed Ugii Lake. Our kite could fly again and we enjoyed the silent atmosphere. 

In Ulaanbaatar, another highlight of our trip arrived a day later: Heiner's mum and Anna's dad flew in for a visit! Our first visitors from home and we had a great time!

Together with Willie and a SIXT rental car, we explored the Gobi Desert in the South. The tour started quite touristy in Yolyn Am where we had a great hike through the canyon. Although, we could not see any ice left from the winter, the crystal-clear water and colorful plants were more than satisfying. The next day brought us to the amazing Flaming Cliffs. We looked for some dinosaur fossils. We could not find any, but the red and dry scenery was beautiful.

The highlight waited for us on the next day – Khongoryn Els within the Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park. These dunes can be, depending on the wind, up to 300 m in height. The whole stretch of dunes is around 180 km long. They are also known as the Singing Dunes which you can experience in windy conditions, lying on the sand and listening to its movements. We camped in between the dunes and found ourselves in a sand storm at night. An experience, our parents will surely not forget, as they slept in tents.

We climbed one dune the next morning and sat there for an hour, just watching the scenery, enjoying the sun and the breeze and the endless amount of sand.

For the next days, we drove up North again. The landscape changed almost every two hours. From desert to steppe, through rocky canyons with dry river beds and passing several salt lakes. Slowly, the scenery got greener again. In Bayankhongor, we felt like being back in civilization after a long time. From there on, the weather was wet, the meadows lush green and the landscape mountainous. The cars (and our nerves) had to go through several adventurous river crossings.

But everybody survived well! In Tsetserleg, we saw the first paved road again and enjoyed a stay in a guesthouse with a hot shower.

       Some tips for road-tripping Mongolia

  • Try Airag (fermented mare’s milk)! Maybe you like it. Otherwise, it is a unique experience.
  • Plan enough time and nerves for driving. Ulaanbaatar’s traffic mayhem and the countryside’s road conditions will steal your time. 200 to 300 km is the absolute daily maximum off the paved main highways.
  • Look for a sheltered place for your tent/park your camper into the direction of the wind – it can become quite windy any time of the day or night.
  • Every village has a well, where you can purchase drinking water for roughly 100 tugrug for 25 liters. It’s usually a small, white and blue house. Just follow the villagers with their canisters.
  • Do not be afraid of bad roads, water crossings and mud holes. Getting stuck is part of the adventure! 😊 

The Erdene Zuu Monastery, Mongolia’s oldest Buddhist monastery, was one of the few cultural stops but really worth it. It is a beautiful area with different temples, a holy atmosphere and a pleasant place to wander around for a couple of hours.

After that, the capital had us back. We visited another interesting monastery, Gandantegchinlen Monastery. It has been restored in 1990 and lies on a hill in western Ulaanbaatar. Then, we had to say Goodbye to our parents who flew back home.

After a couple of days relaxing in the city, we took the road eastwards. We passed by the impressing Genghis Khan statue. With its 40 meters, it is the biggest horse-riding statue in the world. You can even climb up the stairs to the head of the horse and have a great view to the surrounding landscape. From there, we continued our trip on Genghis Khan’s traces. We visited Khukh Lake, where he was crowned. The Northeastern part of Mongolia was already in autumn colors and just amazing. Yellow birch trees, green conifers and from time to time a blue river in a pretty, hilly scenery. Khentii aimag is full of forest and it was a great contrast to our days in the Gobi Desert. We visited Genghis Khan’s birthplace in Dadal. There you can find a beautiful ovoo on a hill and get some water from a spring, where the emperor had supposedly drunk from.

Our last days in Mongolia had come. We enjoyed every hour. We took it slowly, stayed for two days at nice spots for a few times, defied the evening's cold with camp fires and got ready to leave this country. The scenery was dominated by steppe again and we could even see some gazelles running through the landscape. Although, it was already late September, the weather was still pleasant and we were again amazed by the wide blue sky and the millions of stars at night.

After five unforgettable weeks, we left the country in the far East to Russia, in Erentsav.

Mongolia really exceeded our expectations. It is rough and soft. It is adventurous and soul relieving. It is beautiful, vast, pristine and wild. Get ready to escape to Mongolia! It is more than worth it!

 

We are Backroadvagrants, Anna and Heiner,
and in April 2016, we have left for the trip of our lifetimes: Germany to Australia overland.
Join the ride on our travel blog and Instagram for more details about our adventure.  

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