We did it. We went on an incredible road trip in Mongolia. By ourselves and without driver but with a rental car, tent, cooker and our drone. We survived Gobi, worst roads ever, an intense snow storm and some of the strongest rains we’ve had so far on our world trip. The good news is that we loved our trip. Such mesmerising landscapes, all the wild animals and friendly nomads. A road trip of a lifetime and some of our best photos and videos ever! Find out more in this blogpost.
The idea for this road trip was already born back in Germany. We always wanted to go to Mongolia. Many of our friends have traveled in the past but nobody to Mongolia and we wondered why. When you type into Google search ‚Mongolia landscape’ you get an idea why it was on our bucket list for so many years. We wanted to experience the different facets of the country: the softness and the roughness. We could not image that we would get the whole package.
Our road trip route to the South of Mongolia
We had only the rough route planned. From Ulan Bator (UB) to the Gobi Desert (we heard that there is one of the few good roads) and from there to the west and back up to UB. Of course with individual breakouts of the main route. We actually did it like that. We experienced all four seasons during our road trip: spring, summer, winter and autumn – in this order. Such intense weather changes aren’t rare but very special in Mongolia.
Spring: Down south
After buying everything we wanted and spending more than 100 euros on food and stuff we started during the rush hour in UB. Bad idea. Start early if possible! We wanted to make it half the way down that day, but we had no chance. The weather in UB was nice. During our ride down we had more the feeling of spring. Some rain, temperate not really high and nature was covered in a nice green color. Different than expected and different than shown on google maps satellite pictures. But we were happy. It was a bit cold in the evening but the rain was gone and the stars were shining bright. For the first time we set up the new HEIMPLANET tent which we really can recommend. The tent is called ‚THE CAVE’ and it is a wonderful tent. Easy to set up, super strong and futuristic stylish. We cooked and went happy to bed. After a cold night with interesting noises outside of our tent we started with a tea in bed. After that awesome breakfast and packing. This would become our routine for the whole trip. At least on driving days.
Driving down south means that you drive through endless landscapes, beautiful and often only with animals, some gers and nothing more. Nature at its fullest. Second night was even colder but during the day we kept the ‚spring’ feeling. Now, after driving south the whole time we arrived on the second day the biggest city in the south, Dalanzadgad. It is not really big, but the biggest down here. We bought some water (for the first time since we started our world trip a few month ago we had to buy water. Normally we don’t do that. We always purify water with our purifier. Here, down in the Gobi region we had no choice. Sadly we bought plastic canisters.) From there we knew that we needed. It was already late but didn’t wanted to sleep in a city and pay extra money so we drove further. Now directly to the Gobi. On the way, 2 hours after the town we spend our next night. Only a few minutes before it got dark we finished cooking and celebrated the day with a glass of wine in the car because it was a bit warmer inside. Until now we always knew the exact way and google as well. We knew that from now on we would need to improvise more, because the direction was clear but the roads a bit vague.
Coming the village Bayandalai the next day we had to find the unpaved road into the Gobi desert. We found it quickly. It looks like an unpaved autobahn in a way. At least the first hours. Sometimes the car and we as drivers got already challenged. But we made it through. Weather got worse, which means more wind and more clouds. We drove and drove. Sometimes we saw some cars coming from the opposite directions. And some camels. After a few hours we saw the first sand dunes in the far distance. It took us some more time to come closer to them. When it started to get late and dark soon we started to for an overnight spot. Of course Nils wanted a spot as close to the sand dunes as possible. We found one and Nils was happy. We set up the tent, cooked and ate. Super hungry and really tired. Weather got worse. We went to bed early. As soon as we were in the tent the wind got stronger and stronger. And it started to rain as if the sky would fall down. And it got worse. Rain got even stronger and thunder and lightning came up. We were clever and had built the tent behind the car. We always to it because it gets less cold in the tent when you are in the slipstream of the car. The whole night it went on like crazy. We have both never experienced something like that before. And now, what irony, we experienced this heavy rain in the Gobi. In the GOBI !!! The next morning rain had gone and wind was less. So we were able to pack, eat and sit in the car freezing. Again - in the Gobi!
Summer: Gobi desert
Luckily weather got better. We drove further, amazed by the landscapes without knowing exactly what would come. One thing we knew for sure: At some point we would need to go back or find a way out south to make it with our gas. We had researched but we weren’t sure. 50:50 chance that there would be a way out south were we needed it to go on. After being totally disappointed by the ‚big singing dune’ we saw on google maps and in some reports we decided to drive further. The original idea was to sleep here for two nights. But it was just not ‚wow’ enough for us. So we drove and drove and came close to the point where we had to decide – going further and finding a way through the dunes down south or turning back having a way longer journey afterwards (more than one day would be possible to safe here). After not catching up with the first car we saw (the locals were driving in an empty river and were way too fast for us) we drove slower and started to wonder what would happen. Than we saw another car while we were taking on of our beloved and sacred coffee breaks. We stopped it and tried to explain what we desperately needed to find out – is there a way down south through the dunes. As so often we did not know if they understand us or not. In case it was way more important than normally though. They showed us via hand signs to follow them, so we did it way too fast on really bad roads. Stressful and crazy. We were full of adrenaline. Good that we did not drink the coffee before. At some point, somewhere in nowhere in the Gobi they stopped and showed in the direction of the dunes (which were still more than 15 minutes away). We saw of course nothing there, only endless sand dunes. We were happy. We did now know that somewhere here would be one small way- the only way – down south. You know you can make it if you see a sacred stones. We were more than happy. Still super tired after last night but more happy than tired. We drove to the road, took awesome pictures. Even if it was difficult we made it through. After a short while we found the perfect spot. Difficult to get there by car but beautiful. Full view over the Gobi dunes, perfect sunset spot with fireplace. Super happy about the good weather, the perfect place and finding the one way through the sand dunes we settled here for the night – knowing both that we would not leave the next day if don’t need. Of course we stayed!
Climate change: Winter is coming…
After amazing days and wonderful sceneries, difficult roads and breathtaking places to sleep something changed. The weather had been really good. Really warm. In the nights it was freaking cold. Way too cold for our cheap sleeping bags. But we managed somehow with all the clothes we had. We survived the worst road ever (on google maps this was a main road back north). We saw only one car the whole way and we have to say: That was extreme. It challenged Nils as much as no road before. Anna was doing a good job jumping out of the car all the time to check if we really can make it through the next difficult situation. Only drive here when you are really experienced. Otherwise you will have a dangerous problem! After surviving the canyon which was our ‚street’ for almost one day it get windier and windier, colder and colder. And later and later. We drove, found no place to stay and had to continue. We wanted to find a place early that day. Around five. We drove until 9pm that day. It started to rain and we decided to drive even a bit longer and to the only city in the middle of Mongolia, Bayankhongor. We finally got gas and found a cheap and clean hotel. First night since ever (at least it felt like that) in a bed. With a warm shower. And some people even cooked for us (restaurants can be amazing :)). Next day was planned as our lazy day. Finding a beautiful place, relax the whole day and doing nothing.
But the next day started way colder than the last ones. When you are outside for a while you get a feeling about temperature, weather conditions and the environment. We started to drive with a weird feeling. Twenty minutes later we did know why. Winter was there. After more than 30° the day before we now had 0°, hail and later snow. Temperature had dropped more than 30° in 24 hours. And it stayed like that. The whole day. We drove and drove, without seeing anything from the landscapes around us due to clouds and snow. We did one short and really cold photo session with the car, that’s all. Our plan had been to drive to Chanch Chiid. But we knew that it was an unpaved road and we had to make the tough decision to not go there. It seemed under these weather conditions way to dangerous. Driving in the snow storm somewhere in mountains on unpaved roads which were already hard to find under normal conditions. It was a good decision! Adventure yes, risking our lives in these freezing environments – no!
Even boiling water was not an option. We tried with all tricks. So we drove and drove and decided to find a hotel, motel or hostel on the way. But it also got later and later and it was not main season anymore. At nine we saw the first motel. It looked bad. We stopped anyway, exhausted from the cold day, with exhausted eyes and very hungry. One other car was outside of the hotel. People came out of the house. They looked frustrated and we asked them why. These friendly and English speaking French travelers wanted to stay there as well but told us that the rooms were not only freezing cold but also full of bird poo. Even though we wanted to stop driving we couldn’t. That was too much for us.
So we had to make the tough decision to go on and towards UB. We drove for many hours. Nothing had open, no free beds if something was open. In the end we arrived in UB after driving for 15 hours through the snow storm. But we survived. We worked as a team. We made it together. We found a hotel in UB, drank a tea and slept as deep as never before. What a ride. What an adventure. What a change of plans. Happy and humbled we had arrived.
Autumn: The surrounding of UB
After being back in UB we had mixed feelings. Super happy about all the things we experienced. A little sad about our unplanned trip back to the city. But happiness won and we enjoyed a few days in our cozy Airbnb flat while the weather got better. Than the sun came back and with it the good weather. So we decided that we wanted a nice end of our trip. We drove north-east of UB in the direction of the “Turtle Rock”. We had an amazing time. Leaves had started to turn yellow and red, autumn was there. We both love autumn and having it after experiencing strong winter for a few days was great! We had the chance to make some great pictures, see the turtle rock (nice, impressive but we love nature without other people even more!). Coming back to UB and giving the car back was now possible without bad feelings. We had our happy ending.
Happy and grown as a team and couple with so many new impressions and more ‚wow moments’ than you can count, we finished this amazing road trip. Being on our world trip, experiencing so many new things, living life to the fullest – we are damn happy about that! Doing a road trip through Mongolia without driver and guide is challenging. But we think it is worth it. But you have to know where you limits are. Skillswise, comfort zone wise, uncertainty wise. The country has way more to offer than we were able to see. We will come back for sure. Discovering the north west (Altai) and the far north of Mongolia. It is an incredible country, a hidden gem, a place worth going.