Sainbainuu! Welcome to Mongolia. You can arrive at any time before your group meeting at 6 pm. Please have your passport, insurance and next of kin information ready to give to your leader at this meeting. Afterwards you'll have the option to join your fellow travellers for dinner at a local restaurant. If you arrive in town earlier and have time, be sure to get out and explore 'UB', a fascinating town where elderly Mongolians in traditional dress mingle with the nation's young business elite. A great place to start is Gandan Khiid, Mongolia's largest and most important monastery. The Fine Arts Museum, Winter Palace Museum of Bogd Khan and Intellectual Museum are also well worth visiting.
2 Amarbayasgalant Monastery
Today your adventure begins as you drive out through the beautiful Mongolian countryside (approximately 9 hours). Our transport for the trip are sturdy and reliable Russian vans, known as 'furgon'. These are definitely the best way to tackle the Mongolian roads that await us! Please note that depending on the size of the group we may be split into a number of vans. Your leader will take it in turns spending time with each van and you are welcome to swap around so that you get a chance to spend the travel time with different members of your group. There's plenty of driving on this trip across some rough terrain but the experience of our drivers will make the journey pass as smoothly as possible. Driving times will vary and any times listed here are approximate only. Actual travel time will rely heavily on weather and road conditions. As we have our own vehicle it may also be possible to make some stops along the way for photos, meals or to chat with locals however we need to aim to complete our drives before nightfall for safety reasons. Most days we drive up to 9 hours total. Mongolia is a vast and sparsely populated country so in order to see as much of the landscape and culture in the two weeks that we have we cover some large distances on this trip. Most of the drive today is on paved roads, but be prepared for some bumps after the final turnoff to the the remote Amarbayasgalant Khiid. Your leader and drivers will be glad to teach you some basic Mongolian words on the way – a great way to prepare for interactions with the locals, few of whom speak English. Your final destination today is Mongolia's second most important place of worship (after Gandan Monastery in UB), situated in the beautiful Iven Gol River valley, at the foot of Burengiin Mountain, in the Selenge province. After seeing the monastery, you will get your first taste of life in a ger at the first camp of the trip. This is the way that the majority of Mongolia's population has always lived – away from the city and in the wide open spaces of seemingly endless countryside. It's the quintessential Mongolian experience. Although such camps are set up for visitors, this type of housing is still used around the country, even in the capital where you will have seen many 'ger suburbs' surrounding the city centre. The gers at the tourist camps where we stay most nights vary in standard and facilities. Most sleep up to 6 people with comfy beds and plenty of blankets. In the colder months you might want to stoke up the stove in the centre of the ger and you'll be toasty warm in no time! Some have generator or mains electricity although not all have power sockets in the gers to charge electronic equipment. Our drivers and leader also often double as our cooks in those places where we prepare meals ourselves. You are always welcome to lend a hand too! We share our meals together in the dining quarters. Vegetarians can be catered for although choices may be limited - please let us know if you have any specific dietary requirements at time of booking. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are provided each day until our return to Ulaanbaatar. Some food will be traditional Mongolian style but as the traditional diet consists solely of meat and dairy products, most meals are less challenging and based more on Russian or Western meals which are now also common in the Mongolian diet. Bathroom facilities here are usually very simple. Camps have showers but not always hot water and all have flush or pit toilets and basins with cold water in a support building outside. Other tourist ger camps on our trip may vary slightly in set up and some may have access to showers and hot running water. Your leader can give you more detailed information about the upcoming accommodation in the daily briefing.
3 Erdenet - Selenge River - Unit
Continue to the lovely Selenge River via the copper mining town of Erdenet (approximately 8 hours). There may be opportunities to spot some interesting wildlife along the way, such as marmots and many different species of birds. You will arrive at your ger camp in the settlement of Unit in the afternoon. Stretch your legs on arrival and take a walk up to the Togoo Uul (Pot Mountain) – an extinct volcano looming over the surrounding steppe. The hike to the top rewards you with views of the crater's lush interior. From this vantage, you can only imagine what this incredible landscape must have looked like millions of years ago.
4 Selenge River - Ikh Uul Family Ger Camp
Today your journey (approximately 9 hours) brings you to the mountainous outskirts of Ikh Uul for your first stay with a local nomad family. This is a rare opportunity to see how modern Mongolian nomads are preserving an ancient way of life while embracing some elements of modernity. You will be welcomed into the family ger and shown traditional Mongolian hospitality, starting with a bowl of salty milk tea and perhaps some aaruul (dried curds). This evening you will help your hosts prepare dinner – maybe some buuz (steamed dumplings) or barbecue. Your hosts may teach you some Mongolian games, such as shooting arrows from a bow in the local style. Many nomad families keep animals, so don't be surprised if there is some interaction with goats, dogs, horses and sheep. The location is remote, with no nearby settlements or light pollution. The night sky is incredible in clear weather, so be sure to do some stargazing before retiring for the evening.
5 Khovsgol Lake
Enjoy breakfast with our host family and bid them farewell. It's another long day of driving today, across some rough terrain, to Khovsgol Lake (approximately 9 hours). Some say this is Mongolia's most beautiful destination, a pristine wilderness area that's home to many ethnic minorities. It boasts spectacular scenery with stunning fir forests, lush green grasslands and meadows peppered with wildflowers. Since it is a popular destination for both foreign tourists and local holiday makers, you will likely come across other travellers here, especially in the peak travel months of June and July. You'll stay in a tourist ger camp just near the lake. Settle in for the night and sleep well, because there are plenty of optional activities to choose from tomorrow.
6 Khovsgol Lake
Today you might like to hike up to one of the nearby peaks or perhaps take a boat trip out on the lake. Explore on foot and relax on one of our few days not on the road. All of these are great ways to experience this gorgeous region. Overnight in the tourist ger camp again tonight.
7 Murun - Shine Ider Family Ger Camp
Today we will set off early to drive back through the town of Murun, and on to Shine Ider (approximately 10 hours). Here you will enjoy the second family stay of your trip. Now that you know what to expect from a Mongolian homestay, you should feel more comfortable the second time around. Get to know your hosts as you help them prepare dinner. You might even have the chance to watch as the family's livestock are milked and herded.
8-9 Terkhiin Tsagaan Lake
After breakfast with the family, we'll drive to the surreal Lake Terkhiin Tsagaan, aka the Great White Lake (approximately 7 hours). This natural volcanic lake, surrounded by mountains, is a surreal and memorable sight. Using the tourist ger camp at Maikhan Tolgoi as a base, you will drive up to one of the volcanic craters and hike to the top for spectacular views. There are plenty of nice trails to walk during your two-night stay here, so make the most of this relaxing break from the road.
10 Tsetserleg - Tsenkher
Travel to the Tsenkher Hot Springs (approximately 6 hours). These are situated in the valley of the Delger River. On the way, you'll stop at Tsetserleg, a provincial town with a local market and a unique little museum housed in a former temple, which you'll visit with a local guide. At this stop, there's the chance to wander around the town for a glimpse at what provincial Mongolian life is like. Perhaps stock up on some snacks and drinks for the travels ahead. If there is time and the connection is good, you can also visit an internet cafe to get in touch with friends and family back home. From here it's about another hour to the hot springs, where you'll check into the tourist ger camp on arrival.
Today is a free day to relax, explore, or simply laze about in the thermal waters of these invigorating natural hot springs. Be sure to pack your swimwear so you can take part in this activity. Surrounded by the remote beauty of the landscape, this location is perfect for slowing down to a more meditative pace and taking it easy. There are also optional hikes and activities on offer if you'd prefer something more active.
12 Karakorum - Khogno Khan
Continue to Karakorum (approximately 4 hours), a town built by the legendary Genghis Khan in the 13th century. Ask your leader and drivers to tell you some stories about this great man on the way – after all, he's the nation's hero. In Karakorum you will visit the first Buddhist centre of Mongolia, the immense Erdene Zuu Monastery. This impressive walled compound retains much of its former glory, and within it you can inspect the three temples, each one dedicated to a different stage of a Buddha's life – child, adolescent and adult stages. Later in the afternoon, you will drive to Khogno Khan, the location of your tourist ger camp tonight.
13 Khogno Khan
Just nearby Karakorum is a sudden strip of sand dunes – a striking contrast to the landscape you have just travelled through. Here you will enjoy a camel trek along the dunes – an ideal way to experience this eye-popping landscape. At your ger camp, there might be the opportunity to practice the art of Mongolian archery under the tutorage of some local experts. It's certainly much harder than it looks, requiring good strength and aim! The afternoon is yours to spend as you please.
Travel back across the rolling grasslands to Ulaanbaatar (approximately 8 hours). The route will take you past 'ovoos' (roadside shrines) and ger suburbs. Arriving in the metropolis, you'll check back into your hotel. Depending on the arrival time, there might be the chance to shop for some local handicrafts such as cashmere and felt products, or check out some more of the city's sights and museums. Tonight you can celebrate your journey around Mongolia by witnessing a special cultural performance featuring throat singing and traditional dancing. There will be an optional final dinner at a local restaurant recommended by your leader.
Say 'bayartai' to your group as your adventure draws to a close. There are no activities planned for the day, and you're free to depart the hotel at any time before 12 noon. If you'd like to stay longer in UB, it's recommended that you book additional accommodation well in advance.