Mongolia: August 11 - August 25, 2019
Beijing (1 night) - Duolun (2 night) - night train to Mongolia (1 night) - Ulan Bator (2 nights) - Kharkhorin (1 night) - Gobi desert (2 nights) - Ulgii (3 nights) - Ulan Bator (2 nights)
Day 1, August 12, Sunday
Transfer to our hotel in the heart of Beijing’s hutong old town. This is a most atmospheric hotel in the most atmospheric part of Beijing. And best of all, it has its roots in Mongol times! In the afternoon we will have a tour of what’s left of the Mongol imperial capital Khanbaliq, as Beijing was named by Kublai Khan. Join the tour to learn what hutong means! We will have dinner at the Temple restaurant, Beijing’s best.
Day 2, August 13, Monday
After breakfast we head north, first to the Great Wall of China, built by the Ming Dynasty, to keep the Mongols away after expelling them in 1368. We will take lunch at the lovely Schoolhouse restaurant nearby the wall. And because this is chestnut and walnut harvest time in the villages north of Beijing, our lunch will also be chestnut and walnut themed. Beyond the Wall is Mongolia. And this is where we are going next. After lunch we will drive to Duolun. Notice how much the landscape will change as we head north. Farewell to the mountains, and welcome to the vast Mongolian steppe! We will have a Chinese-Mongolian dinner in a local restaurant.
Day 3, August 14, Tuesday
In the morning we will visit the Shangdu museum, which will give an interesting overview of the scale and scope of nearby ruined palace of Xanadu - the summer capital of the Mongol Empire. Then we will visit the vast remains of Xanadu, Kublai Khan’s wondrous capital surrounded by grassland. Picnic lunch on the steppe.
Day 4, August 15, Wednesday
After breakfast we are off to Jining South, approximately five hours by bus through the green steppes of Mongolia, to catch the Trans-Mongolian international train to Ulaanbaatar. Lunch on the steppe, dinner onboard the train. During the first two hours of the journey, before it gets dark, we will leave the grasslands and enter the mighty Gobi desert. At the border the train will get lifted so it changes tracks: from the standard gauge Chinese to the wide gauge Russian.
Day 5, August 16, Thursday
At the time when you wake up, notice how much the scenery has changed! We are now at the fringes of the Gobi desert, entering the steppe lands of the north. Enjoy the ride. Grab breakfast and lunch at the restaurant car of the train. At 2.30 pm we arrive in Ulaanbaatar, also known as Ulan Bator. Short transfer to our hotel. Some time to rest and relax after the train. In the late afternoon we will meet for a introductory walk of Central Ulan Bator. We will visit the Choijin Lama temple, just in front of our hotel, Sukhbaatar square with the famous Genghis Khan statue, and the small but important History museum on the western end of the square. Tonight we will have our welcome dinner, at a very popular hotpot restaurant in town. Welcome to Mongolia!
Day 6, August 17, Friday
After breakfast we will continue our tour of Ulaanbaatar: a local artist will lead us, stopping at the small but stunning Zanabazar art museum, Gandan Khiid monastery - the only monastery that remained open during communist times. We will have a homecooked lunch with a Mongolian family in the ger district of town - where people still live in felt tents, or gers as they are known. Free time in the afternoon to explore the city on your own. Buffet dinner at our hotel, followed by a ballet or opera on the main square, just a few minutes from the hotel.
Day 7, August 18, Saturday
Orkhon valley. After an early breakfast we are off to Kharkhorin on the Unesco inscribed Orkhon cultural valley. Check in at the comfortable new Ikh Khorum hotel in Kharkhorin. Lunch, and then head to the small but informative history museum, then the ruins of Karakorum, the first capital of the Mongol empire, and finally Erdene Zuu monastery, a jewel of Mongolian enlightenment. Dinner at our hotel.
Day 8, August 19, Sunday
After breakfast we will start for our tour’s longest drive, across the mighty Gobi desert. Be prepared - it will be long and bumpy, around 10 hours in the car, but if you think this is long, think of the locals who do 50-60 hour non-stop rides from east to west. We will have lunch with a nomadic family which raises camels, and learn more about survival and water management in the harshest of climates. This is not tourist territory. Money back to anyone who spots another tourist during the ride today. In the evening we will arrive at the ultra comfortable Three Camel Lodge, a National Geographic Lodge. Dinner there.
Day 9, August 20, Monday
Sleep till late, or wake up early and explore the surroundings around our camp. Breakfast. This is moment to ride a horse or camel if you wish - the lodge has some of the best animals in the country. Then we will learn how to cook a variety of Mongolian foods, and then have what we just cooked for lunch. Free time. In the afternoon we will venture to the Flaming cliffs nearby, and walk together with a paleontologist to discover more about the dinosaur fossils found here. Dinner in the Three Camel lodge, and traditional music from a local band.
Day 10, August 21, Tuesday
After breakfast we will get transferred to nearby Dalanzagdad airport from where we will catch a flight to Ulaanbaatar and onwards to Ulgii. Arrive in Ulgii in the afternoon. Check in at Eagles Nest hotel. This is the best hotel in western Mongolia, and although no Shangri-La, its rooms are clean. Ulgii is where most of the country’s ethnic Kazakhs live.
Day 11, August 22, Wednesday
After breakfast we will visit the little Kazakh museum in town, hear a performance of Kazakh musicians at the town theatre, and have lunch in town, visiting a Kazakh family. Afternoon to rest or explore this wild Mongolian west town.
Day 12, August 23, Thursday
Eagle hunters and throat singers. Breakfast at the hotel. Then we are off to nearby Tsaigan, Mongolia’s westernmost village, to meet an eagle hunter and have lunch in the home of a renowned Tuvan throat singer! Afterwards, we will head to see some of the area’s Unesco inscribed ancient petroglyphs, rock art. Return to Ulgii late in the evening.
Day 13, August 24, Friday
Coal mining. After breakfast, head to Ulaangom, capital of Uvs province. We will see Uvs nur, a UNESCO World Heritage lake. It’s the place where the world’s northernmost desert meets the world’s southernmost taiga. On the way we will stop by one of the world’s largest open air coal mines. Mining is what drives Mongolia’s economy forward. Let’s learn more about it. It will not be a pretty sight, but it is what gives people a job and an income. We will fly in the evening, after crossing a steep mountain pass, to Ulaanbaatar. Dinner at our well known Shangri-La hotel.
Day 14, August 25, Saturday
Largest equestrian statue in the world. In the morning, after a late breakfast, we will visit one of Mongolia’s three remaining bow and arrow makers in his large, communist-era prefabricated apartment building. He makes composite bows - made of wood, skin and bone. And he has hundreds of them in that small apartment. Lunch in a cosy local restaurant, and then (optional) we will drive to see the largest largest equestrian statue in the world - of who else than Chingiz, or Genghis Khan. Or you may choose to spend the afternoon exploring the streets of Ulaanbaatar. Farewell dinner in a lovely Hazara restaurant in town. Overnight in Ulaanbaatar, Shangri-La, second night. Breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 15, August 26, Sunday
Transfers to Ulan Bator International Airport for your flights back or where the heart takes you next. Please note: International flights out of Ulan Bator are very expensive. You may want to book a flight to Beijing, and fly out from there.
- Accommodation in Mongolia’s best lodgings: from a Shangri-La, to a cosy National Geographic Lodge.
- Transport with a new, comfortable minibus where the roads are paved, and 4WDs for the bumpy side roads. And not least, good drivers!
- Drivers and guides lodging and food.
- Deluxe Trans-Siberian express from Jining South to Ulaanbaatar in twin compartments (single is not available).
- Flights Dalanzagdad-Ulaanbaatar-Ulgii; Ulaangom-Ulaanbaatar.
- All meals according to programme: 13 breakfasts, 12 lunches, 9 dinners in carefully selected places.
- Border permit to the western Altai region.
- All taxes and fees.
- Bottled water, refreshments and sweet treats while on the bus and while exploring sights.
- A comprehensive information pack with maps, literature, useful knowledge and gifts.
- Tips for pretty much everyone but guide and driver.
- All activities according to the program: musicians, throat singers, eagle hunters, visits to homes, and more.
- Entry tickets to all sights that are ticketed.
- Visa invitation letter for China, if required.
- And much, much more.
Price does not include:
- International air fares.
- Medical and travel insurance.
- Personal expenses such as phone calls, laundry, internet, drinks apart from those included.
- Visa fees for China.
€4930 per person, €740 single supplement.
- Visiting all three former Mongolian imperial capitals: Kharkhorin, Xanadu and Khanbaliq. And three of the four UNESCO World Heritage sites in Mongolia: Uvs lake, Petroglyphic complexes of the Altai, Orkhon river cultural landscape.
- Visiting some of the world’s best museum collections on Mongolia. Maps, portraits, images and artifacts will allow us to get broad and distinct perspectives on the Mongol culture and history: through various various Persian, western (e.g. Marco Polo) and Chinese sources. It will allow us to see how Chinese and Mongol culture fused - that cultural and linguistic pluralism that Mongols are still proud of.
- Trying to count how many times the colors, the textures, the smells, the sounds, the animal and plant life, and the weather will change in the Gobi desert as we cross it from north to south!
- Driving through the mighty Altai Mountains in the west; and through the empty Gobi desert in the south.
- Visiting one of the world’s largest coal mines, truly in the middle of nowhere, never visited by tourists before.
- Listening to one of the most amazing modern Mongol folk bands play for us in the heart of the Gobi desert.
- Staying at only the finest, most atmospheric lodgings in this part of Eurasia.
- Getting a glimpse of Muslim Kazakh and animalistic Tuvan culture in Mongolia’s remote far west, the Altai mountains.
- Eating a chocolate cake at the salty Uvs lake (five times saltier than the world ocean), a World Heritage site: where the world’s northernmost desert meets the world’s southernmost taiga.
- Meeting, and chatting with colourful local characters: in the city, and in the countryside.
- Searching for dinosaur fossils in the Gobi desert.
- Learning about different lifestyles in modern-day Mongolia: how nomadic pastoral people in the Gobi desert make a living in some of the world’s harshest conditions; how Mongolia makes the bulk of its GDP through mining for coal and minerals.
- And much more!