In June/July 2018 I will be traveling to Mongolia for a month.
I am volunteering with World Challenge organisation.
I will be helping remote communities and villages with much needed projects.
We will cross the wilderness on horseback and on the way home I may be going to Beijing to see the great wall of China.
I am currently planning the itinerary of our trip with my team.
It is going to be an amazing adventure!
To go to Mongolia, I have to be vaccinated. Six vaccines to be exact (could be more, depending on our final itinerary). More about that later…
It is only 6 months before I leave for Mongolia. So I decided to collect all the equipment that I need for the trip.
I have my rucksack, solar charging device, multi-tools, sleeping bag, walking sticks and much more. I will post some photos of me shopping.
My family has been very supportive. Without my grandparents none of this would have been possible! They even took me on a training expedition down south over the holidays. So far my mum is still nervous about me going.
In a few months I will have my practice camp which goes over a weekend and gives us an idea of what we will be doing in Mongolia and survival skills. We will learn how to work with each other and lead groups. Next will be the big meeting that decides where, what and when we will be completing community projects etc.
We have already booked the flights to Mongolia: we will fly to Sydney, then Beijing and finally Mongolia.
We will have a couple of days in Beijing on the way and I am hoping that we get to see the great wall of China.
I am extremely excited and can’t wait to get going on this awesome expedition!
Today I met Molly! she is big, dark and beautiful.
She will also help reduce my pain while I am on the expedition.
You may wonder how…
We will be riding horses for some of the time in Mongolia and I am learning how to ride.
This was the first time for me riding a horse and it is definitely a very bumpy yet fun experience.
What did I learn?
I learnt you have to go with the rhythm of the horse or it will be a very bumpy ride.
I found out Molly likes carrots.
I really enjoy horse riding.
I would like to say big thank you to Karen and Trevor Hayes for Teaching me how to ride!
My friend Angus is going to ride with me, I can’t wait for the next time.
For those who don’t know, I run a campaign called GOSAC (Give Our Strays A Chance) – I love helping the stray animals.
However, while In Mongolia I won’t be able to pat any stray animals or interact with them 🙁
Rabies is widespread in Mongolia and mortality rate if unvaccinated (before and after) is almost 100%. Even if vaccinated, no contact with stray animals is recommended.
Today I visited the travel doctor to see which vaccines I need for my trip.
I talked to a really nice doctor from “Travel Health Plus”, he was super helpful when it came to the knowledge of vaccines and threats. We went over the list of vaccines and it turns out…. I need 7 injections!
The doctor advised to wear long sleeves and pants as there are ticks in the bushes and trees when we go up north near the Russian border. No eating uncooked food (including salads) and only drinking clean water out of my special life straw bottle.
I was able to get two injections out of the way today, it is incredible how quick and painless the injections are thanks to the awesome nurse. I will be going back several times in the next month for the rest of my vaccines and will also be getting a shot on my birthday, what an amazing present!
I have finally had the long anticipated practice camp for Mongolia.
It was a 2 day and one night camp to the Manjedal activity centre, where we camped.
We arrived at Manjedal and gathered in our group of all the kids going to Mongolia from Melville SHS and met with our World Challenge guide Gary. Gary will be our guide for the duration of the Mongolia trip as well.
We started the day off with Gary reviewing everyone’s medical information sheets and making sure they are up to date. This was a long process and as you can tell was VERY exciting.. not.
In the mean time we organised our team roles and got our bags ready for the upcoming hike.
Once Gary was done we had a talk about how to adjust our straps on our bags and how some emergency scenarios would play out. Such as what to do when you are being kidnapped (kick and scream) or how to activate the emergency beacon.
After he was done we began the trek.
The trek was roughly 4.5km and is only around one fifth of what we would be doing each day in Mongolia. We spent the time practicing walking with our bags and occasionally stopping to have a talk with our guide about the experiences and scenarios we will encounter on our journey in Mongolia. After a couple of hours of trekking we reached our camp site.
We began executing our roles and working as a team to complete the tasks that were at hand for example, cooking, setting up tents and collecting equipment needed. It was really fun to see how well we work as a team and how things will go in Mongolia. We set up all the equipment and proceeded to make dinner….. Pasta!
We spent a while preparing the different ingredients and we were finally finished, it tasted really good. Every night in Mongolia we will be cooking and preparing our own meal and every day switching over the roles. After dinner we all sat down and had a good time laughing, I really enjoyed getting to know the people that will be with me as a part of the expedition.
We slept in a tent, this camp was the perfect time to test my equipment and make sure everything was working well. My sleeping bag and mat are really comfortable and it will be perfect for getting a good nights rest.
During the night I suddenly woke up to a sniffling sound coming from outside the tent. I carefully and quietly opened the entrance to the tent, making sure not to wake my friends who were still sleeping. I opened the zipper of the tent and there looking right back at me was a kangaroo trying to get into our bags! It gave me quite a fright but it was really awesome to see.
In the morning my friends and I prepared breakfast and boiled water while everyone else started the process of taking everything back down. We cleaned all the equipment and returned it.
Before we go to Mongolia we have to make a list of all the equipment and food we need for the whole duration of the trip and buy it during our stay in the capital of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar.
We once again prepared our bags and started the trek back to the entrance of Manjedal.
I learnt many valuable tips and advice that I will use during my expedition in Mongolia, I also learnt that there is a lot of work involved in preparing for the trip but I think that all our work will pay off when we land in Mongolia.
We arrived back at the entrance and awaited pick up by our parents. I had a great time and can’t wait to go to Mongolia!
Once in Mongolia we will begin our trek into the wilderness and on the way stop at remote communities and help with projects such as renovating schools. There are many kids at the communities and I thought it would be a great idea to ask Jim Kidd for some soccer balls to give to the kids. Jim Kidd was happy to donate 5 good quality soccer balls and a pump. I think the kids in Mongolia would love playing with these, big thank you to Jim Kidd!
I am also going to bring pencils to give the kids as well as other fun stuff to make them happy.
There are only 4 days to go until I board my flight to head over east and then to Beijing in China.
I have finally finished packing and have all of my kit organised inside my rucksack. Last Friday we had a meeting to discuss our kit and plans for while we are in China and Mongolia. We had to empty all of our kit from our bags and double check we have everything on the equipment list.
When we arrive in Beijing we will hit the ground running, we have a tour around Beijing looking at sites such as the Olympic stadium, The Great Wall of China and various market places. We stay in China for a total of 3 days before heading to the capital of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar for another 3 days. From there we begin our trek through the wilderness to get to the community we will be helping, it will be amazing to have a home stay with a traditional Mongolian family in a hut like home called a yurt and have an insight on how their community functions and how their culture is different to Australia’s.
Some interesting customs in Mongolia include: Haggling while shopping, receiving objects using your right hand, never touching other people’s hats and not leaning against a support column or the side of a yurt.
We will also be teaching the kids in the community how to speak English.
Once we complete our project in the remote community we travel up north to lake Khovsgol, we trek by foot and on horse back around the lake.
With only four days to go I am going through everything I need for the trip and I am so excited!
I will continue to write my blog during my trip and make sure I post them as soon as I can.
The day we have all been waiting for has finally arrived. On the 23rd of June at 10:45 we departed on our long trip to Beijing. We gathered at Perth domestic airport a couple of hours earlier than the flight. All my teammates and their parents came to say goodbye for the last time. My mum, being my mum was extremely worried but we managed to say goodbye.
I began my journey through the airports and flights. First was a 5 hour flight to Sydney and then a 12 hour flight from Sydney to Beijing. It was very long and tiring but I made it to Beijing.
Beijing is one of the most populated cities in China. Beijing is a very busy city, there are constantly many people walking in the streets and the restaurants are open late. Beijing is a very industrialised city, each building looks as if it was made to serve a purpose rather than to look good. Most of the buildings have a grey colour because of the concrete.
Although Beijing is very polluted and grey, there are many trees planted everywhere to try and compensate for the damage to the environment.
The cultural differences between Beijing and Perth are huge. It is like being in a totally different world.
After collecting our bags and going through customs we were finally able to check into our hotel. The hostel – Beijing Peas hostel has an extremely small entrance. If you happened to be walking by you would never have guessed that it is a hostel. I shared my room with the year 10 boys (5 of us).
The room consisted of 3 bunk beds, a locker cabinet and an air conditioner. It was a very tight fit between us and the bags as well but it was definitely a different experience.
Once we settled into our rooms we left to have dinner. It took us a while to find a restaurant because of the language difficulties and also the price. We entered many restaurants and tried to communicate with the staff but they could not understand. After entering many restaurants we found a small place that could understand enough English to be able to order a dish for each of us. I ordered a beef noodle dish and I really enjoyed it. The flavour was definitely unique and you wouldn’t come across it in Australia.
After dinner we headed back to the hostel and had a good sleep after the long flights that we had previously
We woke up early in order to catch a tour bus to go to the Great Wall of China, a jade factory, a tea shop, the Olympic stadium and Tiananmen Square.
As we walked outside to catch the bus we could see the thick smoke in the air and we were hit with a shock when we breathed in the air. We boarded the bus and went on the drive to the Great Wall of China.
Along the ride we got to experience first hand the traffic in China. Let me start by saying it is very hectic. There are thousands of cars constantly changing lanes, cutting in front of people and honking their horns. We came close to being hit many times but somehow the talented drivers of Beijing were able to dodge one another. Another strange feature on the roads is that many people drive electric bikes, motorbikes and even small 3 wheeled cars. All these small vehicles drive in a seperate lane to cars and at traffic lights all types of vehicles cross which seems crazy but somehow they manage.
After an hours drive we made it to the Great Wall. Just as we were coming up through the mountains we were able to spot some of the towers and walls belonging to the Great Wall. We were dropped off at tower number 7 (The Great Wall of China has many seperate Walls). I climbed with some of my friends to the highest point we could get to which was tower 12. The view from some of the towers along the way was spectacular. The smog along the mountains added to the surreal landscape. The steps on the Great Wall range from small to big, sometimes you find yourself taking small frequent steps or trying really hard to climb the bigger ones. I was very surprised how steep the wall is, my legs are quite sore now. Near the top of the wall we climbed was a souvenir shop where I bought an old Yuan (Chinese currency) coin. Just as we had to climb our way up we also had to climb back down. This was worse than climbing up because one wrong step and down the wall you go.
Our next stop was the jade factory. We were taken through the process of how jade is found, mined and crafted into jewellery, animals, shapes and much more. They took us into a large room filled with jade accessories for purchase and the amount of jade used to craft items was amazing.
Our tour guide took us to an authentic tea shop and we were able to go through a tasting ceremony. One of the staff at the shop prepared the 6 main types of tea in China. All of which have various flavours, colours and smells. It was very interesting and tasty. My favourite was the fruit tea which has a combination of many different fruits which creates a sweet and rich tea.
On the way to Tiananmen Square we stopped at the Olympic stadium (birds nest). Although we didn’t go inside the size of the stadium and the aquatic centre is massive.
From there we went to Tiananmen Square to take some photos and retrace past events that have occurred in the square. The final stop was the shopping mall where we stopped to relax a little bit and grab something to drink.
On the way back we caught the public train. The train is completely different to the ones in Perth. There are gates guarding the sides of the railway and once the train stops they open to let you onboard. The train is usually filled with people but this is balanced out by the frequency of trains that arrive at the station.
We got back to our hotel and went for dinner at the same place as the night before. This day was very busy but totally worth it because of the amount of once in a life time experiences we were given.
We woke up at 3:30 in the morning in order to catch our bus to Beijing international airport. I made sure to pack all my bags so they were ready for the flight to Mongolia. We left the hostel and again the amount of the pollution lingering in the air was amazing. We boarded our bus to go to the airport, the flight departed at 8:45 but we needed to arrive several hours beforehand to sort out boarding passes and baggage. The flight to Mongolia was only 2 hours which was definitely a great difference compared the previous flight which was 12 hours. As we were travelling over the Mongolia all you could see was the Gobi desert.
The Gobi desert covers south Mongolia between Beijing and Mongolia, it was incredible to see how vast the desert is.
As we neared the airport in Ulaanbaatar the Great Gobi desert transformed into green plains, as we were flying on one side of the clouds was the desert and on the other side were green, grass plains. It was just as if I entered a hidden world.
We left the plane and exited the airport. We found a bus driver that was able to transport us to the hotel. As soon as we left the airport the fresh air was a huge difference to Beijing and felt very refreshing. From what we saw Ulaanbaatar is half in a valley between two big hills and surrounding the whole city are grass plains.
As we travelled to the hotel we were able to see the city up close. I was extremely surprised by the layout and construction of Ulaanbaatar. I thought the city would be very small and buildings would be minimal but in fact it is almost the opposite. The city has many huge skyscrapers and hundreds more are being made. The city is bustling with activity which was very similar to China, many people walk around the city and the traffic is almost as bad as China.
We checked into the hotel and the rooms are nice. We have two beds, a TV and a bathroom with plenty of room. It is a really great improvement compared to the hostel we stayed in while we were in Beijing.
We met with our guide for the whole time we are in Mongolia and she took us out for lunch. The food in Mongolia has a very peculiar taste mainly because of the amount of spices they use in their cooking. Some of the most frequent dishes they cook include: dumplings (Mutton, Lamb and Beef), Rice, Seasoned and spiced cucumbers, noodles and soups.
I think it is really amazing that restaurants make their own pasta and dough from scratch which requires a lot of effort but even big franchises as well as local restaurants make their own food. It really makes a huge difference in the taste of the food. We left back to the hotel room to rest for the rest of the day and went out for dinner.
Day 2 in Ulaanbaatar
Today was a major planning day for the community work we will be taking part in. In the morning we left for breakfast and then headed to a company called Ger to Ger.
Ger to Ger organises trips for people to volunteer in remote villages which need help across Mongolia. We met one of the most experienced guides from the company and he explained the background of Mongolia and the facts that nobody really know about.
One of the most important things he taught us was it isn’t about what you can see but what you can’t see.
He told us that we have to think about every minor detail that we wouldn’t think of when staying in the community in order to fully immerse ourselves in the culture and respect it as well. He explained that Genghis Kahn at one point had the biggest empire in the world and the methods he would use to manage such a large population of people. Genghis Kahn was able to create an appearance of a mighty and strong king that solely ran on the principles of a dictatorship but Genghis actually had representatives from each “state” and was able to present ideas to them and vote on the most liked one. This was one of the first forms of democracy ever used.
Genghis Kahn also relocated nomadic families throughout the middles of Mongolia which helped prevent war and also give them an advantage because these families were so used to moving around.
The guides talk was very interesting I definitely learnt a lot about Mongolian traditional rules and culture.
It is past midnight and tomorrow we are starting our trek (which I will blog about and update as soon as I have connection again). Good night!!
Getting ready and preparing for our community stay
Last day in Ulaanbaatar, we left the hotel in the morning after getting ready and had a meeting just outside of the hotel. We all met to discuss the plans for the day. The group was split up into smaller groups to complete tasks simultaneously and faster.
There were three groups: catering (Who bought the food for the 6 days in the community), equipment (tools to use when we are working on the the project) and accomodation (looking for a hotel to stay at when we come back to Ulaanbaatar from the project).
We have planned to pay a local Mongolian woman to cook us food. It will be interesting to experience traditional Mongolian style cooking. We are having meals ranging from fried rice, stir frys, soups and even a traditional Mongolian dish. The traditional Mongolian dish consists of sheep roasted with many spices and vegetables.
I was chosen to be on the accomodation team as I am on accommodation duty when we come back to Ulaanbaatar from the village. We spent most of the day locating various hotels in Ulaanbaatar and calling them to find out whether they are in our price range. We visited many hostels some which were very dirty and had limited space. One of the places we went to had a room with around 6 or 7 bunk beds and one bathroom, the floors were very dirty and so were the beds. It was interesting to see the types of hotels available in Ulaanbaatar. We managed to stumble across a really nice hotel that was within our budget so we talked to the hotel owner Gilly and he was able to give us a discount because we are volunteers with world challenge. We were able to successfully book the dates. We went out for lunch at a western restaurant which was a nice break from the strong flavoured traditional food.
The rest of the day we had time to relax at the hotel before heading out for dinner.
Arriving to Terelj
This day was a very fast paced day. Still in Ulaanbataar, we woke up earlier than usual in order to quickly have breakfast and catch a ride on a bus to the village where we do our community work. The village is called Terelj.
We spent half an hour walking to a cafe and found out that the the lady wasn’t able to cook breakfast for so many people so we had to spend even more time wandering around looking for food. We came across the state department store so we were able to buy ourselves breakfast. Looking for food consumed a large chunk of time from our schedule so we had to quickly race back to the hotel and pack all our gear ready for the bus trip.
We geared up, carrying our ruck sacks, day bag and extra boxes of equipment/food. It was extremely tiring especially because of the weather in Ulaanbaatar. Ulaanbaatar has very clear skies with hardly any clouds during the summer. This made the 6 km trek even harder.
On the way to the bus stop we stopped at Ger to Ger to drop off any extra equipment and food they were able to send to Terelj. Once we arrived at the bus stop, the bus came and I was shocked to see a very old public bus stop right before us. We got on board and sat down. We had to fit all our bags in between our legs and on top of us the whole ride which was very painful, especially because the bus ride was 2 hours as well.
It was fascinating to see the variety of backgrounds and cultures on the bus. I could hear multiple languages being spoken by different people. One Mongolian came onto the bus and was showing an acquaintance of his a cardboard box that he was carrying with a white bird inside.
After sleeping most of the way to Terelj we made it. We got off the bus and we were immediately greeted by locals who offered to take our bags to where we were staying.
We had lunch. The meals consisted of a large chunk of mutton, rice, potato salad and a Mongolian salad (Strong taste) with a grape juice tea which was really nice. We also drank milk from a mare and had doughnut sticks with curdled milk and sugar.
We were able to talk basic English to locals and have a look at the school before we begin work on it the next day.
The school is an extremely small building with a tiny playground at the back. Most rooms inside the building have small benches and tables with a blackboard at the front.
It was amazing to see the difference between my education and theirs. We saw the area we are working on and which areas of dirt need to be dug up.
We then travelled by ox cart to where we will be staying over the duration of our stay, across the river.
We bathed in the river, the water was freezing but very clear.
There is a bridge over the river. It is used if the level of water in the river is too high. The ox can’t go on the bridge so we get dropped off half way and we have to walk the other half.
Travelling by ox cart was definitely not something I would forget. The amount of power taken to pull a cart of people across a river is tremendous. Sitting on the back of an ox cart is a very peaceful journey especially when you are travelling through the green steppes of Mongolia. It is beautiful here, very hilly and green.
We arrived to our Ger and inside was a stove in the middle with two columns either side. In our Ger there were 3 beds and 5 people so two of us had to sleep on the ground.
I didn’t mind sleeping on the floor.
Today we decided that we would go up the hill across from our ger. We had to wake up earlier than usual to start the walk up the hill. We got changed and left the Ger, the air was cold and very refreshing. We walked up the hill which was small but surprisingly steep. The surrounding area of where we are staying is covered in green grass with many small stones. This made climbing up the hill a bit challenging which added to the fun and experience. Once we reached the top the view was spectacular, we had a view of all the Gers along the steppe and in towards the valley.
My phone definitely did not capture how amazing this was in real life.
We returned to camp, had breakfast and headed out on ox cart to the local school. The ox cart is a small, hand made, wooden platform with wheels which is pulled by an Ox and sometimes even a horse. It never becomes boring riding on the back of these carts as the view along the ride is really nice and relaxing. The ox cart takes us across the steppe that we are camped on and across a river to get to the school.
We got to the school and planned what construction we will be doing during the week. Today we dug up a certain area to make way for the concrete and carried some bricks, once constructed they will be used as seats for the children.
We levelled the area we dug up and removed any large debris from the area. It was very hot so we had to take regular drink breaks and rest for a little bit before continuing. The locals were very helpful with trying to find tools and helping us with transporting dirt and other things like that.
The Mongolian woman brought down lunch for us which was a Mongolian dish similar to pasta with lamb and a few other vegetables. The mutton was freshly made for us, on the last night we are going to cook an entire sheep with a variety of vegetables. I am looking forward to that dish and I am definitely enjoying the traditional Mongolian style food.
We worked on the project for a little while afterwards until some kids from the community came by and we were able to introduce ourselves and practise our Mongolian.
We then headed to the local river to have a bath and clean our clothes. I went into the river for a swim and the water was extremely cold. It was unbelievable to see little kids running around the water like it was nothing. I washed all my clothes and had a good time mucking around in the river with my friends.
We headed back to the gers for some rest time and to end our day with a final meal. We had fried rice with vegetables and mutton. Again the style of cooking is very unique and gives a great flavour to the food.
All of us were very tired at the end of the day so we quickly got our stuff ready in the Ger. I setup my inflatable mattress, sleeping bag, pillow and mosquito net. It is a very funny layout inside the Ger and it is heaps of fun to sleep in a Ger with all my friends.
Over the last couple of days we worked hard but also had alot of fun.
We woke up early, it was beautiful but pretty chilly.
For breakfasts we generally had oats with fresh, cooked milk from the local yaks. The family that was catering for us would generally give us small little doughnut sticks and also flatbreads which we would dip in Nutella, jam or put cheese on top. They also served us a Mongolian tea called milk tea and is also made from yak’s milk. The meals given by the family are always very wholesome and delicious.
We packed our working gear every morning for the construction at the school and waited for the ox carts to arrive.
When the ox carts arrived at our camp site, four of us hopped on the back of each cart. The carts take us to the school through the outskirts of the village and the river.
One morning we started moving and all the other carts passed us, our ox was going really really really slow. The driver was constantly trying to get the ox to walk faster but it was still going extremely slow. So the driver decided to call her friends to try and pull the ox to make it walk a bit faster but still the ox resisted. As we approached the river we needed to cross, we didn’t think we could cross it because of how slow the ox was going. In the end there were three people all on horses pulling our cart AND the ox across the river. It was definitely a hilarious experience but we did get to the school half an hour late.
Another time we were able to go on a cart that was being pulled by a horse and the driver decided to have a race between us and the cart next to us. So we were travelling at quite a fast (but safe) speed and travelling over rocks, it was a very bumpy ride. One of my friends in the cart slipped off the side and into the dirt. I felt really bad but it was really funny. No animals or people were hurt in this story!
After finally making it to the school we put on our working clothes and got busy creating concrete which was needed to extend the school’s floor and create a few seats for the kids. The locals brought in a big bathtub that we used to mix water, gravel and concrete powder. We used the concrete to fill the areas we dug up in previous days. It was a lot of work but it was fun to learn new skills that I wouldn’t normally learn at home.
We started creating small platforms for benches and layed a few bricks. Another skill that I learnt was how to lay bricks and apply cement to them. Most of the days were very sunny and very nice weather to work in. A couple of days itwas pretty cloudy and rained a few times but this didn’t stop us from progressing with our construction.
For lunches, the catering woman came to the school by cart and delivered some food. Normally we would have fried rice, a special type of potato noodles or pockets filled with meat and vegetables.
One day a sheep was slaughtered and cooked for us. It was all very traditional and we were honoured to be a part of it.
Once we had finished eating, we continued with construction until some of the kids from the surrounding community came to learn a bit of English.
Surprisingly, the kids picked up what we were teaching them very fast which was amazing. We showed them different flashcards with names of different objects, animals and colours. It was fun being able to actually be the teacher and now I understand how a teacher feels when a kid is disruptive. It is actually quite a challenge being able to control and effectively teach a class of young kids. However it is very rewarding and fun.
In Perth, before we left for the expedition Jim Kidd donated soccer balls (and a pump) for the kids at the school. They were SO happy and grateful.
At the moment in Mongolia all of the children are on holidays for 3 months, so it was impressive to see that many kids show up just to learn English from us. Before we left the school for the last time, the principal came to say thank you and well done on our effort with the construction as well as teaching the kids English. She said that we are doing great for helping communities that are far away from home and that we have a bright future ahead of us. I thanked her for letting us stay and for the amazing hospitality. She gave me a long hug. She is a very nice person, she was very thankful the whole time.
At the end of every day we walked down to the river from the school to wash our clothes and go for a bit of a swim. Many times as we walked into the river, we all ran out with shock because of how cold the water was. Our Mongolian guide told us that the water is melting from the snow on top of the mountains. We all plunged into the river and it was really nice and refreshing. We all came out of the river freezing but it was definitely worth it.
When we finish up cleaning, we then returned back to our gers on the ox carts.
When we got back to our gers we walked up the hills across from where we are staying. These hills are very steep and there are a whole range of them opposite from where we sleep. As we were walking up the hill, we were joined by one of the family’s dogs and he followed us up all the way to the top. At the top of the hills we were able to see an incredible view of the large steppe. Just beyond where we were staying, we could see the village which was a lot smaller than what I had previously thought.
On our way back to Ulaanbaatar from Terelj we stopped by the Genghis Khan statue which is a huge statue of Genghis Khan on his horse atop of a dome with pillars. It is the biggest equestrian statue in the world!
The statue is actually placed where Genghis Khan found his very first whip, it is a golden whip which can be seen on the statue. It also faces the direction where Genghis Khan was born and raised. The statue rests on 36 columns that represent the Khan’s or representatives of each state. The Genghis Khan and his horse are made from sheets of stainless steel.
The statue is very impressive and makes you feel almost intimidated but protected at the same time.
Inside the building they have the biggest leather Mongolian boot in the world
and a giant replica of Genghis Khan’s whip.
In the bottom floor there is a museum.
At the very top we could walk on the head of the horse. It has an amazing view from the top and you can see the vast green land.
We had lunch at the restaurant inside the museum before leaving for Ulaanbaatar.
In Ulaanbaatar, we are planning our entire trek to Khovsgul lake. This includes accomodation, transport and food. We also had to buy the food and come up with specific meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The next two days, my friend Finn and I are the leaders of the expedition, so we both spent some of the day creating a timetable with what we can do at what time. It will be a lot of fun to lead but it will definitely be a challenge and a huge responsibility.
The Naadam festival which is an annual Mongolian festival is starting next week. As part of it, there are many festivals and activities celebrating it. We saw a closing ceremony of a festival where they were playing traditional Mongolian instruments. It was quite funny because they had extension cords everywhere but it was raining so the electricity kept cutting in and out. So their music was on and off. OK maybe funny is not the right word….
They have the largest woolen mural in the world and it is extremely long and looks really cool. It had different illustrations of everyday life for nomads.
As we were walking to dinner we came across a car with what seemed to be swastikas on the wheels. In fact, in Mongolia it means happiness and well being (It is a Hindu symbol).
This symbol can be found on many temples across Mongolia.
Tomorrow we go to the black market of Ulaanbaatar and the next day we are off to trek up north! I am really excited.
Today was the first of two days where my friend Finn and I lead the team. We planned the day out yesterday and decided we are going to the black market (Naran Tuul), Ger to Ger (To drop off things that we needed to store) and go to the national history museum.
Leading is alot of fun, I really enjoy it but I do feel the sense of responsibility for the whole team. It is quite abit more work too but it is really rewarding when everyone is enjoying the activities and keeping safe.
The first thing we did was walk to the black markets. It was a very interesting experience and wasn’t what I quite expected. The market is mainly full of little stalls selling items like branded clothing, camping equipment and cheap jewellery. I thought the markets would be more traditional and sell mainly Mongolian specific items. It was still very chaotic while we were there. At one point a guy was riding his bike really fast and a woman walked in front of him. His bike flipped and he landed on the ground which resulted in him yelling at the woman. In the markets if you haggle a bit with the stall owners you could normally lower the price about 5000-10000 Tughrik (about half) depending on the item. It was really fun and felt good to get things cheaper by haggling.
Afterwards we walked to a shopping centre to collect snacks for tomorrow’s long bus ride up north and then had lunch back at the hotel.
After lunch we went to the national history museum. The museum showcases the evolution of Mongolia and ranges from the Stone Age to the latest socialist age. It showed the traditional clothing that a man or woman would wear depending on the occasion, the houses and living styles that people had to experience day to day and even old currencies. It was awesome to learn about the sophisticated Mongolian culture and the rules/traditions they had in place and the reasons for them.
It was another early morning. This was our second day as leaders and the day we left Ulaanbaatar for Murun. We had to wake up very early in the morning in order to pack our bags and bring it down to the lobby floor. We spent a while trying to organise the bus driver as he came a bit late but we were able to get it all sorted.
Once we loaded all our bags onto the bus we began our trip to the bus station which was only one hour. This was a private bus so it had plenty of room and we were able to sleep for a bit. When we got to the station, we had to switch to another public bus. Again, we packed our bags onto the bus and sat in the seats that we booked.
The entire trip was about 14 and half hours. I managed to sleep for most of the trip but it was very hard because of the limited room and the amount of people on board. The way was stunning, the views were incredible.
Some of the locals who were catching the bus were fascinated by us, stopping to stare at us or try and say Hi. One of the Mongolians came up to one of the other challengers on my trip and started rubbing the hair on his arms and legs, the man even wanted a photo with him. I found it hilarious but very creepy and weird.
Murun is a very isolated town and seems like it is literally in the middle of nowhere but it is actually pretty civilised. There are constantly people riding around in small motorbikes or vans to get from place to place.
The town is very small so every time we needed to drive to our camp site, the shops or a restaurant they would never be more than a minute drive. We arrived at our campsite well after midnight which was out the back of a house of one of the local families.
We had to quickly set up our tents and go to sleep as it was really late. I fell asleep at about 1:30am.
The next morning we packed up all our gear and then went to the shopping centre to buy all our food for the trek. After eating lunch we started our trip to khatgal which is located south of Lake Khovsgol in north Mongolia. It is near the border with Russia.
We used a small Russian van called a Fourgon. It has 6 seats at the back, with two rows of 3 seats facing each other. It is great fun to be in and you can actually chat with your friends.
It took about an hour and a half to get to khatgal from Murun. When we got there, we went straight to our camping site which is located at the back of one of the local houses. The view around the town of Khatgal is really breathtaking and is extremely hard to capture its serenity with a camera. The town seems to be surrounded by rolling hills which makes the view very majestic when the sun is setting.
In Khatgal we were given a snack before dinner by our Mongolian guide Yonna. She got it from the local family. It is hardened milk which had a really strong taste. It is abit bitter and almost tastes like really strong feta. It’s the layer of cream on the top of the milk which is left to harden.
During the day the temperature is normally really nice (around 20C) because the sun is out but as soon as the sun sets at night the temperature drops very rapidly to about 3-4C. Today there are also strong winds so it makes it even colder. At the moment I can hear the whistling of the wind flowing over our tent.
We set up our tents, ate dinner and now we are going to sleep for an early night so we can catch up on the sleep we have missed. Tomorrow we will be riding the horses for the first time so we need as much energy as we can get. Good night!
I finally got connection so I am going to quickly update my blog because I probably won’t have connection for very long, everything is fine here. We are currently on our way to the nomadic home stay. No time to upload photos, will do that when I have proper connection.
We woke up full of energy and excitement as this was the day that we first got to meet and ride our horses. In the morning we packed up all our gear and loaded it onto the Russian Fourgons that will carry all our gear while we rode the horses. The wranglers came in the morning, introduced themselves and then began the safety briefing on riding horses.
The wrangler explained how to get on and off, stop, approach and handle the horse. After he finished explaining the other wranglers gave a horse to each person based upon their height and body build. I got a dark brown horse with a small white dot in between his eyes, so I decided to call him spot.
We all got onto our horses and waited for the wranglers to finish helping people. During this time we got to see the personality traits of some of the horses. Some were very dominant and wanted to be at the front of the group while others wouldn’t stop eating. It was interesting and funny to see the different types of horses.
We started our journey to the next campsite which took around 6 hours. We crossed the green Mongolian steppes and over hills with windy paths. During the whole trip my horse was really well behaved but rather slow. He would walk slow and then trot to catch up with the front and then go back to walking slow. It was still a very enjoyable ride and the view was so surreal and spectacular.
We had 3 stops for a short break and also lunch. After riding most of the day we arrived at our campsite. My butt was sore and my leg muscles were very stiff but I was able to walk for a bit so they eventually stopped hurting. Our camping spot was really nice, it was right beside a river and a forest tree line which made the view really unbelievable.
At the campsite we had to set up everything for the night including hot water, a toilet, food scraps spot and a fire spot.
We went walking up into the forest and it was exactly like a forest you would see in the movies.
We set up our tents and organised dinner with the wranglers. We were served mutton noodle soup with vegetables and afterwards they cooked mutton offal. Offal is all the left over organs and meat that isn’t used during dinner. I tried one of the Mongolian specialties called blood sausage. They get the sheep’s intestines, fill it with blood and then cook it. It was surprisingly nice and tasted a lot like actual sausage. They also gave me the liver to go with it, so I ate both of those.
After dinner we stood by the fire for a bit to warm up and then headed back to our tents to sleep for the night.
The next day we went through the same procedure. This day was very wintery, it was raining throughout the night and also the day which made riding a challenge. The temperature resulted in me putting on 4 layers of tops, 3 layers of pants and 3 layers of socks just to stay moderately warm. Also while we were riding the wind rolling over hills hit us pretty hard which made it even worse. Saying that, the cold made the surroundings even more beautiful if it was even possible.
This day the horses seemed to be rather aggravated so some people decided to go in the transport van. I continued riding my horse with a few other people from the group and we ended up being fine. It also meant that none of us could open any zipper pockets or rub our clothes extensively just incase the horses get spooked by the noise. My horse was being really stubborn this day and continuously slowing down to the end of the group so I would have to keep yelling Choo (Means go in Mongolian). The wranglers even had to come up behind me to yell and whip the back of my horse to make it trot faster.
During the middle of the day the clouds started to part and the sun finally came out which made the temperature rise a bit. The view of the sun over the rolling hills made all of us forget about the cold because it was that breath taking. We arrived at our camp site and once again we had to setup everything ready for the night. We collected the water to boil and had dinner with hot drinks which was very enjoyable after such a cold day.
After a good dinner of noodles with vegetables and meat, we went to our tents to sleep.
The final day of horse riding followed the same as the rest of the days. As we headed off the wranglers spoke to us about our journey during the day. They said we will pass over a series of 3 sets of hills and that we will pass through dense forest so stick in a single line. As we headed off through the wilderness it started to rain again which made the trek even more breath taking. Almost straight away we entered the forest which looked completely unreal. We then entered the plains again and rode across the 3 sets of hills.
We reached a tiny little village. In the village there are natural hot springs with shacks over the top.
So as soon as we set up our tents and unpacked our gear, we bolted for the hot springs. Each little shack has a temperature written on the outside so for mine it said it was 44 degrees Celsius which was really nice. Inside the shack there is a wooden floor with a rectangular ditch filled with water and a ladder leaning on the side. Once you put your feet in the water it feels like you are going to get burnt but as soon as you put your body into the water it is really nice. Each shack has its own temperature and some vary from 40-55 degrees. It was so nice to be able to relax in a hot spring after 3 days of constant horse riding.
When we finished we washed our clothes with the water from the local river and headed back to our campsite.
Today we headed to stay with the nomadic family for two nights. According to our guide, there will be 3 different gers with a different family in each one. We will be camping outside the gers and partaking in some of the traditional Mongolian daily routines such as herding cattle or milking the goats.
We woke up and packed all our gear onto the fourgons and then took off on roughly an hour drive. We arrived at the nomadic families ger. It was pouring down with rain so we quickly went into the ger to sit down next to the fire.
The wife came around with short sticks of dried up milk curdle which actually tasted very sweet with a slight bitterness. It is definitely an acquired taste but I really liked it. She then came around with home made bread (Tasted similar to sourdough), some of the thickened cream left over after boiling milk and some sugar. We all spread the cream over the bread and sprinkled sugar over the top. It was really good and tasted very fresh as well.
As it stopped raining we all ran outside to setup our tents and then rested in them for a bit until the rain stopped.
We had lunch and then went for a walk to lake Kohvsgol which is around 1km from the nomadic family’s ger. There is an amazing view over the lake and just by standing next to the lake I could hear and see the diverse wildlife. I saw a family of ducklings with their mum, heaps of birds and of course many different types of insects (Which my mum wouldn’t have liked).
We headed back for lunch and enjoyed noodles next to the fire inside the ger. Once we finished lunch the family started milking the cows, goats and yak. We all watched and it was amazing how much milk they were able to get from just one cow. I really wanted to join in but we couldn’t today. Milking the animals is quite a special tradition in Mongolia and many nomadic families are not comfortable with foreigners handling their cattle. We were told by the family that we could get up at 5 in the morning to help herd the animals.
For the rest of the day we relaxed, taking walks and napping in our tents.
In the evening we had soup for dinner and the family served us homemade yoghurt for desert which was extremely fresh and tasty with jam.
We all woke up at 4:30 in the morning to be out at 5 so we could assist the local family with herding the goats in the distance. All of us were very tired but we pushed ourselves to go and be a part of the nomadic life. It was quite hard controlling the goats while being very tired. According to our guide, the local nomadic people have to get up at this time every day to herd the cattle in for milking. They also have to bring them in the afternoon for a second milking. I can’t imagine waking up to herd so early every morning.
Afterwards a group of us walked down to lake Kovsgol to see it in the morning. It was very surreal on the beach, the fog covered the lake and made it seem very mysterious. We walked along the shore for a bit and took in the view.
We returned to the campsite and fell asleep until breakfast time. We ate and then returned back to our tents waiting for the wranglers to tell us what we can do to help out.
Throughout the day we had to round up different animals including baby cows which were very cute when they were playing, collect firewood and stones for the preparation of lunch.
The wranglers took in one of the local sheep and prepared it for lunch. It was very interesting and slightly disturbing to see the sheep gutted. For lunch they pressure cooked the mutton with whole potatoes and cabbage leaves. It is a long process and takes a while until the meat is fully cooked. They don’t actually have a set amount of time cooking the mutton, they cook it until it starts to smoke. It tasted really nice.
This week is Naadam Festival, it is an annual Mongolian festival celebrated through out Mongolia. The horse wranglers kept wrestling amongst themselves (because it is Naadam) and kept trying to challenge us to join. We weren’t allowed. Not that I would have liked to… but it was fun to watch!
After lunch we went on a small trek to a cliff that over looks the Kohvsgol lake. It took a while to get to the cliff but when we arrived it looked awesome. The water in the lake has a strong aqua colour and is surrounded by rolling hills. We sat on the side of the cliff for quite some time taking in the serenity and the view. We then headed back to the camp to have dinner and back to sleep.
We woke up slightly earlier today. One of our drivers daughter was getting married in the morning so we had to pack up all our gear and leave before the wedding started. We quickly said goodbye to the nomadic family and headed off on about a 3 hour trip from the Khovsgol region back to Murun. The trip was extremely bumpy because we were traveling through the plains and over rocks. At one point the driver of the Fourgon had to replace one of the tires so we were behind schedule by about half an hour. Once we arrived in Murun, we went back to our original camping grounds and dropped off all our bags and then went straight to lunch.
After lunch we walked to the shopping mall and bought all our food for the train ride the next day. Finn and I were both on transport duty so we had to run around like crazy and organise all the meals, plus snacks, for the whole day. We managed to fully plan everything and what we bought was way within our budget which means we have more money to spend in Ulaanbaatar.
We then went to a place that allows people to hire out showers so each of us could have one and clean ourselves after the trek. It felt so good to have a shower and to feel nice and clean. Once everyone had a shower we walked to a local restaurant for dinner and then back to our campsite.
At our campsite Finn and I had to prepare all of the sandwiches and snacks with the help of a few other people as well.
It was quite late when we finished so we went straight to bed.
In the morning Finn and I woke up a bit earlier to prepare breakfast and hot water for drinks as we were on catering duty for the day. Everyone else woke up and we began serving out breakfast. We packed up everything in our campsite and donated the leftover food from the trek to the family that was hosting us in their backyard.
The state bus arrived and we rode on the bus for 6 hours all the way to Erdenet. The bus was very packed with the seats very close to each other. They even had fold out chairs in the isle so when all the other chairs are full they can fold these out.
On the way we stopped at a small community market which sold a lot of milk products.
We tried fermented mares milk which had a very powerful bitter taste, it is a very acquired taste. I also had a local ice cream which was very nice as well.
The Trans Mongolian (Trans Siberian) Train.
After the bus ride, we arrived at the train station and organised all our bags.
As soon as the train came, we sat in our designated cabins with our groups. The Trans-Mongolian which is also called Trans Siberian train travels through Russia and Mongolia. The cabin rooms were quite small which meant that there are two sets of bunk beds with a table in the middle.
We stayed in the second class of three classes, so we had more room than the lowest class. Most of the afternoon on the train ride everyone was just chilling out in the hallway where we could see the amazing views of the sunset and gers across the plains.
After the sun set we all went to sleep. It was really cool to go to sleep by looking out the window, seeing the train rolling and listening to the motion of the wheels.
Everyone had to wake up at 5AM so we could start packing away our equipment in preparation for when we arrive in Ulaanbaatar.
We arrived at the train station in UB at around 6:30AM, we had to quickly put all our bags on and depart the train. We walked through the train station and out into a car park where we hired a bus to take us from the station to our hotel. Once we got to the hotel we couldn’t check in so we decided to leave our bags and get cleaning equipment for our gear.
On the way to the state department store we stopped for breakfast and then continued. We bought everything that we needed and headed back to the hotel. This time we could check into the hotel so we got all our room keys and we were separated into groups for each room.
We had time to go up to our hotel room and completely empty our ruck sacks and day packs. This was so we could clean them and prevent any of us getting stopped at customs due to bringing mud or any other materials.
We were able to get most of our stuff cleaned up so we decided to leave for lunch.
For dinner we went to a restaurant called Bull where each person has their own hot plate and you get a platter of meats, vegetables, spices, noodles and sauces. You can combine anything you want into your pot and cook your own soup. Everyone had a lot of fun and it tasted really nice.
For one of our teammate’s birthday and because it was our Mongolian guide Yona’s last day with us we decided to do karaoke on the way back to the hotel. We were all picking songs and having heaps of fun singing really loudly. We ended up going until around 2:00 in the morning and everyone was very exhausted afterwards so we all went straight back to the hotel to sleep. We weren’t allowed to take footage of the karaoke so no one gets embarrassed, but this is a photo of the karaoke bar.
We decided to start the next day a bit earlier than usual so we could see as many tourist attractions as possible. We quickly ate breakfast and then headed off to the Buddhist monasteries.
It was a long walk but definitely worth it. The art work and designs of some of the buildings is really amazing. No photos are permitted inside the buildings so I will describe what we saw inside. As we walked inside the first monastery we saw the art work all around the walls describing the relationship of animals and the gods called deities. As you walk into the next section of the monastery there is a large room with seats all around the sides and lines of parallel benches for the monks in the middle. The monks sit on the benches with a stand infront of them and each monk has their own card with writing in it. They chant out what is written on the card.
As part of respecting the religion you walk around the room and give an offering such as money or food. All around the sides of the room are glass cabinets with large replicas of the Buddhist gods which are very detailed.
After walking around we exited the building and just outside there was a large metal pot which had some sort of material that was being burnt to create smoke. People walked around it collecting the smoke with their hand and sniffing it or rubbing it on their head. There were many buildings like this throughout the area. The monks even have a large college where they learn the 5 fields of minor Buddhist sciences which are the science of poetics, the science of synonymy, science of prosody, science of drama and the science of astrology. There are also 5 major Buddhist science areas which is the science of fine art, science of medicine, science of linguistics, science of philosophy and the inner science.
From there we went to a building with a giant statue covered in gold which was offered by the public. This building is actually one of the only original Buddhist temples left in Mongolia. After 1937 there was a massive purge of the Buddhist religion by the Russians. This left only a few buildings left and most of them have fallen apart over time. So this building is very sacred for the religion.
After we finished at the monasteries we walked back to the main city for lunch and then walked to the fine arts museum. The museum contains paintings, statues and relics of Mongolia. Some of the art looked amazing and very complicated.
We then walked to seetraditional Mongolian dancing, singing and other performances. There were dancers who would dance to the music played by musicians with some very weird instruments.
We also got to experience Mongolian through singing which was unbelievable. It sounds like the singer is using two voices at once. It is truly unreal. The musicians had some very strange instruments – there were some guitar like instruments with two strings which they play with a fiddle bow. Some of the costumes shown at the end of the show looked very detailed and present the Mongolian tradition very well.
We went out for dinner, passing Seoul street which is full of restaurants and clubs.
We went back to the hotel to pack for our flight the next day so we ended staying up quite late to get it done. Once we jumped into bed we all fell asleep straight away.
Overall the trip to Mongolia was definitely a life changing experience and really opened my eyes to the countries where having luxuries is a rarity.
In Perth it is easy to get clean, fresh water straight from your tap but to see how the locals collect the water with a big jerry can and a scoop it is very different. At every location along the trek we had to collect water like this and then purify it before drinking it. Even hot water is a luxury that most villagers don’t have, they bath in the cold streams.
Little things like this we don’t think about in our everyday life,we are very lucky to live in such a great country.
Waking up in the early morning at Beijing and taking a deep breath outside, you immediately choke as the air is so polluted and smoggy. The massive factories without many regulations to protect the environment, the enormous amount of people and cars all contribute greatly to the pollution. We take clean air for granted but these people have to live with it every day.
I had a great time learning about how the community functions in Terelj when we stayed to help out at the local school. The principal was so nice and all the kids were very eager to learn English from us. Most of them even knew how to construct sentences before we taught them. The locals in the community would come down to weld some of the playground together or complete small jobs like that to improve the school with us. I could tell that education was valued by not just the community but by the kids as well. Before we left the village once we did our project the principal was in tears because she was so happy with the work we had done to improve the school.
Mongolia has amazing steppes and mountain ranges which can be seen wherever you go. It is especially beautiful in the mornings and evenings when the sun rises or sets along the mountain ranges. It really makes you appreciate nature and it is also very relaxing. The amount of flora and fauna that we saw along our trek was massive. We saw everything from giant eagles swooping tiny birds to giant mosquito bugs and we even got a surprise from what we thought to be a regular bush but turned out to be a stinging nettle bush (making everyone run really fast!). There were fields with literally thousands of different types of flora that changed the colour of the field completely. When experiencing all of these on top of a horse it makes for a once in a life time experience. Mother Nature is truly spectacular in an environment like this.
During the entirety of our trip we were able to see some of the true culture and traditions of Mongolia. We saw the statue of Chinngis Kahn, some of the dancing, music and singing, the nomadic lifestyle and much more. I learnt that the Mongolian tradition is a very strong part of Mongolia. The people are very connected with their culture and even when they were being purged by the Russians they still managed to hold onto all their core values.
It was amazing to see some of what they do on a day to day basis and how different it is compared to what we do here. It was great how willing Mongolians were to share their traditions with us. When we were at the nomadic home stay, we saw the little kids getting up at 4am in the morning to complete chores such as herding the cattle. Everyone has a role in the family. In Australia we have it much easier, everything is available from the local shopping centre but in this environment they have to source all their everyday products themselves.
The world challenge side enabled me to learn a large amount of skills to do with logistics and management.
Allowing us to switch through roles such as catering, accommodation, transport and leading. All these roles develop skills needed throughout life and travelling as well. I learnt how to research effectively, organise budget money, communication (in person and also over the phone when booking places) and how to manage a group by delegating specific tasks.
During our expedition, we got to know each other’s personalities as we were together constantly. I think this really strengthened our group. We spent a month together in a different country while visiting remote communities, working hard and sharing a once in a life time experience together. This brought our team closer and made us bond.
I really enjoyed my time on the expedition and learnt a lot about nature, traditions and everyday life of Mongolia.
It opened my eyes up to a new spin on reality and gave me skills that I will use forever in the future.
Gary who was our expedition leader from World Challenge made the experience in Mongolia very enjoyable and safe. I am so lucky and grateful to have been able to be a part of this expedition and experience it.
Above all, I feel so fortunate to be able to make a difference.
Over the next few days, I will be adding photos and videos to my blog.