(This summer Andrew Killeen traveled around Mongolia with his wife and two children: Noah, 10, and Joseph, 7. In this series of posts, he shares tips and tales from their adventures. Check part 1 and part 2 of the series.)
For all Ulaanbaatar’s rough and ready charm, if you visit there you’re likely to be using it as a base for exploring the extraordinary landscapes of Mongolia – and that means going on a tour. We consider ourselves to be fiercely independent travelers, but the prospect of venturing out into the vast and sparsely populated steppes and deserts without a guide was still an intimidating one.
For our first week in UB we stayed at the LG Guesthouse. I had been a little nervous about the suitability for a family of what is basically a backpacker hostel, but we had a large room with two pairs of bunk beds, a seating area, a (broken) television and a modern en suite bathroom all to ourselves, at a bargain price.
Tours are mostly organized by the guesthouses, and there’s not much variation in the itineraries and costs. We decided therefore to book a one day tour with LG, to see how it went, before attempting anything more ambitious.
Mandakh, our guide, was a charming and witty young man, who I’m sure is a big hit with the backpacking crowd. Our boys loved him too though, and his name has been bestowed on a plush toy we acquired on the trip, so that he still has a presence in our household. The driver, whose name I never successfully mastered, was a more surly character, with no English, but as a former nomad his knowledge of the hinterlands proved valuable on more than one occasion.
Our first excursion was to the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, a stunningly beautiful area of rolling hills three hours from UB, with breathtaking views from the Buddhist temple at the far end of the park.
This also included a visit to the huge equestrian statue of Genghis Khan. You’re never far from the Great Khan in Mongolia, his likeness everywhere from pictures on the walls to the money in your pocket. This statue though, erected on the site where he found a whip (or dropped one, depending on which version of the story you believe), symbolizing his destiny to unite the Mongol tribes, is by far the most impressive, and should not be missed.
We went horse riding through the valley –
and tried archery Mongol style –
and got up close and personal with birds of prey.
The trip was deemed a great success, and we decided to trust Mandakh and the LG for more adventurous travel – which will be the subject of my next post.
Photos: Karen Killeen