The Slow Movement – slow food, slow culture, slow travel. The list keeps growing. If you read around the subject of the Slow Movement then you’ll know that it’s not necessarily about doing things slowly. It’s more about finding the right speed with which to do something and how you approach that something. Rather than tick-list travel, slow travel focuses on making connections with people, places and the culture and slow travel in Mongolia works well.
Do what the locals do, not only what the guidebooks say
Slow travel is about having the courage not to always go the way of the crowd. Popular wisdom may suggest that a first visit to any country must include the ‘must-see’ spots. But in fact, there are no ‘must-see’ destinations. All places in Mongolia whether city, town or rural areas form part of the country and its culture and communities.
It’s the journey not the destination
Mongolia is an ideal canvas for those who enjoy slow travel. You should be prepared for the frustrations that come with such a style of travel and embrace the challenges of navigating through a country that really doesn’t have a well-trodden tourist track. However you decide to cross and experience Mongolia’s ‘eternal landscapes’ it can take hours, or even an entire day, before you reach a ger settled in the distance or arrive at a small-town community. But, it’s the same for the local people and they live this every single day. It is a country where you start to understand the saying ‘it’s the journey, not the destination’ and where you start to value travel for its own sake.
Yes, Ulaanbaatar has an excellent selection of museums. However, it also has an excellent variety of cafes as well. There is absolutely nothing wrong in spending time savouring the café culture. Sitting in a café, you become part of the cityscape and not merely a passing observer. Ditch the iPhones and tablets though. Just look and observe and enjoy your coffee.
Sain Baina Uu?
Take time to get a feel for the Mongolian language. Even just a few phrases such as hello, thank you and goodbye will get you further than not trying at all. Yes, the pronunciation will be difficult and you will have the odd embarrassing moment but that’s part of the experience. By trying to learn a few words you’re helping to break down any communication barriers such as reservation and indifference that may be in place.
Even if you only have a few days, you can still get an insight into the local community. Choose to explore the local markets and shops. Choose accommodation and eating options that are appropriate to the area where you’re travelling. Yes, that western owned tourist ger camp may have reliable Wi-Fi and flush toilets but does it help you to engage with the local communities through which you’re passing at the right level?
An example. At the back of every ger is the family khoimor – the family altar. Very few families have a camera. Some have cameras on their phones but no way to print off the images and therefore few families have photographs. If you take a photo of a family and promise it to them, make the effort to get it to them. It’s not too difficult to ask for their address. Even better, invest in a polaroid camera.Think what you can give back to the communities you visit
Savour the unexpected
It won’t all go according to plan. It can’t. Mongolia is the size of western Europe with a basic (although steadily improving) infrastructure. It’s challenging for the locals and will challenge you as well. Instead of getting worked up about the lack of a daily hot shower, why not enjoy waiting in line at the local town shower house with members of the local community?
For all of our Mongolia trips, we do all our own research, drive the distances, speak to the local communities, build the contacts, design and then run the experience. We do not source our itineraries from other agents. There are no ‘big groups’, ‘must-sees’ or ‘all-inclusive packages.’ Nor is there tight schedules, highlights or tick it off the list travel. Travelling with us in Mongolia will teach you to embrace the enjoyment that comes from making connections with people, places and the culture. It’s definitely a country well suited to the slow travel movement.