‘I was blown away by the variety of the scenery and the people. The highlights of the trip were the friendliness of the staff, the interactions with herders as people and friends and feeling part of the country.’ EL guest John Highley
Located in the far north of Mongolia, the Darhad Depression is a broad expanse of open steppe and low forested hills and home to several thousand square kilometers of natural habitat classified as taiga (also known as the boreal forest). This vast region is Tsagaannuur, and as well as forming the northernmost tip of Mongolia, it provides the home range for the world’s southern-most indigenous reindeer population.
The Tsaatan are Mongolia’s smallest ethnic minority – a community of nomadic reindeer herders with strong shamanist beliefs. Originally from Tuva in Siberia, they have historically inhabited the border region of Russia and Mongolia. Ethnically, the community identifies as Dukha, but their lifestyle as reindeer herders earned them the Mongolian name Tsaatan, which means roughly ‘with reindeer.’
This winter experience allows you to live alongside the Tsaatan. However, this is not an ‘organised tour.’ Apart from the road trip to access the taiga, it is a journey on which you must be prepared to step outside your comfort zone. During your time with the Tsaatan, nothing is contrived or planned. We leave the plan each day entirely flexible and in the hands of your host family. This leads to a more respectful and genuine experience as well as a more personal and real insight for you as our guest. To do this though you must be open to all experiences and also able to appreciate life, whatever the conditions. If you’re able to travel in this way, rather than just a standard organised tour you’ll get an original insider experience of the day to day life and the challenges faced by the Tsaatan themselves.
- Duration: 13 Days – Adaptable
- Accommodation – Homestays, Family operated ger camp
- This is a customisable trip. It is adaptable, giving you the freedom to build a unique and personal trip for your chosen date. Upgrade your accommodation for all – or just part – of your trip, slow down the pace with few extra nights here and there or add a few more active adventures along the way. All images used throughout this document were taken either by EL guests or members of the EL team. This is the Mongolia that you will also experience.
- Winter is a quintessential Mongolian season. It is cold, very cold, but the cold is an important part of what makes Mongolia and its landscapes extraordinary at this time of year. For all of our winter trips, we provide traditional felt boots, hand-made goat skin blankets and can provide winter deels as well.
- Day 1 - Ulaanbaatar (UB)
- Day 2 - Amarbayasgalant Monastery
- Day 3 - Uran Togoo Volcano | Khutag Undur
- Day 4 - Selenge Gol | Murun
- Day 5 - Ulaan Uul | Taiga Region
- Day 6 - 10 - Tsaatan Horse Trek
- The Philosophy Of Our Tsaatan Treks
- Meet Narankhuu - Your Trek Guide
- The Horse Trek
- Accommodation On The Trek
- Welfare Of The Horses & Reindeer
- Day 11 - 13 - Murun | Bulgan | Ulaanbaatar (UB)
Day One – Final Arrival Day | Discover Ulaanbaatar | City Walking Tour
Ulaanbaatar (UB) is home to roughly 45% of Mongolia’s population and our free city walking tour will give you a more local introduction to this vibrant frontier style city with a strong Mongolian identity of its own. It is the beating heart of Mongolia and the hub of contemporary Mongolian urban life. The reality for many Mongolians takes place in this urban context, in a city they are striving to develop and improve. Ulaanbaatar deserves to be appreciated and explored as the urban centre that it is.
Our informal and relaxed city walking tour will give you a contrasting insight into a way of life, compared to that of the rural population as you spend the day in the company of one of our female Mongolian trip assistants exploring the city through the eyes of a local.
You’ll also visit the Black Market to buy a Mongolian del for the Tsagaan Sar celebrations so that you are warmly received by all that host you.
- Accommodation: Your own choice
- Meals: Local lunch and welcome drink
- Travel: Free transfer
Day Two – Amarbayasgalant Monastery | Northern Landscapes
A road trip to Amarbayasgalant Monastery – passing through some of Mongolia’s main agricultural land.
The monastery – where the remains of Zanabazar – Mongolia’s first Living Buddha (spiritual head of state) – are interred – was constructed between 1726 – 1736, when Mongolia was under heavy Manchu influence and this influence can be seen today. By the early 1890’s Amarbayasgalant was one of the greatest pilgrimage destinations in Mongolia.
It is situated in a haven of rugged beauty in the cul-de-sac of a long, deep valley backed by Mount Buren-Khaan against which the monastery is built. The valley is well-watered by the Iver River and has long provided an essential water source for nomadic herders and their livestock.
Staying With Davisuren
At Amarbaysagalant we work with Davisuren. She is a grandmother whose son is a herder out in the Iver Valley. She lives in a small house located close to the monastery and has a small shop that the young monks and local community members use. Davaasuren offers two gers for visitors to stay in. Her way of life is basic and so is the ger accommodation she offers. But the location is fantastic – next to the monastery which means you are free to explore the monastery and its stunning surroundings independently without any need for a vehicle.
- Accommodation: Basic ger at small family operated ger camp (3 guest gers). You will have to share a ger with 2-4 other members of the group. Asian style outside long drop toilet. No showers
- Meals: L/D
- Travel: Roughly 385km on dirt and asphalt road. Approx 7 – 8 hours driving time not including stops). Averages of between 30 and 65 km/hr are usual but depend on road and weather conditions.
Day Three – Uran Togoo Volcano | Khutag Undur | Northern Landscapes
Spend time at the monastery and then depart for Uran Togoo – Tulga Uul – a national protected area consisting of the extinct volcanoes of Uran Togoo, Tulga, Togoo, and Jalavch Uul. All four mountain names allude to their volcanic past with designations borrowed from around the fireplace – a bowl shape, three mounds reminding of the traditional iron tripod kettle support and a small pot.
They are part of the Khanuy-Gol Volcanic Field which has 10 cones with heights of 30–190 metres from the Pleistocene and Holocene epochs.
Having visited, you will continue to the small community of Khutag Undur where you will spend one evening.
- Accommodation: Simple local hotel (maybe not en-suite facilities)
- Meals: B/L/D
- Travel: Roughly 325km on dirt and asphalt road. Approx 7 – 8 hours driving time not including stops). Averages of between 30 and 65 km/hr are usual but depend on road and weather conditions.
Day Four – Selenge Gol | Murun
Continue on to Murun – the lively capital town of Khovsgol Province which bears the hallmarks of being a trading outpost close to the border with Russian Siberia, in that it is slightly wild and rough around the edges. However, this adds to its charm and unique atmosphere – especially the bustling market in the centre of town.
En-route stop at the powerful Selenge River – formed by the confluence of the Ider and Delger rivers, the Selenge is Mongolia’s principal river and a critical ground water source for Mongolia as well as the most substantial source of water for Lake Baikal in Siberia. Enjoy the spectacular views out over the river – stretching below the small town.
- Accommodation: Provincial Hotel
- Meals: B/L/D
- Travel: Roughly 200km on asphalt road. Approx 5-6 hours driving time not including stops). Averages of between 30 and 65 km/hr are usual but depend on road and weather conditions.
Day Five – Ulaan Uul | Taiga Region
Start the transfer to the Ulaan Uul and then on to the taiga region – both in Khovsgol Aimag and located deep within the Darkhad Depression. The depression is about 150 km long and 40 km wide, and is surrounded by high mountains. The depression receives water from many montane rivers and is thus rich in wetlands and lakes. These are surrounded by diverse habitats, including dry steppe, boreal forest (taiga) and alpine vegetation. The land is used as pasture for livestock.
We work in long-term local community partnership with Narankhuu – a member of the Darkhad ethnic group and he will be your host for your trek into the taiga. He is also a herder – moving seasonally through his pastures and you will spend tonight at the winter herding pasture of Narankhuu and his family.
- Accommodation: Ger alongside herding family. Asian style long drop toilet (outside) and no showers
- Meals: B/L/D
- Travel: Roughly 280km on asphalt and dirt road one way (approx 7 – 8 hours driving time not including stops). Averages of between 30 and 65 km/hr are usual but depend on road and weather conditions.
Day Six – Ten – Tsaatan Horse Trek
The Tsaatan (also known as Dukha) are Mongolia’s smallest ethnic minority. There are two main areas where the Tsaatan community live and herd reindeer called the East and West Taiga. Though the regions are geographically distinct, the two groups share many kinship ties and are part of the same wider community.
The trek will allow you to witness and experience the lives, culture and traditions of the Tsaatan but the final route to and from the taiga will depend on the location of the Tsaatan families. It might take one or two full riding days until you come to a Tsaatan camp. You are expected to remain flexible throughout the trek as conditions on the ground change from day-to-day and will impact on the route of the trek.
Once you arrive, Tsaatan life being as it is, it is impossible to make a plan or even try to announce a prospective programme. To operate this way is not part of the Tsaatan culture.
Instead, you become part of family life as you stay alongside local families experiencing their everyday way of life.
- A major part of the philosophy that drives us is to ‘support local’ – local culture, people, communities, and environment. For our treks into the taiga we work with two distinct ethnic groups – the Darkhad and Tsaatan/Dukha. By combining the itinerary like this, we get to spread our support further. Also, as a visitor, you get to experience two distinct ways of life.
- The Tsaatan community were supported through the TCVC, the Tsaatan Community Visitors Centre based in Tsagaan Nuur, although this organisation has closed due to lack of support. However, we make sure we follow the guidelines set out originally by the Tsaatan Community and Visitors Centre – making sure our visits to the Tsaatan community are of benefit to all. Although you will have a Darkhad guide, we make sure that your visit to the Tsaatan benefits them financially but respectfully and culturally as well. The Tsaatan are strongly tribal and have a unique way of interacting with the outside world. We will work hard to make sure your visit is not considered intrusive by the Tsaatan into their private lives.
- The Tsaatan have encountered many westerners before. They are not an undiscovered tribe and you will not be the first or last person they have hosted. They are a modern people who have welcomed visitors from all over the world, and confront many of the same challenges as the rest of the modern world, including the need to earn an adequate income. In recent years, they have complained of feeling exploited for tourism purposes and they are starting to feel taken advantage of. We will be working with a guide from the Darkhad tribe that knows most Tsaatan families intimately – everything you do will be led by him.
- As our guests we ask that you remember that the taiga is not a tourist camp but rather the home of an active, thriving community that wishes to sustain their way of life within a sensitive ecosystem. If your expectation is to be entertained or to have luxurious accommodations, the taiga is not the place for you.
- From our own side, we don’t typically offer set-date group departures to the Tsaatan as we feel this creates too much of an environmental and cultural impact. Typically we only arrange one or two private trips per year for groups of less than four. We pay a fair and sustainable price for all accommodation provided by the Tsaatan. We do not ask the individual families to provide meals using their limited resources. Your trip assistant will prepare meals herself for you but we will share our food with the Tsaatan families. Any visits to a shaman are conducted only on days marked in the Mongolian Lunar Calendar when shamans would be conducting a ceremony. To do so outside of these days, would be a contrived experience.
Narankhuu is from the Darkan ethnic group and intimately familiar with the routes, history, and people of the Taiga – he has been leading treks here for his adult life.
Sometimes his younger son joins him. You may wonder why a young man is joining you. – see him as an apprentice. One of our way of supporting the local families we work with is by allowing them to bring their sons or daughters as helpers on the treks. It helps to create a space where traditional Mongolian knowledge can be passed from older to younger generations, as it always has been. This helps keep it alive, in a real, breathing way for the future. Younger Mongolians come with their fathers or brothers and start off learning to load horses and getting to know the routes, water sources, place names and the stories of the land.
You will be going into some of the most remote landscapes in Mongolia. As a result, this is a vigorous expedition which requires you to be fit, healthy and prepared to rough it. Expect to be sore and challenged at times!
You will ride on Russian saddles (or a similar Mongolian version with felt saddle pads providing support and comfort under the saddle). These are provided by the herders themselves so will change in style from herder to herder. We don’t import western-style saddles as a) it’s a faff and b) the horses aren’t used to them. The stirrups have ‘character’ – they’ll be more basic than you’re used to but have a wide step. The bridles are basically similar to what you might have used in the past. The herders look after the horses and help with saddling up, but you are welcome to help.
For what to bring, we provide a detailed ‘what to pack’ list on booking.
Bring a riding helmet with you – they’ll be of a better standard than is currently available in Mongolia. Your trip assistant is trained in first aid and there’s a medical kit. But, to a large degree you must be responsible for your own safety while riding. We provide safety guidelines for our riding trips with a few hints and tips on how to make the most of your Mongolian horse riding experience.
Pace and Experience
It is difficult to describe a typical day, as they vary so much. How far you horse trek each day will depend on the location of the Tsaatan families. It might be you will horse trek for one to two days to reach the family camps and then the same in return. There may be a shorter trek in the middle of the 5 days to visit a different family. On riding days you can expect on average to trek anywhere from 1-8 hours depending on the distance of the camps, weather and trail conditions, as well as the pace set by your herder guide. Riding will be in open and wooded hilly terrain, almost entirely at a walking pace due to the uneven ground underfoot. Depending on the final route there may well be short steep inclines or declines which you complete on foot – leading the horses up or down.
The movement of the herds and herders is determined by the seasonal availability of resources and weather. Typically, around mid-June, herding families move to summer camps at higher altitudes where there are open grasslands, fewer insects and cooler temperatures. In September, the families move to autumn pastures at lower altitudes, where young male reindeer, selected as riding or pack animals, are castrated before mating starts in late September/early October.
The stars of the show! The horses themselves are a little like the herder guides / horse wranglers you would travel with – self-sufficient and tough. They’re small – but strong and resilient. Ponies they are not. The Mongolian horse spends much of its year roaming in the hills – in territorial, almost semi-wild herds. They’re a joy to ride … but just take a little time to understand their character. They’re as much part of the experience as the trek itself.
Meals will be hearty and rustic as all food has to be carried with us. Also, there is no chef. Your EL trip assistant treks with you during the day and prepares all your meals as well.
During the days you will spend in the taiga being hosted by the Tsaatan, your accommodation will be basic as the life of the Tsaatan is basic. We do not try to change the Tsaatan or their way of life for our own benefit or comfort.
Reindeer herders live in canvas tents called ortz. You may sleep in a separate ortz provided by the family or you may sleep in the family home. In either circumstance, you will more than likely have to sleep on the floor on your Thermorest.
There won’t be hot showers and the toilets will be outside Asian-style long drops or just a hole in the ground.
During the trek there will be no access to electricity (this is a pack-horse supported trek and the tour vehicle will wait back at Narankhuu’s ger). You must bring either a solar charger or extra charged batteries.
For the Tsaatan trek, we use pack horses and riding horses provided by Narankhuu the Darkhad guide. We work in long-term local community partnership with Narankhuu and know that the horses his family uses are suitable as pack or riding animals and are not overworked and in good condition. The horses are chosen based on factors such as terrain, altitude, temperature, hours of work, age and their condition. During the trek, we ensure (together with Narankhuu) that the horses receive adequate shelter, care, food and water. We match the weight of our guests to that of the animal and ensure that the weight is evenly balanced when riding. If a horse is injured or becomes ill, they are not be worked again until they are fit. In addition, the Tsaatan families and the Narankhuu have a long-term friendship and we make sure that the reindeer are used to horses.
The Tsaatan do ride their reindeer but this is not for tourism entertainment and not something we promote. However, at times our guests are invited to ride on a reindeer at the invitation of the owner of the reindeer. It is not something we pre-arrange as we do not arrange any artificial experiences as they damage the culture, the way of life and the animals.
Often the Tsaatan sell items made from the reindeer antlers but they are careful to harvest only from healthy animals. We support the purchasing of these items as they do not endanger the survival of the reindeer and also help to contribute directly to the local economy.
Day Eleven – Thirteen – Murun | Erdenet or Bulgan | Ulaanbaatar
There is only one road option from Ulaan Uul to Murun route so you will have to follow the same route out as you followed in. You will already understand the road and the road conditions so you will start early today for the return journey.
After one night in Murun you’ll start your road trip back to UB. Don’t spend your time thinking ‘when will we get there?’ You are already there surrounded by the beauty that is Mongolia in winter. Remove your watch and relax. These days are about the immensity of Mongolia’s winter landscapes as you travel through Khovsgol and Bulgan Aimags – spending one further evening in Erdenet or Bulgan.
En-route back to Murun you’ll explore the Ushigiin Uver deer stones complex located close to the spectacular Delger Murun River. Known as Bugan Khoshoo in Mongolian they are believed to possibly be ancient grave markers for warrior chiefs.
On arrival back into UB, we’ll transfer you to your accommodation in UB and the rest of the day will be yours to create your own experience. Remember you could use our UB guide to help you to explore the urban side of Mongolian life in downtown Ulaanbaatar. Alternatively, one of our trip assistants could be made available but please let Jess know in advance.
We will transfer you to the airport or train station on your departure date.
- Day Eleven & Twelve: Local Hotel
- Day Thirteen: Your own choice of accommodation
- Meals: Day 11 & 12 – B/L/D and Day 13 – B/L
- Day Eleven – Roughly 280km on asphalt and dirt road one way (approx 7 – 8 hours driving time not including stops). Averages of between 30 and 65 km/hr are usual but depend on road and weather conditions.
- Day Twelve – Roughly 400km on asphalt and dirt road one way (approx 8 hours driving time not including stops). Averages of between 30 and 65 km/hr are usual but depend on road and weather conditions.
- Day Thirteen – Roughly 335km on asphalt and dirt road one way (approx 7 – 8 hours driving time not including stops). Averages of between 30 and 65 km/hr are usual but depend on road and weather conditions.
The Small Details
- For all of our low season experiences we offer a sliding price scale. We appreciate your holiday funds are precious and so the more people that book so the price comes down and everyone benefits.
Group Size – Minimum of two. Maximum of four. Minimum of two required for a guaranteed departure
- 2 Guests US$ 2870 pp
- 3 Guests US$ 2235 pp
- 4 Guests US$ 1920 pp
The above prices include a 15% discount pp as a thank you for choosing to travel with EL outside of the main season. We are keen to extend the season for the benefit of our Mongolian team and the rural families and Mongolian businesses we work with – to make tourism less concentrated around peak season (July) and to help the income of the people we work with be more evenly distributed. Thank you for being part of that 🙂
Where Does Your Payment Go?
- In our experience, how people choose who to book with usually comes down to the cost. Budget is a very personal thing and everyone is different in what they want to pay.
- We’re a registered Mongolian business and registered social entrepreneurship. We are not a luxury tour operator. We’re a small business that receives around 150-200 bookings per year. We can’t compete on price with our budget competition that don’t pay sustainable wages, or with the international companies that use agencies to run their trips and receive 1000s of bookings per year. We also can’t compete with individual guides or drivers that offer cut-price trips.
- To help you see where your payment goes, we’re very much driven by our philosophy of making a positive difference in Mongolia through tourism.
- We focus on community-based tourism – working directly with local people, communities and projects – slowly building up relationships and what we call long-term local community partnerships with them. We work side by side with each and our experiences are put together in a way that benefits and support each family or project, rather than disrupting their lives or work. We also run our free long-term training school for Mongolian women that want to work in tourism – providing training and then creating long-term flexible employment opportunities for them.
- Your payment remains in Mongolia and goes back into the communities through which you travel. We are committed to providing honest and ethical business opportunities for the local people we work with, at fair rates, as well as providing long term support. We also focus on making sure our impact is as positive as it can be. I am the only westerner (the rest of my small team are Mongolian) and we don’t work with any outside agencies or ‘buy’ services from other in-country operators.
- We are also a member of Tourism Declares A Climate Emergency – a collective of travel organisations who have declared a climate emergency and are coming together to find solutions. We accept our responsibility to tell the truth, work together, and help build a new, regenerative tourism.
- All meals outside of the city of Ulaanbaatar. Mainly prepared and cooked by your local team so they are fresh and it means we offer more flexibility for any dietary requirements. We also provide filtered drinking water (not bottled), tea and coffee.
- In Ulaanbaatar: local lunch and welcome drink on city walking tour
- Local team of English speaking female Mongolian trip assistant and Mongolian male driver
- All overland transportation throughout the trip (4×4 Russian Furgon van + fuel)
- Each vehicle has a charger for cameras and phones
- Free (informal and relaxed) city walking tour of Ulaanbaatar
- Transportation to and from the airport on arrival and departure days
- All activities mentioned PLUS any activities offered including
- Camel or horseback rides
- Entrance fees to monasteries, temples and museums (when with local team) – excludes camera tickets
- Festival tickets if festival is highlighted in itinerary
- For winter trips, we also provide each traveller with one of our traditional hand made goatskin blankets. These are used by most rural Mongolians and go on top of the sleeping bag. They are fantastic insulation. Also, you get a pair of Mongolian felt boots to wear during your time in Mongolia. These are commonly used by herders and insulate the feet much better than western-style hiking boots and socks can do. They are waterproof. About the cold, predicted winter temperatures could scare at first sight, but it is a very dry cold and with good preparation (as in the right clothing including thermals) minus 25 ° C could be compared with – 5 ° C in Europe. We look after you!
- International airfare to and from Mongolia
- Accommodation in Ulaanbaatar
* Our trip pricing excludes the price of accommodation in UB though. Why? Everyone is different is the standard of accommodation they prefer at the start and end of a trip. As there is now such a variety of hotels in UB it is easier to exclude this cost. I provide a list of ideas covering varying standards and budgets and I can also help with booking. There’s everything from a homestay through to Airbnb, US$10 guesthouses and the Shangri-La!
- Domestic flight where/if applicable
*If you are travelling by domestic flight, the schedule and cost of the domestic flights have not yet been determined by the Mongolian airlines. Once you have booked this trip, you will be notified directly by us as soon as that info becomes available. Reservations and payment arrangements for any domestic flight will be coordinated by us.
- Passport and visa fees
Let us know your nationality at the time of booking and we’ll confirm whether you need to apply for a Mongolian visa. It is a relatively easy process depending on your nationality and we can help with some of the formalities.
- Travel insurance (mandatory)
*Each member of the local team receives a responsible but fair salary and none have to rely on receiving gratuities to supplement their income. In addition, we make sure that everyone who works with us or helps us is fairly rewarded for their work and the service they provide. At the end of the tour, if you wish to make a gratuity to the local team then thank you – it is not compulsory but it is appreciated when given. If you would like to provide a tip, a tip for the drivers would be roughly equal to what you would give to the tour guides – anything from $20 (USD) per member of staff (driver & tour guide) is a good minimum guide.
Although there is a structure in place – we don’t provide a tight schedule or overly detailed itinerary – that sort of rigidity just seems incongruous in a land of such freedom among a country of herders.
Yes, there may well be irritations and difficulties – this is Mongolia, one of the largest, most remote countries in the world, with limited infrastructure. Mongolian people are tough and resilient and make their way of life in both the city and countryside seem easier than it actually is. Mongolia will challenge you at times. We’re on hand to iron out any niggles and make the experience as smooth as possible but you need to be sure you’re able to demonstrate flexibility, patience, and both a sense of humour and a sense of adventure.
Are you up for a road trip? It’s something to consider since there are always several long travel days on any Mongolian journey. Mongolia can be a challenging destination, road conditions can change dramatically with the weather and some drives may be prolonged as a result. It simply comes with the territory. Traveling long distances is an integral part of Mongolian culture and it is considered bad form to complain or ask about the length of time of any road journey. If you can accept the journey as part of the overall Mongolian experience, you’ll do fine.
- Winter trips can sometimes be susceptible to unforeseen problems which might result in last-minute itinerary changes. Things will not happen on a perfect schedule and conditions will be very rugged – you will be required to step outside your circle of comfort. Please base your expectations on this important point.
- Facilities will be more limited than you have maybe experienced on previous winter trips elsewhere.
- In towns, accommodation is heated through a central piping system which gets turned on in late September and turned off in May. You may find the rooms overly warm and stuffy but there is typically no thermostat so the only option is to open a window.
- Apart from in the towns, your accommodation will be in family provided accommodation where there won’t be hot showers and the toilets will be OUTSIDE Asian style long drops. All family accommodation will be prepared for winter and heated by a stove but you’re probably used to an insulated house with central heating. There is a substantial difference.
Mongolia’s weather system has a reputation for a reason. We’ll prepare you for what weather to expect during your trip (including links to the long-range weather forecast for the regions you will be visiting) and also provide a detailed packing list on booking.
You will travel with a team of male Mongolian driver and female Mongolian trip assistant. We do not outsource the logistics of our trips to drivers and guides working the tourism circuit. Instead, we have worked on nurturing our own local operations and provide long-term training, support and employment opportunities to those that want the opportunity to aim to be the best they can be thus supporting them in their aim. This has led to the formation of our small but great team.
**Our female Mongolian Tour Guides are dynamic women who are searching for an opportunity to train for the long-term career opportunities that we provide. You’ll travel with someone who sincerely loves their home country, loves their job and genuinely cares about you as our guests. We are proud to be able to provide a starting block to women in Mongolia. We invite you as our guests to become a part of this philosophy.
**We employ ten male drivers and knows each one personally. Their English may be limited and they are not necessarily modern urban types – more the traditional strong and silent type – but they are superb at navigating the Mongolian roads. (Often older or more traditional men are now overlooked by other tour companies who prefer younger more international Mongolians who speak English. We wanted to provide equal opportunities and so as our trip assistants are female and typically younger with a more modern outlook, so our drivers are all male, older and from more traditional backgrounds. We find it is a partnership that works well.) If you take the time to get to know them, you’ll see why we employ them. As well as handling the challenges of the roads, they are supremely talented at the Mongolian skill of ‘mongolchlokh’ – improvising the Mongol way. It’s a joy to watch, so if your vehicle does break down, don’t get angry. Instead, watch the drivers do what they do best – improvise!
We work with a network of local families throughout the country. These are long-term local community partnerships we have built up over the 15 years+ we have been based here. These are also our own personal friendships.
We never ask a family to change their daily living for us. We do not try to change Mongolians or their way of life for our/your own benefit or comfort. We don’t ask them to change their daily schedule or to put on an ‘act’ as this would lead to a contrived experience. Nothing is planned in any program, because we do not disturb the rhythm of life of the working families visited. We are just trying to share / experience a portion of their life (also rarely wear a watch let alone work to an agenda!).
- The 4×4 Russian Furgon / UAZ van (not jeep). Our Furgons are driver-owned but we support the drivers with maintenance fees.
- Each vehicle has its own simple mobile kitchen, its own sunshade, a small library as well as a 220v inverter/charger. We only put a maximum of three to four guests per vehicle.
- Each Furgon has a high wheel-base, ample luggage space, a sociable layout with forward and backward facing seats, surround side windows and most importantly, impressive off-road capability.
- As is typical with all Furgons, due to the design of the vehicle, seat-belts are not available (2021 although we’re working on it for 2022. Get in touch for details if you’re concerned) but our Furgons are fitted with grab handles in the passenger area.
- Included meals will be provided mainly by the local team team. Since each of our vehicles contains a kitchen, it offers considerable freedom and flexibility. It also allows for picnic lunches en-route (and gives you lots of time to stretch their legs and do a little exploring).
- The majority of Mongolians eat meat and for Mongolia’s herders it is an essential part of their diet. Due to the remote locations and the lack of facilities, there will naturally, but occasionally, be limitations in place. (If you’re the type of person that must have five pieces of fruit a day then you may struggle.) But you can count on meals that will be tasty and filling. The team is encouraged to purchase local seasonal produce to help support each community we pass en-route. Also, we take food miles into consideration so do not expect kale smoothies or Thai curries or paella or Chinese stir fry. We just provide honest, heartening grub. You may see a pineapple in one of the markets but, no! We won’t necessarily buy it!
- We make every effort to cater to those with dietary requirements. However, you are personally responsible for providing clear information regarding dietary needs so we can help you to understand well in advance what you might realistically expect. There will be ample room on the booking form for you to convey these details.
- In Ulaanbaatar, there is a wide range of local Mongolian restaurants and international options. There are Japanese, Italian, Indian, Ukrainian, French, Mexican, American and even North Korean restaurants to name a few. Vegetarians are well represented, too, with a surprising number of meat-free, vegan restaurants. Most pubs and bars also serve food.
In rural areas in Mongolia, there is no running water. Since recycling is extremely limited in Mongolia, we do not buy bottled water. Instead, the local team travels with two 20l containers per vehicle and collect drinking water from the small town drinking water stations and filter it for your consumption. You will need to bring a resusable water bottle with you. We provide a detailed packing list on booking.
Regular toilet breaks are taken during road transfers. There are limited public facilities available (none) so we provide a small trowel and plastic bags. You can either take the trowel and dig a small hole (in which you can leave the toilet paper and then re-cover with the soil) or place your toilet paper into the small bag and place the bag into the main rubbish. We do not burn the paper – arid conditions, a strong breeze and grassland do not make for a good mix!
- As much as possible we use rural family operated ger accommodation. We prefer to support this local form of accommodation as it helps provide a supplementary income and extra financial security for them meaning they are one step further away from having to consider urban migration.
- These are all families we work in long-term local community partnership with – we NEVER turn up unannounced and we never just turn up to a herding family demanding accommodation.
- The circumstances and type of ger accommodation provided will change from family to family. Consider them as small rural businesses NOT rustic luxury homestays. Be prepared for a variety of standards. Please remember that this is someone’s way of life and home and that they provide what they can in relation to their circumstances.
- Beds will vary in comfort – most rural family members still traditionally sleep on the floor so don’t really understand the concept of double memory foam mattresses!
- You should have your own private ger either to share as a group but we don’t offer exclusivity as this limits the income of the families so do expect other westerners during peak times.We try to get the right balance but during peak season please accept that you might see other westerners
- Toilets (Familes & Homestays) – Some will be better than expected. Some will be worse than expected. Most will outside long (or short) drop Asian style and if it is at a family home then the toilet will be shared by you and the family. The toilets are not there to disgust you – this is the reality of life on the ground.
- Showers (Familes & Homestays) – Most Mongolians visit the local town shower house. So this is what you do as well. It gives you an introduction to real daily life for a majority of Mongolians in both urban and rural areas as well as a hot shower. You get your own private cubicle with plenty of hot water. Queue with the locals and enjoy experiencing a little of their daily way of life- Most Mongolians visit the local town shower house. So this is what you do as well. It gives you an introduction to real daily life for a majority of Mongolians in both urban and rural areas as well as a hot shower. You get your own private cubicle with plenty of hot water. Queue with the locals and enjoy experiencing a little of their daily way of life
- If requested and in some locations (such as Khovsgol), we do offer accommodation at ger camps. We don’t book the most luxurious or the most exclusive. Instead, we choose the ones that we think work best for you and your style of trip as well as the locations you are visiting.
- There WILL be times during your journey when the availability of certain amenities at these ger camps may be lacking. The reasons for this can be varied – low season; high season; electricity/generator problems; remote locations; the simple fact that some amenities are only catered for between certain times of the day. Examples of this could be a ger camp having a lack of hot water, or only having hot water at certain times.
- Lighting in the evening at some places may be by candle-light, and electricity may not be available.
- We don’t use hotels in all itineraries.
- Where we do use a hotel, it is locally owned – built for the passing Mongolian trade rather than for western visitors so they have been built with the local population in mind so they are not corporate chains. However, one or two will pleasantly surprise you.
- Why do we do this? It brings money and support into the local communities. As well as staying at the hotel we eat in local restaurants and buy our tour produce from the local market so you get a more real insight into the way of life for the locality.
We are members of Tourism Declares A Climate Emergency which requires us to publish an annual Climate Action Plan. As part of our plan we carbon offset all domestic flights.
Although carbon offsets are far from imperfect and not the whole answer, they make a difference. Emissions per kilometer for domestic flights are always much higher because such a large proportion of the flight is spent taking off and landing. With this in mind, as a company, we will be calculating the offset for all domestic flights used by our guests and paying the offset to buy Plan Vivo Foundation carbon certificates which are used to support the Plan Vivo Mongolian Nomad Project – working in partnership with the Mongolian Society of Range Management.