‘The whole of the New Year’s experience we were just participating along with the Mongolians. It wasn’t a ‘tourist’ activity and we didn’t see a single other Westerner the entire time. We were just part of the family.’ Amanda Cook, Tsagaan Sar Insight
- Includes Mongolia’s Lunar New Year Festival
- Start Date: January 31 2022
- Duration: 7 Days
- Accommodation – Homestays
- This is a small group trip. However, our maximum is group size is six – which is refreshingly small for the travel industry. These small group sizes mean that our trips are more respectful for your host families that we work in long-term local community partnerships with. It also means you’ll be one of few rather than one of many and this leads to a more genuine experience as well as a more personal and real insight for you as our guest. It also means that no two trips are ever the same as we can keep things flexible. 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.
Tsagaan Sar is Mongolia’s Lunar New Year Festival known as White Month. It is one of the most important and traditional of celebrations in Mongolia. Experience Tsagaan Sar through the eyes of three of the rural families we work in long-term local community partnership with.
These are our own personal friendships that we have built up over the past 15 years. We form long-term local community partnerships throughout the country and work side by side with each family. Our experiences are put together in a way that benefits each herder and their family, rather than disrupting their lives. This leads to a more respectful and genuine experience as well as a more personal and real insight for you as our guest. Because of the way we work you’ll get an original insider experience.
Winter in Mongolia is a remarkable experience for those willing to take themselves outside of their comfort zone. Pack your thermals and come to Mongolia this winter and do something a little out of the ordinary. Come and enjoy being part of a minority who visit Mongolia in the winter and actually interact with the local people and enjoy slowing-down and seeing and experiencing Mongolia like few other people get to do. This is our own personal insight into local life in Mongolia.
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 – Erdenedalai Homestay | Middle Gobi Desert |Bituun (New Year’s Eve)
Erdenedalai is Mongolian for ‘Jewel Ocean’ and although far from the ocean this small town located in the middle of the Gobi steppe provides a genuine insight into everyday life in Mongolia. It is also the hometown of a majority of the EL team and a very tight knit and traditional community.
This is the first of EL’s own ger homestays in partnership with the herding families of Erdenedalai. We focused on a region little visited by other western groups as this meant our support would have more impact. The income raised from this homestay provides an additional income to the herding families that host you during your stay. We work side by side with the family making sure our experiences are put together in a way which benefits the families, rather than disrupting their lives. As our guest you benefit from a more intimate and genuine experience.
Today is ‘Bituun’ – New Year’s Eve. Bituun means ‘to close down.’ On arrival, receive a warm welcome from your host Nergui and his family. You’ll change into your Mongolian Tsagaan Sar clothing and start the Bituun celebrations. On this day Mongolian families eat to be full – it is believed that if you stay hungry you will be hungry for the coming year. It could be that you will also visit other families in the region … including the relatives of the Eternal Landscapes team.
In the run up to Tsagaan Sar families prepare 100s of dumplings – often over 1000. Why? Tsagaan Sar symbolises wealth and prosperity in the family and is a celebration when Mongolians come together to show respect to the family elders and to renew friendship.The number of dumplings shows respect to the eldest member of the family.
- Accommodation:. With Nergui herding family. Hot shower MAY BE available at the local town shower house – your own private cubicle with plenty of hot water. Queue with the locals and enjoy experiencing a little of their daily way of life
- Meals: L/D
- Travel: Roughly 280km total on dirt road (approx 6-7 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 – Erdenedalai Homestay | Middle Gobi Desert |Shiniin Negiin (New Year’s Day)
Wake up before dawn and join the head of the family in the most important of customs – greeting the first sunrise of the new year. You’ll visit the family ovoo – traditional stone shrine – and be part of this sacred ceremony. They will take food and offerings and voice words of gratitude and praise.
You then gather back in the family home to meet and greet with other extended family members taking part in the traditional zologkh greeting. There is no better way to experience this most traditional and most important of Mongolia’s festivals.
- Accommodation:. With Nergui herding family. Hot shower MAY BE available at the local town shower house – your own private cubicle with plenty of hot water. Queue with the locals and enjoy experiencing a little of their daily way of life
- Meals: B/L/D
- Travel: Short drives only
Day Five – Khogno Khan Nature Reserve | Elsen Tasarkhai Sand Dunes | Central Heartland
Khogno Khan is a sacred granite mountain within an area of secluded valleys, fresh water springs, open steppe and the Elsen Tasarkhai sand dunes. Khogno Khan Nature Reserve was taken under state protection partly due to the specialised taiga and steppe plants that grow in this area. The small but vital Tarna River provides an essential water source for the herders in the region. At Khogno Khan you’ll be hosted by the Davaasuren family.
One option is to explore the hidden interiors of the mountain on a 3-hour hike to the small working temple of Erdene Khambiin Khid and the ruined Ovgon Khiid Monastery. A birch bordered path leads to this location and offers one of the most beautiful panoramas of the region.
There’s also an option for a camel trek along the Elsen Tasarkhai sand dunes. Your host Davaasuren is a at his happiest on showing off his home landscapes of Khogno Khan. He’s a bit of a entertainer as well and his camel treks can include sand sculpting, impromptu wrestling matches and singing.
- Accommodation: Basic ger at small family operated ger camp (4-6 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
Staying With The Davaasuren Family
At Khogno Khan, we work in long-term local community partnership with the Davaasuren family who have lived in the region their whole life. Using the guest ger accommodation that Davaasuren and his family provide allows you to experience their daily life side by side with them. The family keep a small number of livestock – including horses & camels. They are a quiet couple who are always happy to welcome guests. They are located in an idyllic spot at the foot of the Elsen Tasarkhai sand dunes where they live all year round. This really is location, location, location.
- Meals: B/L/D
- Travel: Roughly 260km on dirt and asphalt road (approx 6 hours driving time approx not including stops). Averages of between 30 and 65 km/hr are usual but depend on road and weather conditions.
Day Five & Six – Orkhon River Valley Homestay | Kharkhorin | Central Heartland
Travel to the Orkhon River Valley – home to Tumee and Jargaa. They are modern-day herders, a strong part of the local community and move up to six times a year.
The Orkhon River Valley is one of Mongolia’s four UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It’s a cultural WHS and represents the evolution of nomadic pastoral traditions in Mongolia – this region is considered the cradle of Mongolian civilisation and an area rich in nomadic life as the Orkhon River provides as essential lifeline for nomads and their livestock.
We don’t detail what you will do on your second day – that’s because we do things a little differently and leave the plan flexible as this leads to a more respectful and more naturally Mongolian experience but for those interested, visit Kharkhorin – the ancient capital of Ogodei Khan and the Mongol Empire in the 13th Century. You can choose to visit Erdene Zuu – Mongolia’s oldest monastery – and the excellent Kharkhorin Museum with its clear and updated exhibits based on the history surrounding the Orkhon River Valley and the Turkish and Mongol Empire. Even if history doesn’t really ‘grab’ you, we recommend a visit as it helps to bring the history of the area alive.
- Accommodation: Basic but private ger next to family ger. You will have to share a ger with 2-4 other members of the group. Basic long drop outside toilet and no showers. Hot shower available at the local town shower house – your own private cubicle with plenty of hot water. Queue with the locals and enjoy experiencing a little of their daily way of life
Staying With The Tumee Family
As with all the families we work with, we work in long-term local community partnership with Tumee and Jargal. Local to the area – they both went to school in the region – one of their adult sons is a member of the Genghis Khan Polo Club. They are considered integral members of their local community. Although they agree their way of life has challenges, they love it for the sense of freedom it provides.
- Meals: B/L/D
- Travel: Day 5 – Roughly 85km on dirt and asphalt road. Approx 2 hours driving time not including stops. Averages of between 30 and 65 km/hr are usual but depend on road and weather conditions.
Day Seven – Return Ulaanbaatar
Return back to UB. On arrival into Ulaanbaatar you visit the home of one of our Mongolian trip assistants – experiencing the Lunar New Year as it is for urban Mongolians. You’ll enjoy a relaxed celebratory meal before returning to your accommodation.
We will transfer you to the airport or train station on your departure date.
- Accommodation: Of your own choice
- Meals: B/L/D
- Travel: Roughly 355km 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.
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 six. Minimum of two required for a guaranteed departure
- 2 Guests US$ 1150 pp
- 3-4 Guests US$ 980 pp
- 5 Guests US$ 915 pp
- 6 Guests US$ 840 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.
Blog posts to inspire & connected with our Tsagaan Sar Insight winter trip
- Learn what Tsagaan Sar means to our team of trip assistants – https://www.eternal-landscapes.co.uk/tsagaan-sar-mongolian-lunar-new-year/
- Our guide to Mongolia’s Tsagaan Sar – https://www.eternal-landscapes.co.uk/tsagaan-sar-guide/