A June 2005 trip
to Ulaan Bataar by 80 Ways Tim
Quote: Travelling around the world without using the same method of transport twice? And using eighty different methods? Check out www.80ways.co.uk to find out how and why.
There are only two dormitory rooms: one for the guys and one for the girls, I think. I recall it was around U.S.$5 for the night. As Bolod put it, "Lonely Planet tells me $5, so I say $5."
It is essentially just a small flat with a couple of rooms that he has let out to backpackers. There is just one bathroom and a small kitchen, but it's really all you need.
It lacks the rigid uniformity of other hostels--each bed is different, and none of them have the same linen. It looks quite eclectic and gives the place some real character.
It has a great homely feel, which is encouraged by Bolod's enthusiastic conversation. It's pretty basic, but I'd highly recommend it.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on August 5, 2005
Door 22, Building 61C
Ulaan Bataar, Mongolia
The accommodation was more than we had hoped for when we pictured a ger. We had the hut to ourselves: two beds, a dresser, fireplace, and sink. It was surprisingly spacious, in a tardis kind of way, and much more comfortable than you might imagine.
Facilities were obviously limited. The "sink's" water supply was just a small tub with a tap sticking out, and the toilets were of the squatting variety in a small shed twenty metres from camp. The primary washing facility was a stream 15 minutes' horse ride away.
But its appeal doesn't come from its amenities. What made it so great was that you were detached from the world, surrounded by incredible scenery in a very relaxing environment.
The food was plain, but it was brought to us in our ger like room service, and it was absolute bliss after a day on horseback.
In terms of accommodation, there are far more luxurious places to stay, but in terms of experience, it is hard to beat. To anyone visiting Mongolia, I would definitely recommend staying out in a ger (I would recommend Happy Camels too, as some other gers around the park looked incredibly synthetic and touristy).
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on August 5, 2005
Peace Ave (between Post Office and State Dept. Store)
Ulaan Bataar, Mongolia
It's largely a tourist/expat hangout. It's more expensive than other local restaurants, but then, most other places don't offer fancy cakes and full English breakfasts.
My dining was largely limited to their sweets range, but I also tried their "healthy" breakfast (fruits, yoghurt, and cereal), which was great. The waitresses were all very friendly, and it generally had a nice atmosphere. It looked like a good place to meet people if you're a lonesome traveller.
They also organise expeditions and tours from the cafe.
Chez Bernard Cafe
Peace Ave (main street)
Ulaan Bataar, Mongolia
The staff there was incredibly helpful. We just wanted to get out of the city and stay in a ger. We were given all the different options, and our trip was completely tailored to what we wanted, but we didn't pay for anything more than that.
A taxi soon arrived to take us out to the national park in which we would be staying, and the lady helping us even got the driver to stop off so we could buy food for the trip and take us to a pharmacy en-route. We arranged to be fed by the family we were staying with and to spend a day horse riding while we were out.
The entire trip cost somewhere in the region of $50 for food, accommodation, transport, and horse riding. It was a brilliant experience, and Happy Camels did an excellent job of sorting everything out for us.
Happy Camel Tours and Expeditions
Chez Bernard Bakery Peace Avenue
Before I have time to gauge the threat posed by the large horned animal standing 10 feet away from me, two crazed dogs chase it off.
I’m in Mongolia, and I’m staying in a ger (hut) just outside Ulaan Bator.
We got into the Mongolian capital in the early hours of Monday morning, after our five-day train trip from Moscow, and soon arranged to get out into the countryside. We found a friendly sounding company called Happy Camel Expeditions, whose centre of operations is based in a café specializing in French pastries. After indulging in a couple of their specialties, an overly helpful member of staff sorted out an itinerary for an outdoor excursion.
Our enthusiastic helper drew us a detailed map of how to get to the post office (the one in our guidebook was apparently not sufficient) and even offered to walk us down there. On our way down, we noticed the first of many curiosities in Mongolia: human mobile phones.
These people sit on the side of the street holding old-school-looking phones (as in, normal house phones rather than the mobile variety), presumably as some kind of public telephone service. That's weird in itself, but it's made even more peculiar by the fact that they all wear big masks over their faces, giving them a sinister appearance like the bad guys from a martial arts film. Another streetside service of which I’m particular fond is the guy outside the post office who sits with a set of scales, awaiting potential health-conscious passersby to weigh themselves.
A taxi picks us up from the Happy Camel Café and ventures into the daunting road system of Ulan Bator. Or, at least, I imagine it would be daunting, but I decide that sleeping through it might save me the stress of trying to brake on behalf of our driver.
I wake up as our driver swiftly turns off the road and down a steep dirt track, where he pulls up next to a river, strips to his underwear, and goes for a dip! Thom and I satisfy ourselves with a paddle before we get back on the road.
We had hoped for a peaceful stay in the Mongolian outback, away from all the city and tourists, but were slightly suspect as to what to expect, given that our hosts were communicating with our tour company via SMS! I know this is the 21st century and all, but I wasn’t aware that Mongolian nomads had been subjected to mobile culture.
Our hopes were further dashed by our scenic tour of the park. Big signs proclaimed different pieces of land as belonging to various tour companies, and rows upon rows of gers were penned in by picket fences – not quite what we had in mind. Worse still were the scary-looking wooden houses in garish colours that lined the road. So when we pulled up to a collection of three small gers surrounded by little more than grass and cows, with no big signs or brightly coloured buildings in sight, we were pleasantly surprised.
We were introduced briefly to the family (spanning three generations), who were, at the time, banging nails into a wooden shed, and we were then shown to our ger. The grins we had been wearing since our arrival broadened as we ducked through the doorway. The place was perfect. We had our own little ger: a bed each, a table and stalls, a dresser, and even a sink, all hidden away inside the little felt hut with Tardis-like properties. It was just what we wanted and just what we needed.
Sleeping was in the forefront of both our minds, but we decided we should venture outside to gain some sense of achievement for the day. The park was a mix of rolling green hills and bold rock stacks that stretched up high above the cows, yaks, goats, and horses that populated the land below. We set our sights on a nearby rock mound and were granted a commanding view of the surrounding area. Having fulfilled our adventure quota for the day, we went back to camp and collapsed on our beds. I was completely zoned out when the mother of the family woke us up by coming through the front door with our dinner.
I think I was feeling a bit homesick because, despite our amazing location, I wasn’t in a happy state of mind. Having been awoken from my nap, I was struggling to get back to sleep again when the mum came back again, this time carrying only a flashlight (it was dark by this point). After having blinded me, she pointed at the blanket I had helped myself to and said something with a hint of shock. "Great," I thought, "I’m having a bad day, and now I’ve pissed off our host." Moments later, however, she returned with a big quilt for me. Evidently, she was just concerned that I was underprepared compared to Thom, who had thought to bring a sleeping bag.
I was woken up again later, only this time by Mother Nature–-a big storm had erupted. Excellent! I was tucked up under my new big quilt in a ger hut in Outer Mongolia, and now thunder and lightning had joined the party and were giving the place real atmosphere! Things were looking up.
Thom and I had signed up for a day on horseback. When I said "Yeah, we should ride a horse," I had meant, "Yeah, let's sit on one for a photo and then go back to reading a book." Thom was far more keen, and thus we were roped into 10 hours of trotting.
Things were sketchy from the offset. Thom and our guide wandered off immediately on their beasts and left me standing on all fours--my new friend wasn't budging. I had the embarrassing privilege of being towed by the guide for the first half-hour, until my equestrian buddy decided he would play ball.
Just as I was getting used to the gentle meandering, it was decided that we should pick up the pace to an infinitely less comfortable trot, which meant I could feel my breakfast churn around in my stomach every time the horse went up and down.
"You just have to sort of stand up and down in time to the bumps."
Thom was no riding expert, but he was clearly better than me. It seemed like a lot more effort than just sitting there, but it appeared to work--if I bobbed up and down in rhythm with the beast, I avoided being thrown all over the place.
Thom was having a great time trying to film my endeavours from the unstable vantage point of his saddle. He even took a detour into a herd of yaks to get a close-up of our next animal target. The footage, if not world-class cinematography, is certainly quality entertainment. Thom's running dialogue over a view that jerked up and down with each lunge of the horse, looking like it was being filmed from the bow of a ship in the middle of a storm, was certainly something to be seen.
It was swelteringly hot beneath the Mongolian sun, and we stopped off beside a stream. Our guide had been wearing a huge jacket that looked like some kind of playboy dressing gown, which seemed somewhat impractical given the current temperature. The only reason we could think of for his donning such an item of clothing is that, as we sat down for a break, he produced from one of the pockets a huge Tupperware pot filled with pastries for us.
After devouring the homemade delicacies, Thom and I stripped down to our underwear and waded into the stream.
It was bloody freezing.
Having not had a shower since Moscow (that was about 4,000 miles back), we weren't put off by a little cold. We dunked our heads in, gasping for breath, and gave ourselves a quick scrub before scrambling back to the banks.
Thom produced a clean pair of boxer shorts from his bag. Unfortunately, I was less well prepared and spent the rest of the day's riding without the privilege of any dry underwear.
We continued in a circuitous route around the hills back to our gers. It was a brilliantly tranquil day, with little more than the birds and the sunshine for company... and some rabid dogs.
Having canine security seemed to be commonplace among the nomads in the national park, and the encampment we passed shortly after lunch was no exception. The dogs went wild as soon as we came into sight, which was pretty normal, but unlike the others, these ones decided they'd give chase. Of course, the other two riders' horses had no problems dealing with the onslaught, but mine, apparently, took issue with them and bolted.
"That's the first time I've seen your horse move all day, mate," Thom added helpfully.
On the final stretch, in an attempt to choreograph some kind of decent video footage on horseback, we somehow managed to lose our camera battery, which was surprisingly hard to find again in the middle of huge plain. Otherwise, we made it back in time for sunset and a steaming plate of pasta.
80 Ways Tim
London, United Kingdom