The Ultimate 10 Day Mongolia Itinerary: Off The Beaten Path Adventures Through The Mongolian Taiga with Tour Mongolia
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If you want to travel to Mongolia, get off the beaten path, and have the adventure of a lifetime, this is the trip for you. The epic adventures you’ll go on include, but are not limited to, driving off-road through the Taiga, horse trekking to meet the Tsaatan Reindeer Tribe and staying overnight in a teepee, meeting with a Shaman, riding and milking reindeer, horseback riding to the frozen valley, staying overnight in a ger with a nomadic family, staying in a ger on the shore of Khuvsgul Lake, and, last but not least, hiking around Lake Khuvsgul.
I mean, come on, how incredible does that sound?
My Journey To Mongolia: The Back Story
To give you some color as to how this trip came to be, I need to start with the reason why I wanted to come to Mongolia in the first place. It all started a few years ago when a friend of mine began talking about this movie she saw about a family who traveled to Mongolia to meet with a Shaman from a remote tribe of reindeer herders in an attempt to heal their sick son. After a quick Google search, I found out that this was not just a movie, but a documentary, and that this tribe of reindeer herders actually exists in Mongolia.
I then started doing some research about the Tsaatan (reindeer herders) and quickly came across articles like this one that showcased amazing photos of these Mongolian people riding reindeer across rugged and stunning landscapes that stopped me in my metaphorical tracks. As an avid equestrian and outdoorswoman who loves working with animals of all kinds, I was hooked. I just simply had to go here and experience this incredibly unique lifestyle for myself.
It didn’t take long to discover, however, that traveling to the Tsaatan (or Dukha, as they’re also called) people can be a bit tricky. For starters, it’s impossible to get there without a guide. And then I had to take into account the fact that the travel season in Northern Mongolia is super short, so if I was going to go it had to be sometime from July to mid-September.
Also, I knew I was going to be traveling solo to Mongolia as Justin didn’t have enough vacation to make the trip, which posed another roadblock. Mongolia is not the easiest place to travel solo as a woman. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a perfectly safe country, but let’s just say that drunk Mongolian men have created quite a reputation for themselves.
And, although it is possible to simply show up in Ulaanbaatar and spend a few days asking around and finding someone to book a tour through, I had heard some negative experiences from other travelers about doing it that way. Which left me with one choice, book through a tour company.
How To Plan A Trip To The Tsaatan Reindeer Tribe
As it turns out, there aren’t too many companies that run tours to the Tsaatan tribe, and even fewer tour companies that actually operate in conjunction with the reindeer families themselves. Also, getting to the reindeer tribes is not cheap, no matter which way you do it, and there was no way I was going to give my money or time to a company or individual who’s not endorsed by the community they’re bringing tourists to.
Enter, Tour Mongolia. Tour Mongolia runs an insane amount of adventure tours throughout the country. You can travel with them to just about any part of Mongolia you can think of while going on all sorts of amazing adventures. But the important part for me was not just the variety of cool adventures I could go on, but the fact that they have an ongoing partnership with the Tsaatan community.
This was so reassuring to me because it meant that my presence would be welcome, and I could actually engage with the local community as the tour guides have built a relationship with the Tsaatan families. After living in China and being stared at and having unsolicited pictures taken of me like a zoo animal many a time, I’m way more conscious now about making sure that when I go to visit remote tribes like this that it’s done in a way that’s meaningful and beneficial for everyone involved, not just me.
The other huge advantage of booking my trip with Tour Mongolia was that for once I didn’t have to plan out the minutia of my trip. I simply told them what part of Mongolia I wanted to travel to, how long I had, and boom, they put together this awesome 10-day itinerary just for me.
Below is the itinerary planned by Tour Mongolia, along with my photos and personal experiences from my trip through the Mongolian Taiga.
The Ultimate 10 Day Mongolia Itinerary
Day 1: Travel to Khuvsgul
In the morning we will pick you up from your hotel in Ulaanbaatar then transfer to the airport taking a flight to Murun town in the center of Khuvsgul province. Upon arrival at the domestic airport, our local service team will meet and greet you to begin the journey. We will travel to Yamaat valley which will take 90kms. You will be staying overnight in a tent.
Any trip to the reindeer herders starts with traveling to Moron, the closest city to the Mongolian Taiga where the reindeer tribes are located. There are two ways to get to Moron (Also spelled Murun. Yes, the Mongolian language is very confusing), one is to take a 1 hour and 15-minute flight, and the other is to take a 12-hour bus. Luckily for me, my trip with Tour Mongolia included flights to and from Moron.
The view flying into Moron was incredible. I snapped this photo with my phone out the window as we were landing. It’s a bit hard to see from the photo, but the roofs of the houses here create a rainbow of colors and are a beautiful contrast to the dirt roads that connect them together. Can you believe this dirt road village is actually considered a city in Mongolia?
It just goes to show you how sparsely populated Mongolia truly is. In fact, Mongolia is only home to a mere 4.3 people per square mile.
After landing around noon, my guide and driver met me at the airport and we ventured off into the city for some lunch and a tour of the Black Market.
This covered market is the main shopping center in Moron, and they sell everything from clothes to furniture to food to horse tack.
My favorite shop was this one that sells riding boots. Luckily, I didn’t have room in my backpack, otherwise, I probably would have bought a pair. My self-control melts like the wicked witch in the rain the second I step inside a tack shop. It’s bad.
They’ve also got a wide selection of dells, a traditional Mongolian jacket that flows from your neck to your feet. They’re super warm, quite stylish, and very practical. If I lived anywhere but the tropics, I might have bought one.
After the market, it was time to settle into our Russian van and begin our journey to the Yamaat Valley. Just fifteen minutes into the ride we noticed a celebration happening in the field outside of town. Turning off the paved road, we stopped by the tent and asked what was going on.
Apparently, a local village was celebrating Naadam Festival a month late (It was the last week of August and Naadam is usually celebrated in the middle of July) and were just preparing to start the wrestling and horse racing part of the festivities.
They welcomed us to watch and gave me permission to take some photos of the event.
First up was wrestling, which started off with each opponent performing a traditional eagle dance around the Mongolian flag where they flap their arms and circle around the flag like an eagle. After the opening ritual, the two opponents faced off and the match began.
The objective of wrestling in Mongolia is simply to put your opponent on the ground. Whoever ends up on the ground first loses. The winner then performs another eagle dance and throws a handful of dried milk into the air.
The matches that followed took place in a tournament style. Multiple matches happen at the same time and the winners face off until only one man is left standing.
After the wrestling concluded the horse race began.
Like in Tibet, the role of the jockey in this 10-kilometer long horse race was played by young boys, many of whom raced bareback. The reason for this, both using children and neglecting a saddle, is to minimize the weight on top of the horses, thus enabling them to run faster. And run they did. These guys were insanely fast!
We had to ride beside the pack in the van, and even with a motor, we could barely keep up with the herd as they raced effortlessly over the rolling steppe.
The chestnut horse on the left took the lead about halfway through and blazed head of the pack for the win. The pair made the 10-kilometer sprint look effortless as they thundered across the finish line.
After the thrill of the horse race, it was time to get going in order to make it to our campsite for the night.
After around 4-5 hours of driving, we made it to the Yamaat Valley where we’d be spending the night under the stars. Happy to be out of the van, I spent the evening frolicking around in the grass as the sun set behind the mountains.
When I returned from exploring and taking photos, my guide and driver had already set up camp and were busy cooking dinner. On the left is the tent my guide and I slept in, in the middle is our beast of a van that drove us over 100 kilometers off-road through the Mongolian countryside, and on the right is the driver’s tent. We ate dinner under a gorgeous full moon, which inspired my driver to give me the Mongolian name, Sarangerel (Sara for short), meaning “light of the moon”.
Day 2: Travel to Tsagaannuur Village
Today we will travel to Tsagaannuur village for 200kms. On the way, we will cross rivers and passes. It’s a perfect time to take a scenic and panoramic picture from the view over the Khoridol Saridag Mountain Range. In the evening we will arrive at the Tsagaannuur or White Lake village which is situated altitude of 2350m above the sea level. We will be staying overnight at a local guesthouse.
Our first stop of the day was this collection of prayer teepees located on top of a mountain near the entrance to the Taiga forest. At the top of each teepee is one of the twelve zodiac animals. People can stop to pray at the teepee of their specific zodiac animal.
After walking around at the prayer teepees, we continued driving down the mountain in search of the perfect lunch spot. We pulled over in the shade next to the forest and my guide and driver started preparing lunch.
It doesn’t get any better than lunch with a view. We had such a great picnic spot nestled in the shade with a view of the rocky mountains in the distance.
Back in the van, we drove past these fields full of yaks. There are no shortage of animals here in Mongolia as many Mongolians make their living as livestock farmers, herding yaks, cows, sheep, goats, and horses from one plot of land to another in search of greener pasture. Often a livestock herder will move house 4-5 times a year.
Not long after passing the yaks, we had to stop the van to let a herd of horses cross the road. Just a typical traffic jam in the Mongolian countryside, and a far cry from the congestion of cars and trucks in the crowded capital of Ulaanbaatar.
More roadblocks, although this encounter was more like a Mexican standoff than our previous encounter with the horses. Unlike the horses, these guys had not a care in the world that they were standing in literally the only creek crossing on the road. We basically had to squeeze our van between those two cows who very wholeheartedly embodied the mentality of “we were here first, deal with it”.
Just on the other side of the mountain from Tsagaannuur Village, the landscape changed from winding rivers to the land of a thousand lakes. All of the sudden the grasslands were dotted with countless small ponds that stretched across the horizon. A picture really doesn’t do this landscape justice.
At around 4:30 pm we crested a hill and got our first look at Tsagaannuur Village, our home for the night. Just like Moron, Tsagaannuur Village is made up of hundreds of wooden houses, each with a sheet metal roof sporting a different color. From above, the town looks like a rainbow. My guide grew up here and she said that the different colored roofs are actually a great way to remember where all of your friends and family live.
Life in Tsagaannuur Village is basically like camping, but in a house. Most places have no running water, electricity often fails, and the only heat is given off by a wood-fired stove in the center of the house. That being said, while our guest house was definitely basic, it had wifi, electricity most of the time, and a comfortable bed. I also had the option to take a shower at a neighboring guesthouse in town, which was a giant “Yes, please” for me.
The shower situation in the village seems to be a community effort. From what I understand hardly anyone has a shower in their house (hard to have a shower with no running water), but there are a few different establishments in town that have showers for everyone to share. We basically had to reserve a time slot to use the shower and the neighbors called us when it was ready. Showers were located in an outhouse like building with two showers separated by a wall.
Above is the inside of the guesthouse I stayed at in Tsagaannuur Village. It’s basically just one communal room with 4 beds, a stove, and a long table for eating.
The bathroom was a hole in the ground located in an outhouse. This is as basic as waste removal can get, but hey, it was clean and didn’t smell at all so it’s automatically infinitely better than the public bathrooms in China. If you haven’t already, you’ll definitely learn to master the art of the Asian squat on this trip.
This would turn out to be the best toilet I encountered until we got to Khuvsgul Lake at the end of the trip.
Day 3: Horse Riding to East Taiga
After getting registered at Border Troop Authorization we will transfer to the starting point of the horse riding trek. Here we will meet with local horse specialist guides/pathfinders and horses. After having a brief instruction to riding a Mongolian horse, everybody will get acquainted with their own horse and tack. Our guides will set your entire luggage on pack horses, then we will start riding to East Taiga to reach the Tsaachin people.
Since our riding trail goes through wet and marshy places in the mountains and valleys, it will be impossible to gallop and all riders will follow the same track along the way. Once we reach the Tsaachin community we will be at an altitude of 2900m above the sea level. We will be staying overnight in a teepee of the Tsaachin community.
As my guide was busy preparing our food and supplies for the next 3 days with the reindeer families, I used the morning to explore the White Lake, which sits just on the outskirts of Tsagaannuur Village. The White Lake has absolutely crystal clear water, and, on this calm day, it almost looked like glass.
A local had brought three of his horses down to the lake for a drink, and I watched as this playful foal galloped around on the grassy lakeshore.
Just before lunchtime we packed up all of our stuff and jumped back in the van for a short ride out of town to meet our horses and local guide. Above is our local guide with his horse and our pack horse. In total, we took 4 horses, one for me, one for my guide, one for our horse guide, and one pack horse.
As you can imagine, there’s not too much room for luggage on a horse trek so packing light is essential. Even packing just one small backpack and one daypack for my 10-day trip, I still ended up leaving some of my electronics at the guesthouse to pick up when we came back. If you were coming to Mongolia for a longer period of time and had some larger luggage with you, leaving some things at your guesthouse in Tsagaannuur Village is always an option.
The horse trek was an absolute blast. Since I knew how ride horses already, we were able to trot and canter whenever the trail allowed, which was so much fun. The horses here are super sure-footed and really well trained. I never felt unsafe at all during our 3-hour horse trek.
At around 4:30 pm we arrived at the Tsaatan community and met a local family in their teepee for a snack of traditional reindeer milk tea, homemade reindeer cheese, and bread. Everything was delicious and the Tsaatan families were super welcoming of our arrival.
I found it a bit weird that when we arrived there were only a couple baby reindeer hanging around at camp. I soon learned that during the day the families herd the reindeer up into the mountains to graze, and then bring them back each evening. The reindeer eat a very specific diet of arctic moss and ferns that can only be found in certain areas around the Taiga.
After tea and snacks, we set our stuff down in a neighboring teepee just in time to help bring the reindeer in and tie them up at camp for the evening. Each reindeer gets tied to its own stake in the ground to sleep for the night. This is so that the reindeer families and their guard dogs can keep watch over them during the night in case wolves are spotted near the camp.
Day 4: Exploring the Lifestyle of a Reindeer Herder
We will deeply look into the lifestyle of the Tsaachin people. The Tsaatan are part of the Tuvan ethnic group, which inhabits the Tuvan Republic of Russia, and they speak both Tuvan and Mongolian. You can interact with them and learn more about their cultural features and traditions thoroughly. You will be staying overnight in a teepee. (altitude app. 2900m above sea level)
This is the teepee myself, and my two guides shared for 3 nights at the Tsaatan camp. Beds are made all out of logs so it’s not the most comfortable sleep I had on the trip, but I mean I was staying in a teepee surrounded by reindeer, so I certainly wasn’t complaining. The stove in the middle provided warmth and, with the right pot, can be used for cooking as well.
Even in August it got quite cold here overnight. Temperatures dipped close to freezing at night, so make sure you bring a good, warm sleeping bag. Our teepee had some blankets for us to use in addition to our sleeping bags, which kept us nice and toasty, even with the low temperatures. A good thing, because my sleeping bag alone definitely wouldn’t have been enough to fend off the cold.
The reindeer don’t get let loose to graze until later in the morning, so I spent my time after breakfast getting to know the herd and snapping lots of adorable pictures. This guy had just finished shedding his velvet, which is why his antlers look a bit bloody. Reindeer are the only species of deer in which both males and females grow antlers.
While both male and female reindeer have antlers, they grow and shed them on different cycles throughout the year. Males grow their antlers starting in March and shed them in late autumn, whereas females grow their antlers beginning in May/June and shed them following calving in May a year later.
While taking photos, of course, I tried to befriend as many reindeer as possible. This girl was super curious and came over to check me out. She was so sweet, as most of the reindeer are. These guys are very much domesticated and used to humans. While this doesn’t always mean that an animal is friendly, my guide claims that reindeer are all incredibly gentle and never kick out or bite like horses do.
Once the reindeer came back from grazing in the afternoon it was time for my token reindeer ride, which, by the way, is not just a tourist thing. The Tsaatan people really do ride their reindeer. It’s how they move camp from one location to another, which they do 7-8 times per year. During transit, the reindeer are both ridden and used as pack mules to move all of the equipment.
So how was riding a reindeer?
Very different from riding a horse for starters. Reindeer are super narrow, so there’s not much to wrap your legs around when you’re sitting on top of them. You also have to watch out for their antlers, which can very easily smack you in the face when they tilt their head back or swing it to the side. My reindeer was not very keen on moving with any kind of urgency, so we mostly just walked around camp with the assistance of my horse guide.
It was still a cool experience though. I mean, how many times in your life do you get to ride a reindeer?
The challenges of taking photos during my reindeer ride included having my face blocked by a giant rack of antlers. Not your everyday photography challenge that’s for sure. But we had fun with it.
Today’s itinerary was super laid back as we just hung around at the reindeer camp with the herd. Reindeer riding was the only planned activity. Learning to milk the reindeer was supposed to be on the itinerary as well, but due to an increased presence of wolves in the area, the mama reindeer hadn’t produced enough milk that day for us to milk them. Unfortunate, but the well being of the reindeer has to come first.
The reindeer families were actually talking about moving camp the following week after some recent wolf attacks on the reindeer.
Day 5: Meet With A Shaman Fortuneteller
Today we will visit the Shaman of the area and learn more about the Tengrism, the possession of souls by a warrior or a noble, curse and blessing protection rituals. You will attend a Shamanic ritual ceremony which will be held at midnight. We will be staying overnight in a teepee.
Today started out by saddling up our horses for a horse trek to the frozen valley. The route to the frozen valley was rather treacherous. They’ve had an insanely wet summer this year in Mongolia, and as a result, entire areas along our route had been converted into mud pits invisible to the naked eye. The poor horses would take a step and instantly sink almost all the way up to their bellies. We basically just held on to the saddles, threw the reins away, and let them navigate their way through the mud, hoping they wouldn’t get stuck.
Thankfully everyone stayed upright, and 3 hours later we made it to the frozen valley unscathed. There was no trotting or cantering on this ride as the route was too slippery and wet. I later learned that the route we took was for reindeer, not horses and that the route back would be much better.
My guide kept describing this as a frozen lake, but it’s not actually a lake. It’s just a small valley between the mountains that stays covered in snow and ice all year long. To get here we rode up another 100 meters from the reindeer camp, putting our final altitude for the day at 3000 meters above sea level. We spent 1-2 hours having a picnic and picking wild blueberries off the side of the mountain before getting back on our horses and riding back to camp.
The route back was indeed much better than the trail we took to get here, which I was very grateful for as the prospect of getting stuck in the mud with all of my camera gear was not super appealing.
We arrived back at camp just before dinner time, and as my guide was preparing dinner I spent the hour transfixed by this beautiful sunset. The previous two evenings here had been too cloudy to see any color in the sky so I was glad that I got to experience this beautiful sunset on our last night with the Tsaatan people and their reindeer.
The itinerary stated that we were supposed to attend a Shamanic ritual ceremony tonight, but we never got to as the ceremony was actually scheduled for the night after. I’m not quite sure what happened here, whether the dates of my tour were wrong, or they moved the ceremony back by one day and so we couldn’t attend. Regardless, it was a bit disappointing, but probably for the best as I am not a late night person by any means and definitely would have struggled to stay awake.
Day 6: Horse Riding to Tsagaannuur Village
We will horse trek back to Tsagaannuur village. Meet with the driver at the finish point, and move to Tsagaannuur by car. Stay in a local guesthouse.
After breakfast, we said goodbye to the family who so graciously hosted us, and the reindeer who were such willing photography models, and got back on our horses to make the return journey to Tsagaannuur Village. The ride back was a bit quicker than the ride there as we were racing a thunderstorm almost the entire way. My horse riding skills definitely came in handy as we galloped along flat stretch back to the van for 30 minutes at the end of the ride.
It’s a good thing we did too because not five minutes after we got off the horses and into the van the skies opened up and it started hailing. I’m talking marble-sized balls of ice falling from the sky hailing. My guide said they’ve been having some absolutely crazy weather this year in Mongolia as they never get storms like this. We sat in the van waiting for the hail to stop before driving the short distance back down the hill into Tsagaannuur Village.
First thing on the agenda once returning to our guesthouse was lunch. A typical Mongolian meal on the trip was this dish of what they call “meat and flour” and what we would call meat and noodles. As with all Mongolian dishes this noodle dish can be made with either beef or lamb and often includes some onion as well as a bit of bell pepper.
Mongolian cuisine is majority meat-based, with the meat being almost always lamb or beef. Mongolians enjoy their food quite bland, so none of the local food is seasoned with anything but a bit of salt. Coming from China where the food is smack-you-in-the-mouth flavorful, Mongolian food was like a giant palate cleanser.
Let’s just say Mongolia is not known for its food, and I now understand why.
I can’t stress enough how heavy they go on the meat here, and it’s not quality. Most of the meat I had in Mongolia was extremely tough and hard to chew. I really had to rip it into tiny pieces in order to eat it. All the animals here are grass fed and very lean, so the meat was definitely a flavor and texture that I wasn’t used to.
Everything tasted good though, don’t get me wrong, it was just a bit hard to eat, like 5 minutes to chew one piece of meat hard to eat. But again, the secret, which I had nearly perfected by the end of the trip, is to cut or rip the chunks of meat into smaller pieces. In the beginning, I tried to do as the Mongolians did (when in Rome) and just ate the meat in big chunks as it was served. Not a good plan. Tiny baby sized pieces were definitely the way to go for me.
The rest of the afternoon and evening was free time, which I spent relaxing and reading in my room. The wifi and shower were both broken in the village when we got back, so dirty and stinky for the night it was.
Around dinner time the electricity went out as well, so we had dinner by candlelight and went to bed early. Not a bad thing after the adventure packed few days riding to and from the Tsaatan camp.
Day 7: Travel to Ujig Valley
Today we will drive to Ujig river valley for 5-6 hours about 160kms. We will be camping at the stunning valley taking a picture of grandiose scenery. We will be staying overnight in a tent.
By 10 am we were back in the van and ready to hit the road to start our journey from the Taiga to Khuvsgul Lake. As you might be able to tell from the above photo, the weather today was not the best. With intense cloud cover, wind, and the threat of a very cold rain, instead of camping our driver asked a nomadic family we passed by if we could stay with them in their ger for the night.
In typical Mongolian fashion, they welcomed us into their home with open arms. Mongolians are so hospitable and friendly, especially in the countryside. You’ll rarely have a request turned down by the locals here. They are always willing to help you and make sure you’re taken care of.
Mongolians really believe in paying it forward. The lifestyle out here is pretty harsh, so they always offer help to those who ask, knowing that they themselves will need help one day and would want someone to do the same to them. The “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” philosophy is really embodied and practiced in Mongolia.
Multiple times on our trip we stopped to pick up locals walking on the side of the road who waved us down and asked if we could give them a ride home or to the next village. We were happy to help, especially since we would be driving by those places anyway. The moral of the story is, help those who ask, as you never know when the tables will turn.
Here’s a peak of what nomad life looks like on the Mongolian steppe. This sweet family had just moved to this spot 3 days ago, but you would never know as they’ve set up camp, completely unpacked and made themselves at home already. The ger belongs to this awesome lady and her husband who live there with their grandson and hundreds of sheep, goats, and yaks.
This baby goat was born late in the year and was a bit rejected by his/her mama so the family lets him stay with them during the day while the herd is out grazing. She’s pictured here feeding him warm milk from a bottle.
All photo credit for this picture actually goes to the lady’s 3-year-old grandson who was obsessed with taking photos with my camera. He loved the sound that the shutter makes when you take a photo and just walked around the ger taking photos of everything.
This little guy not only loved taking photos, but he was pretty partial to being in front of the camera as well. He jumped into this photo with me and the baby goat, and then afterward insisted that I post it on Facebook. On Facebook guys. This 3-year-old nomad kid who has no internet in his house knows about Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg, you’ve got your wish, Facebook has, in fact, become ubiquitous.
I got such an interesting insight into the nomadic herder lifestyle by staying with this family. I helped them bring their livestock in for the evening while my guide got to work preparing a special meal of Mongolian Barbecue for all of us.
This was by far the best meal I ate throughout my entire 2 weeks in Mongolia. Mongolian Barbecue is not prepared like a traditional barbecue, as you can probably tell from the photo. It’s made with lamb, potatoes, carrots, onion, and a giant sheet of noodle dough. Everything is cooked in a delicious broth into which they put hot stones they’ve collected from the river and heated up in the fire. It’s the stones that give the dish its barbecue-like flavor.
This dish was seriously so good, and the only meal I had in Mongolia where the meat was actually tender enough to eat in large quantities.
For dessert, the family brought out a giant pot of homemade yak milk yogurt and sugar. I’m usually not the biggest fan of this kind of yogurt as it’s normally way too tangy for my taste, but mad props to this family because their yogurt was absolutely delicious. It’s plain yogurt into which you can dump as much sugar as you want. It went fantastic with the fresh wild blueberries we picked a couple days before.
Day 8: Travel to Khuvsgul Lake
Today we will continue our drive for 5-6 hours to reach Ger camp at the shore of the pristine blue pearl Lake Khuvsgul. The lake is sacred as the Mother Lake by Mongolians. Enjoy walking along the lakeshore. We will be staying overnight in a Ger camp.
In the morning before we left I got to try my hand at milking yaks for the first time. Needless to say, I was not very good. I definitely slowed down the milking process more than helped, but it was fun and I now have a new appreciation for the skill of milking cows by hand.
After breakfast and yak milking we said goodbye to our amazing hosts and continued on our way to Lake Khuvsgul.
It turns out, we weren’t too far from the lake, because after just a couple hours of driving we arrived at the pristine Khuvsgul Lake. Lake Khuvsgul is one of the world’s 17 ancient lakes, coming in at an impressive 2 million years old. It’s also the second purest lake in the world, bested only by Lake Vostok in Antarctica. The water in Lake Khuvsgul is potable without any treatment, meaning you can literally drink straight out of the lake and not get sick.
Upon arriving at the lake, we took a walk around the local town and the small tourist market before driving out of town to eat a picnic lunch by the lakeshore. The photo above is the view from our lunch spot. You can see from here just how clear the lake is. The water in this inlet was so calm you could see the reflection of the sky on the surface.
After lunch we checked into our ger camp where we would be staying for the next 2 nights. This place was glamping at it’s best. It’s located right on the southern shore of Lake Khuvsgul with hot water showers and all three meals included in your stay. After not being able to shower for the past 6 days, the shower experience here was just short of orgasmic.
Also, as the water is pumped in from the lake, you’re showering in the purest accessible water source in the world. My hair has honestly never felt as soft as it did after two days of showering at Lake Khuvsgul. Not that that should be a reason to come, but, hey, it was a nice perk.
Knowing how huge these gers are I was expecting to share accommodation with my guides as we had for most of the trip, but, to my surprise, I had an entire huge ger all to myself complete with a giant comfy bed and heated electric floors. I could get used to this glamping thing.
After checking in and taking what was possibly the best shower of my life, the afternoon was mine for the taking as there was nothing on the itinerary. I spent most of the time until dinner frolicking along the lakeshore and taking way too many photos.
At 7 pm I met my guides at the restaurant for dinner, which was surprisingly not Mongolian food. It consisted of none other than sweet and sour chicken and sushi. Maybe they get that by the end of our tour we might be sick of Mongolian food. Probably a valid assumption for most people.
Day 9: Hiking
Today is the day to enjoy half a day hiking through the surrounding mountain for taking a panoramic picture over the lake. An optional boat trip is available in the afternoon. We will be staying overnight in a Ger camp.
My guides and I met for breakfast at the restaurant at 9:30 am, where we had the chef prepare us a boxed lunch to take on our hike. Our walk started out along the lakeshore with my guide asking “Do you know how to hike?” “Yes.” I said, “I love hiking. I hike all the time at home.” To which she replied, “Wow, really?! Maybe you can teach us. We don’t usually hike. It’s so hard.”
Good start to the day don’t you think? And hikers they were not. We hiked up to the top of the mountain, with a lot of huffing an puffing and numerous stops along the way. After walking for about an hour from the ger camp to the top of the first mountain we stopped to eat our lunch at the viewpoint.
After lunch, they asked if I wanted to continue or go back, which, probably much to their dismay, I replied: “Let’s keep going!”.
As there was only one trail, I led the way back into the forest as we made our way over to the next mountain, stopping to wait for my guides whenever I got too far ahead. The trail above Khuvsgul Lake is a beautiful forest lined path along the side of the mountain. Once we climbed up to the viewpoint where we sat and had lunch, the trail was relatively flat with just some gradual up and down slopes and we wound our way around the mountain.
We walked until we reached the second mountain viewpoint where it was time to turn around and head back so that we could leave enough time for a shower and rest before dinner. The way back definitely had the best views looking down on Lake Khuvsgul’s absolutely gorgeous, crystal clear turquoise blue water. If I didn’t know better I’d think I was in the tropics with how blue and clear that water is.
All in all the hike took about 4 hours and was 110% worth it for the incredible views of Lake Khuvsgul from above. You can’t get a good sense of just how incredibly beautiful the water is from the shore. It truly is an absolutely unreal shade of blue.
You also can’t fully appreciate the scale of this lake from the ground. Even from a mountaintop, we couldn’t see the whole thing. At 136 kilometers (85 miles) long and 262 meters (860 feet) deep, Lake Khuvsgul is truly massive.
Honestly, I had pretty low expectations for visiting Lake Khuvsgul. Not for any particular reason, I simply thought of it as “just another lake” because honestly, who hasn’t seen a lake before, but this place truly blew me away. It’s by far the most beautiful and unique lake I’ve ever seen, and the environment surrounding it is so beautiful and peaceful. I would definitely come back again someday.
Day 10: Travel to Ulaanbaatar
In the morning we will travel to Murun town which will take 2 hours for 100kms. We will transfer you to the domestic airport taking a flight back to Ulaanbaatar. Upon arrival in Ulaanbaatar, our driver will pick you up and transfer you to your hotel. Thus ends the trip.
This morning I said goodbye to the beautiful Lake Khuvsgul and started my journey back to Ulaanbaatar. The drive back to Moron was unusually easy and smooth as we drove on the only paved road I’d seen since we left 10 days ago. Once arriving at the airport, my guides made sure I got all checked in for my flight before saying goodbye and heading back into town.
As I sat in an airport packed with foreigners it was hard to believe that this trip I spent so long wanting to take was now not just a reality, but a memory. My time traveling through the Mongolian Taiga and living with the reindeer herders was both everything and nothing like I expected.
Mongolia is such a raw and beautiful place. The people are tough, yet incredibly kind and welcoming. The landscapes are rugged and vast, yet so pure and full of life.
In short, Mongolia is a world of contrasts. A place where ancient tradition meets modern technology, but, most importantly, it’s a place where nature is respected above all else. And that is what makes Mongolia so special.
For more info about planning your own awesome active adventure tour through the Mongolian countryside, check out the Tour Mongolia website, here.
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