I’d firstly like to say that this post is written in a way that describes my personal views and moments as they happened pre and along my trip to Mongolia. This may therefore mean the tone or grammatical arrangement of the content may be written in a documentary/diary-style language.
In reading this, I hope this gives you an idea of my adventurous trip to Mongolia with my girlfriend, who becomes my fiancée on this incredible trip to Mongolia.
Day 1: Flight to Mongolia
It’s morning of the adventure. Alarm goes off at 5.30am. Wake and get ready before taxi arrives at 7:00am. Can’t stop sneezing. I seem to have picked up a cold the day before the flight. Great coincidence! It’s marvellous to travel sick on a journey that’s been planned over a year.
Luckily though, I have some lemon lemsip to cure me.
It’s minutes past 7. Phone rings. Taxi driver on the line: “I’ll be there in 10!” Roger that! Time to say our farewells to family. The sad goodbyes proves we’ll miss each other until we meet again.
Taxi arrives. Hugs and goodbyes! Rucksacks take spaces on our backs. Off we go! The worried face of a mother. “Bye mum, love you!” Time to go! The adventure is calling!
First stop, London Heathrow Airport. Time is roughly 9:15am. Flight is at 11. Check bags in, Grab boarding passes and head towards security point. Here goes the moment of truth. After being stripped down of every piece of metal on my body, I’m asked to step forward and under the metal detector. Moment of genius, not a single beep!
Repack essentials, head towards departure gate after grabbing some breakfast. We go through boarding and get our allocated seats. A brief prayer for safe travels, and the journey actually and officially begins!! An Aeroflot flight to Tokyo via Moscow, our first stop. Economy class. Awesome!
We begin ascending into the skies. A bit of turbulence but nothing scary. Almost four hours later, we’re descending into Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport. Surprisingly a rather swift and pleasant flight.
At Moscow airport, we go through transfer. We wait an hour and half before our transit flight, and as modern day city dwellers do best, we leach on to the free wifi to update family.
An hour and half go by, and we’re soon called to board our next flight to Ulaanbaatar!
At the time of concluding this paragraph, we’ve been in transit for about four hours. We’ve digested some airplane food and cheering on the next three hours. Pitch black outside taking away the sense of being afloat. We’re just currently excited to enter Mongolia!
Day 1 in Mongolia.
Having arrived at the Chinghis Khan international airport, after our six hours transit flight from Moscow, we were met and picked up by our driver in his dashingly old yellow car. He seemed friendly and happy to talk. Kim and I got in the back seat to the amazement of not having seat belts. We looked at each other in awe as we soon drove off from the airport. As new people to any new country, we tend to find everything interesting and beautiful, and it soon became obvious as we smoothly drove off into the direction of town. Sunrise was in its full bloom. It was around 7am and the weather was fresh at 0°C. Just yards from the airport, we found ourselves slowly immersing into the Mongolian culture. We were taken aback from the views in the near and far distance. The mountains brought a sense of freedom and adventure, and the cityscape in the far distance brought curiosity of what was to be expected.
As we drove into town, we soon immersed into a developing and booming country. There were a mix of social backgrounds simply depicted from the type of cars used. It dawned on me how much people had come from their traditional ways, to make a living in the capital, and in doing so, had sadly transited from their traditional ways into a new way of living.
I hoped greed wouldn’t run the minds of these modernised locals.
As we took in the views and the distinctive differences between the views we had encountered earlier and the city, we were soon pulling up to our guest house just about a mere 20-30 minutes drive from the airport.
We soon found ourselves on the third floor of a tower block. We had arrived at our Guest house at Zaya’s hostel #2.
We were greeted as we entered and gently asked to take off our shoes, to be placed in the shoe zone, and told to pick up some slippers which they had in abundance!
We then met Anand, whom I had been in communication with from January. Surprisingly excellent English speaker. With a distinctive American accent, to which he admits to have lived a few decades of his life in America, welcomed us into Mongolia and into his guest house. He soon updated us with information on when our room would become available. Having arrived super early, we needed to wait a slight bit for our room to be prepped, though luckily, the holders of that particular room had checked out earlier, making it easier and quicker for our rooms to be made available. Whilst we waited in the lounge, we met a Korean couple, who from chatting to, discovered had come to Mongolia for its wildlife.
Breakfast was being served while we waited, so took the chance of having some tea and some cereals.
After this, we finally locked ourselves in our room, slightly jet lagged and decided to have some rest before heading out for some dinner, as well as to change our U.S. Dollars into the Mongolian currency – the Tugrik. Having had a few hours rest, we wake up to take on the city! We prepare ourselves and carefully strategise ourselves of the best way to keep our belonging safe whilst out in town, from pick pockets and bag slashers. We soon took to town, walking past the booming locals on their day-to-day lifestyle. It soon became apparent I was the only distinctive person in town due to my complexion. Looks of curiosity, smiles and laughter became increasingly impossible to ignore. People would stare and have a great look at me to their amazement of a moor in their town, to whom they’d probably only seen in western films or from televised sport. I surprisingly took this new fame of being in the limelight into stride. Having researched about this before travelling seemed to have helped ready myself for events like these. I was calm and collected allowing the curiosity of the locals to flow though. I believe I had my limits of what I deemed an acceptable behaviour and I wasn’t going to allow people to take photos of me or ask to touch my hair. This I wouldn’t allow, but it’s great that it hasn’t happened so far.
From the guest house, we walked a few blocks into the state department store to exchange currency and to buy some bottled water and some essentials like fruit, lemon and honey to cure my cold symptoms.
We soon discovered to our amazement of how inconsiderate people are when it comes to queueing. People seemed to disregard getting in queues and some seemed to jump ahead unapologetically. We soon changed $150 U.S. which made me feel rich from the exchange rate, but the reality of things soon hit as we realised although we had gained a lot of money in exchange, goods in Mongolia were somewhat dear.
Having located the supermarket in the state department store, we went in to purchase the essentials mentioned above. We found ourselves in the deep end, trying to speak to staff to help us locate certain things on our list which weren’t easily spotted. The barrier soon hit when we needed to identify where to find honey. We excused ourselves to a staff member in Mongolian, as we read from the phrase book and asked for honey, by showing him the translation of it next to the English name in our phrase book.
We were soon directed to the pens and pencils stationery to our surprised faces. These aren’t honey we said! We took a second chance by asking a second staff member in hope she would get us to the honey, but no, she takes us back to the stationery section.. We’re doomed was what I was thinking. After a small gathering of staff members who were amazingly kind and helpful, we got to the basic expressions. Kim got us honey through basic hand gestures of “to eat” and pointing at the yellow shirt of the staff member helping us, and shouting “honey”, he soon seem to have realised what we were after. Honey, he mentions and we were like yes! He sets off as they do in supermarkets and we followed. We finally arrived at the honey section and couldn’t be grateful enough! We’re making progress!
We soon check out our shopping and headed back to our hostel. Having arrived, with what seemed like we had gone through a battlefield of stares at me, we decided to head out for dinner. Fast forward getting lost and going to two locations about 20 minutes walk apart in search of some Indian food, with recommendations from our lonely planet book, we became aware that the Taj Mahal restaurant we were looking for had been shut! This and walking these two distances, with hunger, didn’t go down with Kim! She became stroppy and I became her worst enemy for a few minutes. We decided to head back closer to our hostel and grab anything interesting on our way back.
Not far from our hostel, on Peace Avenue, we came across the Broadway restaurant and headed in for some rather expensive dinner. About £25 worth, except in Mongolian currency, if you take £1 to be around 3000 Mongolian money.
We settled for some familiar dishes that night with Kim having some spaghetti and me having steak and roast potatoes.
Ordering food and service at this restaurant became quite difficult due to slowness or disinterested staff members. We had to be persistent with getting some attention in order for us to order some food.
Finishing dinner, we quickly headed back slightly later than expected, knowing late night strolling wasn’t recommended to foreigners. We did however felt safe in contrast to what was written in books, to not be out too late due to gangs of pick pockets and petty crime.
This was the end of a long first day in Mongolia. A rather happy and welcoming country in many ways.
Watch out for the successive parts of this amazing trip, which involves travelling 7 hours into the gobi, getting engaged and capturing some argali!
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Thanks for reading.