Warm showers and a Mongolian ger in Terelj National Park

The fire is crackling and the skin and felt covered ger is warming up very nicely. I expect it to stay warm all night. This nice feeling was helped by the first warm shower in a couple of days!

Today was another wonderful day. Not too much driving, less than 100km, and visiting some more of Genco Tourism great sites. It seems the guy who owns Genco is also the Minister of Agriculture in the Mongolian Parliament. He certainly has had great vision to establish fantastic facilities for travellers. Our guides say our self drive group is pretty unusual, and they normally bring people along in small or large buses from UB, Ulan Bataar, the national capital which is only 80km or so away.

This morning we enjoyed a breakfast of rice and real coffee, albeit with whitener. Brian addressed the creaking front end of our car by tightening some bolts on the sway bar and replacing one that had been lost, by stealing a bolt from a brake line support that needed it less. This is a good outcome and the car has many less creaks and groans now. At some stage he removed the problematic flat tyre and replaced it with a spare. it will go back on once a proper repair has been completed in UB in a few days time where we will be spending two nights.

The 13th Century village has four or five different campsites spread amongst the hills and rocks. A short drive between them, but they are not visible from each other. Yesterday was the village gate and the postmans outpost, plus the Kings Pavilion where we had dinner. This morning was a Sharman or priest village that consisted of separate ger for each particular Sharman’. These are so authentic the real Sharman come several times a year to practice their craft. Local folk live in these small villages, maintaining them and entertaining the visitors each day, sometimes a couple of groups a day.

Next was the animal yards, complete with twin humped camels to ride and small ponies. I am waiting for bigger horses to appear to be ridden by us larger framed westerners, but none do. These are small ponies and the large local men look very out of place on them. We all had a camel ride, which was fun. The two humped camel is comfy to ride on as the humps give a greater sense of security and they are not as tall as the Australian camels, adding to a sense of safety.

Next was the school which was an important part of the lives of the Mongols in the 13th century. I think it was more for boys than girls. Our teacher wrote our names in the local Mongolian script which we have kept and you will be able to see at some stage, pretty neat.

Another place was the kitchen, which served us warm milk from some animal, and cheeses and yoghurts. All were taken by two of us, some was interesting and palatable, some not so. Sadly some of our group tossed their cheeses into the bin, which personally I felt a bit rude in front of the family who had made it.

At each of these places we could place dress ups and get into the gear. It was fun.

Then we had a short drive through wonderful scenery with rolling hills and rocky outcrops, along roads that are a series of two wheel tracks in the grasslands, intersecting from time to time. As we discussed in our car, these are very modern eight or so lane highways with automatic direction changing depending on the needs of the traffic flow. i.e people made their own way according to how rough a track was.

We arrived at another Genco feature, this time a huge 45m high structure that contains a 30m high stainless steel horse with Chengis Khan on it’s back. Inside where museums, lunch and you could climb to the viewing platform on the horses head.

Outside were tethered eagles, a vulture and a falcon, all of which could be placed on your arm for a fee. Kerry avoided these.

Another short car drive and we came to our nights accommodation, and a horse ride. We are in gers again, as I have described above. But they have communal showers, lights and are very adequate accommodation.

All of us went on the two hour horse ride and had a great time. We rode on these little ponies at a walking pace, sometimes a trot and sometimes a canter, which was nice for me as it’s the first time I recall such pace. They took us up to turtle rock, named because of it’s shape, which we climbed, scrambling over the rocks. It was quick slippery and steep, not quite what our horse riding weary legs really needed. Then it was remounting again and back home.

My horse was great. It responded to my commands and liked being towards the front, not lagging behind. Jacob’s was good for him, being a first time horse rider, but seemed lazy and preferred to follow. Kerry’s rides, two different horses, performed well for her and she has seemed to enjoy herself. we were accompanied by several horsemen, and our own guides seemed pretty proficient too. There was also a small child, probably four, who was not only well behaved, but looked completely at home on the horses back. He’d lead other horses and looked for all the world like he was leading us too. I asked one of our horseman how he came to speak good English. Watching plenty of movies on TV was his answer!

All this followed by a nice meal, and it’s suddenly 10pm. Fortunately we have a 7/8/9 start and a shortish journey into UB tomorrow where there will be wifi once again.

What a great day.




























Ghengis Khan 13th century village

I’m writing this from the 13th century. Back when Ghengis Khan ruled an empire bigger than the Roman Empire at it’s greatest. Back when the Mongolians warriors were 1.8m tall and above and wore 25kg of armour and protection into battle on horseback. It must have been a ferocious armed force, far better organised than the opponents, and well led to have crossed huge plains of nothing much in search of lands and communities to conquer.

Our tour guides, Genco, are a major business in Mongolia and actually initiated this project, to recreate a 13th century village celebrating the way of life from times gone by.

After we left our tourist ger camp this morning, we headed across the plains, a much bigger landscape than what we have in Australia, the rolling grasslands are bigger than anything we have. They are arid semi desert plains, with short grasses and sparse herds of sheep, goats, horses, and the occasional double humped camel. These are the sparse open plains I have imagined and I am thrilled to be driving through them now.

We drove off the tarmac highway, which was in good condition to start off with, but deteriorated with unrepaired sections became abundant. It looked like a section of a few sq metres had been cut out cleanly from the road ready to be repaired, but no one had come along to repair it. Hence there was km after km of these big holes in the road that had no warning markers. Fortunately traffic was light and incidents were avoided. We turned off the highway for a lunch stop, creating our own track across the grasslands. Then found our way back to a short cut route to our overnight destination. This shorcut ran alongside the Ulan Ude to Beijing railway, part of the trans Siberian rail network Kerry Jacob and I will be on in a weeks time.

It was an unmade road. Tracks in the grasslands, but marked on the map as a designated road. Eventually the rolling grasslands made way for hills, some even with small trees. All this land is covered in snow in winter. It must be bitterly cold with winds howling across the open plains. We are 44° north now and well away from the oceans that level out temperatures.

As we climbed the track became just a two wheel track. Then we came to the top of a ridge and an amazing scene was before us. There was this vast bowl of grassland, sparsely dotted with ger camps, rocky outcrops and a track leading towards a little collection of ger which was to be our destination for the night.

Before we arrived at the overnight camp, we were greeted at the village gate by four horsemen in traditional gear. Descendents of Ghengis Khan’s guards, they performed their duties well, looking very stern and authentic – incredibly authentic. The first ‘hut’ was a message or postal station, where 20 guards were based to pass on messages across the countryside. We could try on their gear, and Jacob tried to look fearsome.

Next stop was the Kings Ger, complete with King and wives. This is where we stayed for a traditional meal of soup with pasta, some attempt at a green salad, and then eventually roast lamb, potatoes and carrots. This was served in big chunks, with plenty of fat and eaten by hand. It was tough, we were tired after a long day on the road, about 10 hours, and have come to our ger just after 10pm. Darkness falls around 7pm

A fire has been lit inside. We have candles. there is no electricity in this 13th century replica site, and no, no wifi!! There is also no running water, which we can cope with, but to have inadequate toilets is something that’s not really acceptable. This is a shame as it spoils the otherwise wonderful experience we are having here. It has also turned bitterly cold at night with a chill breeze sweeping across the open fields. Inside the ger is silent, warm and dry.

The stars are blazing, the milky way as bright as I’ve ever seen, and we are both having a great time!!























Erenhot to campsite in Mongolia

The wide rolling hills of Mongolia roll along under us as Brian drives this afternoon. We’ve got Virginia in the front seat keeping her husband company – she’s thoroughly enjoying the holiday. Jacob is reading a book on the Kindle in the left rear seat, Kerry is in the middle keeping a lookout in front and I’m sitting in the right rear seat typing on my bluetooth keyboard into my iPad WordPress app. At some stage we will connect to wifi again and this will load to the internet.

This morning we received another briefing about the potential complications of the two border crossings today. These guys are well experienced in border crossings all over the world and one is wise to heed their advice, especially on border crossings.

With some trepidation we drove the few kilometres, less than 10km, to the border crossing where we leave China. This was a little more complicated than I had thought it would be. After all, China was getting rid of us, why should they be too concerned. Things DO get complicated when you are trying to export a vehicle, not just people.

After some time waiting whilst our ground operators paved the way, The drivers were taken into the immigration checkpoint where our passports were checked, and each of us was photographed, and essentially checked out of China. I think the passengers had to go through the same process and waited for the drivers and the vehicles to appear.

Then we had to return to our vehicles for them all to be checked over. Bonnets up, boots open. Fortunately he asked to see inside my bag, so I could open it with confidence and say it was my bag. If it had been Virginia or Kerry’s bag he might have looked sideways at me and my choice of clothing. I also appreciated that he spoke a few words of English. Makes things easier.

Then it was off to pick up the passengers and head into no mans land. This process took about 90 minutes. We’d waved a quick goodbye to our guide Glenda who had been with us from Kunming many weeks ago.

The Mongolian border post was about 1km from the exit to China. This was a more austere building, quite run down. Again under the instructions from 1$, the drivers lined up at a little window to be given a small ticket. Pushy locals tried to force their way in, so we formed a scrum like arrangement at the window. They gave up eventually, but we’d all had a nice time hugging each other…..

Tango had passed over the vehicle details in a long list, this section we had no ground operators to help us, so were on our own with language and procedures that were unclear. The lady eventually came out and handed out our tickets, which one of the locals promptly nicked. Another was provided.

These had to be stamped four times and NOT lost. The second stamp was achieved just around the other side of the same little brick box.

stamp number three was achieved by 1$ and Tango and our ground operators who had been able to join us at this stage. There are four of them; we were expecting three and so more squeezing up needs to be done to accommodate them in the convoy cars. Drivers waited in one spot, passengers were processed through a big building and appeared at the other end and we were not allowed to join up.

Tango came out and kept us informed of each stage, which was helpful.

In what is regarded as a record time of 3 hours we we’re released and entered Mongolia.

After a very late lunch at 4:00pm, we left the lovely ger camp. Lunch was first a nice salad, followed by soup, then a main course of lamb, potato and pumpkin, followed by watermelon. And served with Liptons tea and knives and forks. It was very pleasant.

The plan was for our first campsite for the night but as the sun started to get low in the sky, we were becoming more concerned about this plan. None of us like setting camp, especially our first camp, at night. I get the feeling there are some inexperienced campers here and I’m not sure how they will go through the rougher sections of the trip that will come later.

We visited a nice Buddhist temple being rebuilt after the bad era of Mongolian history when Buddhism was suppressed. This place had a special energy source and monks live here to further understand the energy source. One stone we stood on had us gazing into the eyes of a painted symbol which clearly had special powers, because afterwards we walked through a room that was the entrance to heaven. The idea is you leave all your troubles behind as you walk through the little room. As our local guide says, the more you believe, the better it works. At least there was not an entry fee as there would have been in China.

None of this insight gave us any information about where would be sleeping and some of us were fretting about not knowing. ‘Its the journey not the destination…’ Came over the radio. By this time, around 7:30pm, it was dark.

Fortunately we ended up at the Ger camp where we had the late lunch and we’ve found ourselves in a delightful, if quite hot, little round tent with three beds and a light.









Hohhot to the Border town of Erenhot

Glorious late start as we ended up leaving Hohhot at around 11am.

After a slow breakfast we were escorted to a Beaume store in Hohhot. Beaume are one of the major sponsors of the trip and contribute our shirts, plus pay a significant amount towards accommodation and food costs. In return, we wear their shirts and participate in promotional events from time to time. They are a major supplier of outdoor clothing across China, a bit like a Mountain Designs or Kathmandu type store. High quality products.

The wallet were opened in the store, particularly with the 30% discount on offer. I bought a pair of lightweight shorts.

We made our way along the shortest route to Erenhot, but not necessarily the fastest. Through the mountain passes, this time in clear weather showed us what we might have been missing through the mists of the previous weeks. Older roads, with speed rough bumps at inconvenient intervals; narrow, windy and making overtaking difficult. It also requires the front passenger to give the all clear to pass as the driver cannot see far ahead.

Soon the mountains were gone- Our maximum was 1800m yesterday, and about 1600m today. The rolling plains of Mongolia appeared again. Low grass, it looks pretty arid living. Sparse houses, or gers, the round tents typical of this region. Stock being herded close to the road. Horses running free, or so it seems.

Late in the day as the sun set close to Erenhot, we found a herd of dinosaurs in the paddocks and two enormous brontosaurus forming a gate to the city. VERY impressive. Something to do with bones being found in the region. We stopped and looked around, there would have been at least 20 statues that could have been lifesize in all sorts of poses.

Refuelled and arrived in our hotel for dinner around 9:00pm. Then a stern briefing from Tango and 1$ about the border crossings tomorrow. It could take seven to ten hours. He hopes it will take three to four. We have to leave China, which shouldn’t take too long, then wait to enter Outer Mongolia, which is a separate country. This is where is could take time. We need to make sure we stay together near the cars, follow his instructions, do not engage with locals and leave all the negotiations to him. No chatting to the border guards, or behaving like we have a right to enter their country and they should hurry up. Patience will be required.

Given the unknown time we will spend in no mans land, our accommodation for tomorrow is unclear. It might be our first camping night, or maybe in a ger. Either way, you’re not likely to hear from me for a few days until we reach the capital of Mongolia, Ulan Battar on Monday.

This should all be very exciting. There will be national parks to see, ger camps to stay in, and a very different country to China.

So for now it is goodbye to China.
We’ve had a great time, and feel very privileged to have this opportunity to be guided by the people we have, top flight experts in their field. Our tourist guide is the foremost lecturer in tourism in China and spoke tonight about how he liked our group because we were interested in China, not when our next meal was coming!! Little did he know……

China’s infrastructure, well you’ve been reading about my WOW experiences for a while now. The large cities of millions of people just going about their normal lives, being friendly and welcoming to us. The scenery has been unexpectedly fantastic and something I will remember for a long time.

Tomorrow is a 6,7,8 so this is a few short notes. We have Jacob back in our car from tomorrow, so there will be five, instead of the four being Kerry and I, with Brian and Virginia. He has been enjoying the special ride as front seat passenger of Car 1 with Tango the tour leader, and I will be looking forward to hearing his observations of the convoy from up the front, not down the back in the smoke haze!

As an aside, this afternoon I made a call out over our inter convoy radio that it was coming up to dusk and just to remind participants to watch out for kangaroos…… Sadly that didn’t create much discussion….















Zhenglan Qi, China to the Inner Mongolian Capital – Hohhot

No, 5:30 – 6:30 and 7:00 starts are not much better than 5/6/7….

First visit was to the Xanadu private museum. It was well laid out and interesting, and plenty of copied trinkets for sale. But to be able to buy an original pot for 20,000 Yuan, or a helmut for a bit more, well, that doesn’t seem right. It’s a 750 year old relic and once sitting on the shelf in Carine, kind of loses it’s significance.

Our right rear tyre continues to cause problems and need pumping up each day.
At our lunch stop, we stuck a second plug in it and hope that stops the leak. There is simply no time or opportunity to go find a tyre repair place and get the proper patch fitted into the tyre internally, so for now, it’s plug, plug, plug.

Great highways allowed higher speed cruising, but the climbs to 1450m take their toll on the performance of the non turbo diesels. They do not have any altitude compensation, so overfuel badly -meaning they pump out extraordinary amounts of black smoke. Awful to follow.

We were meant to meet the local Police and 4WD club for a convoy entrance into the city centre at 5pm at the main toll gate. and remarkably we achieved this, after some 500km of travels.

The convoy was unremarkable, with TV cars, flags flying on the local vehicles. But as we got into the main mall in the city centre, there was a dragon dancers, tickertape and a line up of lovely girls serving rice wine and giving us shawls around our necks. This celebration went on for ages, possibly an hour. We were the big celebrities and sponsored by Beaume and the local government. Parking 12 large 4wd off street in front of a stage was a feat in itself and achieved with no incident. The photos will show Kerry signing T Shirts and all sorts of other things famous people do. She’s quite falling into the role!!

Dinner was sponsored by the local Inner Mongolian government, as is our accommodation; on the 25th floor of the best hotel in town. And this is world class five star accommodation, very nice indeed. if you’d like to look it up.

Kerry, and me, are very happy we have a 7,8,9 tomorrow. Tomorrow might be our last day in China as we pass into Outer Mongolia, a different country. Mixed feelings as we leave this country that has been so welcoming, awesome and just a great experience. I am SO pleased Kerry was courageous enough to join us and has found it just as enjoyable as I have.