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MONGOLIA: FROM GOBI TO GER

A two thousand kilometer off-roadtrip adventure through the vast landscapes of Mongolia


gobi desert dunes

Mongolia has been on our list for a long time but it took us quite a while to organise the trip due to the weather and time limitations, as well as flight tickets fares.

As you can imagine, this is a huge country with not the best roads and it is quite hard to tick everything. However, below we will try to cover the best of our research: our itinerary and other possible things that you can do.



How to get there


There is only one international airport: Chinggis Khaan International Airport in Ulaanbaatar. Actually, it is quite far, about 60 km from the city.

There are not many airlines flying into this country, the main ones being: MIAT (the Mongolian National Airline), Aeroflot, Air China, Korean Air and Turkish Airlines.

Out of these, we found that Turkish Airlines to provide the best fares and connections. We also tried at some point to book directly on MIAT but nor their website, neither their app worked.


Now, the thing with the flight tickets is that, being an airport so poorly connected, the prices are super high, mostly in summer. Something like 1500 -2000 Euros per person. We reached the conclusion that if you go in the shoulder period, you can get more decent prices, below 1000.


desert dunes and gers

Visa


The very good news is that, until the end of 2025, Mongolia has issued a visa - free program for a number of countries, including Romania. You can find here the list of the countries. Some of the ones that are not on the list can still appy for E-Visa on the same website.



Best time to go


As you may know, Mongolia has quite a harsh climate, cold and desertic. Ulaanbatar is the coldest capital and the second coldest city in the world. The temperatures can drop to -40 degrees Celsius in winter and in summer, Gobi Desert gets close to 40 degrees above zero. So, it might be a good idea to choose wise your times.


The most popular times are June, July and August, but these are the periods when it is the most expensive to get there and it is most crowded. And for a country which is not very developed in terms of tourism, it can be pretty annoying not to find gas or accommodation. In July there is also the famous Nadaam Festival, which is a popular activity among travelers.


The second most popular times are May and September. Since we had the issue in finding some decent priced tickets last year, we decided to opt for one of these months. So we chose May, as it was easier to sort out the days off. We were extremely lucky that for 80% of our trip the weather was great, with temperatures above 15-20 degrees, even 27 at times. However, we read that even in May you can ocasionally get snow storms. So maybe September could be a better idea.

You can read more about the climate of Mongolia here.


woman milking yak

Getting around


The main ways of getting around are: self drive, private tour and domestic flights or a combination of these. We always prefer to organize ourselves and we opted for a car rental and drove around.

Now, the country is extremely big and if you have limited time like we did, it will be virtually impossible to go everywhere you want to. In that case it might be better to take a domestic flight and book a tour or rent a car from there.


desert dunes drone view
The only path where you can cross the dunes

MIAT airline


The problem with domestic flights is that they are quite expensive, not very often and hard to book on MIAT website. It might be necessary to contact a travel agency and ask them to do it for you.

In general, they tend to have more flights in the high season: June, July and August.

In our case, the flights didn`t match our schedule and we would`ve lost a lot of time so we prefered to go by car instead.


The website doesn`t work like a normal one, even if it looks like. If you type departure and destination, it won`t show you the flights. You need to search for the domestic flight schedule/ international flights schedule and check the days with available flights and then type in those exact dates. They have some FAQ section with some contact details which might be helpful in booking a ticket.


Here is the list with international summer schedule for 2024. For some reason, I can`t seem to find the domestic summer schedule.


drone view mongolia

Car rental


This can be a bit complicated and expensive, but we have some shortcuts for you.

Basically, due to the nature of the roads, you will need a good and reliable 4x4 car. We only found car rental companies in Ulaanbatar and in the western part of Mongolia.

We only checked with a couple of ones in Ulaanbatar and the problem is that they charge A LOT for the deposit. Like, 2000 - 3000 $ and then the car is 150 - 200 $ a day.


Fortunately, we found this review on Tripadvisor in which a guy was reccommending some locals renting cars. We contacted the same person for a car rental and he gave us a very good deal: something like 75$ per day and 300$ deposit. And no advance payment. The guy was super nice and friendly, super responsive, spoke good English and he came to deliver the car at the airport and picked up the car from our hotel at the end at no additional cost.

On top of that, the car - a 4x4 LEXUS 470 - was in a very good condition and very reliable.

We reccommend this guy 100%!!

His name is OSO and you can Whatsapp him on this number: +976 9910 6065.


On the same review, there was this other person offering the same: Doyod - Whatsapp: +97680608232. But we haven`t contacted him. If you want to check this useful review yourself, you can find it here.


As for the Western part of Mongolia, we found this rental company - Discover Altai - but we haven`t contacted them.


selfie 3 people
This is Oso, the guy we highly reccommend renting a car from

Navigation


We can only speak for the southern and central part of the country, but as in any other remote corners of the world, Maps.me is the king. Google Maps works well on paved roads, as well.

Some roads look like they are inexistent, barely some traces on the ground, but a 4x4 car does the job.


Accommodation


That was one of the most difficult problems that we faced, as there are not many places available online. At least, not at the first sight. Most of the people, ourselves included, consider the option of camping or sleeping in the car, which in general, is good because it provides flexibility.

The Lexus that we had was turning completely flat at the back, so for a 1,75 cm person was just enough.


In the end, we did manage to find some gers and hotels along the route. Also, it is worth searching on Google Maps for places and contact them directly. In general, you can find some decent hotels every now and then but they are expensive outside of Ulaanbatar.


We did a stop in Mandalgovi at a ger inside the yard of some locals - Gobi Oasis. Not much to do around but good for a pit stop.


We found a new hotel in Dalanzadgad with a very good value for money - Khovuun. Anyway, Dalanzadgad is quite a big city and has plenty of hotel options, even though some of them are not on Booking.com


We found a good website for booking ger camps and the staff is really responsive. The have 3 camps: Mongolian Secret History, Secret of Ongi and Secret of the Silk Road. You can e-mail them at: info@mongoliansecrethistory.mn

We stayed at The Secret of Ongi Camp in central Mongolia, we paid a bit more and got the Deluxe ger with a private bathroom. It was not the cleanest ger but we assumed that we came a bit off season. However, the reviews for this camp looked good.


After that, we found a nice hotel in Khujirt - Khaan Khujirt - which we do recommend for a shower stop. However, it tends to be around 150$ with breakfast.


We spent a night with a nomadic family and this was probably the highlight of our trip. It was a truly authentic experience, getting the chance to stay in their yurt and share a pice of life with some people so different than us.

We found this family on Airbnb, through a guide providing this experience.However, the guide was not the most fair, charging twice for everything. The prices were low, though, 20 - 30 $, so we didn`t lose much but we hated the idea of being lied to. The family had nothing to do with this though. They were really nice and friendly.

The family we stayed at is called Tsendee family and we found it here.

Now, if you would like the same experience, we have the family`s contact number and you could contact them directly, skipping the lady guide. For privacy purposes, I won`t post their number here, but feel free to drop us a message. They don`t speak English but we used Google Translate.

ger in mongolia
Their home
mongolian woman
Family moments

Other than that, around Khongoryn Sand Dunes in Gobi we found plenty of ger camps and some of them have their phone contact on Google Maps. They all look in the middle of nowhere but that is actually the road to the sand dunes and it is fully accesible in a 4x4. Didn`t check any of them but it could be useful for you.

Gobi Erdene : +442035826940

Gobi Discovery Khongor : +97696967299

Hongor Els camp : +97688309986


There is also this guest house in Sevrei but the name is in Mongolian and doesn`t have any contact number: Захиргааны буудал


mongolian ger
This is the area of the ger camps mentioned above

Buying groceries


We`ve been reading that outside Ulaanbatar it is quite hard to get veggies and fresh fruits, so upon landing we headed straight to the city to fill up our car.

However, we found big supermarkets in Dalanzadgad and smaller markets in towns. So the situation is not that dramatic but it is best if you buy plenty of water to have it with you and some temperature resistant food supplies.


Petrol stations


In general, it is not needed to carry gas but please fill up your tank whenever you fiond a gas station, even if ythe tank is almost full. Most villages have a gas station, even if that one if very basic. We found Google Maps to be pretty accurate in showing gas stations along the way. In our case, even if our Lexus was burning a lot of fuel, we never ran out of fuel.


gas station in mongolia
This is how remote the gas stations look

Our itinerary


We had about 9 days and we did a two thousand kilometer off-roadtrip in southern and central Mongolia. And it looked something like this:

( we used the walking option because the driving option didn`t show all the roads )


map

Top sights along our route:

  • Tsagaan Suvarga (White Stupa) - north of Dalanzadgad - a 400m - long jigsaw of white-sand cliffs ( 2 accommodations here: Gobi Caravanaserai and Tsagaan Suvraga Tourist Camp )

  • Bayanzag ( Flaming Cliffs ) - around 80 km north west of Dalanzadgad - a Gobi highlight and an important palaeontology site, very rich in dinosaur fossils

  • Khongorin Els ( Singing Dunes ) - NOT TO MISS - the biggest dunes in Gobi Desert - very appealing for photography

  • Yolyn Am Gorge ( Gobi Desert )

  • Ongi Monastery

  • Bat Ulzii - Tsensee family stay

  • Kharkorin town and Orkhon Valley

  • Mini Gobi ( sand dune ) in Ulaanshiveet

  • Ulaanbatar


flaming cliffs mongolia
Flaming Cliffs - the name was given due to their red colour at sunset. It is one of the most important and rich paleontological sites in the world
dunes
Khongoryn Els ( Singing Dunes ) - the name was given from the noise made when the wind hits the sand. One of the most impressive views in Mongolia. Takes about 45 min to 1 h to climb to the top.
mongolian bhudist temple
Ongiin Khiid (also referred as Ongi Monastery ruins) is a active small monastery with a temple which was built on the ruins of a monastery complex that was formerly one of the largest monasteries in Mongolia and founded in 1760
orkhon valley
Orkhon River flowing towards Kharkorin ( in the distance )

After we gave up the ideea on going to western Mongolia, we got inspired for our roadtrip from these articles, which might be helpful for you, too: Traveelbees, Duniart and JennySandiford.


The road condition is as follows:

  • from Ulaanbatar to Dalanzadgad and up to 50 km to Sevrei - the road is paved and Google Maps times are accurate

  • 40-50 km before Sevrei, the road starts to be under construction and there are just dirt tracks - you have to make sure you follow Maps.me

  • in order to get to climb the dunes, you need to get behind them, on the northern side ( the road goes a lot to the east then turns back to the right ) - takes about 1,5 -2 hrs from Sevrei to the dunes ( one way )

  • from Bayandalay all the way to Khujirt - there are only dirt tracks

  • Khujirt to Bat Ulzii - dirt tracks ( road under construction )

  • Khujirt to Ulaanbatar via Ulaanshiveet - paved road


Apparently, there are some paths to cross Gobi from Sevrei to the north without having to go back to Bayandalay but it was hard to find it on Maps.me, so we prefered the safer option.


Another thing to bear in mind is that Ulaanbatar has extremely heavy traffic at any time of the day. Unexpectedly heavy!


man and desert
Mini Gobi - close to Ulaanshiveet

What else to visit


Reindeer Herders in northern Mongolia ( Tsaatan tribe )

This is loacted on the boundary with Siberia. We wanted to go here and did a bit of research but we were afraid it is still going to be too cold in May and it would`ve been very difficult to get from here to Gobi anyway.

However, we found an interesting article about how to get there. It also provides contact details of the person who is the gateway to this tribe: Zaya. They highlight the fact that anyone wishing to go there should not book a tour with anyone besides her.

Zaya’s Contact Information

Zaya WhatsApp: +976 9977 0480

Zaya Email:  zaya_004@yahoo.com


Eagle hunters in Ulgii region

Probably the best known image of Mongolia.

This was our initial target but it is still posing some ethical concerns. The eagles are still wild animals and they belong to nature. Even though these people are not doing this for tourism purposes, it is part of the their life style and apparently the eagles get released at times to ensure their reproduction, I am still not sure if it is the right thing to go.

Apart from being logistically difficult, it doesn`t feel right to go there and get the photography opportunity just because it looks nice.


Lake Khövsgöl

In the northern part of the country.


Altai Tavan Bogd National Park and Altai Mountains

Western Mongolia.


Amarbayasgalant Monastery

360 km north of the capital.


Next, our photo gallery, shot as usual on Sony A7III ( 35 mm, 85 mm and 135 mm ) and DJI Mavic 3 Classic drone. Hope it will inspire you!


mongolia dinosaur fossil site
Flaming Cliffs overview - this huge paleontology site

flaming cliffs and a couple
The real name is Bayanzag

house and desert
The nothingness of Gobi enroute to Dalanzadgad


desert dunes
Sunset on the dunes - Khongoryn Els

mongolian village
A typical Mongolian layout, outside Dalanzadgad

camel and gobi desert
You`ll see plenty of camels in Gobi

sand dunes
Breathtaking view from the sand dunes

girl and sand dune
Desert minimalism

dune
Walking on the edge of the dunes is so cool

camels and dunes
A herd of camels on the northern side of the dunes

gobi river
There is even water there

camel in gobi desert
Southern side of the dunes

bayanzag cliffs
This area is most famous for yielding the first discovery of dinosaur eggs

flaming cliffs
Apparently, the place is so full in fossils that one can still find them

gers and sunset
We got such an amazing sunset at the sand dunes

sand dunes
Even though Gobi is mostly about rocks, these few sand dunes are absolutely surreal

dunes
Try to run down on a dune! The best feeling!

woman on dune
Getting here takes about an hour of climbing, as mentioned earlier

ger camp in mongolia
Secret of Ongi ger camp

steppe road from drone
The dirt road heading north from Ongi Monastery towards Khujirt

lexus car in mongolia
Still on the same road to Khujirt

dunes from drone
Paradise for drone photography in Khongoryn Els

camel in mongolia
Central Mongolia landscape - a bit greaner

sand dunes mongolia
The local farms in Khongoryn Els

yurts in mongolia
Our ger camp next to Mini Gobi sand dunes

horses in mongolia
A herd of horses in Ulaanshiveet

sheep in mongolia
Nomad people in Orkhon Valley


drone view mongolia
The scenery in central Mongolia - where we spent a night with Tsendee family


lady milking yaks
Milking yaks - part of the experience with the family


mongolian girl
The youngest member of Tsendee family


man shooting a video among yaks
A bit of behind the scenes


family portrait
The oldest brother and his mother - our hosts

man milking yaks
Milking yaks

european and mongolian women
Just look at the height gap :))

yurt in mongolia
Some other nomads in Ulaanshiveet area

mongolian girls
Mother and daughter

man and horse
Tsendee and his horse - had a full grooming session before that :)

milking yaks
Milking yaks portrat

mongolian kids portrait
Our host family took us for a short visit to another family in the area , also yak herders. These were their kids.

women
Memory photo

lady and baby goat
They had plenty of babies around there

landscape orkhon valley
Orkhon valley scenery

drone view mongolia
Central Mongolia

mongolian horses
The country where there are more horses than people

sand dunes mongolia
Another view of Khongoryn Els. Very impressive.

gobi desert dunes
Drone view over the sand dunes in Gobi

eagles
It was an eagle convention or something :)

sand dune and a person
Desert minimalism. Love it!

bayanzag mongolia
The martial landscape in Byanzag

ulaanbatar buildings
Finally some urban landscape. View from the 17th floor of our hotel: Ramada Ulaanbatar

ulanbaatar city view
The last floor of the hotel had a very nice lounge bar with drinks and shisha and these magnificent views

ulaanbatar sunset
The hotel was even building the terrace for the summer

twilinght over ulaanbatar
And the last view in Mongolia

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