Now I’m not really one for a guided tour, I like to experience the country myself and on my own terms. But to see a country of this magnitude, the ninth biggest by land area in the world, by myself would have been challenging. We reluctantly booked a 12 day tour through our hostel, Sunpath Mongolia and it’s probably turned out to be the best decision of my travels so far. To rent a driver by yourself would cost 200 US dollars a day. Now if you split this between say 4 of you, for a 12 day trip it would cost you $50 a day each. This doesn’t include drinking water, food, a guide, accommodation, entry into all the sights and national parks, horse riding, camel riding and everything else we got included. We paid $720 each, which worked out as $60 a day, or £40 and had everything included. The only things we paid for were snacks in the supermarket before we left, being diabetic I needed a back up, not knowing what to expect, loo roll and wet wipes, these are pretty essential! The sooner you’re willing to embrace the country and their culture, accept that you’ll have 2 showers in 12 days and that pooing in a hole in the ground is the norm, then you’ll have the best time. You will experience the way the nomadic Mongolians have lived for thousands of years, how their culture is so welcoming and that they will do anything to make you comfortable and happy. We had family’s giving up their main Ger for us to sleep in, every time we arrived at a new family we’d be greeted with milk tea, we had family’s cook dinner for us, come in early in the morning to light our fire and keep us warm and all in all it was an experience I will never forget. It’s the Mongolian way of life, the Mongolian culture, help everyone out and treat everyone as if they are your own. Click on the slide show at the bottom of the page to view some pictures.
Day 1: We left the hostel at 8:45 after a short delay. There were 6 of us in an old school off-road Russian van, plus a driver and a guide and all of our bags. There were 2 Canadians, a Frenchman, a guy from Hong Kong and 2 of us from England. After having a quick chat we soon established that there were people on a 7 day trip, a 9 day trip, a 12 day trip and a 16 day trip. How was this ever going to work? It turns out that is why we were delayed and what Doljmaa, the owner of our hostel was sorting out, there was going to be another driver and guide meet us that evening at the first ger stay and from there we would split into two groups of three. Our first stop was at a supermarket on the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar where the guide bought enough food for the trip and we were advised to buy loo roll, wet wipes and snacks to make the trip more comfortable, we split a big pack of loo roll between the 6 of us because it worked out cheaper. Our second stop was for lunch about 2 hours outside of UB where we were given the Mongolian classic of homemade noodles with dry but greasy fatty mutton. It is possible to travel as a vegetarian, just let your guide know before you leave. The vegetarians were given homemade noodles with vegetables, which looked a lot nicer then my greasy meat, but honestly it wasn’t too bad. I worked out that the noodles have about the same amount of carbs as back home, so you diabetic carbohydrate counters out there take note! We then carried on the drive for a couple more hours until we ran out of road and turned off into the wilderness. We stopped at the White Stupa and Tsagaan Suvarga which is a group of multi-coloured limestone cliffs which have eroded in crazy ways due to the wind and rain. We then carried on our drive and finally, 9 hours after we left we arrived at our first ger camp. We were greeted with milk tea then shown to our ger. Looking out the door of our ger there were camels and goats everywhere. At 8 our dinner arrived, made by the host, which once again was the Mongolian classic, noodles and mutton. So far so good for the diabetes though as every meal has a large amount of carbohydrate in, which was the thing I was worried about most.
Day 2: At home you are sometimes woken up to the dawn chorus of birds singing and chirping away, well in the middle of Mongolia you are awoke to the dawn chorus of camel grunting. My sugar level was a healthy 4.2 in the morning, so far so good. In the early hours of the morning our other guide and driver had turned up and both guides brought in breakfast in the morning, French toast with the choice of muesli. We then set off for a 4 hour drive to the Yol Valley and three beauties of the Gobi, 3 of us in one van, 3 in the other, it turned out we were going in convoy for 6 days. Half way we stopped at a restaurant in a town for lunch where we could all charge our cameras. You get this option most days. For lunch I ordered rice, bread, egg and Mongolian fried pancakes. I knew we were going on a hike through the valley so I needed a substantial meal. I did however under compensate before the hike with the amount of insulin so my sugar level ended up quite high. The Yol valley was beautiful and so named because of the Yol vulture that is found there, the only place in Mongolia. It was 2000m above sea level so it did get quite windy but there was still ice in the valley at the end of June even though it was slowly melting away. We took a walk through the valley and saw a variety of wildlife, including the Yol vulture and some pikas, small cute mouse like creatures. We then drove a short distance to another ger, our guides brought us in dinner and we settled down for the night. The owner of the ger came in with fire wood to keep us all comfortable. That evening I soaked my Frio packs in water to keep my insulin cool.
Day 3: Being 2000m above sea level, once the fire went out and with the wind, it was a very cold nights sleep, even with the sleeping bags our guides had provided. We hadn’t seen running water for 3 days now and were all craving a shower, or at least to wash our hands, hand sanitiser is pretty essential! We left at 9:30, after having more French toast, muesli and the luxury of coffee and drove for a couple of hours and entered the Gobi Desert. However it looked nothing like a dessert, it had been the wettest summer for 30 years so the dessert was very green. This was not what we expected but great for the locals as their livestock is thriving. We stopped for a picnic at the side of the road, cheese and cucumber sandwiches, then carried on to our 3rd ger. We once again were greeted with milk tea and offered some biscuits and cheesy goat curd as a welcoming. We settled in to wait for the rain to pass before we went out on our camels. This was a great experience as the 2 humped camels are much more comfortable than their 1 humped cousins in the Sahara. However 15 minutes into our riding a thunderstorm hit and we got absolutely soaked, the lightning in the sky was cool though. Who rides camels in the rain in the dessert?! Crazy! We then got back after an hour and a half and rushed down some dinner, rice and chips with vegetables, then started our trek up the sand dune to see the sunset. The dunes were so steep and high, every step you took, you felt like you were sliding 3 steps back, but it was well worth the effort. The views from the top were incredible. We then ran down the middle in the rain and went back to the ger to catch some sleep.
Day 4: After yesterday’s evening hike I woke up to a very low sugar level. This seemed to be happening quite a lot so I decided that that evening I would reduce my long acting insulin by 6 units, as I was eating nowhere near as much as back home as I used to snack a lot. We set off for a 3 hour drive, we knew the roads were going to be rough and bumpy as both our driver and guide put on back and kidney support belts. Our driver, Gonzao, decided that this would be the day he’d introduce us to his music. It started off OK with a Kazakhstan classic, pretty ladies, but after that things got worse and worse. One song consisted of a man singing “I am a sexy guy” over and over and over again, despite Gonzao not speaking English. 3 hours in we stopped in a town with a public washroom, this meant a shower, A SHOWER! The first time we’d seen running water for 4 days. By the time the 6 of us had showered, plus the 2 guides and 2 drivers it was getting late. Luckily it was only a 30 minute drive to the flaming cliffs, the first place dinosaurs bones were ever found. They are so-called the flaming cliffs due to the red sandstone which looks like it’s on fire when the sun shines on them. We arrived at the ger and were greeted by the host offering us his snuff bottle to try, this was interesting. We then had more noodles and meat for dinner and headed back to the cliffs to take pictures of them glowing in the sunset, amazing.
Day 5: Reducing my long acting insulin worked well. I woke up with a sugar level of 6.4. We had a lie in this morning and left at 10:30 after a breakfast of muesli and fried bread. We stopped for lunch in a small town and we were able to charge our cameras. I had a lamb rib soup, with potatoes and boiled Mongolian dumplings. I asked for some rice as well to boost the carbohydrates and this wasn’t an issue. We arrived at the ruined monastery late afternoon and my sugar level was a bit high. There had been lots of sitting around in the van until late afternoon and then lots of activity. My recommendation would be to boost your lunch time short acting insulin to counteract the sitting around in a van and then reduce your dinner time short acting insulin, as your body in constantly burning the carbs from all the walking around. I found this the best way to keep my sugar level regulated and stop myself going high in the afternoons and low in the mornings, but of course everyone is different. The ruined monastery was cool. It was destroyed when communism overcame the country and up to 15000 monks were killed during this time. That evening we drove to a ger, were greeted with milk tea and helped the family milk their goats.
Day 6: This was the day we stopped going in convoy, we left at 9:30 and stopped after a couple of hours to say our goodbyes to the other 3 guys, which left me, Holly and Camille on our way to the Orkhon Valley and the other guys continuing on a different route on their 7 and 16 day tours. At this point Camille decided to change from the 9 day tour to the 12 days with us so she could join us on our two-day horse riding trek, she obviously enjoyed our company! We stopped for lunch at 2 then continued on a really bumpy horrible “road”, eventually arriving at our destination at 7. The views on the way were stunning, rolling mountains and lush green grass, a change from 5 days in the Gobi. We walked over to the Ulaan Tsutgalan waterfall which was 24 meters high and really powerful due to the amount of rain. We headed back and had a traditional Mongolian BBQ which consisted of goat, potatoes, carrots and rice. I soaked my Frio packs again that evening and we bought some beer and chilled out in a ger with the fire blazing to combat the freezing cold. Outside the ger there were horses, yaks, sheep, goats, eagles and vultures.
Day 7: This was the day we had been looking forward to the most, the start of our 2 day horse trek. We had a lay in and left at 11:30 to start our horse trek. There were the 3 of us, plus our guide and a horse guide from the ger camp. We were giving traditional Mongolian outfits to keep us warm and protect us from the cold, these included padding for our legs to protect as from the rubbing. Our bags were loaded onto a pack-horse, along with some food and some bottles of water. We then got on our horses and off we went. The first thing we did was cross a river which was interesting considering this was the first time I’d ever been on a horse. But 10 minutes later we were trotting and 10 minutes after that we were galloping through the valley, dwarfed by mountains either side of us. The scenery was amazing. We stopped for lunch after two hours at a random ger camp, and our guide pulled out some pasta he had made for us before we left. Lots of carbs again, great. We then carried on for another 2 hours, through a pine forest and into our ger camp for our overnight stay. The family were so welcoming and friendly, they had baby yaks and goats, plus 2 young children who were cute and friendly, the little girl being only 2 years old. Around 8 the host brought us in pasta and potato soup for dinner, which again consisted of lots of carbohydrate. I was worried about the food before I left, but every meal had been perfect for an active diabetic, you don’t have to worry about it at all.
Day 8: We started our horse trek back after a breakfast of chocolate spread on toast. Our legs were aching from the previous day but you soon get used to it. After a short while we stopped at a ger to meet a family and have milk tea before following the river to another ger to stop for lunch. Here we had more noodles with mutton and tried the Mongolian drink of fermented mares milk. It was very sour and had a unique taste, but interesting to try. Before leaving we played football with the family and had a laugh, then continued for 2 hours back to where we started the previous day. When crossing the river Camille’s horse decided this would be a great time to lie down and have a wash, with her still on his back, then 10 minute later he decided to dry himself by rolling around in the sand, again with her still on his back, hilarious! That evening, back at the ger camp we had a kind of spaghetti bolognese made by our guide which was very tasty. We settled down with the fire roaring, resting our aching legs and had a lovely nights sleep.
Day 9: Today we set off early after a breakfast of French toast and fruit salad. The changes to my insulin were working really well and my sugar level had been steady so I was pleased about this. We drove to the bottom of a forested hill, for a one hour walk up to the Tuvkhun Monastery. Here we had a problem, it was so wet and boggy and there were swarms of flies and mosquitoes everywhere. Not only this, our guide got lost and we never ended up seeing the monastery. It wasn’t his fault and he felt really bad, he changed his route to try and avoid the water and ended up losing his bearings. All we ended up doing was having a sweaty wet walk, uphill through a forest, getting attacked by mosquitoes, not every day could be perfect I suppose. We then drove down the hill to try and leave the flies and had instant spicy noodles for lunch. This was good because the packets were in German and I could see the amount of carbohydrate I was having. I reduced my insulin a little due to the uphill trek. After lunch we drove to some hot springs where we were staying for the night. I had a little cabin all to myself. The hot spring resort consisted of 4 pools with water that came naturally from the mountains, with the hottest being 86 degrees. They also had showers and flushing toilets!!! Our guide brought us dinner, rice and chips and then me and the 2 girls went for a beer in the restaurant as we worked out it was a Saturday night!
Day 10: The girls woke me up at 9 for a dunk in the hot springs before breakfast, a great way to start the day. We then had a breakfast of fried bread and jam before chilling for a couple of hours and leaving to drive to Kharkhorin, the ancient capital of Mongolia. We stopped for lunch in a small town on the way, where I ordered crispy Mongolian fried dumplings, they were filled with lamb and onions, a bit like a crispy savory crepe, filled with meat. We then drove on a paved road, the first time in 9 days which was heaven for our backs and bums. Arriving in Kharkhorin we visited a museum all about the ancient capital, how it was built, how the Mongolian empire expanded, then was destroyed in the 1300’s by the Huan dynasty from China. We continued to a ger camp nearby where they cooked us beef, rice and grated carrot. We had the choice of WiFi at this ger stay but we all decided not to use it. It had been so nice being away from it all, you find yourself becoming reliant on technology back home so we thought we’d have 12 days of just beautiful Mongolia.
Day 11: Today we visited the ruins of Kharkhorin, the ancient capital of Mongolia and the Buddhist temple that was built in the 1500’s, using the bricks from the destroyed city. This was fascinating inside and we managed to catch the monks chanting in one of the buildings. Both the girls brought some souvenirs, bracelets and rings from the stalls, with Mongolian and Buddhist symbols on. We then had lunch at a restaurant and carried on to our final ger stay. Once we arrived we took a trek up the mountain to take in the views one last time. After a dinner of pasta and mutton we were surprised with a final horse ride. I think our guide was trying to make up for getting lost on the way to the monastery. This was great and my horse was so much faster than last time. He did bolt at one point, but luckily I’m now a pro horseman so I controlled him well! We then settled down for our final nights sleep.
Day 12: This was the day we drove back to UB and got WiFi for the first time in 12 days, got to wash our clothes and have a hot, powerful shower. I would 100% recommend visiting this amazing country even if you have diabetes. Everyone is so accommodating and friendly and the food is full of carbohydrate that you can easily do a tour as a diabetic.
Some handy tips:
1. Buy snacks, wet wipes, loo roll and hand sanitiser.
2. Keep control of your diabetes as there are not many doctors or hospitals.
3. Take Frio packs to keep your insulin cold.
4. Never walk through the 2 poles in the middle of the ger, this is bad luck for the family.
5. Always take and give everything with your right hand.
6. Embrace everything, live the Mongolian way.
7. Become a natural horseman!!