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Wednesday, 8 March 2017

PART 18: MONGOLIA, THE LAND OF BLUE SKIES

MONGOLIA (28TH AUG – 8TH SEPT 2016)



I woke up feeling dizzy as I only managed two hours sleep last night due to lots of things playing in my mind. After checking out of the guesthouse, I exited Ulan Ude. I need to cover 600kms to reach Ulan Bataar. I was feeling so down this morning so I’m not focusing on the road, thus I made lots of navigating mistakes. Besides, for god-knows-what reason, my GPS was directing me to go north instead of south. It was a waste of time having to turn back. After going in circles for approx 30mins, I managed to get back on track. The road heading to the border was quiet and this let my disturbed mind to wander. Too many thoughts, sadness and frustrations. What had I done to deserve all this from my own people, especially from my own race and same religion? I don’t have the answer. Thank god that fifty kms after Ulan Ude, the view started to get better, a lil bit like Kyrgyzstan. This shifted my troubled mind and I stopped for pics at Lake Gusinoye.





I continued via A340 to the border town, Khyagt - Altanbulag. It was a very small border but the procedure took so long time. I spent almost 3 hours for both border crossings. At both borders, I need to show my passport and GD’s registration papers for 4 times. I was a bit worried as I only registered myself (as a foreigner in Russia) twice, within my almost 1 month stay in Russia. Luckily the officer didn’t say anything. At the Mongolian side, getting insurance is mandatory. I purchased one for MNT18, 250. 


It was already 4pm by the time I leave the border and head south to Ulan Bataar. The road was so-so and some were quite bad, narrow and single lane only. I must hurry or else I wont be able to reach UB before it gets dark. However, there were lots of vehicles at certain stretches, and I must also be careful due to the livestock eating grasses very close to the road. It was quite a stressful ride for me.


I arrived UB when the sun already set. Fortunately, I didn’t face any difficulty to find Kelvin’s house. Kelvin is my host in UB and he’s a successful Malaysian living in UB for already 20 years. He had a very nice beautiful house and both he and his Mongolian wife, Ochgi welcomed me with a nice smell of nasi lemak coming from the kitchen. What a relief after a looonggg 13 hours otr without any rest nor food. We chatted over dinner and the nasi lemak tasted soooo good. Thanks to both of you.

Nasi Lemak in Mongolia lah


The next morning I followed the couple to their office. Kelvin is the sole distributor for Gano Coffee. Besides that, this couple also ran few other businesses including doing customized tour and two wheels tour around Mongolia. Kelvin also owned a ger stay at Golkhi Terej National Park which I’m going to visit later. 




I told Kelvin that I want to pose in front of Ulan Bataar sign and he brought me to the sign. While posing with a Malaysian flag at the sign, I heard someone greeted me. Guess who is it? Auwww, she was Siti Noridah Et, a Malaysian famous solo backpacker who just started her silk road trip. We had been FB friends for couple years but never met before. It was a nice surprise to meet her here in UB. (Psssttt Et & Kelvin, shhhhhh :D )

It was Merdeka Day when we pose with Msian flag at this sign


I asked Et about her plans in Mongolia and co-incidentally, both of us wanted to visit Khovsgol Lake. A fast plan was made and I decided to be a backpacker this time. Kelvin sent us to the bus terminal and we purchased our bus ticket for tomorrow’s journey. 

The next morning, Mr Tserendug, my air freight agent came to meet me at Kelvin’s house. He measured GD and gave me a quotation. It was very expensive, more than USD2000. Mongolian air freight system obliged all cargos to be crated, hence the high price. Unlike my previous experience where my bike was fixed to a wood pallet only, this time, GD has to be put in a crate. In order to reduce the price, Mr Tserendug suggested that I dismantle both tires and the top box bracket or be prepared to pay the high price. I had to agree to his suggestion, but in my mind, I was worried about fixing it back later. Ahhh, worry about that later, I told myself. Lack of knowledge in the technical aspect is not a big issue. There will definitely someone who could help. So for the time being, lets enjoy Mongolia and what it has to offer.


Before departing to the bus terminal, I busied myself finding cheap flight to fly to Bangkok (after I’m done with my Mongolian sightseeing). I found some cheap flights but I need to transit and change terminal in China airports. This worried me as I didn’t have a Chinese visa. I didn’t want to face problems so I had to buy a more expensive ticket and flying via Hong Kong instead. After making the online purchase, Kelvin sent Et and me to the bus terminal. It was quite a search to find the bus as the terminal was very unorganized. There was no platform and there were lots of buses which destination was written solely in Cyrillic alphabet. After asking around, we managed to find the bus. It didn’t depart on time, not a surprise for me. The driver played very loud music inside the bus. We took the same route from the way I rode from the other day before reaching UB. The bus made a left turning at Baruunkharaa. 




Mongolia is sooo beautiful. It has similar weave rolling hills like in Kyrgyzstan but its more yellow here. Perhaps due to the upcoming autumn. I could see more animals here too and they are not afraid of humans and vehicles at all. Some horses even feast themselves with grasses just next to a busy road, something which is difficult to see in other nomadic countries. Yaks too, and they are in large numbers here. The sky is sooo blue and people are friendly and always smiling. 




Finally, we arrived Murun after a not so comfortable longgg 15 hours drive. It was 6am and very cold. A local girl approached us and offered transportation to Khovsgol Lake, but we need to rest at her guest house first while she searched for two more people to fill up the car. We agreed and was taken to the guest house to rest while waiting. We were served hot tea which was very nice.


Around 9am, the girl knocked on our door. She managed to find two more people to share the car. We drove via A1101 road to Khovsgol Lake which was very scenic. The road was long, winding and very deserted. We stopped few times for pics and to enjoy beautiful Egiin River flowing peacefully down the valley.





The other two passengers get down at Mankhan while Et and I continued to the lake. The paved road disappeared and was replaced by offroad for about 30kms. There were some inclines and declines and I kinda regretting not taking GD with me. After about 1 hour of slow drive, the blue Khosgol Lake emerged from the horizon. It was very beautiful. The driver drove us around to find accommodation but since it was off season, very few options were left for us. After bargaining, we settled down at one which offered MNT35000 per cabin with breakfast. 




It was a good choice and we stayed here for 3 nights, just chillaxing and enjoying the blue serene lake. Indeed a very good place to find inspiration to write :)





However, the weather was not very good on the 3rd day. It was very cold and raining at times. Thus we couldn’t laze by the lake and boredom started to take over as theres no entertainment here at all. Theres no TV and wifi signal from the simcard which Kelvin lent to me was very slow. Electricity for lights came from the solar panel and we had to burn woods traditionally in the oven to heat up our cabin. Against all odds, both of us still managed to go for a walk in the woods after the rain stopped, but not for long as its freezing cold.





I said goodbye to Et as I’m going back to UB and she will stay for a while in Murun to find transportation to venture deeper into Mongolia and later to Kazakhstan. It was a very boring 15 hours journey on the bus as the person who sat next to me (and same to everyone else in the bus) couldn’t speak a word of English. Kelvin fetched me at the bus terminal and we returned to his home. The next day, I send my bike to Mr Tserendug’s garage near the airport. Kelvin lead the way so I had no difficulty to find the place. 




My actual plan is to fly GD from Vladivostok, but through my research, I found out that its not possible because Vladivostok's airport is small. So GD has to be flown out from UB instead. Since theres no cargo flights from UB, GD will be flying with a commercial flight, which means that the cost will be higher. In order to reduce the air freight fees, I had to dismantle almost everything so that the package size is smaller and wont cost me a bomb. During my previous freighting experience, GD had only very minor dismantling. However this time, I watched Kelvin and Mr Tserendug worked on the bike, and get involved until everything was done, including drying the fuel tank. I learned a lot in the process. The final costing for air freighting GD (in a crate) from UB to Bkk is USD1700. Imagine how high is the price if I didnt make the package smaller. GD will fly on the 9th and myself on the 8th of Sept. See u in approx a week time, baby. I’m going to miss you :’(




I spent my last days in Mongolia visiting Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, which is a must visit place in Mongolia. It is not very far from Ulan Bataar, only about 70kms. This place is famed for its beautiful and unique rock formations, amazing views and definitely its spectacular milky way up in the heavenly sky. Since I no longer have GD with me (already left it under Mr Tserendug’s care), Kelvin was kind enough to drive me to the place. We stopped for pics at Genghis Khan Statue Complex (Tsonjin Boldog) and by the roadside to admire the pride of Mongolia, the eagles.






Then we continued to the National Park. I stayed two nights at Magic Rock Camp inside the park, which was owned by Kelvin. I really loved this place as it was very quiet. It was located at the end of the road, so one can enjoy the serenity without any disturbance. During my stay here, I could also see wild squirrels and marmots. The ger (Mongolian tent) here was very comfy and the toilet (they have western type toilets) were the cleanest in the whole of Mongolia. Seriously spotless, something which was difficult to find in this country. The concept at this camp was traditional but with high western standards. 



The small hill near Magic Camp which you can climb 


The food served here was very delicious. Since Kelvin is a Malaysian, he understood the need for halal food for Muslims and he could arrange that too. I feasted myself with delicious BBQ lamb which he made himself. 




At night, the spectacular milky way will definitely blow your mind away. This place was indeed a million stars heaven and strongly recommended.





Kelvin also took me for sightseeing around the park. I saw lots of beautiful rock formations around the area. The yellow grassland, the blue skies and the animals scattered around made this place seemed like heaven to me. Soooo beautiful.






To those who want to experience staying at Magic Camp, you can contact Kelvin at his Facebook, 
https://www.facebook.com/kcwchong74?fref=ts


On my last day in UB, I visited the famous square, Genghis Khan Square. Since it was a beautiful day, there were lots of people around. I took some time to just laze here and tried to imagine Genghis Khan and his troops during the former golden days.


Finally, it was time for me to say goodbye to my wonderful hosts, Kelvin and Ochgi. I hugged Ochgi in the wee hour of the morning before Kelvin send me to the airport and we parted goodbye. I have had a very memorable stay in Mongolia and GD’s air freight task had been done smoothly and successfully – all with their kind help. Thank you both of you for the hospitality which I will remember forever.


As the Mongolian Airlines aircraft took off from the runaway, I whisper silently in my heart. Bye2 Mongolia. Bye2 Uncle Genghis. I'm going to miss you. I know that you are going to haunt my dreams after I'm back home. And the more frightening to me is to realize that GDR is going to end very soon. Yes, very soon. Can I cope? Can I adapt to being back to normal routine after been living a life on the road for a year? I’m afraid to even to think of it…..





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