Gobi desert: from +30 to -10 | Mongolia

When you think of Mongolia, you think of … well, what actually? Vast steppes. Emptiness. Nature. And that’s exactly what I got on my trip to the Gobi Desert. But did you also know that in the northern part of Mongolia there are lots of beautiful mountains and lakes? Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to explore the north as well, but everything I experienced during my trip in the Gobi Desert was fantastic. An experience I will never, ever forget.

Along with six others, we left from Khongor hostel in a Russian minivan. This alone made it a fantastic start. After we loaded up, we ran errands for eight nights of cooking. I indicated that I preferred not to eat meat, so we cooked mostly vegetarian. Also because it was more practical. For one of our travelers, it was draining – hhe ate almost no vegetables.

Before we could leave the hustle and bustle of Ulaanbaatar behind us, the minivan got a check first. Turned out not to be fine yet, so hoppa, a quick refurbishment. Mongolian style.


Baga Gazriin Chuluu

Our first stop in the Gobi Desert was at the Baga Gazriin Chuluu, or rock formations. Special forms at something like two hours outside Ulaanbaatar. It was also my very first experience sleeping in a ger, the nomadic way of sleeping in Mongolia. Unfortunately, nomads are few and far between and most nomads move to the big city. Slept beautifully under the stars.

gobi desert-gers

Bayanzag -Flaming Cliffs

gobi desert

Set out early the next day to go to the site where the first dinosaur eggs were found in 1922. SO cool! I used to often play with my little brother’s toy dinosaurs, obviously inspired by Jurassic Park. But oh well, what gives. To be able to see this place with my own eyes was very special to me. Bayanzag is also called the Flaming Cliffs mentioned. When the sun shines on the rocks, they look like they are on fire so red.

gobi desert-flaming-cliffs

Yol Valley

How cool was Bayanzag! Still full of all the beauty and my imagination, we set off again in our Russian minivan with Ljoja, the driver who spoke only Mongolian. Fortunately, one of our travel companions knew a little Mongolian because she would be volunteering for four months after our trip. So she had already taken some language classes at home. Came out great!

We drove through Yol Valley. How dry and “desert” it was a few hours earlier, how beautifully green and vast it was now. Yol Valley lies the Yol gorge. Lots of beautiful ice is normally seen there. I was here in September, so all the ice was gone. Pretty green, though.


Konghor Sand dune

gobi desert

Imagine a large void. A large flat plain. And then suddenly, boom, there is a sand dune about 500 meters high. WTF? These are the sand dunes of Mongolia. Wow, super cool. Of course we walked up and enjoyed the view. In the evening, we all set a table outside and ate salad in front of our ger. We felt like kings and queens. There was no one there.


Orkhon waterfall

After the beautiful Sand Dunes, we headed for the Orkhon Waterfall. During our lunch breaks, we often ate at local people’s houses or a mini-cafe. During my trip, I ate no meat and every time I got noodle soup with pieces of white fat floating in it. Tiring. All I could do was take it out and give it back to the lovely people there. Yes, eating vegetarian (let alone vegan) outside the big city in Mongolia is a bit tricky.

Fortunately, the trip made up for so much.

After the beautiful green fields and sand dunes, it suddenly turned cold. Winter cold. There was snow and so it was at the Orkhon waterfall. After visiting the waterfall, which I didn’t find very special by the way, we slept in a ger in the middle of nowhere. Although we did that every night by the way. After a particularly exciting night (our wood stove was clogged and we nearly suffocated in our ger), we set out again. This time to the city!

A city in the Gobi desert: Arvaikheer city

After several days of living on baby wipes, a hot shower is most welcome. Meanwhile, the temperature had dropped below freezing. Going out at night with -10 because you have to pee is really no fun. So we were all very happy as we headed toward the bathhouse. Freshly showered and warmed up, we had a delicious dinner at a semi-Indian restaurant. To visit the market the next day and then proceed to Erdene Zuu monastery.


Erdene Zuu Monastery

Erdene Zuu monastery is one of the very first Buddhist monasteries in Mongolia. Around the monastery are 108 stupas. Unfortunately due to many wars, many temples have been lost. Nevertheless, it is an impressive place to have been. After our visit to the monastery, we were given another show by a throat singer. And I can tell you, I already got a sore throat listening to this man. :).


The next day we drove on to Lun. Where we stayed with a nomadic family. We rode horses and then drove toward Ulaanbaatar. In our Russian minivan. Which did break at least three times during our trip. But despite that did just get us home! Our Gobi desert trip was over!

Mongolia is truly a beautiful destination for the adventurous traveler. You shouldn’t mind not being able to shower every day and being crammed into a rattling minivan. Of course, you can also book private tours. Personally, I find then the charm of traveling falls away. But that is each person’s own choice of course! Check out other highlights for Mongolia.