Family Adventure: A family holiday in Mongolia
By: Susan Touchton
Children: Jack (12 yrs), Catherine (10 yrs) and Ryan (7 yrs)
We arrived in Ulaan Baatar, the capitol city, just in time for two big events, Mongolia’s Presidential Inauguration and the Naadam Festival, their national games, which includes the “manly” sports of horse racing, wrestling, and archery. We arrived just after the conclusion of the inauguration, but Sukhbaatar Square – the National Mall of Mongolia – was still very festive. Thousands of people, including hundreds of dancers in their traditional dress.
The horse racing was very well attended. We did get to see a race, and it was very exciting. If the jockeys look young, it’s because they are – some were as young as 4 years old! The Naadam wrestling tournament is the Super Bowl of Mongolian sport: 512 competitors, single elimination, one winner. Jack is considering dressing up like a Mongolian wrestler for Halloween… The archers also wore beautiful traditional costumes and both men and women were hitting targets from 75 to 100 yards.
Also while in Ulaan Baatar, we also got to see the complete T. Rex skeleton that was auctioned off illegally in the U.S. (for $1 million!) and just returned to Mongolia a couple of months ago.
After a few days in Ulaan Baatar, we set out with for the Gobi desert. We got to see some amazing views along the way. I expected Mongolia to have wide, open spaces, and it sure does! But there are also lots of mountains. Most nights we stayed in gers, or yurts, owned by local families, but also spent a few nights in tents. Our guide was a wonderful British woman who runs a travel company focused exclusively in Mongolia. Her #1 driver and partner is Turuu. Both were amazing – if anyone is looking for a unique travel adventure, this is the place, and this is the team!
One of the revelations of our trip was that Ryan is quite the little adventurer. He was always up for another hike or another climb.
Catherine loved the wide open spaces too and so did Jack, but Jack didn’t like the enclosed spaces. Here’s Ryan trying to talk him into his first trip to the outhouse.
Catherine met an adorable Mongolian girl at one of our stops. They became fast friends, even though they couldn’t understand each other. It’s really cool how much kids can communicate and play even in different languages. Our last stop in Mongolia was at Khongoryn Els in the Gobi Desert. The sand dunes are stunning! It was a grueling climb to the top of the highest dune just before sunset…but the view was worth the effort.
We can’t write a blog post about Mongolia without including a camel picture. We’ll spare you from the pictures of the camel ride!
The best part
The best part about Mongolia was seeing the wide open spaces, in particular the majestic sand dunes in the Gobi Desert at Khongoryn Els. Climbing to the top of the dunes is difficult, but doable, and the payoff is incredible. The view from the top is of the sand dunes that constantly change depending on the wind.
Three things you should definitely do
1. Climb to the top of the sand dunes at Khongoryn Els and sit at the top to take in the view. You can even hike along the top of the ridge. After you’ve taken in the view, take off your shoes and “skate” down to the bottom. You will fall down in the sand, laughing as you go.
2. Spend some time getting to know a local family by helping them prepare dinner (maybe mutton pancakes – delicious!) or by helping them water the goats and camels with water from a well.
3. Hike through the unusual granite rock formations in Baga Gazriin Chuluu. The views of Mongolia’s wide open spaces are stunning. Visit the local monastery and contribute rocks to the ovoos (rock pile shrines located all over Mongolia).
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N.B. This holiday in Mongolia can be adapted to suit families with children of all ages. Itineraries can be customised to suit the age of the children and the activities parents think their kids will enjoy best. For families travelling with younger children, itineraries can be shortened and driving times lessened. Our partner operator responsible for this holiday will also make sure that each vehicle is equipped with activities and distractions to keep children happy. For example games of Twister, footballs and journals for kids to keep their very own trip report.