Hiking, horse-riding and staying in yurts in Gorkhi-Terelj National Park

Nature
The wow factor for nature - does it show nature at its best? Doesn't need to be the wilder-beast migration or diving with hundreds of hammerheads. Rather make you pause as you realise just how awesome the natural world can be
8
Culture
How much does this experience showcase some of the better and finer things that us humans can offer? Sure, it can be ancient ruins and renaissance churches, but it can also be festivals or soaking up some of the great modern cities of the world
6
Fun factor/activity
Very simple - was it fun? This is usually linked in with doing some kind of activity - i mean, walking along some cliffs is nice, but paragliding from them, now that is fun. Its a vastly underrated factor in a truly great experience
8
Avoid the crowds
Big tour groups and being surrounded by loud fellow tourists can sap the life out of even the greatest of travel experiences. This score is to reflect just how much you can avoid this. But. . . The score also takes into account if the crowds actually add to the experience, such as with a party town or a bustling food market
10
World famous
How world famous is the experience?
1
unique
How hard is it to have a similar experience in other places round the world?
7
Overall Score
The highest score of nature or culture, + fun factor, + avoid the crowds, + the highest score of world famous or unique. Then turned into a score out of 100. More details at the bottom of the page
82 *What the scores mean and where do they come from
continent
Asia
country
Mongolia
Length of time
3-4 days
Rough cost
Obviously people have different tastes, so this will depend on those tastes, but this is a rough idea of price of the whole experience based on 2 people able to split the accommodation costs and excluding travel there and back
$ 200
Time of year visited
November
Primary Tags
Click on any of the tags to see all travel experiences with the same tag
RANKING
How this travel experience ranks compared to all the other experiences on this site
22nd/334 This travel experience's ranking compared to all the other experiences on this site
Top 10% SUMMARY RATING: Unmissable

Summary

You don’t have to head that far out of Ulan Bator to get a real feeling for the wilderness of Mongolia.  Gorkhi-Terelj National Park is only 55km / 35miles from the busy, polluted city, yet feels light years away.  Once you’re there, there is some fantastic hiking, traditional Buddhist temples nestled in the hills, and the opportunity to stay overnight in the Mongolian Gers (felt yurt huts).  Whilst not as remote as some destinations in Mongolia, there are various spots that give you those giant views across the seemingly endless steppes and allow you to spend time with people that are still living the subsistence lifestyle much the same as hundreds of years before.  A must if either staying in Ulan Bator or passing through on the Trans-Siberian Railway

 

I’ve listed some travel tips below, but the main tip I would give is to make sure you spend your evening(s) in one of the Mongolian Gers.  Not one that is surrounded by village infrastructure, but one that is isolated and with no other gers in sight – it gives you a feel of what it must be like to live in the isolation here and was our highlight of the trip

highlights

#1 Staying two nights in Mongolian Gers - a wonderful experience to give a feel for the steppes . . . and a reminder when going out to the toilet at night just how cold its gets!

#2 Looking out across the giant views of these vast plains that seem to go on forever. I know many places have great views, but there is something about the sheer distance you can see in the Mongolian Steppes

#3 Getting to hold the magnificent Golden Eagles. They use them here to help hunt wolves on the plains, Incredible

#4 Hiking through the alpine scenery of the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park

#5 Although it was a bit cheesy, the giant Ghengis Khan Statue was cool to check out

#6 Having a stab at pony-riding. The Mongolians prefer them to horses as, whilst they are slower, they are sturdier and better in the brutal winters

#7 Walking up for views from the Aryapala Meditation Temple

#8 Although not particularly pleasant, watching as the locals killed and used every part of the sheep. Not a piece was wasted

Travel Tips

  • The highlight – for me this was staying in the Mongolian Gers for 2 nights.  Often with these kind of tours, you stay in a Ger, but it’s just a gimmick as you have all the necessities of normal living and are surrounded by a fully functioning village.  The ones we stayed in and around Gorkhi-Terelj National Park were only 2/3 Gers together and we couldn’t see any other signs of humanity around us; we huddled around the warm stove and RAN for the bathroom as it dropped to minus 20 Celsius / minus 4 Fahrenheit; and watched as the locals killed a sheep, wasting not one single piece of the animal, and cooked it for dinner.  This is what you want to make this experience standout and make sure you push hard for this when planning your trip
  • The other things we really enjoyed – the hike through the main valley to see the Turtle Rock was fun and ended with the beautifully set Aryapala Initiation & Meditation Centre Temple at the end of the valley and up the rocky hillside.  Also, although it was a bit cheesy, the giant Chinggis Khan Statue, which is kind of mental
  • Getting there – whilst it is only 55km away, it felt like forever.  I have no idea what the actual timings were, but the bouncing around in the van made it feel like days (there is a vague, small chance that this could have been related to my 10/10 hangover, but that is just subjective)
  • Should you go in October / early November – it does get cold.  Maybe the coldest place I’ve been as the evenings were minus 20 Celsius / minus 4 Fahrenheit, but this didn’t stop us doing what we wanted to do and had the added benefit of having far fewer fellow tourists – “going to Siberia / Mongolia in early winter, are you nuts!!” seems to be the usual view.  Bear in mind that it gets far colder here in the height of winter, so the places you stay and activities you do are well equipped.  For example, the Ger was warm to the point of needing you outside to cool down, we had a million blankets for the evening and you’re constantly being served hot water.  I say go for it
  • Which tour company to go with – I normally try to steer clear of the standard tours as I’m not keen on being jammed into the commercialised tourism machine, but in this case it was fine.  Nomads in Ulan Bator ran a 2 night / 3 day tour which included the 2 nights in the Gers and we really enjoyed it.  Maybe next time I’ll go for the more unique adventurer companies, but the experience certainly wasn’t worsened by going with a standard one
  • Recommended reading – as with any country, its always a better experience when you have a bit of context on the country and the most famous and amazing context is that of Chinggis Khan (Chengis / Ghengis / Chinggis – there are many variations, and the truth is that no one actually knows which one is correct – it was nearly 1000 years ago you know).  The Secret History of the Mongols is the oldest surviving literary work in the Mongolian language and the classic book to read.  But, instead I would recommend the Conqueror Series by Conn Iggulden – the historical fiction rollercoaster story of Chinngis through to Kublai Khan.  In my opinion, one of the world’s best writers and my favourite books
  • For tips on the overall trans-Siberian Railway experience, including which stops to take, see the travel entry The Trans-Siberian Railway from Omsk to Beijing

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Score Detail

Background - how many times have you asked someone what a travel experience was like and the response was "amazing" or "awesome"?  That response is nice to know, but it makes it hard to differentiate that experience compared to others.  That is exactly what these scores are trying to do - differentiate the experience by giving a score out of 10 based on 6 categories and then giving an overall experience score

This overall experience score is calculated by:  take the highest of the "Culture" or "Nature" score (1-10) + "Fun factor" (1-10) + "Avoiding the crowds" (1-10) + highest of the "Unique" or "World Famous score" (1-10).  Then convert into a score out of 100

Extra detail - the logic being that I find all of the 6 individual scores important, but I don't want to mark an experience down just because it doesn't cover both "Culture" and "Nature", or because it isn't both "World Famous" and "Unique".  Take the examples of Safari in The Serengeti and walking through Rome - they both appeal at opposite ends of the nature / culture spectrum, and you can have a fantastic time without needing to appeal to both sides.  So, their overall scores aren't penalized for their lack of one or the other, and I've done the same for "World Famous" vs "Unique".  But . . . I do think that the "Fun factor" of an experience is important, irrelevant of other factors, and so is "Avoiding the Crowds" (or where there are crowds that add to the experience).  So, both of these scores are standalone