Twilight for Travelers

Hello jet lag!  Sometimes I beat you, and sometimes I really, really don’t.

This morning I watched the sun rise over the Bosphorus Strait.  Negatives: delirium, confused circadian rhythm.  Positives: INTENSE BEAUTY and the inspiration for my first blog post in a long time.  This one goes out to the hamsters and all their crepuscular buddies.  Let’s start with two very different Mongolian sunsets.

I took the top picture on my first night in Ulaan Baatar, the happening capital of Mongolia.  The bottom picture is from a twilight camel ride in the Gobi.

Next we have a special pairing: California wine country and the Himalayas in Nepal.

And, finally, Istanbul this morning, followed by Siem Reap after a long day of touring.

Ulaan Baatar is not Pedestrian Friendly

Despite almost being run over multiple times per day, I had a great time exploring UB.  In the middle of the fish room at the Natural History Museum there is a stuffed crocodile from Cuba.  You might wonder what it’s doing in a Mongolian natural history museum.  Well, it was a gift from Fidel Castro in 1970.  I hope this fact (verified by an English label!) convinces you to visit this museum.  From the camel room, to the dinosaurs, to the Cuban crocodile, it’s definitely a highlight of Ulaan Baatar.

Another site mentioned in guidebooks is the Winter Palace.  It’s worth a quick visit for the colorful treasures hidden behind weeds and fading paint.  For more relics of the vast Mongolian Empire, visit the National History Museum.  There’s more socialism than Chinggis, but it’s a fascinating place with a lot of English signs.

If you want to see the construction site that UB has become, climb the 300 stairs to the Zaisan Memorial.  Wonderful Russian mosaics and views await you.  I loved mingling with the couples and families who had made the climb.

The Zaisan turned out to be my favorite part of UB.  It can be so easy to get lost in the honking horns and uneven sidewalks of the city.

The Suburbs of UB

You might want to visit the Chinggis Khan statue and Terelj National Park.  Okay, so the real suburbs of UB are more like the Ger District, but these places are close by and pretty cool.  The Chinggis statue is HUGE and definitely the shiniest building in UB.  Inside the statue, the larger-than-life theme continues with a giant Mongolian traditional boot.  I didn’t pay the fee to go inside, but you can get a decent view from the windows along the base of the statue.

When tourists stop in Mongolia for just a few days, they get shipped directly to Terelj.  The park has approximately five million tourist ger camps, billboards, and horse ride brokers.  But I visited after the summer season’s official ending (September 15) and found it to be a peaceful escape from UB.  It’s easy to pick a mountain close to your ger and start a great hike.  The farther you go into the park, the nicer it becomes.

Where the Dinosaurs Were

Bayanzag – known as the Flaming Cliffs to archaeologists or, as decided by my tour group, the Mongolian Grand Canyon.  Many dinosaur eggs and fossils have been found around these beautiful red rocks.

Alas, no dinosaurs roam the Gobi Desert today.  For eggs, bones, and fossils, visit the Natural History Museum in Ulaan Baatar.  The museum also has entire rooms dedicated to horses and camels.

Horses filled the landscape right up to the sand dunes.  I’ll add this, along with too many sights to photograph and stunning moon rises,  to the list of ways I’ve been completely spolied by Mongolia.

And when we reached the dunes, it was obviously time for a sunset camel ride.

Ger Means Home

After staring out the window of a rugged Russian van for six days, I’ve returned to Ulaan Baatar completely mesmerized by the Gobi Desert.

Where can I begin?  It’s hard to process the vast, gorgeous landscapes of southern Mongolia, much less represent them in pictures.  In this post, I’ll share the places I called home on the tour.  First up: the trusty vehicle.

Six of us sat in this van for six days.  It was not the most luxurious ride, but we safely maneuvered many roads that were not roads.  Lesson: When the asphalt ends outside the city limits, the real fun begins.

Lonely Planet’s 14 Top Experiences for Mongolia ranks”Staying in a Ger” as the #2 experience and “Mongolian Hospitality” as #6.  Often just arriving at a ger in a beautiful setting was enough for a peak experience.

Sometimes there were souvenir shops inside the gers.  Sometimes there were adorable children.  On the fifth morning of the trip, I drank airag, fermented horse milk, while warming up by the stove in the center of a ger.  Somehow sleeping in a hostel doesn’t quite measure up.