Mongolia: A Photo Essay

With our Guide To The Trans-Siberian now posted, it seems only fitting that we finally share some of our favourite photos from Mongolia. We've already shared our favourite photos from Russia AND wrote about our time there extensively. Now, it's time to show you all just what Mongolia has to offer. #Khaaaannnnnn

 

Budget travel in Mongolia. Ulaanbaatar pollution.

More than a million people call the dusty, smoggy city of Ulaanbaatar home. We noticed the chaos immediately. Car horns were used as both turn signals and warning signs, filling the thick air with a perpetual din. The cars themselves were equally chaotic, imported from every corner of the earth without any standardizations. Thus, some had steering wheels on the left, some on the right, some were brand new and others were older than we were, spewing dark smoke into the cool air.

Budget travel in Mongolia. Ulaanbaatar pollution. Backpacking Mongolia.

From the Soviet memorial overlooking the city we saw over 50 skyscrapers being built, which made us wonder just how different the city will look in a few years, as it was already sprawling into the dusty horizons.

The centrepiece of the city is Chinggis Square, which is the main tourist draw. People flock to see the sitting Khan, an impressive monument to Mongolia's epic (and super violent) historical conquests.

Budget travel in Mongolia. Backpacking Mongolia. 
Budget travel in Mongolia. Backpacking Mongolia. 

As awesome as this statue is, however, it's not the biggest nor the best of the Khan statues. Not by a long shot. To see Khan in all his glory you have to leave the city and venture out into the steppe. And so we did...but first, we explored!

Another statue in the Khan square.

Budget travel in Mongolia. Backpacking Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. 
Budget travel in Mongolia. Backpacking Mongolia. Buddhism in Mongolia.

We strolled around the city, grabbing a quick bite at a French cafe (near the French embassy) before we walked up to see the monastery. And its birds!

Budget travel in Mongolia. Backpacking Mongolia. 
Budget travel in Mongolia. Backpacking Mongolia. 

Suffice it to say, there was a lot of poop...AND GIANT BUDDHA FEET! 

Budget travel in Mongolia. Backpacking Mongolia. Buddhism in Mongolia.

Eventually, though, we had to get out of the city and explore everything else Mongolia had to offer. We hired a driver who took us out onto the vast expanse that is the Mongolian steppe.

Budget travel in Mongolia. Backpacking Mongolia. Road trip in Mongolia.
Budget travel in Mongolia. Backpacking Mongolia. Road trip in Mongolia.

The roads out of the city were poor at best, which made for a very bumpy – but beautifully scenic – ride. It wasn't long until we saw these massive golden eagles by the road. They are a common tourist trap in Mongolia – you pay to take a photo with them, sometimes dressed in traditional Mongolian clothing...but we just felt kinda bad that these beautiful (and terrifying) birds were being held captive :(

Budget travel in Mongolia. Backpacking Mongolia. Road trip in Mongolia.

Aside from when we passed through a national park, we didn't see any trees...or anything green, really. It was a far cry from the dense forests of eastern Russia, where we began this extraordinary train adventure. With the ability to see for miles, we caught a glimpse of our destination eventually...and boy were we surprised. 

Budget travel in Mongolia. Backpacking Mongolia. Road trip in Mongolia. Chinggis Khan Statue in Mongolia.

Suddenly the road transitioned into something more familiar (read: smooth) as the monumental gates of Khan stood before us. We had arrived at the most magnificent tourist trap in Mongolia...and it was completely empty.

Budget travel in Mongolia. Backpacking Mongolia. Road trip in Mongolia. Chinggis Khan Statue in Mongolia.

A 40m Khan statue on a 10m foundation which served as visitor's center and museum. Epic and ridiculous all at once. The icing on this Mongolian cake was the face that we were the ONLY tourists here. It was super eerie but we couldn't resist...so we dove in! The museum was actually very informative and was well put together – there was even english text for most of the exhibits! Sure, it wasn't a huge museum but I appreciated it.

Budget travel in Mongolia. Backpacking Mongolia. Road trip in Mongolia. Chinggis Khan Statue in Mongolia.

The highlight of the Khan statue is the fact that you can actually take an elevator up onto the statue itself, where there is a small viewing platform. From there, you can look out over the beautifully barren steppe.

Budget travel in Mongolia. Backpacking Mongolia. Road trip in Mongolia. Chinggis Khan Statue in Mongolia.
Budget travel in Mongolia. Backpacking Mongolia. Road trip in Mongolia. Chinggis Khan Statue in Mongolia.
Budget travel in Mongolia. Backpacking Mongolia. Road trip in Mongolia. Chinggis Khan Statue in Mongolia.

It really doesn't get more surreal than this, folks. But unfortunately, we couldn't stay there forever and so we hit the road again, off to explore an old monastery.

Budget travel in Mongolia. Backpacking Mongolia. Hiking in Mongolia. 

Our driver took us to a local he knew, where we had lunch. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite an ideal meal for a vegan and made for a bit of a situation. But we managed, and then hiked our way up to a small monastery.

Budget travel in Mongolia. Backpacking Mongolia. Hiking in Mongolia. 
Budget travel in Mongolia. Backpacking Mongolia. Hiking in Mongolia. 

The views were stunning, and our old cameras from 2012 hardly do the view justice. Which really just means you'll need to see it for yourself...or maybe google some better photos...whatever.

Budget travel in Mongolia. Backpacking Mongolia. Hiking in Mongolia. 

After hiking down from the temple and saying farewell to our nomadic hosts we hit the road again. The sun began set as we drove through the desert, leaving us with one of the most beautiful sunsets we have ever seen.

Budget travel in Mongolia. Backpacking Mongolia. Hiking in Mongolia. 
Budget travel in Mongolia. Backpacking Mongolia. Hiking in Mongolia. Sunset in Mongolia.
Budget travel in Mongolia. Backpacking Mongolia. Hiking in Mongolia. 
Budget travel in Mongolia. Backpacking Mongolia. Hiking in Mongolia. 
Budget travel in Mongolia. Backpacking Mongolia. Hiking in Mongolia. 

A couple days later we were back on a train and on our way to Beijing, marking the end of our 9000km train adventure. And the start to everything that followed <3

 

P.S If you want to step up your photo game I suggest looking into Nomadic Matt's Travel Photography Course.