"Thou shalt not plan. Thou shalt not hurry. Thou shalt not travel
without backpacks, on anything other than backroads. And thou
shalt not, ever, in any circumstance, call thyself a tourist."
(Golden Commandments of The Overlander)
'Video Night In Kathmandu' Pico Iyer
I had a five-day weekend over Chuseok, and couldn’t decide where to go. I kept checking flight prices and times, and most flights were either too expensive, or the travel times were too inconvenient. I have a couple of countries on my list to visit that are reserved for short breaks. Taiwan is always an easy and viable option. I also considered Thailand. Typically, a return flight from Seoul to Bangkok is around $400.00. There are many, many places I want to see in Thailand, and although I wouldn’t be able to see much in five days, I knew I could see Bangkok and take an overnight trip to Ayutthaya. Excited with my plans, I started checking airfare.
Tickets to Thailand, normally so cheap and plentiful, had skyrocketed to $800.00!
The more I travel, the more I come to realize that sometimes trips pick you. This holds especially true for ESL teachers in South Korea. Read any blog by any English teacher in Korea and you’ll discover endless jokes and lamentations about the lack of planning, scheduling and notice most schools give their teachers. This is completely true. A fortunate teacher may be given notice of the exact dates of a break a month beforehand. Many times, teachers are given just a couple of weeks. Add short notice to peak travel times in Asia, and chaos is sure to ensue.
There I was checking every travel site. I was checking my dream destinations, and destinations I had given little thought to. I knew I wanted to see Angkor Wat, but five days would just not be enough time. I had wanted to visit Mongolia and do a ger stay, but I thought there was probably no way that flights would be affordable. Also, Mongolia is on the other side of China from Korea, and after my problems with Chinese airlines coming back from Hong Kong, I wanted no more worries of delays on short trips. Quickly running out of options, I decided to throw Ulaanbataar into the flight search, and was amazed at the price and ease. For just a little over $600.00, I could take a direct flight from Seoul to Ulaanbataar!
I bought my limousine bus ticket ahead of time. I had an 12:30 flight and, fearing the worst in Chuseok traffic, arranged a 5:00 am bus ticket to Incheon. The morning of my flight, I woke up at 5:05! I had turned my alarm off in my sleep. I rushed to find a cab and make it to the bus terminal. When I showed the man behind the desk, and motioned that I overslept, he just laughed and put me on the 6:00 bus. I did not even have to pay an additional charge. I really don’t think that would have happened many places outside of Korea.
I met some wonderful people in Mongolia, both local as well as fellow travelers. There were many English teachers, like myself, who were taking advantage of the Korean holiday. I spent the next several days exploring temples and Communist squares. I spent two nights in a ger with some lovely friends I made from Korea, Ariel and Mallory. We rode horses in the mountains. We milked cows and helped lug water. We quite probably ate horse meat sausage, and most definitely used a scary squatter outhouse. We could not take showers.
This was one of the best trips I have ever taken!
I will let the pictures tell the story, but I would like to make one recommendation. Many of the hostels in Ulaanbataar arrange ger stays and tours. They push this, and it can be very convenient. However, I strongly recommend Stone Horse Expeditions and Travel at http://stonehorsemongolia.com/. Stone Horse will pick you up at your hotel or hostel, and you only pay them for transportation. The money for the ger stay goes directly to the family. This does not seem to be the case with most of the hostel tours. It made me feel better to know that my money was going to the family, and helped them maintain their land and livestock.
Lost in the vastness!
Photo by Ariel Schoenhuth
We’re in Mongolia! We’re in a ger!
With Mallory Thornberry
Photo by Ariel Schoenhuth
The smallest international airport I have seen so far.
Leaving the airport….
The Camel Toe English Pub. Ha!
Ulaanbataar really loves the Beatles!
This was quite probably horse meat sausage……