It has been a lot of problems ever since we stared planning this Mongolia trip. Due to the short duration in Mongolia, we didn’t have much choice of picking the itinerary. We could either pick North Mongolia to the Khovsgul Lake or Southern Mongolia to Gobi desert. Of all the travel operators in Mongolia, only 3 of them replied our request. We decided to see Gobi desert in 7 days with “Visit Mongolia Ltd”. Problem number 1: After all the itinerary planning, the domestic carrier changed it schedule and we had to redo the itinerary to adjust to the new flight schedule, however the return flight from South Gobi to Ulaanbaatar
was fully booked. After a few weeks, we got one seat confirmed and the other one on waiting list.
However the payment deadline is due and we had to pay for the tickets. We paid for the tickets even though it was on waiting list and at the same time we had plan B - to drive back to Ulaanbaatar in 2 days! A few weeks later, we got our seat confirmed.
Problem number 2: One week before departure, we received an e-mail from Air China stated that our flight got cancelled and they have rebooked us to the next day. However we found out that our connecting flight from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar was not changed accordingly. It was Friday night, the airline office was closed and we had to call the airport office. The supervisor from Air China at the airport was trying to help us to rebook our connecting flight but he told us due to the “technical problem” he could not get us a confirmed seat and told me to call the town office on Monday.
Not knowing our flight status stressed me out. We went to the airport to see him personally; we still had the same answer - to wait! I hate uncertainty and waiting. Finally, the Air China staff from the town office called us to tell us we had our seat confirmed all the way. However we had to wait from 3 days for her to send us the confirmation e-mail!!
It was a smooth flight to Ulaanbaatar(the only smooth one smooth flight). We were glad to see our tour leader picking us up at the airport - Yono, who speak ok English, we somehow be able to communicate. It was a beautiful ride from airport to our hotel and we can’t wait to explore this city! We stayed at the Chinggis Khaan Hotel, a 4 star hotel with modern facilities and convenient location. A big shopping mall- the Sky Department Store is behind this hotel.
Chinggis Khaan statute
Charlie got a local beer “Gem Beer” on draft in the store which we think is pretty unusual. We went to an American owned Mongolian Barbeque restaurant named BD’s Mongolian Barbeque. The best barbeque ever! We got to pick whatever meats and vegetable and all kinds of sources. Looking at the chef cooking our food was an entertainment! However this restaurant has a unique rule - eat all you can but you have to leave in 90 minutes!
After lunch we went to the Gandan Monastry, which looks a lot like the Tibetan monastry where it has about 150monks living in it. There is a huge Buddha sitting in it facing the main entrance. Next stop was Sukhbaatar Square,there is a Chiggis Khaan Statue and his 2 Generals in the Government house. This square is close to the central post office (very nice building) and the stock exchange building.
beautiful sand dune with the shadows of our camels
We then visited the Zaisan Memorial on the Zaisan Hill. This memorial is built to honor Soviet soldiers that sacrificed their lives during World War II. The memorial features a circular painting that shows friendships between The Soviet and Mongolia. It has a full view of Ulaanbaatar city from the top of the hill.
We had to get up at 3am the next morning to catch our flight that departs at 5.10am from Ulaanbaatar to Dalanzagad (South Gobi). Problem number 3: Our tour leader lost his identity card and was refused to board the plane. Well, we are not some child who need chaperon boarding a plane and we thought everything will be fine as long as someone will pick us up at the airport. The new tour leader that picked us up who claimed to speak English and Chinese was not working out well for us.
He is just a kid and tried very hard with his so called English and Chinese. Because of the last minute replacement, he didn’t even know what our itinerary is. All he did was keep asking the driver who is very experience in the desert. We were upset about the whole situation and talked to the manager of the tour operator ( Ms Bambuu ) who has been planning our trip. She is very helpful and went all out to fix problems. We drove for about 2 hours to reach a tourist camp for breakfast which is pretty good considering you are in a desert. Problem number 4: The 4 wheel drive SUV we were in has a flat tyre. It was punctured by a sharp rock however our driver fixed it. Problem number 5: the car broke down in the middle of desert due to a leaking radiator. We had to get out, under the hot sun while waiting for the driver to fix it and waiting for the engine to cool down.
ice field between the mountains
We then drove for 1-2 hours; the car broke down again due to the same reason; and another time after 1-2hours.
Finally, we arrived our ger camp, The Gobi Discovery Khongor Tourist Ger Camp that near to the famous Khongor Sand Dune. It was very hot in the desert, after lunch, we decided to take a rest right outside the restaurant where there is a shade and windy around that area. We went to the Khongor sand dune after dinner. We had a chance to ride on two humped Bacterian camels which freaked me out a little when Wally (I named my camel) got up. We rode to the sand dune and it was a breath taking view! We rode for one hour before the sun set around 9pm. We were not use to the fact that we had to go outside for toilet and bathroom used, however it worked out ok for us.
Beautiful sand dune
We got up early to drive to Bayanzag
(the Flaming cliff) where the dinosaur eggs were found in 1920 and some important fossil were found here too. It was excavated by an American paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrews. Problem number 6: The car broke down again on the way to our camp, The Mogolian Luxury Camp. Luckily our driver was very experience in this and had it fix. We finally arrived the camp and I was very very surprised to see Yono( the first tour leader who speaks better English) Salute to the tour operator’s manager -Ms Bambuu. She worked all night and got a flight ticket for him at 4am that morning!! The ger camp we stayed is a luxury version where it has a toilet attached to the camp.
I meant dry dry crack land
I had to stay in the concrete toilet to keep myself cool. We then went to the Flaming Cliff after dinner. The red/orange color rocks are amazing. The best time to see is when the sun is setting. We had a beautiful hike around the area and we had that all to ourselves! We saw some unique shrubs where only found in this place (sorry I forgot the name, will post the picture though). Although we had a choice whether to ride on a camel or hike, we had chosen hiking and we have no regrets. A peaceful night ended the day.
According to Yono, we should be at the next destination - Yolym Am (The Eagle Valley) located at the foot of Altai Mountain, early in the morning. If we are lucky, we may see some ibexes. Problem number 7: The flicking car broke down again, and this time took longer time for the driver to fix it.
one part of the land was so dry and the other is green..bizarre
We were supposed to arrive in 2 hours but the trip took 5 hours! The car broke down at least 4 times in that morning. I was so freak out because we were stranded in a flicking desert where there were no cars, no human, no animal and no cell phone signal! Only the flicking hot sun smiling at us! Oh, by the way, the air condition in that car was not working too! What a hell of a torture! Ok, we finally got to the entrance of Yolyn Am
and the car won’t move an inch. Our tour leader told us to wait; he was going to climb up that hill to make calls asking for a new car. There is a tiny museum by the entrance and it was a little better when we can get some shade. I had fun shopping at the souvenir shops along the entrance.
little monks study hard in the monastery
We hiked up hill and sat down by a big rock, got a little shade and started our picnic. Actually were some snacks and drinks. Yono waived at us to indicate us to get down and meet with him. He told us our driver has fixed the car and there will be another car coming just in case it broke down again. We drove for about 20minutes to get to where we were. We had a choice if to ride on horses or to hike. We were glad that we picking hiking. It was a beautiful valley with wild flowers and lots of sheep. I have never seen so many sheep in my life. We walked further and reached a valley where there was an ice field. I couldn’t believe my eyes! There is an ICE FIELD in Gobi desert during mid summer??! It was breath taking! We walked on the ice trying to take some pictures and I busted my ass! Ouch! I felt like we were ice skating in a desert in mid summer, how bizarre it is? We hiked for about one hour and didn’t see any wild animals nor do ibex because it was too late in the day…damn it!
I was getting scare to get back to that car again.
the door is so low. I always hit my head whenever I walked in or out of the camp
Yono said we would still travel with this car and if there is a problem we will have a back-up car. Problem number 8: The car broke down at least another 3 times. The last time, the car went into a ditch and won’t move, won’t even start! The best thing is we never seen that so called back up car at all! The accommodation we were going to stay was so close. It was about 25km away! But it will be hard to walk in a desert….Our magician driver made it work again but we were worry the whole time because we saw smokes coming out of the car. We could feel that he is dragging to car to 3 Camel Lodge.
We finally reached 3 Camel Lodge and it was 2.30pm, we were starving! 3 Camel Lodge is the equivalent of 5 star hotels in the desert. The ger camp we were staying in has a fully equipped toilet with eco amenities products.
However, we still had to go outside to take our shower. After lunch, we just took it easy for the rest of the day. Because we had so many broke downs with that car, we demanded to have a new car to bring us to the airport the next day. We didn’t want to take any chances of missing the flight. We were told that the car was dead. Yono and the driver had walked for about one hour to the village near by bagging the locals to lend them a motorcycle so that they could go to another camp to ask for another car. Solute to Yono and Baiza the driver!!
Although we were staying at the most luxury ger camp in Gobi, but I found it is still not so convenient. It is so sandy and windy in the desert, even if I had just taken a shower in the common room, I felt the sand and I felt dirty already when I walked back to the ger camp.
Bayanzag, the Flaming Cliff
We had a chance to speak to the owner of 3 Camel Lodge, Mr Jalsa who is a Mongolian born in America. He imported all the logs from Siberia because we didn’t want to cut down the trees in Mongolia. He also planted 2000 trees somewhere in Mongolia (I forgot the name) It took him 3 years to build the lodge by hands..
Although our flight from Dalanzagad to Ulaanbaater was at noon but we decided to leave at 8am to prevent any unfortunate events (car break downs) we were the only 3 waiting at the very tiny airport. It was funny to see they were using the actual weighing scale to weigh our luggage!
Problem number 9: It was a scary landing at Ulaanbaatar, the plane skidded off the runway and threw us off the seat a little, if it wasn’t for the safety belt, it would be a mess! The same thing happened when we first landed South Gobi the other day.
2nd entrance to Yolyn Am, Eagle Vally
I thought we were going to die!
There was a new tour leader pick us up at the airport because Yono couldn’t get a seat on the flight to come back with us. According to him, he had to take a 15hours bus ride to go back to Ulaanbaatar! Problem number 10: I wasn’t feeling so good all day, not sure if it was the beef reactions or the stress I got from the trip. I threw up when we were at the restaurant for lunch; I skipped my lunch and just feeling lousy all day. Me, skipping a meal - that’s huge! Charlie freaked out to see me like that. I have never been ill when traveling..We had to cancel the programs the rest of the day and just took naps in the hotel. We skipped the museum visit and had the tour leader brought us to a souvenir shop. I felt better already when shopping.
the father of indipendence
Dinner at the BD’s Barbeque was great.
We were at the airport by 8.30am for our 11.05am flight to Kuala Lumpur. Problem number 11: We were told by the airport information counter that the flight has been delayed till 10.00pm that night. The Air China airport office had not opened yet. I was panic and start calling Air China in Malaysia trying to get some help and tried to find out what happened, Charlie turned on his laptop, tour leader was calling her boss, running around to try to find out more infos…Nothing can be done until the office opened at 9.30am. There was a long line in front of that tiny office. We got to talk to the staff and had my connecting flight rebooked and Charlie bought a brand new ticket from Beijing to Taipei to connect his flight back to Houston.
He was going to skip Kuala Lumpur because he needs to be back to his office by Monday. We quickly called up Dorsett Regency Hotel in Kuala Lumpur to cancel our room. It was so nice of them to waive the one night charge due to our flight cancellation. I was so stressed out! The airline arranged a coach for the stranded passengers and brought us to Bayangol hotel for rest and we were told the coach will pick us up again for the 10pm flight. The lunch and dinner were provided by the airline; therefore all the passengers had calm down.
We had fun shopping for some Cashmere clothing and we even bought a Cashmere blanket! Because of these extra things we bought, we had to buy a new duffle bag from State Department Store. Problem number 12: The coach supposed to pick us up at 7.
00pm for our 10.00pm flight to Beijing. When we checked out, the reception told us there was no pick up and the flight was cancelled. They were not informed about the next picking up time. This mean our flight has delayed until further noticed! We went out at night to a Wi-Fi café - Amsterdam Café trying to fix our next connecting flight. Due to the uncertainty, we couldn’t even figure out when we should rebook our flight. We decided just enjoy our drink.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner were provided by the airline and we were told the pick up time would be 7.00pm again. We decided just to take it easy since we had a free vacation day in Mongolia. We spent a whole morning calling Beijing Air China, Taiwan Eva Air to rebook our flights. After lunch, we bought some Mongolian felt products in town and enjoy some Mongolian draft beer by the State Department Store (the biggest shopping mall in town)
We were glad to see the coach parking outside of the hotel and we all boarded the bus, went to the airport no problem (for once).
There were big crowds at the tiny airport. Apparently 2 of the Korean Air flights were cancelled too! While I was waiting in line to check in, Charlie went to the office to get his refund for his unused ticket (due to the second delay). To my surprise, it went well. He got his money back in cash without a penny less! Problem number 13: The plane eventually took off at midnight. We had been in line for boarding for at least half an hour. Some passengers got so frustrated and shouted at the airport staff trying to find out what had happened. What annoyed us was no one seems to know anything and we were not informed about the 3rd delays.
The flight landed in Beijing at 1.50am. We were extremely tired. Problem number 14 : Our Chinese visa has expired and we were not suppose to leave the airport.
on the way from airport to hotel in ulaanbaatar
The next flight will be departing at 4.25pm. We really wanted to rest and I didn’t think I can sleep at the airport. Luckily I found out from our fellow passenger that Air China will provided accommodation and transportation to and from the airport. Ok, we didn’t have a valid visa, the hotel is outside airport. How should we do this? Big crowds gathered in front of the transfer desk, every one has questions. We want to make sure we had our boarding pass for next day to show that we had no intention to stay in Beijing. Problem number 15: Air China couldn’t give me a boarding pass because I was endorsed to Malaysian Air during the first delay and rebooked back to Air China during the second delay. According to the staff, my ticket was not valid!! OH NO!!!Don’t give me hell at 2.
on the way from airport to hotel in ulaanbaatar
30am !!!! Although Charlie got his boarding pass. I asked the staff to write down his name and the reason for not being able to print me a boarding pass. He told me to have my ticket “modify” I think he meant reissue when I check in tomorrow. Here is the problem - Are they going to ask for my visa when I check in?? When is this going to end??? I sure not wanted to be stranded again in China!
The bus ride took about half an hour to reach our hotel (couldn’t remember the name, I was exhausted). The reception kept our air tickets and boarding passes before they gave us the room keys. By the time we went to bed, it was 4.30am (usually, my bed time is 10-10.30pm). Though we were very tired but we didn’t want to miss the breakfast, so we got up at 9.
15am. Problem number 16:SORRY, breakfast closed at 9.00am!! What kind of 4 star hotel would closed their breakfast at 9am? At this time, I was numb. Why not, of course there is a problem every time a new event comes up.
We walked down the street and found a tiny restaurant that attached to a mall for breakfast. Ok food for a cheap price. Problem number 17: My period started and my pads were with my luggage which was checked thru to Malaysia. I had neither underwear nor changing clothes. We went to the mall but only sell groceries and walked further to find a small stall like a news stand. I got what I wanted. Thank God!
Problem number 18: We went back to the hotel and found that the hotel kicked us out. The hotel manager told us we had to check out at 10.
00am and the latest bus to pick passengers up was at 10.00am. At first, we were thinking of taking a cab to the airport for our 4.25pm flight but the hotel won’t let us stay any longer then 10.00am. We quickly ran up the room and checked out. Luckily the bus was still waiting. I had Charlie to wait by the bus just in case it was going to leave and I checked out at the reception. OH NO, we took one bottle of water from the room and they want to charge us USD2. It was not about the money, I only have Malaysian Ringgit and some 50dallar notes. They won’t take any of them. I had to run out and asked Charlie for 2 bucks. This little thing has delayed us for 5 minutes while I was anxious about the bus is going to leave us anytime. It was already 10.30am! We were sitting in the bus and it finally left at 10.
45pm. I got worry for nothing!
Arrived airport early and tried to have my boarding pass printed but I was referred to 4 different counters before I got my boarding pass. There was a fellow passenger who was the same batch with us trying to talk to the airport staff with English. I told him I would help him if he needed me. When I figured out what he really wanted, I was embarrassed to tell the airport staff he wanted his US$5 reimbursed because the airline should pay for his shaving service! Then he insisted the airline provide him lunch and dinner and wanted me to express this to the staff. I helped him and walked away because I had lost interest to help him. I would willingly to help people if they have more serious problems rather then asking for his $5 back!
After we had check in, we went to Baskin Robin to enjoy the ice cream, which cost about US$16 for 1 waffle cone! We almost used up the Chinese Yuan we had.
We then wanted a coffee at Starbucks. We wanted to use up the rest of the money and I started calculating how much a cup of coffee and a scone would cost us. One kind American who was in front of Charlie over heard what we said and he offered to buy us coffee! I haven’t seen kind people for a long time! We politely told him we just wanted to use up the remaining money and we had a good chat with him. I couldn’t believe good things still happened… Because we had use up all the money, we didn’t even afford a bottle of water. Luckily the store accepted my debit card. We enjoyed a cup noodle and a bottle of water while waiting to board
Everyone would think we had enough bad lucks and screw ups by then, right? HELL NO. Here is Problem number 19: We booked a room at Westin Hotel in Kuala Lumpur before we board the plane, thinking we should be safe this time and we would like to have a room to rest when we get to Malaysia at 11.
00pm. After we boarded and sitting on the plane, an announcement made by the crew that due to the storm in South China Sea, this flight will be delayed. Every body gets their butt off the flicking plane!!! Charlie called the Westin hotel immediately to cancel the room because we wouldn’t know if this flight would be taking off that day! Guess what, Charlie couldn’t understand the English that spoke by the Malaysia in Westin and was transferred to American Westin Hotel (just imagine the phone bill because of all these calls we had made since the first delay.) The American said they can cancel the room but it was subject to a night charge (Which is about USD200) Charlie was upset about this and told her we will never stay at the Westin again and they have lost a Starwood Preferred Guest.
the square in front of Gandan Monastery
While we were transported back to the terminal, the American Westin called again and told us the charge will be waived. What a relief ... finally, one thing worked for us.
We walked to a nice restaurant by the waiting area and Charlie had a draft beer and peanuts while I am enjoying my tasteless Japanese Udon.. When I walked to the toilet, I saw the board showing our flight is boarding! No announcement was made. I quickly found a ground staff to check and he said not boarding yet, he will make announcement when is time to board..I was like- why had it show on the board!!??? Ok, I went back to the restaurant and over heard the other passengers said “boarding” I had to run out again to check. Yeah, it’s boarding. Why no flicking announcement?! They just assumed everyone know when to do what? Stupid Chinese Airport!!!
Finally, we were on the plane and no more hanky panky bullshit.
We got to Kuala Lumpur at 2am and I called Dorsett Regency for room, we were lucky that they have room vacancy. By the time we went to bed was 3.30am, another late night.
Problem number 20: Charlie fell sick after he landed Houston. I was so worry if he infected H1N1 virus…Phew..he is ok now
After all these unfortunate events, we may not want to go back to Mongolia, probably by train if we ever want to see Mongolia again.