The third installment of our Mongolian adventure has us leaving the Great Gobi Desert and heading for the Orkhon Waterfall. Today we began one of the longest trips we have made in our Russian Van consisting of over 300 km. This does not sound like much of a trip, but what doesn’t sound like much, can sometimes be very deceiving.

Orkhon Waterfall

We start the day with a visit to the Orkhon Waterfall or Ulaan Tsutgalan in Mongolian. The waterfall is not vertically large, only dropping around 25 meters. What is fascinating is that the waterfall drops into a crack created by a volcano millions of years ago. The waterfall is spectacular when there has been a lot of rain. We have had more than the usual rainfall lately, so it is actually roaring when it makes its drop. The area around the falls is marked with local totems and herds of wild horses grazing the nearby grasslands. The images of the falls can be striking when full of water as it is now.


Beautiful Bay

Baisa has arranged for us to caravan with a number of other vans on our trip to the Blue Hot Springs because there is heavy rain in the area and it has been that way for some time. Of the six vans we were to trek with only 1 showed up. We found out later that the other 5 vans, fearing the roads over the mountains and the river crossings, had decided to cut their tours short and return to UB.

Lava Flow

We began retracing our tracks, from the waterfall back to the bridge over the river, through beautiful black and gold lava flows. We tried picking the smoothest routes, but over lava, there is just not an easy way to go. We made it back to the river and crossed with our partner. At that time, he split off to continue his tour and we were once again on our own.

The path to the hot springs was wet and muddy. Many times the existing roads were impassible and Baisa had to make his own road. He started winding through the trees and forests on the mountains we crossed. The rain continued through part of the day but around lunch, we were able to break into the clear and began crossing some of the more beautiful green meadows that were covered with wild flowers of every kind. We spent a number of hours crossing these before once again hitting more rain and more muddy roads.

Blue Hot Springs

Our goal for the day was the Tsenkher Hot Springs, a sulfur spring that emerges from the ground at a very hot 89C. The area has indoor and outdoor baths where the water is piped in for whirlpools, saunas, and showers. This was the first warm water we encountered for five days and was a huge plus for us to finally feel clean and refreshed.

That night we were invited to the Ger of our hosts to sample the fruits of the herds. The lady and her family have over 500 head of goats, horses, and yaks. She had every type of food and drink that can be manufactured from the milk of the different animals. We were going to be able to sample each and I am sure that I will not remember them all. Here are the most memorable ones for me.

Yak Valley

My favorite was a clear Vodka made from Yak milk. It looked and tasted like any other Vodka – just made from milk rather than potatoes. The next was the basic material that was used to make the curd and cheese. I like this much better than the finished products, it was sweeter and had a cinnamon flavor. Next on my list was the curd, and fresh yogurt made from the different animal’s milk and last the fermented mare’s milk. This is a staple of the Mongolians and while a little sour was not as bad as many writers would lead you to believe. It was given to Laurel in a large bowl, she sipped and went to pass it on. Not the Mongolian way. We each got our own large bowl. It is not bad and our hosts kept offering us more of everything. Finally, Oyuna explained we could just sample and then put a bowl down. We did not have to finish each bowl.

Meeting The Nomads

The next day we left the springs and headed further north to the lake and volcano. The roads on this leg of the trip were the worst we were to encounter. I could not believe the ability of the van to cope with the mud and deep ruts. We crossed an extremely deep and fast flowing river to finally begin traveling on better roads. We came upon a beautiful valley with over a thousand horses roaming free. We stopped at the Ger of one of the owners to visit. While Oyuna stayed outside with the girls, Laurel and I were invited in to see his home and were once again given bowls of fermented mare’s milk. The owner was one of the greatest breeders of racing horses in the area and his trophies and awards were a centerpiece of his Ger. We were given quite an honor by the host when he invited both Laurel and myself to share his snuff with him. He took a beautiful miniature green onyx bottle out of a wrapping of soft leather and offered it to me. I have never had snuff before and it was quite good. I took the top which had a small spoon attached to it and even took a second portion it was so nice in flavor.

Awards and Medals

At the end of our visit, we were invited to watch as he, his wife and their children milk some of the mares. The mares are all wild horses that they find a bring in when they have the foals. The young horses are brought up to the female and allowed to drink, then the wife replaces the baby and takes some of the milk from each of the mares while he or his son keeps the foals close.

Milking the Mare

Saying our goodbyes we are back on the road and going to the volcano at the Great White Lake. The volcano has created a large lava flow that we have to once again pick our way across. The crater (called a ‘kettle’) is not large but was a nice place for photos. We head up the pass and at the top we have the lake on one side and the 3 kettles left by the volcano on the other. We head down the lakeside and crawl into our Gers dead tired and ready for a day of rest.

The Great White Lake is frozen 9 months of the year and the ice gives it the White Lake name. It is one of the homes of migrating waterfowl and is quite and peaceful. It made for a good place to wind down from the rough trip of the previous two days. One unique story is about a large rock on the shoreline. A girl was promised in marriage to an older man and rather than marry, she drowned herself in the lake. Her father paced the lake for days hoping for her return and eventually turned into the stone rock on the shoreline.

Blue Rocks

Next on our tour was the visit to Kharkhorin. This great walled city was established in the 13th century in an attempt to reunify the warring Mongolian chieftains by a Khan descendant. The attempt failed after a time but a monastery was built there in 1585 and is one of the few that survived the Russian purge of later years. Tomorrow we will conclude our trip and once again be in the capital city of UB.

This is a great trip but not one I would recommend for children. The vans do not have seatbelts and while on the rough roads, we were tossed around quite a bit and had to hang on to the sides to keep in our seats. You need to be ready for a huge dose of very rustic living, almost no running water and a lack of privacy for the entire trip. HOWEVER! while the conditions are poor much of the time, the rewards you gain far outweigh the inconveniences. The Mongolian people are warm, inviting and not like any other we have met on the road. They ask you for nothing and will share everything they have with you. The nomads of the steppes are a group we will ever forget.

As always, our photos are posted at A Road To Photography.


  1. As has been said by another, beautiful pictures once again. It’s also very informative to share your personal experience through words and images. You’re not trying to sell the reader on anything.

  2. Mongolia!!!!! don’t you just wanna grab the next flight going to this rustic place after reading this blog?! such amazing places to come and visit… i would want to be given a chance to experience everything first hand… i just love how this blog was written… the pictures are just perfect… makes me wanna go now… i know it would be quite a feat to go and visit mongolia but i don’t care… this is surely part of my bucketlist…

  3. This is just AMAZING!!! never thought that MONGOLIA had so many places that would interest a nature lover like me…. the horses… waterfalls and hotsprings… so enticing to the mind and soul… well i just dunno how me and my hubby be able to go to mongolia… i might need visa for this right?! i am so into the idea of going to these places… i don’t mind the homely transportation services and accomodation… i must see this place!!!!

  4. These are some beautiful pictures, the quality could not be better imo. You have captured every detail! Keep up the great work on your blog!

  5. Mongolia is looking real good. I think you are doing a great job at putting Mongolia on the map for must-see places to visit!

  6. The wild horses are very strong looking. Looks like they are well fed and don’t miss a meal. I’m glad that they seem to be happy there in the land of Mongolia,

  7. I had no idea Mongolia is this beautiful! Thanks for sharing all the pictures and details. This is very useful to help me plan my next trip to Mongolia next year

  8. I think Mongolia can be a subsitute for other expensive countries that have falls and horses. Those pictures are great. Makes me want to go there right now.

  9. WOW! Just WOW! Mongolian landscapes are freaking beautiful. Makes me want to visit Mongolia even more! Everything is beautiful!

  10. It is very interesting how there was once a volcano near the lake but now the lake is icy for most the year. Thank you for sharing all these.

  11. Beautiful pictures! The vodka you mentioned, made from milk instead of potatoes, does sound interesting! I’m sure the roads were indeed awful, I have travelled on some nightmare ones as well. But when the destination is worth it, being thrown and jostled can be tolerated!

  12. The waterfall is a beauty. Yeah, I can’t imagine what vodka with milk must taste like; interesting combination. The whole area looks like a good place for personal reflection being outdoors in scenic areas with warm people.

  13. Great journey to Mongolia! I see that you’ve suggested that this is not a trip to take the kids. Well guess me and wifey will have to reserve this trip for ourselves. Is there a best time to travel there that you’re recommend?

  14. Great trip, just reading this post too me on a vivid mental journey with you. Love your writing style. It’s also so good to know that the Mongolian people were so welcoming and warn to you. Makes me want to visit there myself.

  15. Looks like you guys had a great journey! And that vodka from Yak milk is something that I have never of in my life! DO they sell this? Is there anywhere I can buy it online? I would really like to try this different type of Vodka.

  16. Wow that waterfall is simply gorgeous! And the horses look so peaceful and healthy looking. These pictures look so vivid, what type of camera did you take them with?

  17. So amazing how someone can make vodka out of yak milk. I would definitely want to try that out. Sounds like a trip like that would be reserved for intense travellers.

  18. The pictures do effectively showcase the beauty of the place. The images are enough to convince me to visit the place. I will definitely be bringing a camera along!

  19. That waterfall looks fantastic! As a person who grew up in the countryside and had to work in the city as an adult, it really makes me miss such surroundings. Everything looks so simple and peaceful.

  20. You sound like you’re having a wonderful adventure. I love waterfalls, and your description and photos of that are especially beautiful, I have to say, I’ve always pictured Mongolia more as a desert, not nearly as green as you show. The interactions with the nomads are also fascinating. Looking forward to your next post about the walled city . . .

  21. The place and people look so peaceful! It looks like a place where one can really relax in. Wide open country… Fresh air… It looks like a really good experience! Thanks for sharing!

  22. The photos are fantastic and it looks like it came out of some travel book. I thought Mongolia is far from what you have shown in this post and I am quite amazed how you have captured it in your lens. I was just wondering how expensive the trip is because you seem to have covered a wide area. Please post more 🙂

  23. This photos are stunning it is like looking at a photo exhibit. I will be honest Mongolia as a destination does not even ring a bell. But these photos are deeply changing my choice on the matter.

  24. My boyfriend is half Mongolian and he didn’t even know this place existed! It’s so beautiful i can’t stop looking at your photos.

  25. I seriously want to book flights to Mongolia right now thanks to your posts. The scenery is breathtaking, like straight out of a post card. Have just bookmarked your post for inspiration!

  26. This is my kind of trip! I don’t mind rough and muddy roads and getting tossed in the van, That’s all part of the adventure. I like your interactions with the locals, and how they seem hospitable. The beauty of this kind of trip are the unexpected twists and turns.

  27. Thank you for sharing your travel experience with those of us not able to make the trip to distant lands. I have a keen interest in culture and would love to hear more about the lifestyles and the people you encounter on your journey. Its interesting to me that the local people are as forthcoming about showing you around and sharing their lives as they seem to be from the pictures you took. I don’t know that everyone where I live (a western country) would be as openly hospitipal.

    1. This varies from country to country. The less they have been affected by modernization the more open they are. We have traveled to around 70 countries now and people are more open in Asia than anywhere else. We are in Nepal now and they are the same as Mongolia. India across the border was not that way.

  28. Thank you for sharing your trip. I enjoyed reading about Mongolia sounds just as exciting and beautiful as the pictures, the waterfall , horses, black lava not to mention the vodka and wine made from milk amazing simply amazing.

  29. Oh these waterfalls are simply gorgeous! I especially like the Orkhon waterfall! Hopefuly I will get to visit Mongolia sometime in the near future.

  30. Wow, it seems this place is completely out of mind… the steps, the fields and the wild horses! I mean, come on, that’s such a trip, and it’s another dimension and yet it’s not that far tho! Mongolia sounds amazing and I bet it is because it’s so realistic and you gotta to meet the nomads! What a crazy experience!

  31. As always your images are incredible ! I am always intrigued about volcanoes and waterfalls that form in the craters. Vodka made from Yak Milk now that sounds rather interesting ! dos the Vodka have a distinctive flavour/taste ?

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