Just the word ‘Mongolia’ stirs up some memories of the great Ghingus Khan (pronounced “Chingus”). How he was able to take a country that is roughly twice the size of Texas in the U.S. and become the master of the largest land empire in the history of the world. He ruled everything from Russia, East through Hungary and back, to include all of the countries in SE Asia. He was able to control virtually the entire continent of Asia, except for India. Kublai Khan, his grandson, was able to further the empire by conquering China. He started the Yuan Dynasty in the country.

Here are few amazing stats about the country and its inhabitants. Comparing the life of a Mongolian to that of an American, for example. As a Mongolian, they:

  • die 10.58 years sooner
  • are 3.8 times more likely to die in infancy
  • make 88.83% less money
  • are 23.29% more likely to be unemployed
  • spend 97.39% less money on health care
  • use 89.03% less electricity
  • consume 87.65% less oil
  • are 60.74% less likely to be in prison
  • are 83.33% less likely to have HIV/AIDS

Mongolian Steppes

We started our trip to Mongolia with a few weeks in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city (hereafter abbreviated UB). The city is a huge sprawling mess with 45% of the population living there. The city was built for a population of a few hundred thousand. It has exploded to a population of over a million. In 1998 only 25% of the population lived in UB. That has now doubled without the growth and improvement of an infrastructure to cope with the added people.

Valley of Horses

The remainder of Mongolians still live as nomads with their flocks of sheep, goats, camels and horses. Oh yes, horses! Throughout the entire country, horses are roaming free in herds from 25 to as many as several hundred. It is simply awesome to see. They are a small horse, like the Spanish Mustangs in the Americas. What they lack in size, they more than makeup for in heart and stamina. During the Naadam Festival (we will discuss that later) they race as far as 30 and 50 kilometers. No thoroughbreds can even think of coming close to that. The horse is and always will be the symbol of Mongolia. The horse is how the great Khan was able to amass such a huge empire.

The Khan Empire

After uniting the nomadic tribes of the Mongolian plateau, he conquered huge chunks of central Asia and China. At their peak, the Mongols controlled between 11 and 12 million contiguous square miles, an area about the size of Africa.

Our Adventure In Mongolia Begins

The first few days of our trip will take us to several places of religious significance and are located in the Granite Belt of North Central Mongolia. The lush valleys, filled with nomads and their flocks are surrounded by the unique mountains. They look almost like stacks of pancakes in many places with round holes in them. They have what looks like huge air bubbles that were there when the rocks were formed millions of years ago. We will see the Red and White Stupas which are cliffs carved by the wind that look like cities as you approach them from the valley floor.

This is also the richest area of Mongolia and is filled with mining operations from major players like Rio Tinto and more. Mongolia is rich in all types of minerals like coal and gems and this is a large part of the money that supports the government of the country. Interesting side-note: Every citizen of Mongolia receives a portion of their income from the mining that is done there.

Enough about the country now let us share with you the places we saw and people we met along A Road to Travel in the beautiful country of Mongolia. We will be taking a long trip, some by camel, some by horse but mostly by the best 4 wheel vehicles I have ever ridden in. The Russian van that are relics from the 1970’s. There are hundreds or even thousands of them in the country. As they wear out, the locals keep rebuilding them. They will easily hold 6 people and all of their gear including tents, sleeping bags, cooking gear and food for your trip. They are high up off of the ground and rarely get stuck in the muddy roads of Mongolia.

No Bushes – No Trees – No Privacy

Our Van

We began our ride to the Steppes and at lunch pulled over for our first picnic lunch of many. Laurel and the girls all found out just what life was going to be like with no plumbing, no trees, and no bushes. You just had to walk until you found a hilltop, crossed over and then do your business. A new experience for the Aussie girls, Annie had been working for an NGO in Cambodia so not a huge surprise for her but a wake-up call for Helena and Anna. Helena is studying Chinese in Shanghai and Anna is about to begin her residency training after completing her med school courses.

Baisa - Our Driver

We are being led by a 60-year-old Mongolian named Baisa (buy-sa) who is our driver and Oyuna (i-you-na) our guide/cook who is a language professor during most of the year at the University of Mongolia. Oyuna is a fountain of information and we could not have been any luckier getting our guides. Baisa is a master of the Russian Van and his is newly purchased. We are only the second group to use it and it is in perfect mechanical order.

Little Rock

little rock collage

We’ll start with the area known as BAGA GAZRIIN CHULUU or Little Rock to the Mongolians. Located here you will find the granite area of the countryside. At Little Rock, giant rock formations with small piles of stones by the thousands can be seen. These piles of rocks can signify a place of sky-worship or a landmark. Sky-worship was practiced by the locals who choose Shamanism as their religion, although it has been replaced by Buddhism in most of the country. The area is full of caves and was once a site of a large monastery with over 500 monks.



During the time from 1911 to 1952, the country was controlled by Russia and most of the monasteries were bombed and destroyed. The monks were either killed off or if they were young enough, were sent to Russia to work as slave labor building the Trans-Siberia Railroad. The small monastery here at Little Rock is widely thought of as the place the 4th Dalai Lama began his education. After visiting both places we went into a lush green valley to a place with three Gers. A Ger is a round tent with thick felt linings covered by a waterproof canvas. The nomads are able to live in them year round to temperatures of -70F or -57C.

Our First Mongolia Campsite


Our Campsite

Our hosts met us as we drove up and we got our first glimpse of the inside of a family Ger. It’s not the Ritz by any means and you instantly find out how these people live with minimal comfort year round in the steppes. We had 5 beds of sorts, little wooden frames with wooden slats and a flat piece of wood on top of them. The mattress consisted of a small pad about a half inch thick, one or two comforters on top of that and (in this case, as in most) no pillow. The few times that we did have a pillow, they were filled with some sort of grain hulls which were very comfortable.

Horse-Dung Campfire

Our campsite was in a lush green valley about a mile long and a half-mile wide. There were herds of wild horses roaming at will in the valley. Huge rocks were available to climb just outside of the Ger area for some really nice photos. We had a good mutton and rice meal before retiring to a horse dung campfire for the evening. There is little wood and the dung, after it dries, has no odor and burns slowly. Later in the trip, we had some wood stoves but the wood was gone in an instant, the dung worked out much better. While we were sitting around the fire, a late arriving van came in to use the third Ger. The owner of the Gers quickly brought out a large metal stove and put it over the fire. A metal cask (much like a beer keg) was filled with smooth round rocks from a riverbed somewhere and allowed to get red hot before an entire leg of mutton was added with potatoes and carrots. They roll the cask around on the ground allowing the rocks to sear and cook the meat and in only a very short time you have Mongolian Bar-B-Que or HOT POT. The other van shared their meal and it was the end of a great day.

Mornings in Mongolia

Day-2 Dawn

Early the second day I got up and sat on top of the large rocks waiting for my first Mongolian sunrise. I loved the quiet, the stillness and the pure nature of Mongolia. It was well worth the wait. The sky was beautiful. As the sun came up, it lit up the rocks on the other side of the valley and the green grass with the horses. A beautiful site and a good way to start our journey to TSAGAAN SUVARGA or the White Stupas.

Small Surprise to Begin Day 2

We stopped at a place where a small round hole on the top of one of the rocks had been eroded. Baisa took all 5 of us up and pulled a small ladle out of the whole that was filled with water. We were told that this water would help cure eye problems and to rub it on the outside of our eyes. I did this, then drank a second ladle full, just trying to give it the best chance to work, but so far I still need my glasses.

roads in mongolia

The roads in Mongolia consist of just two ruts, many times 10 to 20 sets running side by side all ending up at the same place. The roads are wash boarded and rough as all get out and we soon found out what the entire adventure was going to be like. There is little to see besides the granite belt and we were soon in the endless steppes heading to the White Stupas.

After about a 9 hour ride we pulled into our campsite which was a Ger Village or campground. This was the location of the one hot shower we were to get for the next 7 days. We all had a shower and rested before heading to the stupas. Mongolia is light from 5:00 am til 11:00 pm every day. With only 6 hours of darkness, the days seem endless.

The White Stupas was all it was described to be and more. Beautiful red, purple and yellow cliff faces and the most exquisite humps covering the valley floor, were like a rainbow of colors. We spent hours hiking around the area and climbing to the top for pictures of the Red Stupas, far across the valley.

White Stupas-1

White Stupas-2

White Stupas-3

White Stupas-4



Ready for Next Leg of Our Adventure in Mongolia

We would visit them the next morning on our way to the Three Beauties which is the location of the only glacier in southern Mongolia. How cool is that! In the middle of the desert, in the middle of Summer, there are remnants of a small frozen glacier. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Next installment will be the Glacier Park and the Gobi Sand Dunes.

As always, our photos are posted here.


  1. Hey John and Laurel. I really admire your writings. I never knew so much about Mongolia and others countries before visiting your site. I think the way that you present your content has really stirred and interest in me to explore more destinations outside of my own backyard. Thank you for the awakening. This is my favorite travel site now:)

  2. I really like the pictures and the stats that you have so eloquently laid out here about Mongolia. This is a great writeup. A++

  3. I love camping so the campsite part was most interesting to me. Thank you for sharing your travels with us. Bookmarking you site now and will visit again soon to read more about your trips!

  4. Nice history lesson. Are you planning on revisiting again soon? If so, please add some video next time as well if possible.

  5. Wow I sure didn’t know that they use up to 89% less energy in Mongolia. Wish we could practice that here in the U.S. It sure would save a lot of money. But hey, we wouldn’t have all the modern luxuries that we have grown dependent on either…but perhaps we don’t need them.

  6. My sister is a school teacher and I think that I will work with her to try and arrange a summer field trip for some of the highschool students to visit this rich land of Mongolia. I think it would truly be an eye-opening and life changing experience.

  7. I see that Mongolia has really been underrated and under-represented on most of the travel sites that I visit. Glad you are putting them in a different light and highlighting a lot of great and rich history and culture from there. Keep doing what you’re doing. Great job!

  8. Is it just me or the forms make one feel nostalgic? It’s like seeing an old movie from a memory. Nice pictures, by the way. They look like fit for a center fold. Wow.

  9. Some of the comparisons of a Mongolian to an American don’t surprise me all that much. What did surprise me somewhat was how much less prevalent the HIV/AIDS virus is in Mongolia than it is in the U.S.

  10. Gorgeous landscapes! Reminds me of Namibia. It is one of the countries I would like to visit, but it just seems so far away and difficult to organize. You are quite lucky to have gone there and see the beautiful country. Gauging from your pics, it looks like stepping into another era and the stats you posted are amazing.

  11. These photos are amazing. And a very interesting post indeed. Mongolia will definitely be on my bucket list because of your amazing and detailed post. Little rock would seem like a very interesting place to visit.

  12. I think Mongolia is a great place and with a great sense of culture too. I am amazed about the stated facts above about Mongolia, I think planning to visit there would be worth it.

  13. I agree MOngolia definitely gets attention thanks to articles like this. However, these parts feels like a dessert If so then a vacation would feel like being in Saudi Arabia just my opinion.

  14. Looks like a lovely country and a lovely trip! Kind of sad about the facts about the country/Mongolians you mentioned though. 🙁

  15. If You can get over the dreed of the Ghenghiz Khan era then you are good> Mongolia has changed a lot compared to those days and these pictures proves it .

  16. Mongolia is not on every tourist’s radar but it should be discovered soon! Beautiful and pristine country! But I am also alarmed at the statistics you presented. They need more exposure so more help can come their way.

  17. I know that was a calming experience to sit on that large rock and watch the sunrise. The sunrise is beautiful, will share it on Pinterest!

  18. I love all your pictures! The scenery are amazing. I can only imagine how the night sky looks like from your campsite, it must be full of stars!

  19. I don’t think the statistics are made on a firm comparison. I think it is like comparing apples and oranges. Mongolia and United States do not have the same standing in economy so the statistics you show are quite biased.

  20. Reading this makes me wish I was born a Mongolian. It sounds like such a great lifestyle. They use less electricity and drink less beer.

  21. I have never really thought of Mongolia as a place to visit when travelling. This post made me think otherwise. Mongolia looks great! Will add to my bucket list!

  22. I must say that this is a very interesting post, and overall your site is one of the best most interesting travel sites I have ever encountered. How do you get all these high quality images to load so fast?. Most heavy images sites that I visit, takes a while for the images to load, but yours load for me in the blink of an eye! Great work you’re doing here, keep it up!!!

  23. These pictures are gorgeous! It just seems so peaceful there in Mongolia. This makes me wonder what I’ve been misssing, I really need to travel more.

  24. This post was like a mini trip to Mongolia for me. I can’t say that I will ever make it there in real like, but I can live it vicariously through this blog. Thanks!

  25. Some really beautiful pictures. The shots convey very well what you are talking about, the barrenness of the landscape. But it is stunning. I wish you had some pictures of UB and the sprawl, although you explain very well the rapid growth of the city.

  26. This is a great glimpse into what Mongolia has to offer. I would have never know had I not chanced across your blog. Your site is now one of my favorite travel sites! BTW who is that standing at the top of that mountain on the into pic?

  27. Great post! My favorite pictures are the “Morning in Mongolia” and the “Red Stupas”. I’m sending your post to my friends right now, they’ll love this!

  28. I’m getting mesmerized by all of these beautiful pics! Either you or whoever took these photos are great photographers. A1 shots!!!

  29. As natural and peaceful as Mongolians seem to live, I’m really surprised that the die about 10 years sooner than Americans. That’s really odd to may. Oh well, maybe it’s the lack of healthcare.

    1. I was thinking the same thing bruh. With the natural way that they live off the land and the environment and all, I would have definitely expected longer life span. But I guess overall, it’s not how long you live, but your quality of life that’s most important.

  30. Wow!! I was absolutely amazed with the beautiful landscape Mongolia has to offer. Such beautiful breath taking sights!!! And the stats at the begining wow! And the horses!! for a horse lover as myself i think it be a paradise to see all them wild horses romming free like that!

  31. Wow! Thanks for the effort put in in arranging and posting these information!
    None of my friends have travel to Mongolia before and I think this post will excite them!
    The scenery looks really vast and wonderful, thanks again for the wonderful pictures!

  32. I have read a bit of articles about Mongolia lately. Amazing scenery this is slowly putting the country back in the map. AS a tourist spot seems like a cool place to visit.

  33. Unbelievable to see a glacier in that sun. Very vivid imagery from this piece. The whole trip sounded like such a getaway from city life riding horses, climbing mountains and sleeping on wooden beds. I’d be interested in traveling to Mongolia both for the adventure and to learn about its unique history.

  34. Stunning pictures! Loved the narrative. Camping in such landscapes is surely an adventure. Thanks for sharing your experience in this sparsely populated , highly underrated country!

  35. I loved reading your post, Mongolia seems to be such a great place for a road trip and to explore so much history.
    The way you’ve described your adventure is really inspirational and amazing pictures you’ve got out there!

  36. GORGEOUS!!!!! I guess I never knew how big the dynasty was though, but it makes complete sense as to why Eastern European people look of Asian descent. I don’t think I am brave enough to do a road trip through Mongolia. I will just say that I have driven from East Texas to California. That is enough desert for me.

  37. This is the first time I’ve ever read something about the Mongolians steppes and the photos are georgous, so it may seem like an amazing place! Every infos is worth the read, and so you can tell there’s so much to see. I bet it’s so silent, it makes me think about the desert but it’s way more greener!

  38. You can really tell that you put a lot of time into this post 🙂 I’ve read so much about the Mongolian Steppe, and finally want to see it someday! Your guide is cute, and it seems like an experience you’ll never forget. The tents are huge!!!

  39. Thanks for sharing this great post, those photos are incredible!

    Mongolia is not a very common destination, so it’s great to learn a bit more about this great place, those statistics were quite surprising. I really hope to visit Mongolia one day, hopefully following the Transiberian route from Russia to China

  40. Such beautiful landscapes, going by the amazing pictures here.
    Mongolia is quite an unknown territory for most people and I would love to visit this country on my own adventure trip someday 🙂

  41. I was in the Peace Corps in Kyrgyzstan, which gets a lot of their culture from Mongolian nomadic culture. Prior to knowing what country I would be assigned to, my dad always insisted that I would be sent to Mongolia.. Though I didn’t get there on that particular adventure, I do absolutely intend to get there one day. It is such a beautiful country!

  42. This is the first time I have ever read anything related to Mongolia in my life. However the stats are pretty sad to know about. It takes a lot of courage to camp in a place like this. Great post!

  43. First of all….amazing pictures. Really lovely, gives me a fair idea of what the place looks like and really sells the place. Next, I have to say that the topography is quite unusual. It is beautiful and makes me wonder how Chengis Khan lived…:D

  44. Sounds a great adventure although i don’t think I would like to go camping out there I would be too worried about animals coming to say hello in the middle of the night lol did you get any visitors

  45. where there is not much populated sometimes look more beautiful. not crowded even very beautiful with lost of fresh air in the vicinity.

  46. I think this is the first blog post I’ve ever seen about Mongolia, and I wondered if people traveled there. You did a nice job capturing the feeling of being there, and I like how you included the map showing how they conquered the world.

  47. What gorgeous photos! The stats of the Mongolian people are just mind-boggling. It is sad to read that they on average live 10 years less than Americans.
    I have wanted to go to Mongolia for ages! I want to head on the Trans-Mongolian railway and now after reading your post I will have more information on where to go!

  48. May I just say, your photos are absolutely beautiful?! You truly captured the vastness of the steppes. I can’t wait to visit Mongolia one day, it’s definitely on my bucket list — especially now after reading your post!

  49. What a wonderful country Mongolia should be!!! I was really impressed by the statistcs you mentionded.
    Cannot wait to read more about your travel there.

  50. I would love to visit Mongolia! I was just reading about how UB is becoming a major city. But I would be more excited to travel with a group of nomads and see what their lives are like. Your photos of the country are so lovely and colorful!

  51. great posts and tips for travelers going to Mongolia. This country deserves to be seen by the world how beautiful it is 🙂

  52. You did the same trip I did back in 2011. Concidently, my driver’s name was also Baisa. 🙂 It was so nice to read about your adventures and remember that I’ve been through the same ones. I even saw in one of your photos the exact place where I fell and hurt my knee, haha, in the first day of the trip. 🙂

  53. Mongol Empire of 13th-14th centuries and Genghis Khan are distant memories from school years. I remember imagining wild nomads riding horses through rugged steppes. Yes, exactly like your photos show. Apparently, roads hadn’t improved since then yet ;).

    Thanks for the stats – there are certainly some unexpected numbers there. Dying roughly 10 years younger and using less electricity – ok, no surprises there; but the difference in infant mortality rate between, no offense to Mongolia, quite an underdeveloped 3rd World country and one of the most developed countries in the world is far less than I anticipated.

  54. What a grand adventure to be on. I would love to slow travel across Mongolia some day. The landscape you have seen so far is amazing. I can’t just imagine how much more so, in person.

  55. What a splendid landscape view! I bet it would have been the time of your life. I have emailed you about an opportunity. Let me know if you’re interested!

  56. The stats really shocked me! It is impressive how much difference it makes in their happiness and well being the fact that they don’t kill our earth as hard as the US does. It it correct that they spend less on health care but have less probablility of having AIDS?? I loved the mountains btw!! I’m used to seeing green or grey mountains but these sand like mountains are beautiful!!

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