A Travellerspoint blog

Asia short summary

remembering some stories....

After 5 months traveling in Asia, and before opening a new chapter in the other side of the world we’ve decided to make a sort of summary of our experiences so far. Well, we feel a little nostalgic, and you’ve heard it all before – so feel free to test your knowledge :)

Things that make you go: “This makes no sense at all!”
1. Sand dunes in the middle of the Gobi desert. The dunes are surrounded by earth, there's no sand anywhere else. How the hell did they get there?
2 Gates in the middle of nowhere in Mongolia with roads passing all around them. The concept of a gate needs to be explained to them…
3. Prices in china, no proportion to one another. The admission fee for a touristy site can go up as high as 20 times a dinner for two.
4. Driving in Burma. Drivers drive on the right side of the car like in England but on the left side of the road, like in most of the world. Now, imagine trying to overtake another car on the road!
5. Official rate exchange in Burma. That's a good one, the official rate is 1USD for 3.5 Kyat. On the black market you can get 1 to 1000! (300 times more?!)
6. Electricity wires in Vietnam. Unbelievable.
And it actually works?

Stupid thoughts, some things Andre wishes he could take back
1. "I can pass these rice terraces with the bike" – as you might remember it ended up with us buying a new camera and Andre destroying a T-shirt from Burma (and a bit of his ego…)
2. "Yaks don't attack, I can get closer to take a close up picture" – being run over by a yak in a country as empty as Mongolia is a really stupid way to go down…
3. "No need to buy snacks for the flight since it is only 1,5 hour from Beijing to Ulaan Bataar". Don’t get us started on food in airport hotels that serve almost only customers of Air-China that are stuck in Beijing :(

If Only we had better weather
1. Ha long bay, Vietnam. Did you ever find yourself arguing with a fellow traveler if the grey thing in front of you is a rock or a cloud? (It was probably a cloud on top of a rock, but, well…)
Sunbathing in HaLong Bay

2. All of Burma. The heat…
3. Hiking in Mongolia in the rain.
Ridiculous, no other word…

We wish we haven't been there at all
1. Nanjing, China
2. Na Thrang, Vietnam
3. Yangoon. Burma

Toilet experiences, a MUST category in any Asian trip
1. Open air toilet, in the sand dunes (Mongolia) with view that is exactly the same as the cover of the Mongolian Lonely Planet.
See the LP cover page:

2. Returning toilet paper in Tibet. In one of the GH in Tibet had a “hole in the floor” toilet on the second floor, that never mind how we throw the toilet paper down, it will return up, due to the wind. Life in the 4000+ meters world…
3. Tiger leap gorge view. The view is so beautiful that they decided not to add the wall, so you can appreciate the view while you do your stuff..

Strange local drinks
1. Snake wine in Vietnam.
2. Mare's milk vodka in Mongolia. That’s the local drink, and it is as bad as it sounds.
3. Airag in Mongolia. “Vodka” made of mare’s milk. No one of us managed to drink more than a sip of it.

Biggest tourist traps
1. Floating market in Bangkok: a 500m market, with only tourists.
2. Acrobatics show in Shanghai: We expected to see traditional Chinese acrobatics, but it was a western-style production. Lots of music and dance, in one word: Terrible.
3. Boat trip in Na Thrang: Only locals, karaoke, a visit to an aquarium that the biggest fish was a turtle :) and stopping in a rock beach instead of sand beach.

Best view from our room
1. CHI-TIB-026.jpg
Potala palace in Lhasa.

2. CHI-YAN-006.jpg
Rice terraces in Ping An.

3. asia-007.jpg
Yangshou Sweet dreams GH, where we could see all the area from our balcony yangshuo

Most annoying days
1. The day we had to return from Songpan, after we didn't succeed to renew our visa.
2. The full day in the airport in Beijing, waiting to travel to Mongolia.
3. In Chengdu searching for the meeting point to joing a group of volunteers to promote sport activities for kids that lost houses due to the earthquake.

Strangest people on the road
1. Mongolian "german" dirijidu singer. This Mongolian guy came to our table, started to talk in German and wanted to sing a traditional Mongolian song, that should have sounded like dirijidu. It sounded like he was in the WC.
2. “Sleepingbag man”. Traveling the world and taking pictures of himself in a yellow sleeping bag is enough to be in the list.
3. Mandalay’s ex-monk drunk tourist guide. The guy is an ex-monk that spent time in the Burmese prison, and was completely drunk half the times we saw him. At one time he said he loves Israelis, just after to say that we are serial killers.

Most repeated song
1. “Shi shi shi” song in China. It started in Shangrila, repeated itself in the car in Tibet a million times, and later we heard this song everywhere...
2. The “father on the horse” (Shiri’s favorit), the “Barbie song” (Patrick’s favorit) and the “khara song” (Andre’s favorit) in Mongolia. The big hits on Jigme's car, looping for 20 days with other Mongolian greatest hits.
3. Obladi oblada in Burmese. This one was playing for more than 13 hours in loop. They had only one DVD (with something like 5 to 7 songs) for the whole trip.

Why did I try to eat this?
1. Yak/ Goat/ Horse fat-dry-cheese in Mongolia. It is as bad as it sounds, plus it looks like soap.
2. Bread or chocolate in China. All breads in China are sweet and taste terrible, chocolates are almost inexistent, and always bad. If you must – go for Dove. This one is not a soap...
3. Crispy shrimp like schnitzel in Ha Long bay. It was made without cleaning the shrimp fist….

Unforgettable sleeping places
1. Drunk summer ger in Mongolia.
2. Cosmic GH in Hong Kong. We never thought we could sleep well in such a small room, but we end up sleeping until 12:00 :)
3. Beautyland hostel in Yangoon. No window, air conditioning working for 2 hours a night (if working) on our first travel week. Impossible to forget such a start of the travel.

Best transportation rides
1. Shangrila to Lijiang by bus.

2. Everest base camp trip.
3. Chengdu to the north of Sichuan (3 times on the same bumpy road in 5 days. We deserve some kind of a medal, no?)

Best local customs experiences
1. Monk initiation in Burma
2. Hospitality in Mongolia – being invited to drink, eat and play the finger game anywhere we went.
3. Monks praying in Mongolia.

Guides trade mark sentences
1. just like that- Julie (Tibet)
2. yap, maybe, you know – Mongo (Mongolia)
3. suddenly – Zutla (Mongolia)
4. 'cuse me - Halong bay guide (Vietnam)

Not only food, meal with entertainment
1. Hooters in Chengdu. The funniest meal of all. Including the unforgettable sentences "Gentleman and you" (you being Shiri, the only girl at the table), and "she’s having a breast in the restroom".
2. Goat in Mongolia. If helping to kill the goat was not enough, trying to clean the teeth after eating with a tea bags string (since we forgot dental floss) was hilarious.

3. Cooking course in Chengdu. Preparing the food was as fun as eating

Best fake brand
Forget China, eventually the best fake brand turned out in Mongolia, check this out:
Johnnie WORKER, Red LABIAL”. The communist whiskey…

Construction works my (Andre) professors must see (aka extreme engineering)
1. Mongolian bridge, no words to describe it:

2. Road to Everest base camp:

3. Car engine to pumping oil in Mongolia. The gas stations in the Gobi desert have oil being pumped by car engines, in open air.
Actually, what will happen if the engine runs out of petrol? It will be impossible to re-fuel it…

Budget Helper
As we did some internet research before planning our budget, we hope the help people trying to plan a trip.
Our prices are for :
Guesthouses - double room with private bathroom and air-con
Meals - Local restaurants. Not fancy tourist ones

All prices are per person, except room that is per room (for 2), and all prices are in US$

It is hardly impossible to make a prevision of how much it will cost you to be in BKK. Accommodation is around $17, food can be for even less than $1, but it will all depend on how much you will drink (and party) and go shopping. We didn't make (by far) our $20 per day plan. The electronics shopping… :)
Beers starts at $2.10 (660 ml)

We've planned for $20 a day per person and it was just on the spot. Accommodation will cost around $15 while food will be around $2. Transportation is $15 never mind if the trip is 10 or 15 hours.
Short transportation inside the cities, such as to bus station or airport, are usually a rip-off of $6, so you can share taxi or use local transportation to keep the budget.
Bottle beers (660ml) can be found for $1.5 (but due to the lack of electricity the whole day they are bad) and draught (500ml) for $0.5

We planned for $20 a day, but it was not enough. Transportation is quite cheap, we took the open bus from Hanoi to Ho Chi Min, that cost $32 and we could stop in all the touristic places on the way (only north on Hanoi you should pay separately). Accommodation goes from $12 with computer and internet inside the room in Hanoi to $8 in Hue. Mui Ne was a bit more expensive, but as average $12 is a good number.
Food is not expensive, going for $4 to 5 and fresh beer is really cheap ($0.20). The expensive part is the organized tours (HaLong Bay, DMZ, etc...) and the souvenirs.
$25 per day can be ok.

Hong Kong
Ok, HK can explode your whole budget. We planned for $40 per day and didn't make it (Mainly due to Macau). We got accommodation for $20 that is very cheap, meals goes from $5 to $7 and transportation will take also a lot. Every small metro ride is at least $1. Far places can be up to $8
Day trip to Macau will raise the average, since only the ferry is around $40 (both ways).
No beer price to report since it was Passover. :)

Rooms can be found for $10 to $15.
Transportation takes the big chunk here, since there are train rides of 18 hours, buses of 12 hours and so on... Long rides costs from $40 to $60
Meals can be taken from $2 to $4 while 660ml beers is usually $0.9 (same as a can of coke), if you go to tourist places meals will cost around $4 to $7.
Admission fees take another big chunk of the budget, since almost every place has an admission fee and usually it costs from $10 to $15.

This is the really budget exploding area.... due to the Chinese policy of trying to avoid tourists there, you must pay for a permit and be part of a "tour". Plan for an average of $100/day/person there. More details see our last post on Tibet.

The most common way to travel in Mongolia is in an all inclusive trip. It costs around $35/person/day. Add more $5 day to include vodkas and treats, the Ulaan Baatar stay and airport transports…

Posted by shiriandre 17:04 Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

The Mongolia experience - part III

Tokhtoi, Some more Mongolian stories (and few private jokes....)

View our round the world itinerary on shiriandre's travel map.

OMG! this was cold!! The Khovsgol lake is frozen until around May....

“Smoke hashish?”
When we got in the Khovsgol lake we were in a quite touristy Ger camp and I (Andre) was surprised to be approached by an old lady asking“Smoke hashish?”, I just answered that I don’t smoke and continued on my way. Later Patrick told me that he was also in shock by the way she was selling it, so we asked to see it, out of curiousity for the hashish that she was selling in a big card box.
For our surprise it turned out that she was selling “smoked fish” :)

Lama Bumbuk
On our last night we stopped at the Amarbayasgalant Khiid monastery. Since we got there late, it was decided that we will visit the monastery only next day. So we went to have a walk in the monastery and in the surroundings. After a while we found some monks playing football, and we were invited to join them, what we (Andre and Patrick) promptly accepted.

Latter on our driver Jigme also joined and when we stopped he called the game Lama Bumbuk. Bumbuk in Mongolian is ball, so football is Chul bumbuk and basketball is Sax Bumbuk, or as we prefer to call it - Sex-boom-boom!

Public bathhouse
In the Gobi desert there’s almost no water, so even when we could take shower, the quantity of water was not sufficient. So, after finishing our Gobi travel we stopped in a public bath, where you can have a (hot) shower, have your hair cut and even shave!


The funniest thing is that the bathhouse really looks like a 80’s bordel….

Vodka nights - Tokhtoi!
Mongolians drink a lot. And they drink mostly vodka and airag - mare’s milk vodka (ok, sometimes they drink the milk at non-vodka status). In case you are invited to drink by a Mongolian - you need to remember 2 things: the salutation in Mongolian is “Tokhtoi” and if it is during the day splil a drop to the sky as a god offering.

McGuiver stories
Being on the road for such a long time seems to bring out all McGuiver instinct that the boys have. From finding a creative solution for keeping the Uaz-452 (the Russian car) windows open, to cutting trees, building dams (well, that one was just for fun - but we might have created a new little lake...), fences, and benches for the fire. All the boys could exercise all their creativity. Of course the McGuivers equipment that Wouter & Willemijn brought helped a lot… Outdoor equipment shops can learn a lot from the Dutch logistic core!
Above all we were admiring the patent that all beer lovers should adopt (especially Brazilians) - flip-flops with a bottle openner on thier bottom. :)

Drunk horseman
During one of our driving days, a completely drunk horseman stopped us and asked to race against the car. This was promptly rejected by Jigme, but not satisfied, the drunk horseman took his horse and flew in direction of Urna’s car (almost falling twice on the way) and overtaking the car in a sharp movement (and almost fell again).
By the way, almost all horsemen we meet were drunk…

The drunk horseman

Mongolian weather
Mongolia is known as the land of the blue sky, but as far as our time there is concerned we can call the 4-seasons-in-one-day land. The weather is so unstable there, that you can see heavy rain in one place with clear blue sky just next to it, the wind changes direction every 10 minutes or less (very difficult to sit around a camp fire...), hail falls heavily with no warnning and half hour later you get clear blue skies again. Did we mention already that things happen suddenly in Mongolia?...


Volcano and moon walk
In the White Lake we went to visit the Khorgo uul volcano, and in the way we had to go over the volcanic rocks. These volcanic rocks really looked like the moon picture we saw, so we end up calling it the moonwalk.
Once on the volcano we’ve met a group of 110 Koreans, and we were surprised by the group size, since we haven’t seen that amount of tourist in the whole 20 days together!


Mongolian semi-wild horses
Ok, Mongolia is famous for its horses, that made a big difference for the Gengis Khaan army. The horse that we can still find in Mongolia is semi-wild, they say, and strangely are the most scared horses we’ve ever seen. They are scared if you take pictures while riding them, if someone changes the clothes (also take out the coat) behind them, if you try to get up or down by their right side, if they see a flying plastic bag…What we can say is that these horses are not so clever and very small comparing to the others we’ve seen outside Mongolia.

Communication options in Mongolia (or lack of...)

During our 20 days out of UB we were disconnected from the rest of the world. Nomad people might be lucky (?) to roam in areas with cellular connection, otherwise you might see them standing on top of stone piles in the middle of nowhere, trying to search for a signal. In small cities (up to few thousands people) the situation is a bit better – you have land phone and you probably can use your cell phone as well. Internet might be a challenge. In the bigger places (up to maybe 20,000 people) you can find central post offices that look like they came out of the pre-cold war era.

The internet café in Khatgal, “nice” stuffed animals, new computers, but no internet…

A kid playing in the only one “working” internet café we found. The internet connection was from a cell phone. No mail was actually retrieved there.

Zutla's cusin house visit

During our travel to the north, we stopped at Zutla cusin's house to have lunch. It was another proof of the Mongolian hospitality: we just crushed into their house - 5 people with no invitation, asking to use thier kitchen for cooking, taking up all the free space in the little living room which is also the bedroom, and evantuaaly sleeping on the sofa....

Andre and Patrick sleeping in the sofa

Things we will not miss from Mongolia
All and all we had a great time in Mongolia – but if these 3 last posts gave you the urge to go there beware of the following things:
Endless driving hours on extremely bumpy dirt roads when you know that today is only part of the way to get to your next site (well, it can always get worse and start raining… Nothing like slippery bumpy roads), dried cheese from goat/ mare/ yak milk (well, food just shouldn’t look like soap! Nor taste like it passed its expiration date a year ago) and above all – we will not miss the Golden Gobi Goat – the annoying guide of another group from the Golden Gobi Guest house with a goat-like laugh (well, you had to be there to understand….)

Posted by shiriandre 14:59 Archived in Mongolia Comments (1)

The Mongolia experience - part II

Central & North Mongolia - lake to lake trips and a taste of Mongolian culture

View our round the world itinerary on shiriandre's travel map.


Sleeping in Gers
Gers are the ultimate Mongolian nomad houses. It is a kind of a tent, that can be built in just one hour. Usually the Ger can have up to 6 people and all the life of the Mongolian families are held inside it.
We stayed in some nice Gers and others that were not that nice like the “drunk Ger”, that was build on a slope, and in result every time we stood up it gave us the feeling that we were drunk….

A Ger, the Mongolian nomad house

Details from a ger - the poles that hold everything together

Mongolian food

During our travel we tasted and sometimes helped preparing few traditional dishes. Appologies in advanced - we don't remember the original names since we were never really able to pronounce them correctly :)
The mongolians are proud to say that they love to eat meat. We didn't have that much meat during , but for the first time we tried some horse and goat dishes. Ummm, we will try to stick to beef from now on...

One special dish is preparing a meat stew (usually sheep or goat) with hot stones: you heat some stones in the stove/ open fire and later place it in a big pot with large meat chunks, vegtebales, water and spices and cook for a while. We first had it when we were camping by a lake side and a group of young Mongolians invited us to join them for food and vodka. Before eating, they passed around the hot and oily stones around (later we found out that one of the women in the group is our guide's cusin. Suddenly they met on a lake in the middle of nowhere...Did we mention already that things happen "suddenly" a lot in Mongolia?).
Later we had a goat butchered especially for us for this dish - Andre helped a little...

Andre helping to butcher a goat

Another night we helped to prepare traditional dumplings. We rolled and pinched them together with all the guides and drivers. They had good technics....
Everybody preparing dumpling in the kitchen ger

Other special dish is the Naadam pancakes filled with meat. A Naadam is not Naadam if you don't have at least 5 of them!
On our only two evenings in Ulaan Battar we ate at an all-you-can-eat Mongolian barbecue restaurant, where you combine your own dish; you choose the meat, vegetables, spices and sauces, and a the grill men stir-fry it on a large round grill. Yummy! This restaurant had a promissing slogan - "open since 1206" :)

Endless Mongolian games
As being a nomad people, the Mongolians developed a series of endless yet easy to play games, probably to kill the time without many other choices in the ger. Our Mama Zutla was very happy to teach us some of these games that became a big part of our tour… By the way, all games have just one rule in common: Mama Zutla can create (or “suddenly remember” using her own words) a new rule whenever she is loosing the game :)

Card games:

• No name game: This was the highlight of our trip. We played it almost every night, including the vodka nights. It is a simple game where you get 7 cards, and you must put a higher card than the one that was previous to you. This game has a trump also. As we had to create a name for this game we ended up calling it Ginghis Khaan game.
• Punishment game: The simplest of all card games, everybody has 4 cards, you must pass one card to the next person and get one from the previous. As soon as you have 4 cards from the same number you must do a movement and everybody must imitate. The last to imitate losses and must get a punishment. Easy and funny to play. Even funnier when the horseman (that of course doesn’t speak English) is trying to get 4 cards from the same suit and not same number.
• Nik ('one' in Mongolian): The Mongolian version of “Uno”, with an additional nice rule that you can put all cards with the same number at once. Like all other Mongolian cards games, you are not using all cards in the pack and the order of cards is never by the usual sequence. We never really got th point of that...

Finger game

Very traditional game, we’ve seen it everywhere. The 2 players signs a song like “Guess, guess how many fingers” and put the fingers, and should guess the count of the figures that the 2 players had put. The loose must drink a bowl of Mare milk. And trust me (Andre) the taste stays in your month for at least a couple of days.

Stone game : Every player has 5 stones and every round you should keep some and try to guess the count of the stones that everybody had put. A game for really desperate moments…

“Uncle” bones Game

These games are played with goat ankle bones, but according to mama zutla pronunciation we could hear uncle bones….. The ankle bone has different format for each one of its 4 sides, so they call the sides: Goat, sheep, horse and camel.
• The basic “uncle” bones game – Throw the bones and when they are on the floor, flick to hit 2 bones that have the same animal. When succeeding you must take out one of them. Zutla’s rule: when is difficult just take one bone and throw on the game, that will re-shuffle and makes things easier…
• Horse race – You have to throw 4 bones, your horse runs the same amount of horses you got when throwing the bones.

The animals in Mongolia are a big part of the fun. You can see huge hordes of Horses, Goats, Sheep, Camels and Yaks all over the country (of course camels and yaks not all over). But in addition to these main animals, several marmots, squirrels, falcons, eagles and vultures can be found easily.
It is difficult to describe the feeling of having some 30 eagles and falcons flying over our tents.

An eagle

One unforgettable animal of the trip was the Yak that I (Andre) tried to take a close up picture of. Seems that yaks don’t really like close up pictures and this one started to chase me and I had to run as fast as possible. Even in San Fermin I haven’t seen horns that close…

The dangerous yak

A last note on animal: the flies! They are in huge quantity, sometimes in huge sizes (up to 4 cm) but since they are not used to amny humans around, they can be killed so easily. We were sometimes killing flies for several minutes in the car.


Question: What’s the strange part of this picture?
Answer: the paved road. Very unusual to Mongolia

Call the roads we’ve been driving "roads" is a bit of exaggeration. Usually we took dirt tracks that previous cars have created, so the lack of grass makes a small path in the vast steppe. The strangest part was that even when there was a better path available, our Jigme, Jigme, Jigme driver would continue using the non-road. Until our 18th day we had only around 10 km of paved road….
Only when we were 110km from Ulaan Bataar we had paved roads again, we thought Jigme will have problems to drive in such non-bumpy road…

Typical "roads" divergion

Central and northern Mongolia


Driving up from the Gobi towards central and northern Mongolia helped to cool down the heat, have greener landscapes (including some areas of pine trees), have some hills and mountains and much more water:
This part of the trip included a 3 days hiking in the 8 lakes park - Naiman Nuur (technically, about half of these lakes are dry at the moment, but who's counting... we had enough rain during these days to fill them up again), followed by visiting the Orkhon Khurkhree waterfall (don’t try to pronounce out-loud…) and a visit to the Tsenkher hot springs, later - a 2 days stay at the Great white lake and finally a 2 days "semi-wild" horse trekking at lake Khovsgol in the north (and many more smaller lakes on the way).




At Khovsgol lake, taking a rest from the horse riding (you might can't tell from the picture but at this stage, every single bone in our body hurts!)


Enjoying last rays of light before a cold night in tent

Our last day of the trip started early at the Amarbayasgalant Khiid monastery: a weird combination of Chinese outdoor design with Tibetan indoor decoration and spirit with Mongolian monks. The ceremony was all we were waiting to see in Tibet and never got a chance to witness: chanting mantras while wearing special ceremonial clothes and playing the praying instruments. Finally - on our last ady in Asia!



Monks at work. Singing, praying, drinking milk-tea. But does it all have to satrt at 5am?...


A special ceremony that was held outside the monastery. We didn't understand what was the special occasion, but not everyday the bring out the special black balls hats!

Sunset outside the monastery. One of many amazing sunset/ sunrizes in this non-polluted country...

Posted by shiriandre 14:58 Archived in Mongolia Comments (0)

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