Mongolia - Fly Drive (Ride) 2019

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Glenboy, May 6, 2020.

  1. Glenboy

    Glenboy Adventurer

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    I meant to upload a report on this trip after we returned last year but life got in the way. Now with this pandemic I have no excuse.

    Myself and two friends travelled by air from Ireland to Mongolia where we hired small bikes and had two weeks of great biking there. I'll post the account here on a day-by-day basis.
    #1
  2. Glenboy

    Glenboy Adventurer

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    Mongolia was always on the “to-do” list but the time needed to travel there, tour around and travel back was never available. Shipping an 1150 GSA there and back didn’t seem like a viable alternative either. Then, a couple of years ago along with friends Pat and John we went to Morocco on a fly-drive for a week which turned out to be a really great experience.

    So Pat and I began to talk about doing something similar for Mongolia. John wasn’t interested in this trip so we are joined by Frank who has a wealth of experience, having ridden the Americas from Prudhoe Bay to Ushuaia and a significant chunk of Africa.

    There are several providers of rental bikes and guided tours in Mongolia but after lots of research we decided to go with renting bikes from Cheke Tours in Ulaan Bataar and doing our own trip. The big international brands like BMW, KTM, Honda, Yamaha are available to rent but if you experience an issue with one of these outside UB you could be looking at significant downtime while waiting for a part and local mechanics are not very familiar with them. Cost is also a factor with these bikes costing from about €125 per day to rent.

    On the other hand, Cheke rents Shineray Mustangs which are basic Chinese made bikes and which are very popular with the locals and are being used by an ever increasing number of the nomadic herdsmen instead of the traditional horse. They are only 150cc but having read many reports and blogs where they have been used before we reckon that they will suit our needs. One advantage is that they can be repaired anywhere and by any village mechanic. The other big advantage is the cost, €13 per day.

    So we booked our flights, traveling with Hainan Airways from Dublin to Beijing and onward to Ulaan Bataar with Mongolian Airlines (MIAT). We could have gone via Moscow with Aeroflot but the preference was for China even though this meant longer flight times. MIAT also run a number of flights between Frankfurt and Berlin to Ulaan Bataar during June, July and August. I had been to Beijing before but the guys hadn’t so we decided to spend an overnight there, see the Great Wall, Tianamen Square, etc.

    We got visas for a double entry to China (€60) in Dublin but subsequently discover that if you are transiting through Beijing and have possession of an onward connection you can be admitted for up to 144 hours without a visa. Damn!

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    We wanted to make the most of our day in Beijing so had booked a local guide (who was excellent) through Airbnb - he picked us up in a very plush Buick six-seater and about 2 hours later we arrive at the Great Wall at Huanghuacheng.

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    After building up an appetite climbing and walking on some very steep sections we have a very nice lunch in a local restaurant.

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    Then it’s back to the city to see Tianamen Square and do a tour of the Forbidden City.

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    We were feeling a bit peckish after that so we got a taxi to the Sanlitun area for something to eat and a few beers before heading back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep. Frank had booked this and it was excellent, it was near the airport and included a shuttle to the terminals, perfect for our early departure the next morning for Ulaan Bataar.
    #2
  3. Glenboy

    Glenboy Adventurer

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    Day 1

    We arrive in Ulaan Bataar at about 12 noon after a pleasant 2.5hr flight from Beijing with Mongolian Airlines (MIAT). The guys get through immigration control without any issues but I’m given the “Would you step this way please” routine and am brought to an inner office. Turns out there’s an error with the dates on my visa which was issued in Dublin. The officials are very pleasant and get me to fill out an identical form to the one I filled out in Dublin (I hope I provide the same answers) take my photograph and issue me with a new visa. A half hour later I’m through, we reclaim our luggage and step out into the very warm Mongolian sun.

    Our good friend Gary had given us the contact details of a local lady who had worked previously in Ireland and she had arranged to meet us at the airport on arrival. We planned to spend the afternoon getting sorted with SIM cards, currency, maps, and any last minute bits and pieces we might have forgotten to get - being a local she was a great help with this.

    We wanted to get the paperwork etc sorted with the bikes this afternoon too in order to save time in the morning so we went out to Cheke’s in the late afternoon and picked our bikes. I chose mine based largely on the condition of the tyres which were good. I didn’t notice a few small differences, mostly cosmetic, between mine and the lads bikes which were due to it being an older model. It turned out that it had a smaller fuel tank which would prove to be a significant factor at a later stage. Our initial impressions of the bikes weren’t great. They were small, seemed flimsy and basic and after a quick spin around the block it was clear that the brakes were crap. Anyway, the die was cast at this stage.

    Cheke’s mechanic gave us a lift back into town (she’s based out near the airport) and he agreed to pick us up again at the hotel the next morning. We had a nice evening in UB, which included a ramble to find a monument to the Beatles which was actually quite good, had some excellent steaks and local beers in a restaurant by the main square, and then a few whiskeys in a trendy bar which finished off Day 1 nicely.

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    We were booked into a place which Pat had sourced, the Khuvsgul Lake Hotel and Hostel in central UB. It was excellent. The three of us were in a 4 bed room which cost us €9 each. A fourth guy was booked into the same room and although his stuff was there he never appeared - happy days!

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    The view from our room on the 22nd floor. UB is experiencing a huge amount of development with lots of high-rises being built but also with lots of sprawling shanty districts on the edges of the city which you can see in the distance.
    #3
  4. Glenboy

    Glenboy Adventurer

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    Day 2 - UB (Cheke’s) to first camp spot

    I’m a great believer in democracy but for this trip it goes against me. My preference was to head south to the Gobi and loop back to UB through the Orkhon valley. Pat and Frank wanted to go to the west and northwest towards Khuvsgul lake and then loop back through the Orkhon valley. Ah well, it’s good to have a reason to return.

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    After getting the bikes sorted out and packed up we hit the road. Three French guys arrive and are heading off on a week long trip and then a guy from Chile turns up. His name is Eduardo and he has a similar plan to ourselves. Our paths were to cross several times over the next two weeks.

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    That's Cheke on the left. We found her very good to deal with. She has excellent English and speaks French too.

    She had recommended taking the road to the south for about ten or twelve kilometres and then heading north on an off-road track which would bring us back up to the road west out of UB. The hire contract expressly forbade taking the bikes into Ulaan Bataar itself - more on that later.

    So the plan is to join up with the tarmac road heading west out of UB for a bit and then head northwest off-road towards Bulgan. I can’t help wondering how the bikes will hold up as we rattle our way across stony tracks, sandy stretches, washboard, dirt tracks, etc. Irrationally, I keep expecting it to fall apart under me or at least for one or more of my bags to fall off. It takes a couple of days for me to become comfortable in the knowledge that the bike would most likely survive anything and always seems to know best when it comes to deciding which line to take through a tricky bit.

    We are only gone a few hours when my bike develops a problem. We have stopped at a village to get some water and it turns out that my bike won’t restart. It would start on a push or reluctantly by kickstarting. A few of the local men gather round and are anxious to help.

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    One of them is trying to kickstart it. Note the sign which gives away that we are parked outside the town's restaurant.

    The lads diagnose the issue and seem to be convinced that the problem is with what looks like an ignition coil close to the battery. They seem quite certain and we are happy to go with that. There isn’t a replacement to be had here so we decide to continue to the next town and hopefully get one there. The next town turns out to be Lun. A howling wind is blowing by this time with a coarse, sandy dust getting in everywhere. We’re hungry too so we go into a little cafe for some food. What’s on offer is displayed by some pictures, great! This is not for making life easier for tourists but more to do with low literacy levels. We get something that seems to be a mix of mutton and vegetable pieces and it turns out to be very tasty indeed. Feeling encouraged, we order three teas but these come with yak milk already included - absolutely horrible and we barely take more than a few sips.

    We have learned a very important word for our Mongolian vocabulary - “mekaniko” so make enquiries as to where we might find one and are directed towards the other side of town. We pull up at what seemed to be a petrol pump and small shop for auto and moto parts. The wind is still howling and when I take off my helmet I can feel the dust getting into my ears, my hair, my nose, everywhere. I point out the part I need to the old guy who is there and he goes in to his Aladdin’s cave and starts looking for one. It is quite dark inside and a very welcome relief to be in out of the wind. He digs out various similar parts but none is a match for the one I need to replace. He signals for me to hop into his pickup and that he would bring me to someone who would have the part needed. Instead we follow him to a house on the other side of the village and he indicates to me to wait at the gate while he goes in. This sounds fine to me as there is a very vocal Doberman-like dog in the yard.

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    After a few minutes he re-emerges with another old guy who is carrying a few tools. He removes the part and goes back in to the house for a rummage. It isn’t long before he’s back out with a used but thankfully identical part. He fits the replacement but still the bike won’t start.

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    After much scratching of heads we begin to think that the problem might be with the battery so we swap it with the battery in Frank’s bike and sure enough, the problem moves too! Now we know that either the battery is a dud or my bike isn’t charging properly so we decide to keep a watching brief and see how it goes.

    After Lun we go off-road again for about an hour or so before deciding we should find a spot to camp for the night. We spot a ger (yurt) on the hillside in the distance and head over towards it to see if we could camp beside it. As we approach, a guy emerges and waves. We hop off the bikes and shake hands. It’s clear that this is not a good place to camp as the wind is still blowing strongly and there’s no shelter. He invites us in and it’s great to in out of the wind. Green tea is offered and a very convivial conversation takes place. We can’t understand a word he’s saying nor he us but it doesn’t matter at all. Pat gives him a miniature bottle of whiskey and he’s delighted. It’s a very welcome rest and after another round of handshakes we’re on our way again still looking for a camp spot. After a bit we come to a spot by a river where there’s a small bit of shelter from a rocky outcrop. It proves to be a tricky job to get the tents up in the wind but eventually we’re all set up and settle down to our first night’s camping on the Steppe.

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  5. MazztheSpazz

    MazztheSpazz Been here awhile Supporter

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    In!
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  6. Aces 6

    Aces 6 Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Over

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    What time of year did this occur?
    #6
  7. Glenboy

    Glenboy Adventurer

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    It was almost a year ago actually, last few days of May and early June 2019
    #7
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  8. Glenboy

    Glenboy Adventurer

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    Day 3 - 1st campspot to 2nd campspot

    We awaken at about 7 and set about boiling some water. After a quick visit to the riverbank to brush teeth and splash water on groggy faces we’re ready for some porridge followed by some green tea. Thankfully the wind died down during the night and it’s a bright sunny morning so taking down the tents and packing up is no bother.

    Will we make it to Bulgan today? It will be largely off-road and there’s about 110 km to do so we’ll see. It’s very pleasant this morning and the ground is dry so we make steady progress. It’s beginning to feel like we are in Paradise.

    We are surprised at the variety of terrain we encounter - we expected wide open grassy spaces and we certainly get that, but we also get sandy areas, gravel patches, stony parts and stretches of bare earth which could be tricky if the weather was wet. Lucky for us it’s sunny and warm.

    Lots of this ...

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    and this ...

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    We come across lots of these spiritual shrines, usually at the passes in the mountains where people going by add a stone to the pile to help keep the gods happy. We do the same.

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    At one point I try to get my camera to take one of those self-timer shots. I'm convinced I'm doing everything right but despite several attempts it just doesn't work. My subjects get increasingly bored and I eventually give up ...

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    We keep heading to a village where we know there is a bridge over the river and find that there is a shop and petrol station there along with a few houses. Despite the fact that the place is very dusty like everywhere else, the inside of the shop is surprisingly clean, and even though it's small it seems to have everything - the water that we need but also some very tasty ice-creams. I'm amazed to see that along with the staples it also has things like USB sticks, memory cards, etc.

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    This shows Main St with the petrol station across the road

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    As late afternoon becomes early evening we look for a camp spot and find an ideal place near a dried out river bed and set up camp. We have a welcome bite to eat, plenty of chat and watch the sun set over the distant horizon before turning in for a good night's sleep. All is well with the world.

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  9. Migolito

    Migolito Prognosticator and MotoYogi

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    in
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  10. Glenboy

    Glenboy Adventurer

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    Day 4 - 2nd campspot to Bulgan

    We awaken early to a gorgeous sunrise and get the stove going. Water is boiled and porridge is made and we have just begun to relax with our green tea in advance of starting the job of taking down the tents when we notice a cloud of dust on the horizon. It looks like a Jeep is heading in our direction.

    Uh-oh! What have we done now?

    We needn’t have worried. It’s a husband and wife who are living in a ger (yurt) on the other side of the valley. When they pull up the wife hops out with a basket of sweets and pretzels and offers them to us. There is much shaking of hands and smiling, lots of sign language and everyone is very happy. We give the guy a miniature bottle of Bushmills whiskey - we had bought some in Dublin airport (Pat’s idea) - and he seems delighted. He says something that in my imagination sounds like “is it Irish or Scotch?” I assure him that it's Irish and this pleases him greatly ;-)

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    After they left, we packed up and set off. We are using the Maps.me app on our phones for navigating, particularly when off-road. It doesn’t need an online connection so is ideal. It shows most of the defined off-road tracks but in a lot of instances there are multiple versions of a track going in broadly the same direction and unless you’re on the one specified by Maps.me it can get confused. Generally speaking though, it worked well. We usually had a sense of the general direction we should be going in and would frequently cross reference our direction with the maps we bought in UB. Frank had brought a compass and this was also very useful.

    The terrain has become quite grassy and we are making good progress

    All is going well when Pat stops and indicates that he’s in trouble. His rear tyre is soft. He pumps it up with the pump we got from Cheke but within a few km it becomes clear that he has a puncture.

    We pull off to the side of the track and set to work. Frank has brought a set of tools including tyre levers and sets about removing the rear wheel. The sun is beating down and it is very hot so we rig up a makeshift tarp using one of the tent’s groundsheets. The tyre (some Chinese brand unknown to us) is very inflexible and getting it off is very hard work indeed. Rather than try patching the leak, the spare tube we got from Cheke is fitted. We’ll get another to act as a spare when we get to a town and if we get another puncture before then we’ll do some patching.

    A guy on a horse comes over for a look – he’s obviously impressed with Frank’s prowess!

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    Then this snazzily dressed young guy on a very shiny Honda pulls up and offers to help. He has a little English and we shoot the breeze, and he also tries to help.

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    He says that he’s from a ger on the other side of the valley and asks us to come over for tea when the job is finished. We are focused on the job in hand and fail to notice when he makes off with Frank’s lightweight MX gloves which he obviously thinks will complete his ensemble. We are disappointed with this given the friendliness and support we have received from everyone else.

    After a lot of toil and effort the wheel is refitted and we are on our way again. It's terrific to just ride along for miles and miles without seeing any fences, gates or any permanent structures.

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    After about another hour we come to a little town – fantastic, time for an ice-cream! We see that we have 4G coverage using the local SIMs that we got in UB so there is a flurry of updating and Skype calls. We're hanging around outside the shop for a while and there is a steady number of people coming and going. Everybody is friendly and we exchange pleasantries. Then a bike pulls up carrying two guys who are clearly quite drunk. One of them is a bit “pushy” towards us, his buddy tries to restrain him but he’s a big lad. Fortunately he’s not very steady on his feet but he nonetheless manages to pick up my helmet and throw it about 20 feet. I recover it and we decide that the best thing to do is to move on.

    As we leave town we notice that there is a brand new tarmac road going in the direction we want to go. It’s blocked off by mounds of earth and "No Entry" signs but we find a low part and manage to get on it. We find ourselves riding on pristine tarmac with no other vehicles and we are making great progress. However after a few miles we come to another barrier, this time a row of sizeable rocks but there are gaps and one is just wide enough. We continue like this for about an hour and a half meeting many barriers but always managing to get over or through them. We’re waiting for someone to order us off but luckily this doesn’t happen. Actually, as we pass by some teams who are putting the finishing touches to the road, they wave and smile at us.

    Finally, we arrive in Bulgan. We had optimistically thought we might make it from UB to here in one day but in fact it has taken us three days. We could do with some hot showers and a bed so taking a recommendation from the Lonely Planet we check in to the Bulgan Hotel. The listing says that it doesn’t look great on the outside but is quite OK on the inside and this is exactly how we find it. We lock the bikes together round the back of the hotel using the flimsy chain and lock provided and hope for the best.

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    After some welcome hot showers we go for a bite to eat in a nearby restaurant – something muttonish again – have a few beers and back to the hotel for a good night’s kip. What could be finer?
    #10
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  11. Glenboy

    Glenboy Adventurer

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    Day 5

    The first thing we had to do this morning was to get a new battery and fit it in Frank’s bike. There’s a kettle in one of the rooms, so after a breakfast of green tea and biscuits we go looking. We quickly find a guy who seems to be selling tyres, fixing punctures, etc and point out our problem. He offers to bring me to a parts shop to get the battery so I hop into his car and we are soon at a parts shop which seems to have a huge selection of all types of car and bike parts including batteries. I have the dud battery with me and the lady produces a brand new replacement. I am impressed with what happens next. My tyre-fixing facilitator takes the calculator (everywhere has a large format calculator which are used for showing a customer the price of whatever is being bought) on the counter and types in the price for the new battery and I get the impression that he’s making sure I won’t be overcharged. I pay the equivalent of €7 for the new battery and we bring it back to the bikes. Our new friend puts the water into the battery and fits it in the bike. The problem is solved and I give him a few bob which he is reluctant to take.

    We leave Bulgan headed for Moron (the locals pronounce it Mooroon or something like that but we decided to stick with Moron, it felt appropriate). This will be about 340km but it’s a tarmac road all the way. Originally we had planned to take an offroad track to the northwest towards Hatgal and Lake Khuvsgul but because we had lost so much time over the last few days we decided to get to Moron by the main road and then go north to Hatgal. The road is good and we make steady progress, however top speed is averaging about 60kph. My bike is the oldest and I’m the heaviest so I notice the two lads pulling away from me on the inclines but I keep my head down and tuck in my elbows on the downhill stretches and manage to close the gap.

    We are very surprised with the scenery today. It looks Alpine-like with tree covered hills but instead of Alpine cottages there are yurts (gers).

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    We meet up with the Chilean guy Eduardo along the way and it turns out his plan is similar to our own so he tags along with us for a while. By the time it gets to early evening we are approaching Moron but are stiff, sore and weary. At one of our increasingly frequent stops we check the Lonely Planet guide to if there are any recommended accommodations in Moron. One sounds good – Baigal Guesthouse – which promises guest gers, hot showers and includes “breakfast with eggs from under her own chickens, plus fresh yoghurt and jam” and Baigal speaks English too. We find it after a bit and check in.

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    After we have unloaded everything and get ready to have the much awaited showers in the shed in the yard but we learn that there is no water, hot or cold. The one sit down toilet hasn’t been flushed in quite a while and stinks to high heaven. The alternative is a squat toilet or “long drop” – a few planks over a deep hole in the ground. And don't forget to bring your toilet paper ;-)

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    We change and ramble into town for something to eat ... after passing the local wrestling stadium

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    we find a nice restaurant and have another “not too sure what this is” meals which tastes quite good actually and wash it down with some excellent local beers. Back to the ger then for a good night’s sleep.
    #11
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  12. NSFW

    NSFW basecamp4adv Super Supporter

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    this is the closest i will ever see Mongolia.....IN

    :y0!
    #12
  13. Glenboy

    Glenboy Adventurer

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    That's what I thought too, but if you're open to the fly/drive approach it becomes very do-able :-)
    #13
  14. Glenboy

    Glenboy Adventurer

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    Day 6

    Well, the Lonely Planet guide for Mongolia needs updating. Our breakfast consists of a flask of green tea and a plate with slices of bread covered in Nutella – no “eggs from under chickens” or yoghurt or jam. There are three guest gers here and the eight people staying share the only facility for washing

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    Despite being a bit disappointed overall we each remark that we have had our best night’s sleep so far. We pack up and hit the road but before leaving town we fill up with petrol. Our destination today is Hatgal which is about 100km away by tarmac road so we’re not feeling rushed. Hatgal is a resort town at the southern end of Lake Khovsgul so there should be no problem finding accommodation there.

    The journey is uneventful until we come across a sign at the roadside indicating the point where 50 degrees North and 100 degrees East meet.

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    The roadway leading in to the site is blocked with a large mound of earth but by now we don’t feel any inhibitions about going around these. The road brings to a newly constructed and quite impressive feature which is clearly being developed as a tourist attraction.

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    We want to ride the bikes up to the point itself and eventually manage to find a way up to it. Some workmen there indicate that we are the first bikes they have seen to visit here.

    I put my Garmin tracker on the point and check the reading

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    There are large stainless steel letters indicating North, South, East and West - it's looks terrific and should be a good place to visit when it's all finished.

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    We arrive in Hatgal around 4pm and start looking for a café called New Roots. It was recommended on a website and app called iOverlander which has some very useful information. Travellers can upload listings of all kinds of places with a description, GPS coordinates, opening times, photos, etc. New Roots is run by some Americans living in Mongolia and is a very warm and welcoming place to stop. We have coffees and sandwiches and they are excellent.

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    Feeling refreshed we set about finding accommodation for the night. While there seems to be quite a few guest houses and ger camps most of them are closed as the season hasn’t kicked off yet. It’s noticeably cooler here than where we had been earlier in the week and we see that the lake is still partially frozen. Lake Khovsgul is about 136km long and the top end is only 12km from the Russian border. We learn that from about 10km north of Hatgal it’s still completely frozen.

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    We faff about for almost two hours trying to find accommodation and I’m becoming increasingly frustrated. We are also diverted by stumbling across a disused Soviet era oil storage depot on the lake shore. Lake Khovsgul was a very important conduit for trade between Mongolia and the Soviet Union right up until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 with ships moving goods during the summer months and trucks driving on the ice during the winter.

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    Apart from this blight on the landscape the area is stunningly beautiful

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    At one point I notice that my bike seems to have lurched a little when I put it on the side stand. I look underneath and see that the bracket on one side holding the combined side and centre-stand has cracked and a bolt is missing with the biggest part of the bracket about to break free. I undo the now largely redundant bolt and move it to the other side where it will hopefully hold it all in place until I can organise a repair.

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    What do you do with dirty hands then? - wash them in snow, of course!

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    Still looking for a place to stay, we see from the map that a road which initially goes inland comes back out and goes north along the western shore for about 20km and from a local map we saw in the café there seems to be quite a bit of accommodation availability in that direction.

    This road is a very stony track, sometimes hard-packed, sometimes very loose but passing through absolutely gorgeous, forested terrain. We experience our first river crossing and as the water levels are low this year we have no problem. Light is beginning to fade as we emerge again along the lakeshore. There are several ger camps and we phone a couple of the phone numbers we see on the signs but get no answer. Then as we are about to run out of road we see two that seem to be alive. I go to check out one and Pat checks out the other. Both offer a heated ger with hot showers, evening meal and breakfast and after some more frustrating indecision we decide to go with the cheaper one which works out at about €25 each.

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    This “checking out” and decision making takes almost an hour! We finally get taking off the bike gear and a late evening meal is cooked for us. We are the only diners and indeed are the only people staying here. We had been warned previously by several people that the food in Mongolia wasn’t good and that we would definitely have “issues” but I can honestly say that none of the three of us had any such issues at all. One of the guys onsite gets a boiler going so that we would have hot water for showers after we’d eaten but by that stage all we wanted to do was sleep. They had also got the stove going in the ger while we were eating so we returned to a very cosy space and settled down for a good night’s sleep.
    #14
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  15. Glenboy

    Glenboy Adventurer

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    Day 7

    We are awake early and I head for the shower block. Feeling clean and refreshed it’s time for breakfast and we are served a really good combination of scrambled egg, some kind of sausage meat and fried vegetables. Lots of green tea and fresh bread and we’re good to go. The plan for today is to retrace our steps back to Moron and spend the night there so we’re not in a huge rush to get going. The lake looks rather uninviting in the dull morning light -

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    The 20km offroad track back to Hatgal seems a lot easier than it did last evening now that we are rested and have the benefit of full daylight. We pass an interesting prayer installation as we go through the woods above Hatgal -

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    We look for a shop in Hatgal to get our usual purchase of water, biscuits, bread, cheese, etc for the day and find a very decent supermarket. I’m amazed to see a counter displaying lots of parts for the ubiquitous Shineray. You can buy wheels, tyres, spokes, clutch and brake levers, chains and sprockets, starter motors, even pistons and ring-sets – you name it, they seem to have it!

    The 100km back to Moron is tarmac and largely uneventful. At one stage we pass the carcass of a dead cow at the edge of the road and there are a few large birds of prey busy having lunch. They rise up just as we pass and it’s an impressive sight.

    We arrive back into Moron in mid-afternoon and I am anxious to get a bolt to replace the one that dropped out from the side-stand bracket. I spot a shop that has an auto bits-and-bobs look to it but unfortunately it seems to be a repair shop for washing machines and other electrical goods. Nonetheless the guy is anxious to assist so he comes out to have a look at what’s needed. He sees what’s missing and straight away he locks up the shop, hops into his car and invites me to follow him. We go to his friend’s house nearby where we find a yard filled with various types of machinery in various stages of decay. His pal is removing parts from an old UAZ and when the problem is explained he produces a biscuit tin filled with various bolts one of which is perfect and he offers me the use of his socket set to fit it. Excellent!

    While I’ve been doing this the lads have been looking for a hotel. There’s a few listed in the Lonely Planet but we’re not so trusting of its reviews after our experience on our previous visit. They text me to meet them at a place called the 50/100 Hotel. When I arrive I can see why they have homed in on it – the car park has several high-end Toyota Landcruisers, a couple of Lexus jeeps and a Range Rover, the international signal that we’re at the top hotel in town. They have a lock-up garage for the bikes which is great and the rooms are spot on.

    After showering and changing we go for an early evening ramble and see a restaurant which looks inviting. The menu is in Mongolian and there’s no pictures as usual but I like the look of “шарсан хонины мах, хүнсний ногоо” – I gaze into the near distance and imagine that it is a 10oz fillet steak served on a bed of creamed mash potato, accompanied by fried onions and mushrooms, garlic potatoes gratin, cauliflower in a rich creamy sauce and buttered carrots. It isn’t – it’s fried mutton and vegetables. Ah well, it tastes good and is washed down with the invariably good local beer.

    The restaurant is on the first floor and the window beside our table is open. There’s a strong smell from some substance being applied to a flat roof outside and Pat is feeling queasy so he decides to head back to the hotel. Frank and I have another couple of beers and then head back too. We find that there’s a good buzz in the hotel bar and decide to have a nightcap. At the next table there’s a group of youngsters who are in Mongolia with the American Peace Corps program. They realise that we’re speaking English and invite themselves to join us. We listen to their plans to solve all the problems of the world but quickly get browned off and we decide to hit the hay. We’re really looking forward to tomorrow because we’ll be heading south and going off-road again.
    #15
    lvscrvs, alpine357 and Aces 6 like this.
  16. Glenboy

    Glenboy Adventurer

    Joined:
    May 15, 2009
    Oddometer:
    43
    Location:
    Wicklow, Ireland
    Day 8

    Well rested after a good night’s sleep we have a very good breakfast which is self-serve, perfect for hungry bikers. Frank needs an additional memory card for his camera so after packing up the bikes we head around to a big supermarket we had spotted the evening before. It’s quite a big store and seems to have everything and we are intrigued that they even have motorbikes for sale. Just one model, it’s a Chinese 150cc bike quite similar to our Shinerays but with a slightly more road bias. We do a quick conversion of the listed price and it’s about 630 euros! – for a brand new bike! I thought I had taken a photo of one of them but just can’t seem to find it.

    Next thing on the list is petrol and we go to one of the several petrol stations in town. One of the local guys comes over to shake hands and wish us well, something that we’re becoming accustomed to

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    After fuelling up we look for the road south to Erdenet. This is a town in the Shine-Ider sum (district) and the plan is to go there via Jargalant which will bring us in a broadly south/southwest direction. Most of the towns and villages don’t have any tarmac but Moron being a regional capital does, however as we come to the edge of town the tarmac runs out

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    We head into the hills and follow a valley that seems to be going in the right direction. After a while however we get a sense that we’ve gone wrong. When you have a compass, a couple of maps, GPS, phones, the sun and three guys’ intuition all competing to indicate the right way it can get a bit confusing

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    We turn around and retrace our steps for about 12 or 14 km and pick another valley. The further we go in this one the clearer it becomes that we are on the right road. The landscape changes a lot today depending on whether we are in valleys, on ridges or on high plateau. Sometimes there’s very good signage to tell us we’re on the right route

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    Other times it’s not great

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    We meet an occasional car or jeep but generally have the road all to ourselves. It’s much warmer now that we have come further south and as we tootle along you couldn’t help thinking we’re in Paradise

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    We do encounter a few gnarly bits particularly one mountain which had quite a steep descent with very loose gravel and stones. We’re fully concentrated on keeping the bikes upright so no shots of this section unfortunately.

    As late afternoon becomes early evening we arrive in Erdenet/Shine-Ider and start looking for accommodation. One place looks promising and we ask to see the rooms. There’s a heavy smell of deep-fat frying throughout the building and the room is just about OK but when we ask to see the toilet and shower the landlady brings us out to the back yard and indicates a shed-like structure about three houses up the street. Eh, no thanks.

    Back out front we meet a young lady who happens to be the teacher of English in the town’s school. She’s delighted to practice her passable language skills and she gives us some good pointers. On her recommendation we enquire in a nearby shop and this old guy reaches into the depths of his deel, the traditional wrap-around clothing that the locals wear and produces a mobile phone. He rings his nephew who arrives a few minutes later on his bike and asks us to follow him to his house. We are offered the upstairs which is one big room above the family’s accommodation. It’s bright, clean and has four single beds and a sofa. He even brings up a mobile wifi device so that we’ll be connected.

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    We’re hungry by now and as the only restaurant in town is the one we didn’t like the smell of, I get out the stove and start cooking on the balcony. It’s just some of the ready-meal food we have with us

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    but it tastes great even if I say so myself and is washed down with green tea. Tired and full, we sleep like logs. Life is good.
    #16
    lvscrvs, flei, alpine357 and 3 others like this.
  17. James59

    James59 Adventurer

    Joined:
    Dec 10, 2017
    Oddometer:
    55
    Location:
    Beijing China
    Thats a great trip. And a good way of doing it. It would take me too long to travel to Scotland to Mongolia, so that sounds like a good alternative. Well done, looks great.
    #17
    Glenboy likes this.
  18. Glenboy

    Glenboy Adventurer

    Joined:
    May 15, 2009
    Oddometer:
    43
    Location:
    Wicklow, Ireland
    Yes indeed James, if you're ok with trying the fly-ride option it certainly opens up a lot of possibilities which would otherwise be impossible from a time-constraint point of view. As I think I said before, there's nothing like going to places on your own bike but unfortunately life doesn't facilitate long breaks for lots of people, for one reason or another.
    #18
    James59 likes this.
  19. Glenboy

    Glenboy Adventurer

    Joined:
    May 15, 2009
    Oddometer:
    43
    Location:
    Wicklow, Ireland
    Day 9

    Our slumber is interrupted at about 5am by the sound of a horn being blown incessantly - it’s a farmer rounding up some sheep and goats using a motorbike. We doze on for a bit and get up about 6.30, boil some water for the usual green tea and cook some porridge. We pack up the bikes, go get fuel and hit the road, continuing in a broadly southerly direction. Today’s objective is to get as far as the White Lake.

    Again the road is a mix of stony stretches through arid landscapes and mud tracks (thankfully dry) through grassy areas with an odd sandy stretch thrown in to keep us on our toes. Today however, we get a new variant – marshy land, and it’s a real pain. At one stage my bike gets firmly stuck. The lads come over and try to push and pull me out – no joy. Then Frank gets the bright idea that with he being much lighter than me it might be a good idea for him to ride the bike and for Pat and I to push. This seems to make sense and we swap places. Lo and behold, it works but not before I’m covered head to toe in a thick layer of foul smelling muck – nice one Frank! Pat dexterously side-steps and manages to avoid it.

    As on the other days we seem to follow a pattern of crossing through some mountains and then descending to a plain where we can see more mountains in the distance which we reach in an hour or two and the process repeats itself.

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    At the highest points there's usually one of the stone mounds with ribbons and cloths fluttering in the breeze.

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    We find that there is often a good phone signal at these mountain passes so we usually take a little break here. We don't delay however as it's invariably quite chilly.

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    We see several signs on these passes indicating that we are moving from one administrative district to another

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    As we reach the crest of one of these mountains we see a group of tourists who are being brought around in two 4WD UAZ vehicles. They are a mix of nationalities from all over the world and I discover that one of them is an Irish lady who has lived in Australia for many years. She is amazed to meet a fellow countryman in the middle of nowhere in Mongolia and then when the two lads rock up it really bowls her over.

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    We have seen quite a few of these UAZs and are very impressed with their off-road ability. Nonetheless, I don’t think I’d like to spend a number of days bouncing around in one in the company of a bunch of randomers.

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    Today must be the day for meeting people because a little while later we come across a group of Latvian bikers having a break at a nice shady spot by a river. We pull over and shoot the breeze for a while. They are having a great trip having come across through Russia, looping south into Mongolia and heading home then through the Stans.

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    We press on and eventually we catch sight of the White Lake as we cross over a little crest. Called Terkhin Tsagaan Nuur in Mongolian, it’s very picturesque and peaceful looking.

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    The descent from here is steep and as I go over some loose stones my front wheel gives way and I have my first fall of the trip. It’s at very low speed luckily and I literally step off the bike as it goes down. I bow to the appreciative audience and manage to get the bike upright again before they have a chance to get the cameras out. Another plus for the small and light bikes.

    It was really nice to splash some refreshing water on our faces at the lakeshore

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    Did I mention that it was the day for meeting people – well, we had only gone about another 5km along the shore of the lake when we spot two Africa Twins and their owners and our pal Eduardo at a nice little grassy area. The lads turn out to be two young French guys who have ridden their bikes from their home village in the Alpes-Maritime region via Russia to Mongolia. They have caught some fish in the lake and are about to set up camp for the night.

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    The Latvian guys we met earlier had given us a recommendation for a ger camp further along the lakeshore and now that we have grown fond of the comforts of a nice cosy ger we decide to head for there. Before we do however we make an arrangement to meet the guys in the morning to go and climb a nearby extinct volcano.

    This is our most expensive stay so far, working out at about €30 each for bed, breakfast and an evening meal.

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    Heat is generally included with these ger stays, someone comes to light the stove after we check in and again the following morning before we get up.

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    After a welcome hot shower we head for the restaurant where we are served a really good meal. There’s a good buzz and we see that the group travelling by UAZ are staying here too. We’re much later than everyone else and we’ve no sooner started eating than people start heading back to their gers. Ah well, we order some beers and talk more crap.
    #19
  20. James59

    James59 Adventurer

    Joined:
    Dec 10, 2017
    Oddometer:
    55
    Location:
    Beijing China
    Yes, you are right. In the real world we have responsibilities, commitments and so on, taking a couple of months off isn't an option for me. Thanks again.
    #20
    Glenboy likes this.