Separate names with a comma.
Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Glenboy, May 6, 2020.
After a good breakfast we pack up and meet Eduardo and the French guys and make our way to Khorgo mountain about 10km away. It is a dormant volcano which last erupted about 8000 years ago. When we arrive at the base we park up and change out of the motorcycle boots. Our little Shinerays look tiny beside the French guys Trans Alps. Note Eduardo’s fancy, matching luggage system ;-)
The climb is relatively easy and we enjoy some good views when we reach the top. The black lava rocks and stones are very different from those we have seen elsewhere.
The French lads and Eduardo want to get back to Ulaan Bataar a little earlier than we do so we head away in our separate directions. Our plan is to head towards the Tsenkher Hot Springs via Tsetserleg. Several people had recommended us to visit them, some others had said they were a disappointment but as they aren’t all that far off our track we’ll go and have a look .
After we have gone about 40 mins or so we come to a bridge across a river and there’s a manned barrier on the other side. It turns out that we have been in the Khangai Region Protected Area (news to us) and have to pay to get out! We’re given fancy receipts which are stamped and have a hologram yet the fee charged is only 3000 MNT (approx €1).
We continue in a southeasterly direction and again see the terrain changing depending on elevation and proximity to water. At one point we pass very close by an extensive open mining operation. Having spent the last number of days passing through different areas which are largely untouched after hundreds if not thousands of years it’s a shock to see such a blight on the landscape.
Other parts are much nicer. It's amazing to see really beautiful plants and flowers growing in the wild
It’s early afternoon when we reach Tseterleg. It’s quite a big town and seems to us to be a bustling metropolis. We seek out a café and guesthouse called Fairfield which is listed in the iOverlander app. Run by an Australian couple and geared towards the international traveller community it’s an excellent stopping point. We have really good burgers with chips and salad and finish with superb coffee. Incidentally, they also hire motorcycles – same or very similar to ours.
Almost reluctantly we leave Fairfield and continue our journey towards Tsenkher which is about 27km south of Tsetserleg and we are looking forward to trying these hot springs. We get there about 7.30pm and see that there are three or four ger camps in the valley. We like the look of the Khangai Resort and Frank does a deal with the manager for a ger, evening meal, breakfast and access to the hot pools. We check-in, change and head straight for the water. Apparently there are lots of hot springs in the area but the hot water coming out of the ground is too hot to bathe in so they pipe it down the valley and it cools along the way until it’s at a perfect temperature when it gets to the camps. There are four or five outdoor pools and it’s great to soak away all the strains of the day
Feeling relaxed and mellow we shower and haul ourselves upstairs for another mutton meal and some good local beer.
Good stuff, thanks for sharing
Frank has been going on about a waterfall in the Orkhon valley which apparently is amazing. He insists that it is really worth going to see and as this is coming from someone who has visited Victoria Falls and several others of note we agree. We pick it out using the MapsMe app and it gives us a suggested direction to go in. The first few hours are very pleasant as we pass through varied terrain with a good mix of levels of difficulty.
However, soon after midday we begin to encounter more and more river crossings. While the water levels are relatively low, nonetheless we are cautious and approach some by stopping and having a good look before crossing. On several occasions we walk across first to get a sense of how slippy the stones are underneath. This of course takes time and as the number of crossings increases our ETA at the waterfall pushes further out. This little vid gives an idea
We guess afterwards that we had about 25 of these crossings today and some of the later ones were deep enough as we moved down the valley. Our boots are full of river water and we are quite wet from the splashing. As well as slowing us down we are becoming increasingly tired and in hindsight we should have stopped and camped, however we press on into the dusk knowing that there are ger camps close to the waterfall and the prospect of a cosy ger with the chance to dry out our stuff is very appealing.
Just as we approach the closest camp we have our final crossing and Frank executes a spectacular fall. As the bike goes down he does a full somersault into the water. I compliment him of course but he refuses to recreate it for the camera. There isn’t any restaurant in this ger camp so our evening meal is cooked on the stove which is also very usefully drying out the gear.
Hot showers and a change of clothes work wonders and we go to sleep looking forward to visiting the nearby waterfall in the morning.
Well, today is the day we’ve been looking forward to – we’re finally going to see this amazing waterfall that Frank has been going on and on about. After a good breakfast we pack up
and head over to it – it’s just about 4km away.
When we get there I am a little perplexed. “Are you sure this is it, Frank?” We're somewhat underwhelmed. Mongolia has had a milder winter than usual with much less snow and consequently the water levels in the rivers are lower. This has been to our advantage in making the river crossings manageable but it seriously diminishes the impact of the waterfall.
As this is a touristy area there is 4G coverage and I send a pic home. My wife’s comment is apt – “should’ve gone to Specsavers”.
Ah well, it mightn’t compare with Victoria Falls but we’re glad we came to have a look.
My bike is the older of the three and there are some differences, one being a smaller tank. We’re gone about a half an hour further when I get the signals that I’m about to run out of fuel. Not to worry, I’ll just switch it onto reserve. I do this and a minute later come to a stop. The reserve isn’t working and I’ve run out. Luckily I have some petrol in the cannister for my stove and put this in the tank. Pat also gives me the contents of his cannister and we continue towards the next village with fingers and toes crossed.
I'm riding along very gingerly, trying to minimise my fuel consumption when the dustcloud of a local guy on a bike coming in our direction. As we draw near I can see that he has a container of petrol strapped on the back. I wave vigorously and he stops. Naturally, he hasn't a word of English but by now we have developed a high degree of fluency in sign language at this stage I explain that I need petrol and ask if he would sell me his spare supply. He’s happy with this and indicates the price using the method we have become familiar with – two flashes of ten fingers indicating a price of 20,000 Tugriks (MNT), a shade under €7. I’m happy with this and top my bike up with half of it. Frank says he’s ok so I put the other half into Pat’s tank. It's these kind of simple interactions that make the trip special.
We continue on our way but haven’t gone far when Frank discovers that he has got a puncture in his rear tyre. The tools are out in a flash and Frank has the wheel off and the tube out of the tyre in no time. The tiny hole is found and prepared for the adhesive only to discover that the adhesive is hard.
Not to worry, we had bought a new tube following the previous puncture as a replacement for the one we got from Cheke. Turns out the tube itself was the right size but the valve stem was way too big to go through the hole in the rim. We toyed with the idea of trimming the valve stem to fit but decided not to in case this might compromise the valve. As far as we can see there are only two possible solutions – get a new puncture repair kit or at least some good adhesive or get the hole in the rim drilled out to suit the valve stem.
So we put the wheel onto the back of my bike and as we had passed a little shop about a half an hour ago, I set off in the direction we have just come from
Unfortunately the shop hasn’t any puncture kits but the lady calls her husband who is working on a trailer out back and I do my best to explain the problem. He gets it straight away and goes off to get his drill.
He unplugs the washing machine (power is from their own generator) and then he drills out the hole in the rim. The valve stem is now fitting perfectly. Fantastic!
His wife had told him that I was looking for a puncture kit so he calls a friend who arrives and offers me a good kit for 5k MNT. Yes, please! I give the husband a few bob too and he’s delighted.
The guys are busy when I return ;-)
Everything is reassembled and we are on our way again. They say things happen in threes and sure enough we’ve only gone another little bit when Pat has a fall and snaps off the clutch lever. He exchanges the brake lever for the stump of the clutch lever and reckons he’ll make it to the next town with just a back brake.
He’ll be OK, the brakes aren’t much use anyway!
Another half hour or so sees us to the next town and Pat finds a place that has bike parts. He has the new lever fitted as a brake lever in no time.
Lucky we’re not on KTMs or BMWs - however it would have been good to have had something stronger for some of those river crossings!
Our objective today is to reach Kharkorin, a large town and capital of the Ovorkhangai province. The modern town lies beside the ruins of the ancient capital of the Mongol Empire, Karakorum. The petrol, puncture and clutch lever have delayed us but we would still like to make Kharakorin today so we continue in a broadly easterly/northeasterly direction.
Again, the going is quite varied and our progress is erratic. We find ourselves going in the wrong direction a couple of times and retrace our steps.
Kharkorin lies in the eastern foothills of the Khangai mountains and part of the Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape as designated by UNESCO. These mountains are very scenic and we pass through a section where the surface is grassy with huge rocks appearing to have been placed randomly. Light is beginning to fade as the evening is closing in but we reckon that we are only about an hour away from Kharkorin and decide to press on. We realise that it’s not wise to drive offroad in failing light but Kharkorin is pulling us onward.
Sometime later we crest a ridge and see the brightly lit town laid out below us. By now it is quite dark and we make our way carefully down the track and eventually arrive at tarmac on the edge of the town. We pull up beside a shop which is still open and check to see if we have 4G. We have, so I look up Booking.com and see accommodation offered in a ger which is not too far away.
I phone the owner and am discussing the deal when we notice that a lady driving a car has pulled in beside us, has hopped out and is waiting to talk to us. It turns out that she has accommodation also. I would normally be sceptical of this kind of approach but she has very good English and mentions that she has had bikers stay with her before. She shows us the brochure for her accommodation and she even knows about Cheke in Ulan Bataar. She offers to show us the way to her place which is about 10 mins away. This sounds great so I phone back the Booking.com lady and cancel.
Very soon after we are unpacking the bikes in a lovely place that has about 10 gers, a garage for the bikes, hot showers, a meal being prepared and a fire on in the ger. What could be finer?
She has a large, well appointed ger for dining in and after changing we head for a tasty meal and some good beers. There are two Russian couples and two young French guys there too. They have guitars and we join in a great sing song which features lots of Beatles songs and even some U2.
It's been a long and tiring day and we very gladly fall into our cosy beds and are asleep within minutes.
Pat has been talking to Eduardo via Whatsapp and he is now also in Kharkorin. He too wants to visit the famous Erdene Zuu monastery nearby so we give him our co-ords and he joins us. It’s very warm today and we know that we’ll be walking around the monastery for a while so we yield to temptation and leave our gear at the accommodation and ride up to the monastery in t-shirts and walking shoes.
Yes, yes I know – it’s a no no, but man, it felt great!
Originally constructed in the late 16th century, it’s had a chequered history but after the fall of communism in Mongolia in 1990 it has returned to being an active Buddhist monastery which is also open to the public.
It’s a huge walled compound with quite a few buildings inside. Although there are many tourists like ourselves there is a definite sense of calm and serenity.
Buddha is represented many times and in many forms, sometimes with a very gentle appearance and sometimes looking quite fierce.
We are surprised when we enter one building to see that monks are praying and studying and there is an older monk giving instruction to some very young looking monks. At one stage when he turns his back I see one of the young fellas taking out a phone from under his robes for a quick peek.
At all of the temples and prayer rooms we notice that the local people leave by joining their hands reverently and stepping out backways. We, of course, do the same.
There is a ger set up as a café inside the entrance and we enjoy a few really nice coffees before heading back out to the bustle of the street where there are the usual souvenir shops and a guy with an eagle tethered to a perch. For a small payment you can have your photo taken with the eagle on your arm while wearing a protective gauntlet. We each take our turn and I’m surprised at how heavy he is. At the time it seemed like an opportunity to be availed of but I can’t help thinking afterwards that these majestic birds shouldn’t be tethered to a perch just to give tourists a photo-op.
We go back to the accommodation and get geared up for the trip back to Ulan Bataar. It’s 365km on tarmac so it will take all day. The visit to the monastery has set us back a bit but the bikes have to be left back tomorrow.
We have learned from the French guys that there is a bike rally taking place this weekend at the Genghis Khan statue which is about 50/60 km from UB and we’d really like to get to it. This means that we need to make it to UB by this evening.
There’s a desert-like area to the northwest of Kharkorin that’s called the Mini Gobi and we pull over for a look. The lads tell me that I can regard the Gobi box as ticked but I assure them it isn’t.
Some time later we come to a very impressive canyon which is close to the road. It’s not quite the Grand Canyon but nonetheless we are glad to take a break and admire the scenery.
We keep moving and progress is steady. All is well until my bike starts behaving strangely. The engine is surging and power is erratic. If I ease off on the throttle I can coax it along at about 30kph but eventually it comes to a stop as if it has run out of petrol. I know this can’t be the case as we fueled up only about an hour ago.
After a wait of about 10 mins it restarts and then it behaves normally for another 20 mins or so before the surging and spluttering starts again. This pattern continues for quite a while and despite lots of examination and scratching of heads we can’t figure out what’s wrong.
Eventually Frank wonders if it might be the fuel filter that’s blocked so he disconnects it and discovers that there are lots of particles in it that must have become dislodged when I ran out of fuel. Each time I stopped a sufficient amount of petrol was seeping through to the carburetor to allow the bike to go for about 20 mins. He blows out the filter and the problem is solved. Bravo, Frank!
Each of these stops gives us the opportunity to nibble at some biscuits and crisps
All of this only serves to further delay us and as light is beginning to fade we are still about 70km from UB. We discuss stopping and setting up camp for the night and while this is the obviously prudent thing to do we do what is universally recognised as a no-no and keep driving on a busy road in the dark.
Eduardo has no rear light but does have a good front one so he takes the lead, my headlamp is mediocre but I have a good tail-light so I take up the rear and Frank and Pat whose lights are poor go in the middle. I am much more anxious riding in the dark on tarmac than I was when we were off-road in the dark last evening as I know that we could encounter some serious pot holes and also have to contend with vehicles overtaking us without leaving much room as well as oncoming traffic with all kinds of maladjusted lighting.
We had agreed that we would go with the first available accommodation we come across and expect to get something as we approach the outskirts of UB but the few hotels we come across either aren’t open or don’t have availability.
The road is becoming busier as we draw closer to UB and eventually we find ourselves on a six lane (3 in each direction) dual carriageway which becomes Peace Avenue, the main thoroughfare running through UB. Traffic is incredibly heavy with cars weaving from lane to lane without any form of signal and doing all kinds of unpredictable manoeuvres.
We come to an area where there are a number of hotels and begin making enquiries. Eduardo finds one that has a lock-up yard for the bikes and as it’s well after 11.30pm we gladly check-in. We get a quick bite to eat in a fast food place nearby, follow up with some beers in a local bar and head back.
It’s been a long and grueling day, but ... we've made it back to UB
Well, it had to come - today is our last day with the bikes, we have to return them by this evening as our flight to Beijing leaves at 6am tomorrow morning. We have booked into the Khovsgol Lake Hotel again (this was the place we stayed on our first night two weeks ago) as it’s in the city centre and it should be easier to get a taxi to the airport from there at 4am. Last night’s hotel, The New West (it was excellent) is about 4.5km along Peace Avenue from the city centre
We decide to go to the Khovsgol Hotel where we'll be staying tonight first to see if we can leave our luggage there. Traffic is a little lighter as it is Sunday morning but we are kept on our toes nonetheless. Peace Avenue is pretty much a straight line through UB so we have no difficulty finding the Khovsgol again. There’s no problem leaving our bags there, it’s good to get rid of them.
The main thing on the agenda for today is to go to the giant statue of Genghis Khan which is about 60km outside the city to the East. The bike rally we were told about is finishing up there today so hopefully we’ll catch some of it. It’s the 5th Annual Steppewind Rally and it brings all the Harley and other cruiser style bikes of the region together. We’re not sure how a few Chinese 150cc bikes might fit in but we’ll go to see the statue anyway.
We are only gone about 10 mins from the hotel when traffic becomes gridlocked. A couple of cops are trying to do point duty at a big junction but it makes no difference. We weave and filter our way to the top of the queue and one of the cops gives us the nod to continue. Emboldened, we switch into full hooligan mode and whizz through the sometimes stopped, sometimes moving traffic. Having spent the last two weeks with virtually nothing around, I get a great buzz from it.
We had been told that the road out to GK’s statue was tarmac but after about 8km we come to extensive roadworks and it’s a gravel road from there until about the last 15km or so. The road is very busy in both directions, lots of ruts, corrugations and pot-holes and there is a huge volume of dust being generated. After a while we begin to meet bikers coming in the opposite direction. They are all riding Harleys and are decked out in the typical gear, half helmets, bandanas, leather waistcoats, etc. What is really surprising, apart of course from actually seeing Harley Davidsons riding off-road in Mongolia, is that they all give us an enthusiastic wave as they pass. Apparently Mongolia's Prime Minister is himself a Harley Davidson enthusiast.
After a while we come over a hill and see the huge, shiny statue dominating the landscape. Built in 2008 it is currently the largest equestrian statue in the world. The three French guys are here and are hoping to find buyers for their Trans Alps. They plan on flying to the USA to continue their travels but would like to source some bikes there rather than ship these ones.
Although the rally is winding down we are made feel very welcome.
The band is still on stage and barbecue food and beer is available. I get a very definite sense that this is not your typical bike rally. These bikers are generally well-to-do gents who have lots of spare income to spend on expensive imported toys. It’s the first bike rally I’ve experienced where you can buy a set of cuff links, etc with the rally logo on them. I kid you not ...
There is a good buzz around the place with bikers from southern Russia here too (some on GSs) but the clock is ticking and we need to get back to UB so we say our goodbyes and with Eduardo we hit the road. The traffic is still quite heavy and the dust is getting everywhere. It takes a while to get around UB and make our way out to Cheke’s past the airport. We have phoned ahead and she welcomes us back with some ice cold cans of beer. We feel a bit like the characters from the old movie “Ice Cold in Alex” a clip from which was more recently used in a Carlsberg ad.
She’s happy that the bikes are still running and there’s no red tape. We hand her back the registration documents and she gives us our passports. We could have left a money deposit at the beginning but decided to leave the passports when we saw that she had a safe to store them in and also lived onsite.
She has a guy who does taxi work for her and he comes to bring us back to the hotel in the city centre. We also make an arrangement with him to pick us up in the morning at 4am.
After checking in we wash the dust of the day off in the shower and head out for a bite. As it’s our last evening in Mongolia we push the boat out with some good steaks and some more cold beers. A quick walk back across the main square to the hotel, sort out the bags for the morning and hit the hay.
We’re really happy to have finished the trip without any major issues, accidents, medical problems, etc.
The only question is … Where next?
Loved your story.
Thanks a mil pk, much appreciated.
Great trip, thanks for that. I spoke to some Chinese guys on Big BMW's and Ducatis in Nei Mongol in China and I also got the feeling they had a lot of money same as their Mongol brothers. Good, friendly guys.
Thanks James, yes there's a huge diversity of bikers out there but essentially we're all just people who love to get out on our bikes
Great report and trip. Thanks for taking the time to share.
Very welcome Pete, glad you enjoyed it.
Final thoughts ...
Well, it was a great trip and it certainly confirmed my belief that the fly-drive approach is a very viable way to experience biking in a far flung destination. As I said at the start, I fully get the appeal of going places on your own bike and I have enjoyed some great trips around Europe on mine but sometimes life can put obstacles in the way of taking a prolonged break for a big trip.
From a value for money point of view it was excellent. The flights came in at €711 return each. Hire of the bikes was €13 per day and fuel was in the range of €0.60 – €0.70 per litre and with the bikes being quite frugal our fuel spend was very low. Wild camping is free but we only did this twice at the beginning because when we discovered how good the option of staying in privately owned gers or ger camps was, we were hooked. Our most expensive overnight was about €28 each which included a bed in a heated ger, breakfast, evening meal and hot showers, our cheapest one was about €7 which was quite basic but did include a heated ger and breakfast. We always opted for the local beers which were universally excellent and ranged in price from about €2.50 in a snazzy place in UB to about €0.75 in a rural spot. Each day we bought water and food to have on the way. This tended to be bread rolls and cheese, biscuits, crisps, etc. ATMs were generally available in the towns and the only issue with the local currency (Tugrik) was the amounts we ended up carrying as a result of the exchange rate (about 3,000 MNT to €1). I reckon the total cost of the trip, including flights, visas, bike hire, fuel, food and drink, accommodation, money spent in Beijing both going and coming back, etc. was in the region of €1,800/€1,900.
I must admit that I had expected long days without much variety and it certainly wasn’t like this. I was amazed at how varied the countryside was and it was never boring. There was a terrific mix of off-road terrain, sometimes quite challenging and other times quite easy. Our overall distance travelled was in the region of 2,100 – 2,200 km. Being able to ride for hours on end without meeting a fence, gate or other barrier was amazing. The people we met were warm and friendly with none of the pushiness you can sometimes get. We saw very few police and any we did, didn’t bother us at all.
We only had the local third party insurance with the bikes (not too sure how good it might be) and no medical insurance. I had bought one of the Garmin Inreach trackers before the trip and had signed up separately for the Medivac service at a cost of US$ 200. This guarantees that if you need medical assistance, you press the SOS button, your GPS co-ords will be transmitted to a base in the USA, a search and rescue operation will be undertaken and you will be brought to a hospital in country to be stabilised and then when you’re able to travel will be medivacced to a hospital of your choice anywhere in the world. Medical treatment costs are not covered. The two lads thought I was bonkers but it did give some peace of mind both to myself and to those at home.
What about the bikes? Well, at the start of the trip we thought they were pretty crappy to be honest. But as the days passed and we crossed varying types of terrain we came to realise that they are actually very capable little machines. Over the first couple of days I kept waiting for bits to fall off or for the thing to collapse under me but my confidence in it grew and I realised that I could ride into, over and through almost anything to the point where I relaxed and let the bike do what it wanted to do. “Hmmm" I think to myself, "that track through this sandy bit looks like the best one to take" – "Eh, no" says the bike, "we’re actually going to take this one” – and the bike was always right! The only major issue I had with it was that being a small bike the handlebars were very low. This meant that any time I stood up on the pegs I couldn’t see out ahead of me as my line of sight was blocked by my helmet. I could stand up for an instant to navigate a deep rut or hole but couldn’t remain standing which meant that I absorbed a lot of the bumps and jolts. The lack of power when we were on tarmac was an issue but when offroad they were absolutely fine with the exception of the river crossings when it would have been great to have a little more oomph!
I have mentioned this already I think but the food we had was actually ok - not fantastic for sure but nowhere nearly as bad as people had led us to believe. Of course if you can't eat mutton you might have a problem. The only thing we couldn't take was coffee that we ordered in a roadside cafe and which came with fermented yak's milk already in it - it was absolutely foul. We stuck to the green tea after that with one or two exceptions where we were sure of what we were getting.
The trip was meant to do nothing more than give us a taste of motorbiking in Mongolia and it certainly delivered on that and I’d heartily recommend it.