I left my Beijing hotel at 07.00 and was at the gate by 08.15 ready to board my flight from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar on Mongolian Airlines (MIAT) Flight OM 224. The plane arrived about 5 minutes later so all was looking good for an on-time take-off. And so it was.
Actually the flight left nearly 10 minutes early. Everybody must’ve been in a hurry to get to Mongolia! Then there was a 30 minute taxi and wait before we actually took off.
Green farms on the outskirts of Beijing.
How quickly the scenery can change! Mongolia is a dry and brown country at this time of the year; there’s not much rain in those small fluffy clouds.
As the plane approached Ulaanbaatar, I spotted some ‘green house tunnels’ on the out-skirts of the city. These turned out to be protecting an important crop for this dry climate city -locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables.
Even though it can be -30°C (-22°F) during the winter, ‘tropical’ fruits are being grown year-round here. According to a Ulaanbaatar paper, ‘The Mongol Messenger’ of Friday, 24 July, 2015, “Over 30 greenhouses of the Nogoon Sor company create a favourable climate for growing fruit and vegetables year-round. Crops are grown organically and watered by drip irrigation, the water coming from two artesian bores. Sheep manure is the main manure used and there is a beehive in each greenhouse. The greenhouses are kept at +30°C (86°F) during the winter even though the temperature outside can be as low as -30°C (-22°F). Between 20 and 40 people are employed, the number depending on the season.”
Last year the company produced 62.6 tons of strawberries, 1.6 tons of grapes, 36.5 tons of cucumbers, 27 tons of tomatoes, 1.2 tons of watermelon and 11.5 tons of nine different types of vegetables. The company earned a profit of Tugrit 280 million. (280mT =191,000AUD or 141,500 USD). Impressive!
We arrived at Chinggis Khaan Airport in Ulaanbaatar (UB) on time…. there was an hours difference in time. Not sure whether that put me nearer OZ time or further away. Did it matter? The pre-landing info told me to expect a temperature of 9ºC when I hit the fresh air… a bit different from the mid-twenties I’d experienced over the previous two+ weeks. In the Arrivals Hall, my name was prominently displayed on a lolly-pop sign… my driver was there to take me to my hotel; the system of pre-arranging a transfer worked.
My room at the Tuushin Hotel, a Best Western Premier 5-Star joint lived up to that rating. The usual ploy of travel companies is to start and finish a tour on a high note… and yes, we were to return here at the end of our adventure. I doubted whether any accommodation for the rest of the trip would match this place! And neither it should. This was a trek!
I was told when I checked in that Tim had checked in only minutes earlier. I was given his room number so rang it in the hope that I would catch him before he hit the shower. I did. Although he wanted a shower, he didn’t have clean clothes … his bag hadn’t arrived with him! ‘Maybe tomorrow’ was his comment. He knows Mongolia better than most! Tim told me that there were to be 16 in our group and six had arrived on his flight. I guessed the rest would straggle in sometime … our first get-together wasn’t until 14.00 next day.
The view of UB from my hotel room on arrival.
I’d tried to get onto the net all afternoon without success. What was wrong? Just silly, silly me! The TP_LINK modem power point hadn’t been turned on! Boy, it was fast when it was working! And, unlike in China, no problem with using Google in Mongolia!
The view from my room a few yours later – storm clouds brewing.
After watching the Pope apparently bless me and the trek, I emptied everything out of my distinctive old, red World Expeditions duffle bag. I’d used it when I travelled in Bhutan with WE in 2004. I needed to get some idea of just what I could take with me on the trek. I’d needed some ‘glad rags’ in Beijing to satisfy the dress code for the UoN reception in Beijing at the end of the Great Wall Walk. These at least I would be able to leave behind in UB until my return at the end of the trek. (Oh… and just for the record… I won’t be repeating that Great Wall Walk again… not until at least during the ‘after-life’ … and even then I’d think twice.)
Four o’clock rolled around and I thought I must have been in Singapore as rain thundered down. Hail and all. Dark clouds had been building on the surrounding hills all afternoon and, sure enough, they couldn’t hold their moisture-laden contents any longer. Short and brief … the storm cleared as quickly as it came.
I knew that I’d need to change some of my USD into Mongolian Tugrik, (Togrog colloquially). So I asked the Concierge for directions to the nearest bank. He not only pointed me in the right direction but decided that, the best way to achieve a 100% success rate, was to take me there. Admittedly it was only a block and a half away. But as it was still raining lightly, that offer was even more impressive. I also asked him where the nearest supermarket was and that was pointed out also … it was just a slight detour on my way back to the hotel from the bank. The bank process was painless, except the exchange rate, and who has any control over that? I stopped off at the supermarket and found a carton of 3.2% fat full-cream milk – much better than the “CoffeeMate” in my room. Cost me T2,420 for a litre (a little under AUD2). I’d have to get used to the big numbers. Not quite like the ‘shoe-box’ territory one enters when visiting places like Laos and Vietnam where USD100 can render you a millionaire for a day. ‘Real’ Monopoly money becomes a distinct possibility in those places.
Waiting for the lift, milk in hand, who should walk out of the lift but Tim. He was heading off to do some preliminary organising for the trek. I was heading back to my room to write up my diary notes… and have that cuppa with real milk.
The rain and clouds cleared as the sun set over the town.
It was time to venture back to the supermarket to grab a bucket of noodles and a bottle of beer for tea. I’d managed to finish the whisky I bought for the Chinese portion of my time away, and, in all fairness to myself, I couldn’t start the next lot of whisky until the Mongolian trek began… and that was likely to begin a day later than planned due to changes in aircraft schedules. It looked as though the contingency day built into the programme for later on in the trek might already be used up. Would there be further delays? Ah; why worry? Time to take life as it came… just relax, go with the flow and enjoy! More anon.
All photographs copyright © JT and DY of jtdytravels
If you enjoy these armchair travels, please pass our site onto others
more of our travel stories and photos can be found on
More of our travel photos are on