I write this post from the deliciously tropical Luang Prabang, Laos. We’ve been in Laos for four days and have only just had space to breath from our non-stop driving adventures in China.
We experienced joys and frustrations on our journey through the heartland of China. Amongst the unpleasant experiences, we count the sudden and unexpected disappearance of our beloved street food egg wraps (attributed to “cultural differences”, bah), having wailing children hoisted on us for photos, and having the crap beaten out of us by tiny, vindictive Chinese masseuses. Joys include finding peanut butter, binging on said peanut butter, and having the crap beaten out of us by tiny, vindictive Chinese masseuses.
I’ve been to China twice before. There is one observation about the country from this trip that stands out to me because I just don’t remember thinking it last time: the people are DELIGHTFUL. They are quick to laugh, they pull no airs, they are intensely inquisitive in a good-natured way. I feel safe around them. (Famous last words, etc.)
But what astounds us all the most, given our globalised world, is how unbelievably curious they are about us. Granted, we are pretty interesting, sitting with the big vans pulled in a circle, orange hi-tech tents pitched in the middle, perched on small camp chairs, hair colours ranging from blonde to blue – but does that really justify 10-15 people standing inside of our campsite, silently watching us for minutes and minutes? At one point, at this particular parking lot campsite, some passing people realized they could see through a camper window into where the 5 little children were relaxing. A dozen people crowded around and craned their necks to get closer to the window.
When I was getting ready for bed at the above mentioned campsite, a couple opened my tent flap. They felt the interior lining of my tent, tested the firmness of the mattress with their palms, and watched me swallow my allergy medication. They wouldn’t have said hello if I hadn’t given a friendly Ni hao first. People who stare at us in close quarters like this seem to be surprised when they hear human language coming out of what I believe they must assume are extra-pale, mechanically advanced monkeys. They seem delighted by our sudden humanity. Embarrassment for their actions does not occur to them.
Perhaps I can understand wanting to see the white people’s campsite. But on the supremely touristy section of the Great Wall we visited, or in the world-famous Tiananmen Square, you’d think folks would be used to Westerners. Not so. We take so many photos in a row that it becomes exhausting. Photo after photo after photo. Photos with their children, photos with their grandpa, photos with their group. We take turns, to give each other breaks. As Luke says, 20-30% of people within sight are taking photos with us or waiting in line to do so, and the rest are staring while it happens.
When we see we’re being included in a covert selfie, we smile and flash a peace sign. One time Luke was feeling generous and really posed for a covert selfie, wrapping his arm around the shoulders of the selfie-taker. The whole group got in the photo. They turned out to be a group of people with hearing impairment (they were signing) who seemed to be out on a group excursion to the Forbidden City.
People even take photos of us from their cars. I like to take photos back.
All of this changes from amusing to infuriating – like a buzzing mosquito at night – when you are trying to pack up your tent at 6:30 in the morning. Our travel companion Jenny tried to get some of her morning watchers to help with dishes; they declined.
It can be a bit scary how the old people handle the children. They just break through our protective and/or conversational circles, grab a child, and try to, I don’t know, tickle them? Pick them up? Play with them? It’s certainly not malicious or weird from their standpoint, clearly. They think the kids are delightful (which they are). But from our cultural standpoint, it is awful. The youngest, Felix, who is 3, waves is pointer finger side to side and says “no!”.
All of that said, I still think people are delightful. They mean no harm, and I really appreciate that.
An example. While waiting in line at Badaling, the most touristy section of the Great Wall and a personal hell for many (more later), a middle-aged couple pushed in front of us (Jo, Luke, and I) in line. This is pretty normal, but for some reason it annoyed us. We pushed forward in front of them when we reached a strategic corner-section of line. They tried to get past again, but we put our elbows out and took up the entire physical space, hopping left and right to block them. It occurred to me that we were being asshole tourists, only to find that they were laughing and giving us a thumbs up. We had mastered Chinese line cutting skills. But the joke was on us: they still beat us to the front of the line. We saw them a few times on the wall, and we all smiled, waved, and laughed each time.
Our jolly crew
I suppose I should let you know just who our travel companions are, as they’ll likely be important characters in our stories for the next month. There are five groups total, plus our guide, Jens. There’s a Belgian family with 3 children ranging from 3-7 years old. The mother of the group, Tine, is an anthropology person like me, but she did her masters so actually got to do field work. They all speak Dutch, French, and English, and probably other stuff too. Then we have the French family, with two children, who are 7 and 9. The parents are both psych nurses, so there’s a lot in common with Jo there. Jenny and Arne are German and hilarious; Barbara and Kevan are Dutch and British, respectively, and are sensible experienced travellers. Sometimes Susan and Axel, a German couple, join us with their separate guide, a delightful fellow named Martin. Our guide, Jens, is from Chengdu. He’s 26, and thankfully he’s got an excellent sense of humour and a solid dose of resilience. Important for managing group dynamics. And then there’s us, “the Aussies” (as we’ve been dubbed).
How this thing works
As for our mechanics and movements (not of the bowel variety, we’ll get to that later), things are working pretty smoothly. Each night, we have a group “conference” in which Jens lays out the plans for the next day and we democratically decide upon leaving times and optional extras. We drive each day, though we will have a couple of rest days later on. So far we’ve seen a major sight each day, including one day of taking the subway into Beijing. The rest of the group camps each night, but we’ve only joined them once because it’s a pain to set up tents. Plus, it would be unpleasant to sleep in a tent in an urban parking lot. So we go to a hotel with our guide, and with the other guide, Martin, if he’s around. Sometimes we get dinner with the two of them as well. They are cool guys and we definitely get the local flavour with them. One time, we got so local that we couldn’t find a hotel that would take foreigners at all. We did finally find one, after waiting around and eating street food.
Memories of meals past
Speaking of food, we are in heaven here. It’s a huge change from Mongolia, where mystery meat pastries and oily hot yak milk reign supreme. Our first restaurant in China actually made Luke and I intensely homesick. It looked just like a Chinese restaurant in Sydney, which makes sense, seeing as the Chinese restaurants in Sydney are often run by recent Chinese transplants. The menu, the tables, the decorations, the people, and the delicious food were all the same. The main difference was that people were smoking, despite the “no smoking” sign.
We’ve also been eating whole meals from street food, or rather we just constantly eat as we go. So far we’ve had no life-threatening issues arise from this habit. However, we have, as Jo says, developed “an obsession with plumbing”. The occasion of finding a Western toilet (as opposed to the squat variety) produces jubilation amongst our little travel trio.
We are, of course, enjoying the English here. Even amongst other countries where English is not prominent, China still has the most hilarious translations. Our favorite so far is “Miscellaneous sheep,” seen on a menu. “Don’t drive tiredly” and “Warm suggestion” (aka “hot tip”) aren’t bad either. There was a clothing shop called “Pet Woman” (insert cringe emoji). We thought that “Super long tunnel!” was a funny one too, until we drove in it and realised that, actually, it was quite lengthy, and thus their description was really quite accurate.
I remember that when my sister came back from several months at Beijing University 10 years ago, she had the “Peking cough” for months and months. The smog was oppressive then. The smog now, though, obscures the sun. It reduces road visibility like a thick San Francisco fog. It burns your eyes and your throat. Luke broke down and bought a face mask, and borrowed an inhaler from one of our travel companions.
In Shanxi provence, where we are now, it’s equally bad. Shanxi is known for it’s coal production. A local of Pingyao, in Shanxi, told us that the smog is worse in winter because the poor people burn coal to keep warm. We’re only in October. I would hate to see January, or, rather, I would have difficulty seeing January through the smog.
Daily gratitude: intact chest cavity
We also had the good luck to experience another staple of Beijing local life, the chest-crushing subway system. I understand now how crushes happen, and how they truly do kill people.
The subway stations we saw (4 or 5) were beautiful and new. There were lines on the tile to direct foot traffic, glass panelling between the platform and the tracks, uniformed “public transportation guides”, and lovely shiny new trains.
But none of this stopped the wave of anxious panic that swept over the crowd in the 20 seconds that a new train approached and readied to open its doors. The train arrives already full, so packed that faces are smooshed against the glass doors. The push to enter the train sounds like a swarm of locusts, the frantic shuffling of feet, rustling of people silently shoving their neighbour, and curses muttered under the breath. With 5 children in the group, I was legitimately scared. The parents of the group are, however, incredibly capable, and the children were in no real danger. In the end, one of the “public transportation guides” worked with Jens to find us a route across the subway map that didn’t require us to enter as intense of scrums. But we still pretended to fight our way on, the 15 of us, when we entered our first near-empty train. This was much more amusing than the real thing.
I think that if a communist party leader in the 1970’s was on the fence about whether or not to implement the one-child policy, they needed to have simply visited the Badaling section of the Great Wall, and this would have made up their mind. The place gives the feeling that there really are just too many people in China.
According to Jens, Chairman Mao once said that one is not a real man until he’s seen the Great Wall. Seemingly, every person in China wanting to take his advice does so at the Badaling section, as well as a significant amount of foreign tourist busloads too.
We went there because it was on the itinerary from our tour company, and we were so new to China, and we didn’t do our research in advance. This was stupid, as there were some beautiful sections of “wild wall” – as in, unrestored and less touristed – not far away. This section gave us packed lines, an expensive cable car ride, throngs of people pushing each other on the recently built stairs, and a wall that is actually a Disney-ish reconstruction perched upon a strip of land that once held the crumbled original. There was one part, in which we had to descend, narrow, steep stairs with walls on either side, people pushing from all sides – where Jo and I exchanged looks that said “F*** this, this is the worst place in the world.”
Then, there was beer. We had ascended to the wall with Jenny and Arne, the German couple with a particular fondness for this particular beverage. We all decided that the best course of action was to sit at a little kiosk on the wall and drink overpriced cans of terrible beer until the situation became fun. And it did! We snacked on weird fake pringles and a sweet, bubblegum pink “sausage” while we waited. After a while, the wall emptied out, our other friends arrived, and we had a leisurely stroll. The wall was shrouded mysteriously in a celestial cloud of coal-smog, and we snapped photos. All was well in the world.
China redeems itself with Pingyao
But all of the smog in the world couldn’t ruin Pingyao. The oldest and most authentic walled city surviving in China, Pingyao is delightful. Sure, it’s got tourists, but it’s also got lots and lots of locals. There are bustling markets outside the city walls, and beautiful buildings inside the city walls. The town is 1500 years old, and some of the buildings within are still ancient. I spent hours wandering the town by myself at night – it was alive with lanterns and sizzling street food. If a person had time for only one site in China, we would (thus far) recommend Pingyao.
Our hotel in Pingyao, can you believe it?
Pingyao at night
A neighborhood street in Pingyao
But wait, there’s more
We’ve packed in a lot more touristing with this tour than we would have on our own. We’ve seen the amazing Hanging Monastary, perched on the side of a cliff (not the edge, the side), and which we are all quite pleased to not have died on, crushed by falling tourists from above.Jo reckons it was engineered to withstand months, not centuries and gajillions of tourists. We’ve gone to Yungang Grottoes, famous for having lots and lots o’ Buddhas. We’ve visited the Forbidden City and the hutongs (traditional neighbourhoods) of Beijing. These two really gave me flashbacks to going there with my family over 10 years ago. It’s much tidier now, but with more smog. I got an intense flashback upon seeing a particular decorative staircase in the Forbidden City – I actually remembered my Dad reading to us about it from a book while we looked at it. I don’t remember what I learned, but I do know where I got my habit from, at least. I’ll leave the rest of the sight descriptions to the photos, below.
Erenhot, Inner Mongolia Province (China)
Lovely, modern Erenhot at night. Erenhot, a border city in China, is the first thing people see when crossing from Mongolia. Thus, it gets heaps of money from the central government in Beijing so that it looks good and sets good first impressions.
Luke tries to get a dog. Look at how nice the sidewalk is! We are not in Mongolia anymore.
Our hotel. Plenty of glitz and glamour.
The kids in our group look at pet birds that are having their daily outside time (this is totally a thing.) An old lady came out and watched the kids nervously and eventually shoo’d them away.
Kids going to school
The brand new dinosaur museum in Erenhot. So new, it wasn’t even open yet (to our surprise)
But we still got to see cool dinosaur sculptures.
With our guide, Jens
Brand new apartment buildings
Luke and Jo making model faces?
An olympic park
There are heaps and heaps of little dogs all over China. Look at this little fellow sunning himself.
A nice market
Super fancy store includes space-age data board
The edge of Erenhot. They have a thing about dinosaurs.
These life-size sculptures dot the plains on the edge of Erenhot
There are dozens!
The attendants at this gas station were so excited about us and all needed to take selfies. Here they are posing with the rest of our group.
The Great Wall (Badaling)
The cable car up
Luke and Arne. Not sure what Luke is thinking here.
See? 10 bajillion people.
After the beer stop. Much more manageable.
Looking over the wall
The subway crush
Our first glimpse of the Forbidden City (and the iconic Mao) through the smog
Our group (minus a few) at Tiananmen Square. We couldn’t even get a group photo without people inserting themselves. Seriously, we don’t have a group photo without other people crouching in front.
Mao’s tomb (on Tiananmen Square)
I remember my dad taking this photo 10 years ago
Getting mobbed by admirers/zoo-goers at Tiananmen Square
More zoo-goers, probably interested in Tine’s hair
A creepy military exhibition outside of the Forbidden City.
The smog clears to reveal Mao
The throngs enter the Forbidden City
More Forbidden City throngs
More Forbidden City throngs
Pause for an egret!
More Forbidden City throngs
More Forbidden City.
More Forbidden City
The throngs begin to dissipate as we go into less popular spaces of the Forbidden City
The stairs that my dad taught me about!
Forbidden City roof
The famous 9 dragon screen in the Forbidden City
Posing in front of the dragon screen
Beautiful musical instrument at the Forbidden City
Jade sculpture at the Forbidden City
A courtyard that I want to live in at the Forbidden City
Luke and Jo looking pleased as punch at the Forbidden City
Above the Forbidden City
Travelling in style to the Hutongs (traditional Beijing neighborhoods)
With Jo and Jerome in our fancy method of transport
En route to the hutongs
Look at how nice and clean the neighborhoods are. Very different than my memories from 10 years ago.
Fancy smart car driver
The kids watch as a vendor makes us delicious fried egg sandwiches
Walking with Jens in the hutong
We saw these little stools at a restaurant. We wanted them. Jens, the miracle worker, convinced the restaurant to let us buy two. So we did!
And we found a marvel figurine store!
This little girl leapt in front of my camera. I think it only fair that her enthusiasm be rewarded by a spot on the blog.
Our group rests from a big day in Beijing
This fantastic person was sitting on the street in the hutong, watching Michael Jackson videos. Bless you, person, for making the world more interesting.
10 points to whoever can come up with the best story as to who is riding this tiny bike
SO many tiny dogs
Crowding around a food vendor.
Walking back to the subway on the way home, we saw public ping pong tables
And we walked on a lovely manicured pathway. So different than the Beijing of 10 years ago.
Yungang Grottoes and Datong (Shanxi Province)
Datong, the coal-choked city nearest the lovely Yunang Grottoes
Entrance to the grottoes
The first temple, where we listened to monks singing and ringing bells
Fall colours in China
At the grottoes
The temple complex at the grottoes
Where the Buddhas live
A particularly large Buddha
A particularly old Buddha
A particularly imposing Buddha
Temples cut into the mountainside
They say this paint, being mineral-based, is actually the original from 1,500 years ago. That is very old paint.
Many Buddhas. Apparently, folks put Buddhas here because they believe it will get them closer to attaining enlightenment. So the grottoes are just thousands of years worth of different individuals popping in their own idea of enlightenment-getting aids.
Oh hi there, Buddha head!
More ancient paint
Grotto selfie! You could say it’s culturally inappropriate, but 100% of the Chinese visitors were doing it too.
People peer into the children’s window at our campsite near the grottoes.
Leaving Datong through the misty morning smog
Hanging Monastary (Shanxi Province)
A view of the monastery
And, in the interest of honesty, here’s what instagram travel photos won’t show you. Tourist hordes. Ever present at Chinese places of interest.
At the bottom of the monastery
And thus we begin.
Oh hi Luke!
A view across the valley. I wonder how they painted those rock faces.
Way too many tourists on this thing for comfort.
No monks live here anymore, sadly.
I found the whole situation terrifying. Chinese tourists saw my face and tried to help me several times. There was only one instance of covert selfie taking. I grimaced and did not give a peace sign.
Away from the Hanging Monastery and back to everyday life world
As many high rise apartments as tiny dogs.
Surprisingly, a big church along the freeway! We also saw a mosque!
Pingyao, Shanxi Province
Luke and Jo enjoy some street food
Men play mahjong on the street outside the city walls
The market outside the city walls
Getting a delicious sandwich made. All ingredients fried, including bread.
I think this is a reaction to too much attention.
There seemed to be a communism-themed bachelorette party happening in Pingyao. You do you, Chinese ladies.
A doorway inside the city walls.
Inside the city walls, pretty things start appearing
The stores inside the city walls are decorated beautifully, and are often quite trendy by Western standards.
Nighttime street food
Darkness falls on PIngyao, and the lanterns get turned on
The souvenir shops were even a delight. They sold unique and cool stuff.
Jo and I doing the Chinese pose
Even the tourist trap jewelry is nice, and much classier than it was 10 years ago, I can say that for sure.
Pingyao at night
We just wandered into this courtyard because it was pretty, and the owner indulged us because we were so obviously complementary
We found our guesthouse by all being attracted to the pretty lights of the lanterns.
I love the red light everywhere in Pingyao. It is very warm. I used to light my rooms like this, and I think now I will start again.
Our hotel in Pingyao, can you believe it?
The owner explained to us that the building is 200 years old. There are two courtyards because the owner would have had two wives, so each wife’s family got a courtyard. Daughters slept on the ground floor, sons on the top.
Luke fans himself with a tiny fan.
Morning time, and we’re back at the markets for breakfast (this is outside of the old city walls)
This little guy is sunning himself
Jo’s hair is radiant in the sunlight
A neighborhood street in Pingyao
Excellent translation. It makes sense when you think about it.
PIngyao in the day
We took a walk through the quiet, less ostentatious residential sections of the old town (which is only a couple kilometres wide, by the way)
Another courtyard that we invaded
As always, hanging laundry means a real, lived-in community (I think)
An incredibly wonderful coffee shop that we stopped in. So very, very western.
Clearly catering for Western tourists, this coffee shop could easily be in San Francisco.
It’s just so great I had to put in a third picture.
The “City Tower”. Super Duper Old.
More pleasant interior decoration
Neat dried flowers for sale
And sweet little handmade ceramic vases
Jo bought some paint brushes, which were made by the man right outside his shop. However, he did insist the brushes were made of hair from wolves and badgers, amongst other things, so his credibility is questionable. Also we laughed about how he acquired this hair. “Oh, there goes Lee again, shaving the neighborhood badger”
Inside the bar of our hotel.
Our hotel – just as pretty in the daytime.
Our courtyard in our hotel
Getting ready to leave our hotel
Inside our beautiful hotel
Mocha, the extremely sweet and friendly golden retriever at our hotel. She loved pets.
Golf carts are the main mode of transportation for tourists inside the city walls (no non-resident cars allowed). Not so fun when they take you onto a multi-lane road outside the city walls, though.
Since our last blog post, we’ve finished up 10 fairly comatose days in Ulaanbaatar, welcomed Luke’s sister Jo to Mongolia, easily survived 4 days in the snow-covered Gobi desert, and successfully entered China with our new merry band of travellers. I’ll tell you more about China in the next post, so it doesn’t steal poor Mongolia’s spotlight. In summary, we are travelling for 27 days with a lovely Chinese guide named Jens, and 4 other groups, all Europeans travelling in huge camper vans, including 5 children under the age of 9. It’s going to be an adventure.
First, let’s talk about our feelings. Jo, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in her first week of travel, has a lovely enthusiasm and energy. If it weren’t for her influence, Luke and I probably would have sat on the couch in our cozy Idre Guesthouse in UB rather than schlepping our lazy butts to the Gobi. (By the way, she’ll be riding along with us for the 4 weeks in China and a few days into Laos.) Luke is tickled to see his sister, but is otherwise, in his own words, “getting a little tired.” I’m hoping that the novelty and thrilling gastro issues of China will cure him of what I think is *temporary* ennui. As for myself, I’m stubbornly insisting on enjoying myself, as you probably would have guessed.
After about 6 days of recovering from our colds and eating french fries and toast in our UB guesthouse, our friends Matan and Iftaq returned from their little expedition to the centre of the country. We were inspired (unintentionally shamed?) into getting ourselves up to do something. Another lovely Israeli person, a girl named Ossie, joined us for a day trip to the supremely touristy Chinggis Khan statue and Terelj National Park, both about an hour outside of UB.
The Chinggis Khan statue is 8 years old. It’s a big horse with a big Chinggis on top. It was supposedly built on the place where ol’ Chinggis himself found the materials for his riding crop, so that’s a big deal. There are lots of Mongolians and foreigners alike taking selfies. That’s about it.
But actually, Chinggis Khan is a really big deal to Mongolians. Besides the whole raping and pillaging thing that we’ve all heard of, he did build a mighty empire in the 1200’s that still persists in a smaller form today. He was the first world leader, apparently, to implement what we now call diplomatic immunity. He established a country-wide postal system. He generally is someone who Mongolians seem to be super proud of. According to Lonely Planet (don’t judge me), Stalin made all Mongolians renounce their clan name (last name) during the 20’s. In the 90’s, everyone came to realise how terribly impractical it is to have a nation of people with only first names. I am going somewhere with this. So everyone was made to either find their clan name or make up a new one, and 20% of people chose Chinggis Khan’s clan name. That’s a lot of people.
As for Terelj National Park, it’s filled with ger camps. Like, dozens and dozens of little collections of friendly tourist gers. But, there is a rock shaped like a turtle. And life-size dinosaur models, which are actually to be found all over the country. This is bizarre for a country with very little other public art. But lots of dinosaur bones have been found here, so I guess that’s why people are all excitable about dinos.
As soon as Jo arrived on a Monday morning, we whisked her off in a “taxi” to the “Black Market”. In explanation – “taxis” in UB are just anyone with a car who stops to pick you up when you put out your hand. It’s about 50 cents, USD, per kilometre. And the “Black Market” is just the enormous market (the biggest in Asia, they say), which does have a real name, but everyone just calls it the Black Market. Jo had heard scary things about pickpockets and theft in the market, and so was a bit wary. However, we left the market with our wallets only intentionally lighter, and got a “taxi” home.
We always negotiate price in advance of getting in the car, even in sub-zero temperatures, because people are inclined to screw clueless tourists. We did so with this guy, but he was wily. He changed the price midway through the trip – he was going to charge us 10,000 instead of the standard 3,000. This is crazy pants and it made us MAD. He offered to charge us 5,000 to drop us off half way. We refused to pay, and he turned around the car, taking us back to the market. Knowing the reputation of the market, the last thing we wanted to do was go back and get roughed up by his buddies.
We decided to exit the car in stopped traffic rather than suffer the injustice of being screwed. He put the child lock on, trapping us in, but Luke got out the front seat and let us out, and we piled out of the car (there were 4 of us in the back seat). Dude even tugged on Jo’s arm to try to keep her in. We ran across the street and started frantically power walking to safety. 3 minutes later, who do we find running after us, but driver guy. When he started to grab Luke’s bag, and Luke looked like he was going to punch someone for the first time in his life, I remembered that folks in UB like to carry knives. To Luke’s horror, I handed over 5,000. Situation defused, we went on our way. We grabbed a more ethical cab driver soon after.
This was probably not the best introduction to UB for Jo. Oops.
Perhaps this is part of the reason that Jo convinced us to promptly drive 8 hours south, into the Gobi desert, far away from the humans of UB. It turns out there are oodles of tourist destinations in the Gobi, they just aren’t signposted and roads don’t go to them. And there are no real toilets anywhere.
We did the tourist circuit in the Gobi – Yolyn Am, the glacial canyon, Khorgoryn Els, the sand dunes, and, finally, Bayanzag, the Flaming Cliffs. We stayed in gers (yurts) and rode camels. It was all very Mongolian, but the nice kind, not the scary drunk/swindling tourists kind.
The most Mongolian moment of all was the family that adopted us in Yolyn Am, as we walked through the canyon in the freezing cold. For some reason, they took a liking to us and we walked with them. Grandma was 83, but the most sprightly little thing you ever saw. She daintily hopped from rock to rock to cross streams, she scrambled up a dirt canyon wall for one of our highly orchestrated family photo shoots, and, once, leaped over a wide stream, illiciting cheers and clapping from Jo and I. She was really quite impressive. She also insisted on giving us handfuls of Mongolian candy (which Jo and I have nicknamed “camel poo”, for it’s striking likeness in shape and taste), and blocks of the typical bitter, hard sheep cheese.
Photo shoot #1
Photo shoot #2
The family didn’t speak any English, but they were seemingly in the canyon on a spiritual journey. They had also travelled far to get there. At the two ovoos (rock piles) we encountered, the family circled the piles three times, spraying milk. This is apparently an offering to the sky spirits, though I’m sure there is a much more eloquent and accurate way of describing the ritual. My anthropology professors would be disappointed. Anyway, it was a very special experience.
I should also mention that in this canyon, there are dozens and dozens of hamster-sized fluffy rodents that scamper around the rocks and across the path, and they CHIRP. I think they are called jerboas. As we walked I fantasised about getting them and putting them in all my pockets and taking them with me.
We got extremely lucky on our Gobi trip – the temperature dropped well below freezing (I’m getting to the lucky part), and it SNOWED. A lot of snow. Over the sand dunes, covering the plains. It was truly magical.
Magical in it’s own, not particularly magical way, was the town of Dalanzadgad. This is the largest town in the Gobi. We drove in at night, greeted by a pack of 20 wild dogs. We stayed in a hotel with no door handle to the room. When we stopped at the mechanic on the way back to UB, we sat on the concrete for 3 or 4 hours and wrapped Christmas presents. We took breaks to go to the local “public toilet”
by someone’s ger, which is of course just a whole in the ground with two pee-covered slats to stand on, just a little timber keeping you from the poopy abyss below. Luke and Jo both got walked in on, both by the opposite sex no less. Jo also interrupted a guy peeing on the toilet building, as in, outside of it. She reports that she simply avoided eye contact. But we did give out koala toys to two little kids, one of whom physically jumped up and down in excitement. Oh, memories of Dalanzadgad.
In a strange coincidence, we saw the Google Street View truck in the Gobi not once, but twice. Look out for our car the next time you pull up a street view shot of a dirt track in the Gobi desert.
In UB, we said goodbye to many of our traveller friends. Matan and Iftaq went off to hop on the trans-Siberian railroad to Moscow. Ossie caught a flight to Ulgii to do a snowy trek in Western Mongolia. A silly guy name Tom is buying two horses and trekking, solo, east to west in northern Mongolia. Silly Tom, good luck to you. The Brits headed off to their guided tour and the Japanese girls are by now back to Tokyo. It feels like the end of a feel-good coming-of-age millennial movie that would do poorly at Sundance.
To close off this blog post, I would like to leave you with a song. We composed this while driving into UB at night, fresh off the Gobi. Please sing to the tune of Journey’s “Lights.”
When the lights go down in UB
and the smog shines on the knife fights
oh I want to go dooooown
to a ger camp
by the trash heap
Dozens of dogs at nighttime
They will live on without you
without your tooouuucch
na na na na, na na
A market with actual vegetables. I went crazy over the broccoli.
At the mechanic, as per usual.
We got new shocks and springs!
And we got the car cleaned! They even did the inside. There was loud Mongolian hip hop on and all the car washers were young people, who seemed to be having a great time.
UB. The view from our guesthouse.
We parked our car across the street in this guarded car park in the children’s playplace, because the parking lot behind our guesthouse was full of permanently drunk people, at least 5 at a time.
Great street art near our guesthouse
Celebrating Jewish new year with our Israeli friends! We even had scrumptious deserts and apple dipped in honey for a “sweet new year”.
Shopping at the black market.
Saddles at the black market
Traditional hats the black market
Traditional shoes the black market
Traditional furniture the black market. Orange for the sun.
Fancy ger fabric the black market
Shopping in the black market prior to Jo’s arrival.
This is how smog is made. Just wait, it will look less beautiful when it’s coating the inside of my lungs
Chinggis Khan and Terelj National Park
The Chinggis Khan statue
Some folks dressed up in traditional outfits in the museum accompanying the Chinggis status
This is the turtle statue in Terelj National Park
Eating lunch in the freezing wind in Terelj.
Camels at Terelj making funny faces for the camera. Perhaps they’ve been trained specially for instagram-ableness
On the way to Terelj
On the way to Terelj
A town near Terelj
On the way to Terelj
On the way to Terelj
On the way to Terelj
On the way to Terelj
Gobi Trip: The drive South, and Yolyn Am
An amazing view of the Gobi
We think that grey goat is a cashmere goat! Look at how soft and distinctive-looking he is.
Jo is about to experience her first drop-toilet. We wanted to capture the moment.
The drive into Yolyn Am
Google truck at Yoyln Am!
Jo trying on some fur at an actual tourist shop at Yoyln Am.
There was no sign off the road to Yoyln Am, and, at that, no road to Yoyln Am, but there was a tourist shop.
A lovely decorative ger
A museum at Yoyln Am
It mostly contained stuffed dead animals.
Like this little guy
And this, probably mythical, animal, called the Death Worm, which supposedly spits deadly venom. It has never been photographed.
These are actual dinosaur eggs!
A souvenir seller goes to his post at Yoyln Am
Luke looks at a rock
It was cold. Frozen grass in a stream
Photo shoot #1
The whole family scrambles down a very slippery rock
Grandma scrambling up a crumbling pile of dirt
Photo shoot #2
This waterfall was frozen, and you could see water trickling under the sheet of ice.
Jo helping our family hop across a stream.
The Gobi Trip: Sand Dunes and first ger camp
The inside of our first ger
Getting tea ready. We drink a lot of tea.
Our ger host. His wife and kids live elsewhere so he was alone, so he just hung out with us.
And he also had a dog with 10 tiny puppies! Mama was a little protective so we couldn’t cuddle.
Our scenic toilet at the first ger camp.
Most gers have solar panels or even generators, so they can run satellite TVs or charge their phones.
Jo gets on her camel!
Here we go!
Our guide took this photo, excellent photo skills.
Camels from the top of the dunes.
We did a photo shoot.
Ice on the dunes.
My super affectionate camel. It bent it’s head around to lean on me.
Ice on a plant in the desert, when we woke up in the morning.
Gobi trip: SNOW on the road, and Flaming Cliffs (Bayanzag)
Snow on the sand dunes
Jo taking photos
Adorable sibling snowfight
Our second ger camp, near Bayanzag (Flaming Cliffs)
The gers were being taken down as it was the end of the season.
Here’s what a ger looks like in it’s component parts. A door, a bundle of sticks, some rope, and canvas. Perfect for a nomad life.
Our car at the second ger camp
People in the area are super excited about this “saxual shrub forest”. It’s a lot of greenery for the Gobi.
View of the Flaming Cliffs
We pretended this was a dinosaur egg.
The Flaming Cliffs themselves.
Back in our ger.
Gobi Trip: Coming home, including a stop in Dalangadzad
Jo building her snowman
Hay on the road.
Getting the car looked at, of course. Got the alignment done, some new parts for the wheel, and our battery died when we tried to leave, so we popped in a new one of them as well.
Wrapping presents in the parking lot.
Jo reclines on our mattress.
Everyone decorates the gates to their private ger camps
Since you’ve last heard from us, we’ve traversed the Russian Altai Mountains, arrived in Mongolia, and skirted the Gobi desert for 1,600 kilometres to get to Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. As you may well guess, we have some adventures to report.
The Altai Mountains are spread over Kazakhstan, Mongolia, China, and Russia, making them an interesting cultural destination to say the least. Much of the mountains are only open to tourists who have a special border permit from the country of their choice. However, we avoided the necessity for a permit by staying on the Chusky Trakt, the famous road meandering south through the mountains from Barnaul, Russia, to Mongolia. This road was mostly exciting due to there being actual, real, mountains, a thrilling novelty after the Kazakh steppe. We free-camped and enjoyed stopping at roadside shops to select yak-wool products and sample fast food. We now know that whenever we see Uzbeki dumplings advertised, we should eat ‘em. More stories about the Altai Mountains later.
Getting through the Mongolian border did not take 8 hours as we had feared. It did, however, include about 20 kilometres of moon-like no-man’s-land between Russia and Mongolia, with not even an animal in sight. (You realise how odd this is if you know that Mongolia has only 3 million people but 65 million heads of livestock.) It tops our list for the eeriest place to stop and pee.
Once in Mongolia, we arrived in the border city of Ulgii and checked in at a guest ger complex. This is totally a thing in Mongolia. A ger is a yurt, by the way, but Mongolian language has to make everything sound scarier and harsher than it actually is. There are gers everywhere – nomadic Mongolian people live in them, and people in the city often do too. Anyway, Ulgii, along with a few hostels in Ulaanbaatar, is a gathering place for travellers in Mongolia. There are many more than you would think – Mongolia is great for trekking and adventure travel. The travellers – and I’m totally including myself here – are all the “too-cool-for-school” types who aren’t content with merely travelling to Paris. We need to brave wolves, freezing temperatures, and bizarre food for an “unique” experience. Despite my cynical description, I actually really enjoy this subculture of travellers. So much so, that we picked up a couple of them and took them with us.
We met Matan and Iftach at the breakfast table at the ger camp in Ulgii – there weren’t enough tables, so we shared. They are a couple of Israeli brothers in their 20’s who are doing a month-long tour of Mongolia, and maybe Russia. I knew from before that I love Israeli people – straightforward, polite, disciplined, prone to real conversations and deep thoughts. Matan and Iftach are certainly, as Anne of Greene Gables would say, “kindred spirits”. A few hours after breakfast, Luke and I (with the help of the guys and the ancient caretaker of the ger camp) had converted our car back into a four-seater. The four of us were on the road for the 5 day trip to Ulaanbaatar.
They were excellent travel companions, cheerily agreeing to any plan we came up with and laughing away the freezing temperatures and dust storms. We free-camped two nights – the guys had a whole camp set on their backs – and stayed in slightly sketchy hotels for two nights. (Matan and I did check them out in advance of paying to see if they had “murdery” vibes.) They cooked Israeli food for us and thoroughly answered all of our invasive questions about their home country. They even volunteered a few historical and cultural lessons for us. They made what would have been a long and boring 5 days into a very interesting and fun chunk of time. And for all we’ve learned about Israel, I feel like we’ve added another country to the list of those we’ve visited on this trip. An unexpected bonus of a trip to Mongolia.
We were also happy to have Matan and Iftach with us for the feeling of camaraderie and security. As you may know, all Israeli people must serve in the military. These guys had gone above and beyond by extending their service by a couple of years and by volunteering for combat units, which you would never guess by their calm, warm demeanours. This was comforting to Luke and I, owing to an experience from our first night in Mongolia.
I wasn’t totally forthcoming when I said that Luke and I checked into a ger camp when we got to Mongolia. We did, but not until 2am. Our first attempt of a sleeping place was at the house of a fellow who we met in an insurance office at the border – a cheery guy named Joy, who invited us to stay at his home. We had heard that this is common in Mongolia – you give someone $15 or $20 to stay in their house for the night and eat dinner and breakfast. Joy had stickers all over his motorcycle that had been given to him by travellers – an Australian flag, a Mongol Rally sticker from last year, a British car parts company.
In his cosy house on the edge of Tsaaggannuur, we met his charming elderly mother, his sister, and her adorable toddler daughter. We had a few gallons of tea and some food. All was well, and we felt comfortable. Luke skooted off to bed early, owing to his flu, but I felt safe because there were no doors and I could still see him. I stayed up for a while, playing with the baby. Some of Joy’s friends came round and had a couple of jovial beers. Joy bragged that one of the fellows was a champion wrestler, and I jokingly asked for a demonstration.
This is a video! Press to play. The Grandma and I played this game of “Where’s Koala?” with the little girl for about an hour.
I didn’t notice anything amiss – I was showing the little girl videos of Rory and James in the ocean – until Joy grabbed his wrestler friend by the scruff of the neck and dragged him outside. I heard shouting, and figured they had had a bit too much to drink and decided to get dramatic. No big. I hung out with the baby. Luke heard the shouting and got up, and then mom and grandma went outside, leaving us with baby. It was midnight. The shouting escalated, and mom and grandma came inside, sitting on the bed next to Luke, baby, and I. It started to sound scary out there – there was no laughter in those shouts. Luke and I clearly weren’t involved in their fight in any way, but we were worried that someone would remember we were around and get us involved. We decided to leave. Grandma protested at first, but finally, when the group of men outside quieted and seemed to have left, she seemed to give us her blessing to go. She walked us to our car, kissed our foreheads, and waved as we drove off into the bright night.
We drove for an hour to get to Ulgii. We rolled up to the ger camp at 2am, and called the office phone number. They blearily admitted us and showed us to some comfy beds. In the morning, we apologised, paid for the room, and took a nice steamy bath in the aromatic wooden Russian bathhouse. (Basically a private sauna where you sit on a wooden bench and pour buckets of hot water all over yourself – magic.)
So, you can see why we would feel better having a couple of trustworthy, entertaining, military officers with us after that.
Perhaps feeling risk-averse, we decided to take the southern route from Ulgii to Ulaanbaatar. This meant avoiding the deep river crossings and mud of the northern route, but missing the mountain charm. Instead, we drove next to the Gobi desert, in a bizarre and maybe gorgeous lunar landscape. The road, blessedly, was paved half of the time. The other half, Luke enjoyed testing out our new tires on some excellent off-road terrain.
We only had two small river crossings and never enough sand to get stuck in. We did enjoy choosing our tracks – there were usually 6 or 7 running roughly parallel through the grass. And it was fun to navigate by saying things like “We need to drive to the right of that rocky hill” or “We’re heading too far north, bend south at the next available track” or “Stay with the main track – there’s a river crossing in a kilometre”. From a navigator’s perspective, this really beats “Turn left in 300 metres onto Union Street.”
We had a couple of interesting “city” moments along the way. In one town, we stopped for lunch. We usually made our own lunch out of stores in our “cupboards”, and we wanted to add some cheese to the mix. So we stopped at a small store – no cheese, but there were instant cup-o-noodles which were perfect for cold bones on a rainy day. We went outside to make our food by the car (with interested locals looking on), until Matan called, “Hey guys, um, I think she wants us to eat in here.” So we cooked our instant noodles on the shopkeeper’s living room/bedroom/kitchen floor, and shared our Israeli coffee with her and another fellow who showed up for the action. We gave her an Australia-themed tea towel before heading back out into the rain.
In another town, we were quite happy to find a hotel for the night – it was a tiny place. Seemingly every window on the building was broken, but inside, the place was quite charming. We paid for our rooms, and then, as an afterthought, asked where the toilets were. They were a pit out the back of the building – so Mongolia. And the shower, boy, that was an adventure. The shower was a 5 minute walk away, to the other side of town, past cattle and goats being herded down the dusty main “street”, through the gates of the boarding school, into a small building with 3 shower stalls and a student collecting money. We paid for our showers and, on the way back, waved at all the students calling to us from their dorm windows.
The camping was no less interesting. Our first night, we camped in a vast, empty plain. It was still as a crypt, until 4am, when the quiet plain became a whirlwind, threatening to carry us and our little dog Toto far into the Gobi desert. It was unsettling. Luke and I got up at about 6:30, packed our tent away, and rested in the front seats of the car.
The next time we camped, we found a pit. Like, an actual rock quarry that had been dug by excavators. Luke and the guys used our collapsible shovel to dig us a way through the dirt barrier, also created by excavators, and we drove right down into our cosy, windless, campsite. This is the sort of thing that happens when Luke gets all excitable about an idea and won’t give up.
And finally, we make it to Ulaanbaatar
Ulaanbaatar is the type of city where meandering livestock slow traffic on multi-lane roads, but there is also a Pizza Hut. Sadly, we’ve seen very little of the town as I’ve got an awful flu, and Luke is just getting over one. Add to that my body’s decision to have my first, ahem, digestion, issue of the trip while waiting in line at the Mongolian immigration department to extend our visa. Blessedly, there was a toilet. However, the stall door was 6 inches from the end of the toilet, so I had to sit sideways. The bonus was that this made it really convenient for leaning my sweating forehead against the nice cold tile wall. If you are disturbed by this picture, I will remind you again that you exercised your free will in reading a blog post about budget travel in Central Asia. You have only yourself to blame.
So, we’ve been spending most of our time here in UB (as the cool travellers call it) holed up in the the most cozy hostel. Our room opens onto a friendly kitchen, dining room, and living room with big fluffy couches. Travellers, mostly Israeli, hang around at meal times, when we chat about where we’ve been and where we’re going, and swap advice about visas, roads, tour companies, food. It feels a bit like the Peace Corps houses, where volunteers get together to feel a slice of home. It’s quite comfy.
In addition, Israelis seem to have an instinctual understanding of not bringing up a country’s embarrassing politics if not first invited. As a person who currently is enjoying hiding under a rock regarding American politics, I appreciate this camaraderie.
Your friends, the dummies
We’ve found that stupidity is an excellent tool while travelling. Our favourite example (so far) is when we were stopped by some Russian cops in the Altai mountains. There are lots of routine checkpoints set up on Russian roads; a cop just waves you over and looks at your paperwork. We passed one, and the cop waved, but we were pretty sure it was for the person in front of us, who stopped.
However, the next cop, 200 metres down, definitely waved for us. It turns out, through the cop’s very limited English, we were supposed to stop before, AND we were speeding. It was pretty clear. But, you see, getting a ticket in Russia is a pain in the butt. You have to drive to the station and pay your ticket, and you have to go during office hours. So, Luke and I snapped straight into our super-friendly touristy stupid mode. This is unnervingly easy for us.
We smiled a lot, and happily exclaimed “Australia!! Tourist!!” a lot while pointing to ourselves. We heartily agreed with the cop when he said the word “stop”, pointing to ourselves and him and agreeing that we stopped when he told us to. “Da! Stop! Us!” He was pretty good natured about it, but clearly thought we were the biggest, happiest, idiots he had ever met in his life. He started doing charades for writing us a ticket, probably to tell us he could if he wanted to. I said, “Pen?? You need pen??” and cheerily went into the car to get one. When he saw me emerge with it, his eyes got wide with realization and his shoulders slumped, and he said, with all the exasperation you can imagine, “Oh. Pen.” He then shook his head and walked away. We, the cheerful idiots, were free to go.
The next time we employed our stupidity enjoyed less success. As you probably know, land borders require you to both leave your current country (Russia, in this case), and enter the new one (Mongolia). Leaving Russia, we got our most thorough car search yet. Usually we see local cars getting searched, but we just open our doors, smile, show them our bed, and get waved ahead.
This time, we had four Russian police search every item. This was ok until one, the mean one who never smiled, said “Medical. Doctor.” We couldn’t play stupid for too long on this one; he wanted to see our medical kit. This was not that fun – we have all completely legal drugs, but we have a lot. Cold and flu drugs, regular medications, pain meds, antibiotics, our prescription meds, everything for any type of stomach bug you can imagine. And all of this in large quantities for a year of travel.
The officers were not amused by our stores. That is, they weren’t until they asked what one particular bag of drugs was, and Luke launched into charades for diarrhoea and vomiting. This elicited smiles and giggles from most of them. The charades took a sour turn with Luke’s vitamins, however, which we described by flexing our biceps. The officer looked shocked and said “Anabolic???”, which we quickly denied (they really are just magnesium tablets). I laughed and looked appalled at the suggestion, which actually wasn’t feigned stupidity – it really would be incredibly dumb to try to smuggle big bottles of anabolic steroids across the Russian border.
Interactions with the locals
We have mentioned previously that people in Russia are not particularly ebullient. This does not extend to the Altai region, where people are super nice.
For example, we stopped at a little stall along a shady wooded section of the Chusky Trakt to get some lunch. A fellow was barbecuing some pork, which turned out to be delicious, by the way. He told us to sit on a little picnic bench while he got our food together, and, once it was done, he came and sat with us. We had a pleasant chat without any English. Turns out the tea we were drinking was made of 7 herbs, harvested by hand by this fellow, from the forest we were sitting in. He was very interested in us, and how we came to do our trip. He asked (by miming “fat pockets”) if we were rich, which is a pretty amusing and common response when we tell people what we’re doing. It’s hard to know what to say. We usually just laugh.
Another time, at the Mongolian border, I was reminded of what it feels like to be a spectacle in a place where one is very, very different. My blue hair probably doesn’t help that much. Luke was with the car, and I was waiting for him to pull around to pick me up. There was a group of about 30 people waiting, looked like they had all been riding in the same bus. One of them said something friendly to me, and the whole group stopped talking and turned to look. I smiled that I didn’t know what she was saying. They all laughed. Someone said “Kyrgyzstan!!” and pointed to the whole group. Someone else walked up to me and handed me two pears, and they all watched while I ate one. It was all very good natured, and made me want to go to Kyrgyzstan.
Less good-natured were the stares we received when we walked into the breakfast lounge of a truck stop hotel in Russia. We accidentally decided to have breakfast at the same time as a Russian football team who were staying at the truck stop too. They were not hostile, but they were certainly unamused by us.
Till next time
We look forward to several more days relaxing here in Ulaanbaatar, until Luke’s sister Jo joins us next week. She’s made the brave decision to join us on our drive through China – a whole month of Felice and Luke, lucky her? We’ll keep you posted!
Bonus feature: A map of where we’ve been this time, because no one should be expected to know the geography of Central Asia off the top of their heads.
The Altai Mountains
Weird half constructed building in Russia before entering the Altai area
Stopping for lunch before reaching the Altai. I’ve mastered the Asian squat! (I don’t think that’s racist, I think it’s a thing)
There was a harvest moon! It made shadows even at the height of night.
The super scenic enormous television tower above our truck stop hotel in Barnaul, Russia.
That says Altai in Cyrillic! Yay!
Luke pets a statue dog
Exploring near the Altai sign
Entering the Altai with a horse and some motorbikes. The mountains are popular with Russian tourists too.
This wasn’t even the only upside-down house we saw. We saw 3.
Luke convinced me to go on another freaking ski lift. It doesn’t look that bad, right?
But then in got worse
And way freaking worse
And I looked like this
But at least at the top there was an adorable baby owl in captivity
And also this sad looking eagle. Eagle hunting is a thing here.
A Kazakh girl I met on the trail explained that these are prayers.
More trees laden with prayers.
Still at the top of the mountain, Not sure what the buckets are, but they are scenic.
Safely back at the base of the mountain, we stopped by a pretty river
How creepy is my shadow
We found an actual, paid campground. The keeper assured us it was bear proof due to the fence. The fence was only half constructed. Anyway, we lived.
Luke cooks with a resident kitten.
Look at this adorable baby. I had an awkward moment where the owner and I accidentally stood together and watched this cat dig a hole and poop into it. I don’t know, it just happened.
This is the kitchen! It’s a traditional Altai house
Scenic abandoned ping pong table at our campground
By our campsite
Back on the road
The scenery in the Altai changed dramatically, frequently
Not the scariest road we’ve been on, but not totally pleasant either
There’s just always animals by the road here.
A nice free camping site
The weirdest thing about this valley was that one side of the valley was totally different than the other. Here’s our picnic table from one view.
And the exact same table from the other side.
The harvest moon is about to rise!
Look at those sheep on the hill!
Luke liked this rock situation. He said things about rocks when we got to it.
Self at the confluence of some such river and another river. I’m a great tourist.
He didn’t move when we honked.
There was a waterfall!
Lavatory in the middle of nowhere
We came across this lovely little town. We were looking for cheese again, which seems to be the start of many adventures for us.
The whole town looked like Lothlorien with it’s golden trees
Kosh-Agach, the last town on the Chusky Trakt in Russia, on the border of Mongolia. Looks like the edge of the world.
Our little friend at Joy’s home in Tsagaannuur, before things got rough of course
Joy’s sister helps me try on a Mongolian vest, which her mother made
And now, into Ulgii, the next town on our road in Mongolia
Recovering from a rough night. At a restaurant in Ulgii. We had unknown meat bits covered in fried bread.
The market in Ulgii
A giant stomps through the market
Beautiful Kazakh embroidery. People hang these in their gers.
Including our ger!
Aww, wittle Lukie taking a snooze
Not the most scenic place to be a cow.
Getting our car ready to go
Matan helps Luke tie the mattress on top of the car
I won’t label most of these photos. It’s just Mongolia.
Our first campsite in Mongolia
Our tent has a friend now 🙂
Luke’s dad would be proud – we stopped to look at rocks!
Our lonely car. There is a road out there, you just can’t really see it.
I had just been wondering if there were snakes in that rock pile, when…
Luke found rocks!
A boot. A very Mongolian boot.
Stopped on the side of the road to make a salad for lunch
These two folks were sitting by the side of the road when we pulled up. One was listening to music and one was doing an oil painting (no joke). They came over to our car and we gave them tea and snacks.
Luke getting festive in the supermarket.
Another lunch stop along the way, next to a small-town temple.
Said small town temple.
Another part of the temple
Said small town.
We had a dinner and breakfast party in our sketchy hotel room!
Digging our way into the pit
Luke insisted on getting out some spare wood and screeding the tent base. The boys politely, even enthusiastically, went along with it.
Distracted by the sunset.
Look at these fluffy pink plants. They are actually tumbleweed and they are super soft.
The brothers being adorable while taking photos of the sunset
How much does this rock formation look like a boot? I think a little old lady lives in there with her 11 children.
A ger in the distance
Lots of little towns had these rows of bright buildings lining the road