In Iceland, I work as a tour guide for horse back riding trips, but after 6 years of that I thought it’d be fun to take a tour as a guest. Mongolia is probably the only other country with as much, if not more, horse culture as Iceland, so it was easy to find the perfect vacation there. I thought everyone would want to go, but only one horse friend from Germany actually made it and our group only had 2 other people.
We chose a 9 day riding tour in the Gobi Steppe, but wanted to spend a few extra days in Mongolia before heading to China and North Korea. We spent our extra time in the capital city, which is a strange mix of hold-school communist architecture, new-world/mid-west high-rises, the Cyrillic alphabet, and Asian food and culture (mostly Chinese and Korean).
The food and drinks very really delicious, but we were mostly offered ‘western’ foods, and lots of it. Even though we were camping, in the middle of a desert, with no electricity or running water, we were served 4 course meals every night. Soup, salad, some meat, and dessert were the norm, plus boiled well water to drink tea and coffee, and once in a while the cook surprised us with special snacks like Pringles or a home made cake (I still cant figure out how she baked a cake by burning cow dung).
We were only 4 guests, but had one English speaking guide and 5 other staff – a chef, her assistant/waitress, the horse man, and 2 camel boys, who were responsible for the 4 caramel convoy carrying our stuff between camp every day. We moved every morning except the last night, where we stayed in a more permanent ger camp. Each day we rode 30-40 km, only on one horse, and we rode the same horse for 9 days straight. I tried to horse man’s horse briefly, just to sit in his Mongolian wooden saddle, but my friend Michael got to ride his horse a whole day because he wanted to try a faster horse. It made him very happy, until he raced the horseman (who rode Michaels regular horse) and lost. It urned out I had the fastest horse, which was great until how hard it was to stop after reaching flat-out speed. Sometimes it took many kilometres to slow him down, but I didn’t mind.
After the horse tour in Ulanbataar, we had a few more great meals, lots of vodka, and visited the city park to watch a music/dance/culture show and ride a Ferris wheel. Nearby was also Hustai National park, where it was possible to see the ancient Przewalskis horse in the wild. During the car journeys between places, we often drove on unmarked dirt tracks which were considered main travel routes by the locals. Mongolia was the only country I’ve seen regularly use hybrid Toyota Priuses as off-road vehicles, and it makes sense why horses are still used so much to move – its almost faster to go 15 km on a horse than a car, especially considering the fact that Mongolian horses can gallop for over an hour without stopping or slowing down. They were truly amazing, and I would have done it if my body could have kept up, but my legs couldnt handle it after they started bruising in a few different places from a strange saddle that you need to stand in.