Day 4

From our second stay, we woke up to icey path, and a nice sun overlooking the little hills.

Outdoor view from our ger camp
Morning View from 2nd Ger stay
Outdoor view from our ger camp
The red box is the toilet – it actually looks good from picture

The houseman and houselady served us another round of lamb noodles before we went off on our way. I can still remember this, that bowl of noodles was so delicious!

At the next town, we made our first stop for the bath house! YASSS SHOWER!! It felt so clean and refreshed afterwards. Btw, do pack your towel, shower gel and shampoo, and clothes to change in a smaller backpack for this kind of stops. It is much easier than opening up the big luggage when coming here for a shower pitstop.

Unuruu showed me around the town, and we visited a school. The school was meant to host students from 5 years old up until 18 years old (if I remembered correctly). Unuruu shared that she used to be an English teacher at a school, before she made the career change to a tour guide :). I think I blended in like a local, but then kids heard us speaking in English and gave us some curious looks.

We then dropped by a cafeteria for lunch which was just right behind where our van was parked at.

Our driver was MIA while we waited in the restaurant...
I guessed some miscommunication between my guide and driver – we walked pass the van, but the driver didn’t know we entered the cafeteria and he waited still in the minivan.

Stir-fried egg with lamb

Khongor Sand Dunes Area

We reached our 3rd family stay quite early in the afternoon. And this time, we had 2 ger camps to ourselves. So 1 would be used as the kitchen, and the other for sleeping. After offloading our stuff, we met with the houseman and houselady and they served us milk tea and their homemade noodles.

Noodle Soup with Lamb

After a short rest, Unuruu and I began our walk to the oasis in the sand dunes area. It was quite near our ger, perhaps a 15 mins walk. Actually, this region starts to feel like a desert! All the sand, sand, sand, sand!

Oasis at Khongor Area

With the start of winter season, the oasis had actually frozen up a little, but it still wasn’t hard ice. Lets spam some photos here!

Oasis at Khongor Area

This spot where I stood for this photo was real scary: it was quite steep behind and I worried about my big-left-foot tripping my big-right-foot and then “bye bye, see you in the oasis later”.

Oasis in Khongor Sand Dunes Area
Me with the oasis in background
Little Hills at Khongor Sand Dunes Area
Small sand hills
Unuruu on top of hill at Khongor Sand Dunes Area
Unuruu standing on a sand hill

I had the idea to try night photography by the oasis. The walk from our ger camp seemed easy, but when I turned back and look from the oasis, ger camps look so mini that I couldn’t imagine seeing them at night. And we saw more than just 1 nomad family from where we stood. Unuruu quizzed me, and I could answer which is our ger camp correctly right then! But the idea of getting lost at night is apparent – I am not scared of the dark, but more of the cold. Alright maybe not. Unless if I had a mechanical compass or a good map app to plot locations, and a better headlamp.

Unuruu wanted to show me the Saxaul trees – she said that it is one of the camel’s favourite food. Some 5 mins walk later, we reached this spot with a nice flourishing Saxaul tree.

Saxaul Tree in Khongor Sand Dunes Area

It was such a nice view here against the sun setting horizon.

Unuruu and I tried tasting the Saxaul Tree, and oh my goodness…what a heavenly taste. Really! No wonder the camel loves it!!

So we both decided to do an taste-advertisement video (1 in English, and 1 in Mongolian) for the Saxaul tree. It is like a must-try! Just so to create awareness so no one should miss it! If you haven’t tried the Saxaul Tree, then you haven’t been to Gobi Desert!

Saxaul Tree Tasting Advert – English by Lina
Saxaul Tree Tasting Advert – In Mongolian by Unuruu
READ THIS!! Rewind back before the videos adverts...

Unuruu and I plucked off some twigs from the tree – she told me to try tasting it. She sampled and said it was heavenly sweet! Weirdly, I couldn’t taste anything, so I plucked off another one, and tried harder on sucking it. Still no taste.

Unuruu started to look worried, eg: “Did you taste anything from the noodle soup just now? How about the milk tea?”

“Yes of course! I don’t have covid!!!” I exclaimed, reading what she was hinting towards.

So last try, I plucked another branch, and sucked on it, and maybe my mind was really trying to justify that my tastebud was working. “Oh yesss now I can taste it, it is sweet”! I finally tasted it!

After I “confirmed” my tastebuds were working fine, Unuruu burst out laughing, finally revealing the joke on me! The Saxaul tree doesn’t have any taste!!! I mentally wanted to strangle her, but couldn’t help myself and joined my awesome guide in laughter! She is so cheeky hahaha!

Also since camels were feeding from the Saxaul tree, can’t help thinking we were indirectly kissing them.

Last few more shots, trying the sunset & tree silhouette look – couldn’t decide which is nicer! Lets just post them:

Saxaul Tree and Sunset
Unuruu did a successful jump shot here!

We started our way back to the ger camp as sun was setting. Spotted a camel’s head skeleton here – where is the body?

Camel head skeleton at Khongor Sand Dunes Area
Camel head skeleton at Khongor Sand Dunes Area

Back at the Ger camp, Unuruu started to get busy with cooking (shes going to make chicken drumstick!). Actually the original plan was for her to teach me a mongolian dish, but we fooled around too much such that we were late, so no cooking lesson that day.

We had a fresh bowl of pastries by courtesy of the houselady! This was actually really delicious, its like our local fried doughstick, youtiao, but a much healthier version!

Fresh-made pastries by houselady

Yummy dinner! The houseman dropped by, and had some chicken and wedges with us as well.

Dinner made by Unuruu

Then later, we collected the remaining wedges and chicken drumstick, dished them on a plate nicely for the houselady, and then we headed to the family’s ger. This was when it starts to get interesting…

Night time fun at the family’s ger

Houseman first started with fruit juice. Then Erka later whipped out a bottle of vodka. And there was only 1 cup it was poured into (I didn’t realise this) and the houseman handed it to me first. I was going to slowly savour it. But after some while, Erka gestured for me to finish it, I was like “No, I want to drink slowly”. Then, Unuruu told me they were waiting for my cup…OH!

So it was just – one cup, shared with everyone in the party. After one finishes, it would be refilled and handed to the next person. I sort of jammed their vodka queue unknowingly.

Some conversation in their language flying around, but I was looped in at times:

Learnt of houseman and houselady names, Olziibat and Ariunaa respectively. (Hee, there are 2 “Nana” here!)

How many years of army do Singaporean guys served? Mongolia used to be 3 years, but now it is now changed to 1 year of service. So the 2 guys in the room were saying like the younger generations are weaker, because they only served 1 year. I guessed Singapore’s 2 years of service would be more balanced? Not too long, not too short~?

Next we were guessing ages – I couldn’t hit their real age correctly – but Erka reaction was so funny. I said “43” to him, and he laughed happily, saying “Oh thank you thank you! Twenty-two twenty-two!!” Hahaha, he wanted to be 22 ah. I was amused also – of all the numbers in English he would know, he know 22 ah~

Then about both Singapore and Mongolian governments policy of encouraging babies, like how much $$ would the government give for the newborns. Somehow it diverged to how mongolians could marry 2 wives in the past. And I think there was a question to Erka and Olziibat if they wanted more than 1 wives. Olziibat said, “1 Ariunaa”. Unuruu translated Erka hilarious candid reply: “I want many wives, but I don’t want many in-laws”. In some ways, he is quite wise hahaha.

They also kept mentioning this phrase, so I asked Unuruu, “What is ‘bayanaa’?” Oh its a driver name! Lawls – actually in everywhere we went, his name would always pop up in the conversation.

Karaoke Session

There was also a guitar in the back, and Olziibat said Ariunaa is a really good player! We did have a chance to see her play! But ouch – no video captured! Erka started to pluck a song on guitar, the song name in chinese: 世上只有妈妈好 (or rough English translation: “Mummy is the best in the world”). I was surprised! We shared some common songs!?

Somewhen, the karaoke session started (I can’t remember how did it begin), but let me post my favourite song here first:

This song is called “Date” (Bolzoo), and Unuruu explained to me that, this boy and girl wants to go dating. However the girl waited for the boy and he didn’t come. She got angry and ask “What happened!?” (repeated as girl’s chorus).

The boy explains that he has to herd the camels, take them to eat grass, bring them to lake, milk the camels. Boy replied “I couldn’t! (-make it)” (repeated as boy’s chorus).

This song is really super cute! Unuruu found me the kids singing version here on Youtube:

Just stitching all the karaoke videos I got here – Unuruu explained some of the songs to me, like mostly singing about land and sea:

Anyways I did stop taking videos after this bit, just wanted to enjoy and indulge in the moments. The singing continued, and Olziibat had already opened a second bottle of vodka. Somewhen, they also requested for me to sing also. So together with Unuruu and courage from the vodka, I did “Mommy is the best in the world”, “当” from My Fair Princess, and 朋友 by 周华健.

Lol, in between the singing, there was also dancing. Erka grabbed Unuruu, and I grabbed Ariunaa, and then we were prancing around in the ger lawls~

Overdoing my liquor quota

After many rounds, Unuruu told me to just sip the vodka and return it, and don’t need to drink it all. They were also complaining “This cup is too big”, “Why never bring a shot glass?”.

On my 3rd-5th cup, I drank maybe half of the vodka (not really sips). But by my last cup, which was either the 6th or 7th cup, I drank it all and a little too fast. I started sitting on the floor, because sitting on the bed was too high for my spinning head. Then I even volunteered to teach them the moonwalk (feeling high liao). Unuruu told them “Michael Jackson” so that they know what I was trying to do hahaha. Lawls, they stood up and tried to follow what I was showing. But of course, with that rusty unpracticed foot work, added with vodka-spinning-head and snow boots (how to dance in boots sia), I banged into their low ceiling and they had to pull me back down to sit. That moment was so hilarious xD!

They called an end some time later around 2am plus, maybe because the last round of vodka was finished or I banged into their wall again. I hoped I didn’t destroy their ger hahaha!

I remembered I was escorted back to our ger (they carried a lot of stuff for me – my camera, tripod, jacket etc) and I remembered falling and landing on my butt during the walk and I was laughing hysterically. They hauled me into our ger as my mind-and-legs weren’t functioning correctly. Unuruu laid out my sleeping bags and blanket, and she placed some plastic bag by my bedside in case I puked. I asked her to help me find my medicated oil, hopefully it would stop my spinning head.

I think I fell asleep.

Then I woke. Sat up. Grabbed a plastic bag. Puked.

Erka immediately came by my side, passing me a new bottle of water, then giving me a head massage lol~! I was so thankful for the head massage.

Day 5

I woke up the next day feeling funny-embarrassed and tummy-miserable. I told Unuruu what happened last night, and she then realised that I didn’t just sipped the vodka as advised. Erka came into the kitchen ger, took a look at me and then laughed as well…

Unuruu made us porridge for the hangover. How a nice and warm feeling!

Pet Doggie sitting in front of our kitchen ger

I was still pretty much in a daze mode – but there was quite a lot of plans for the day.

Camel Riding in Khongor Sand Dunes Area

First was camel riding at 12pm. I was honestly a little worried – there was so much Unuruu had cautioned:

  • Don’t touch the camel.
  • Must grab the hump and/or the fur on it.
  • Don’t make sudden loud noise.
  • Don’t let go and take photos.
  • Don’t drop anything.

So I held onto its hump for my dear life. Along the walk, the camel turned its head back perhaps to stare at me, the human grabbing its hump. Uh-oh…

The ride was pretty smooth, apart from the little trots when it comes to a little downward slope. Other than that, I got used to it prettttttty ok?

Unuruu could totally handle the camel on her own! My admiration for her~!

Camel Riding
Camel Riding – Me with a stiff weird smile

My sis could tell I was scared from this picture hahaha! How true ah!

Butt pain afterwards, but I felt hungry already and ready for the day!

Camels rest time

Climbing the Khongor Sand Dunes

Finally feeling my appetite, we had lunch – Unuruu made us soupy pasta. We had some free time afterwards, and around 3.30pm we headed out to climb the sand dunes. Unuruu wanted for me to be at the top of the sand dunes just in time for the sunset, hopefully we can catch that beautiful moment!

Ok, I had heard about this, and I had some past experiences of climbing sand dunes in Australia (definitely don’t remember it being so tough…). But here, it was outrageously difficult!

Unuruu told me, 3 steps may become 1 step, so try to do it slowly, perhaps could better reserve the energy. But it doesn’t seem to be working for me, whether it was 3 steps or doing it slow. So I got really frustrated and just tried to run or claw 5 steps each time. Then I would sink back to where I started or even lower!!! Mentally screaming “nooooo pleaseeeee!”.

It took me some time to understand the terrain. If the base of the sand was hard ice, just say bye bye to your hard work of climbing.

I got onto all fours, because using just 2 foot was too difficult. All muscles on my palms, fingers, fists, knuckles were all put into good use. Sometime I would find big sand stones, and would use it to help dig at the sand for some grip – I don’t think it helped much and my wrist was getting a lot more impact due to that. Maybe don’t try that.

Along the initial part of the climb, we spotted a black bottle. Unuruu exclaimed that it was from the 2-sisters tour group previously. So funny of it to be lying here waiting for us. So, we promised we would come back for it later!

Misplaced water bottle in Khongor Sand Dunes
Water bottle from the 2-sisters tour group hahaha!

You know, sensible people would bring water to hike. Even back in Singapore I do that and I’d finish bottle after bottle during my 4 hours trail walk. I don’t know why, but I just went empty-handed for all my activities here. But I did bring some chocolates for energy, lozenges to prevent my throat from drying, and the hawthorn candies that Baara prepared for us in our goodie bags. Chocolates would make you extra thirsty too, but I needed the energy boost so I already ate 1.5 choco pieces while climbing. The extra, shall be trophy candies when we reached the top.

Khongor Sand Dunes
Unuruu making good progress with the sand dunes!

Unuruu reached the top first and sat there waiting for me. I tried climbing sideways-to-the-left, trying to find a better path without the hard ice base. But I couldn’t tell it was the wrong way. Unuruu asked “why are you going towards the steeper end?” Ohhhh! Really? Wrong way then, so I climbed sideways-back-to-the-right. Focusing on the sand, I dug on all fours frantically. I hadn’t realised it but I heard her shouting “You did it!”.

Wow, I am here indeed!

Top of Khongor Sand Dunes
  • Buddy Pose: Top of Khongor Sand Dune
  • Buddy Pose: Top of Khongor Sand Dune
  • V Pose - Top of Khongor Sand Dune
  • V Pose - Top of Khongor Sand Dune
  • Couldn't feel my cheeks - Frozen Face - Top of Khongor Sand Dunes
  • My Fantastic Guide - Khongor Sand Dunes
  • My Fantastic Guide Dancing(?)- Khongor Sand Dunes
  • Leg numb lepaking - Khongor Sand Dunes
  • No sunset view - Khongor Sand Dunes

This climb wasn’t just physical. It was a mental battle as well. I half-wanted to bail really, as the sand kept sending me back to my first position. No matter how hard I tried, I kept returning. I was totally dejected that all was futile effort. But eventually, we will find a way! When you reached the top there, the joy was felt, and moment was achieved.

It felt really good-

-and cold! That harsh wind! Cheeks were freezing. Legs were numbing. Dunes were singing~! And sadly, the sun was hiding behind the clouds, and we couldn’t see the beautiful sunset here. Numbness and soreness started to settle in my legs. We chewed away on our trophy chocolates and hawthorn candies. We were definitely thirsty! Our minds floated back to the estranged water bottle from the 2-sisters. “Thank you for leaving it behind! We needed it!” Sucking on our only throat refreshing source, the lozenges, we started our descent.

Downwards was really easy, just don’t trip and roll all the way back. I can imagine if that happened, Unuruu shall be laughing at me.

Lost and Found at Khongor Sand Dunes

We reached the water bottle location and here goes us 2 going crazy laughing, and doing a victory video again~!

More photos of us going silly posing with the water bottle!!

  • Victory when finding water in desert
  • Victory when finding water in desert
  • Victory when finding water in desert
  • Victory when finding water in desert

The unscrewing moment of the water bottle – we ready to DRINK…!

Imagine our surprise when the water in the bottle turned up frozen. After all, it had been sitting here in the cold for a week? Even the insulation structure couldn’t keep out the cold.

Frozen water bottle

Poor estranged bottle, we shall bring you back no matter. Even when we were thirsty and you had no water to offer hahaha.

On the way back, Unuruu spotted the sand sculptures and said we should go there! I had all the “nos” ready because it looked like we needed to climb again. Luckily, we found another walkable path and we did make the trip there.

Sand Sculptures at Khongor Sand Dunes
  • Dinosaur Sculptures at Khongor Sand Dunes
  • Goat Sculptures at Khongor Sand Dunes
  • Leopard Sculptures at Khongor Sand Dunes
  • Camel Sculptures at Khongor Sand Dunes

Unuruu was so glad that we came here because she hasn’t seen this yet, even with the 2-sisters tour. Then of course, we had to end our excursion with some funny moments again…~

Scrubbing back in Khongor Sand Dunes
Scrubbing back at the Khongor Sand Dunes
Scarf dance in Khongor Sand Dunes
Scarf dance at the Khongor Sand Dunes

While we walked to our van, I asked her – how come during the camel excursion, she and the camel herder were again talking about “bayanaa. This guy was in everyone’s conversation! But she retorted funnily: “How come you only remember other driver name! He is not your driver! Your driver is Erka!”. At that point, I sheepishly revealed to her that I actually had a hard time remembering Erka’s name due to the pronunciation. Lawls! Then, she hinted that I could say it like “Erica”. AH! Now I can remember his name. “Its actually a girls name”, I told her, hahaha~

Making Khuushuur

We returned to our ger camp, fully beaten. Then she told me about her relaying to Erka that I couldn’t remember his name. Erka reply was like, “Oh back in my days, all the girls know my name”. LAWLS- Here is a Mongolian Casanova really!

While I wanted to slack, Unuruu was going to make me work hard for dinner. She had planned for Khuushuur, a mongolian meat pastry! I helped out with the dough. The part where she flattens-and-spins a doughball with the rolling stick was too challenging for me (it would be supper if I did that), so I focused on pinching the nice closing shape. She told me I did well! Woohoo~! My pinching shape were not so visible from here, but here this was our end product.

Khuushuur – Mongolian Meat Pastries (with lamb)

She also tried using cheese and corn as filling for the extra doughs we had. It was actually quite delicious! “We should open a restaurant, I will be your dough-pinching chef”, I told her. “My price cheap, just $3000 only” hahahaha.

Later on, Olziibat and Ariunaa came by our ger. Then I learnt that during their day of herding, they were also looking for gold.

GOLD!? In Gobi Desert?!

So it seems that Gobi Desert is a vast land of minerals within. These areas where they were staying are protected, so no industrial miners are allowed to mine. Nomad families staying here could actually sometimes find gold here as they have the know-how technique.

Vodka Night Begins

“Vodka?”, Olziibat invited. “Sure!”. And again, we began our vodka rounds from the remaining of last night 2nd bottle with just Olziibat, Unuruu, and me! Ariunaa had tea instead as she didn’t fancy vodka, but she likes wine however. 🙂

Eden – Mongolian Vodka

Btw, they were kind of disappointed with this vodka because it tasted sour, especially when it was much pricier than the other bottle that Erka had brought.

Erka was staying out of liquor as well, as he said the next day drive will be bumpy. There started this conversation where I imitated myself as being thrown around in the backseat during bumpy drive. I told him that I was watching in the backseat to see if he would hit his head on the van’s ceiling since he is actually quite tall – but it didn’t happened! Then he showed me a video of another tourist who could sleep even on bumpy road drive. Neck pillow on, and she was really sleeping with eyes closed while her head bopped around in the front seat.

But hor, I had to ask: “How come, bumpy road, and you could still have hands to video someone???”

“I good, I good!” he boasted smugly.

Then then then, the conversation became my lessons for mongolian words as I asked them to teach me some. Olziibat shared quite a few, “I love you”, “kiss”, “I am sorry”, and etc. But now, I could only remember “I love you” because it sounded like “hashtag” and was easy to remember. Lol~! Words such as “tiim” was easy because they kept repeating this word. From then on, Erka would keep saying “tiim-eh?” (“really?”) to me without context, just for me to reply “tiim!” (yes) back.

That night was short, we called it a night after we finished the last of the bottle. For me, I had to get my milky way first, since I missed it the previous night.

Milky Way – Khongor Sand Dunes

Hmm my location wasn’t good enough and I couldn’t get the entire milky way in (this was about 6 photos auto-merged together). I need to learn how to composite photos with photoshop. Sigh…This was also my last night photography, because the weather condition in the following 2 nights was too challenging.

Here’s a night shot from the internal of our ger where we slept: the dancing fire from the fireplace was lighting up our ger.

Dancing fire light from the fireplace in our ger

Goodbyes to my favourite family

The next morning, we met again at the family’s ger for last round of bowl of noodles together before farewells. We had stir-fried noodles drenched in milk tea.

Erka, always being funny, when I asked for a “small bowl”, he scooped only 1 spoonful for me. This fella~

Stir fried noodles in milk tea
Olziibat and Ariunaa

I really cherished my time here with this family, together with Unuruu and Erka, they were so warm and friendly – not to mention 2 nights of vodka together, karaoke, singing and dancing, woah. I really had a great time here, and I do hope to be back again with a bottle of vodka and wine. 🙂

Btw, Olziibat had commented to Unuruu (somewhere along these lines) that it was the first time they encountered me-this-type of visitor. Haha! But I am guessing that with other traveller groups, perhaps they would hang out more amongst themselves than with the host family? I definitely thoroughly enjoyed my stay here!

At then, it also dawned upon me, most of the time when we visit the nomad family for a night stay – it was mostly a short stay. There wasn’t enough time spent getting to know each other. I had mostly exchanged brief polite greetings, but not enough time to warm up and get friendly fast enough. It becomes just like getting an accommodation for sleep so that you can be away again the next morning. I am just another passer-by to many of the families we met, likewise the same. After we left for our next stop, I was emo-ing a little thinking about this and the last 2 night of stays left.

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