Together with a Spanish motorcyclist we were the first people to be conducted through the exit procedure at the Russian border in Tashanta. After half an hour we had the exit stamp in our passports and started the 25km ride through the no man’s land between Russia and Mongolia. When we reached the Mongolian border post, one and a half hours later, the car queue was already several 100m long. Thanks to the cyclist bonus, we were waved past all motorized vehicles directly to the passport control. There we queued as the only disciplined and were thereby diligently overtaken😉. At the chaotic border post, no one was interested in our bikes or bags, so we suddenly had Mongolian soil under our feet.

Comparison Switzerland – Mongolia

Source: Various, inaccurate sources😉

Land area in km²
Asphalt roads

8.7 Mio
0.041 Mio
0.13 Mio
~3.5 Mio.

3.3 Mio
1.564 Mio
1.45 Mio
~56 Mio.

Mongolia had caused us a lot of worries during the last weeks. Reports about sandy tracks, wind, mosquitoes, drunken herdsmen and bad food had made us wonder… will we even make it?! To get from the west to the center of Mongolia, there are three main routes: the north, middle and south route. None of them is paved all the way. Virtually all vehicles take the new road from the border to Olgii, the first major village in Mongolia. From there they either continue along the southern route to Ulaanbaatar or cross for the northern or middle route to Ulaangom. According to our research, many roads have been upgraded in recent years and the northern route seemed to offer a lot of asphalt and the most variety. The most difficult passages with about 200 km of dirt road and two river crossings without a bridge are to be mastered in the first days, after that the conditions become easier. Nobody could give us information about the condition of the track (sand, stones, washboard…). For us, deep sand would be the worst scenario, as we would have to painstakingly push or carry the bicycles.

About the river crossings, the platform iOverlander said “You may not be able to cross the second river, …unless your car is a submarine…” … but at least there is water there😉.

Aktiviere Karte Deaktiviere Karte

We were tense when we left the brand-new road shortly after the border and set off on the uncertain northern route (road A16😊). The selection in the small markets in the village of Tsagaannuur was, as expected, meager. Fortunately, we had stocked up in Russia with supplies for 5 days (blog post to follow).

The landscape was enormous and grandiose! We really disappeared in the endless expanses and had to pedal vigorously not to get lost in it. The first three days through the backcountry required a lot from us physically and especially mentally. A convoy with three 4×4 vehicles in the morning, a motorcycle with two locals out of nowhere into nowhere, nobody else… only us, our bicycles, desert and mosquitoes arround. To enjoy the breathtaking surroundings in this condition, we did not have the the calmness. We couldn’t go faster than 6km/h in the stone desert. Wordless and in thought we completed the stony but drivable stretch to the rivers. Thanks to a good weather window the crossings were unproblematic. The water reached at most up to the middle of our thighs and we could carry bag after bag, bike after bike from one river bank to the other. Especially during the portages near the water, but also on the bike, we flapped wildly, because the mosquitoes ate us up in broad daylight! The mosquito spray made only a moderate impression on them.

After crossing the barren plain, it became greener again and the numerous smashed Voldka bottles along the way were a clear sign that we were approaching pastureland and gers (Mongolian yurts) again. The “civilization” around us calmed our minds a lot, so that we now had the leisure to marvel and enjoy.

After three and a half days of authentic Mongolia experience, we rolled in on asphalt in relief to Ulaangom. Here we stocked up our supplies and headed east. Both the road and the driving style of the Mongolians were so pleasant that we almost missed the thrill. We had completely overlooked the fact that there was no water for 250 km on the route. At least for a short time, the additional 10 liters of water per person made it difficult for us to pedal again😉. In addition, there was increasingly frequent unstable (rain) weather, which we could badly sit out due to lack of shelter. An accommodation without shower, electricity or WiFi and with outhouse in the garden (for the use of which one must be free from vertigo), would have brought no advantage over our own tent. Admittedly, we also avoided the local food (i.e. meat) and preferred to cook for ourselves. So we sometimes set up our palace in the rain packed it in again in the rain. Because it could start to wind or thunderstorm very suddenly and violently, we tensioned the tent completely every night. Nevertheless, once we had to hold the tent from the inside to avoid being blown away!

Apart from that, Mongolia is a great, huge camping area, and the locals also use it as such.
We had visits from animals as well as from shepherds. Loud snorting and tugging woke us up from a deep sleep one night when a herd of cows grazed around our tent and pulled at the tent cords while sniffing the best grass stalks. Again and again we tried to drive the herd away, which brought only short rests. After that, even more curious noses returned😊. One rainy morning we were greeted from outside the tent in Mongolian: “Sain baina uu, sain baina uu…!“. David put his head out of the tent and greeted the motorcycle herder back. Shortly after, the zipper opened and the shepherd stuck his head into the tent… he wanted to see who else was in the tent😊.

Sad, but partly amusing were the many drunken men… so we got a performance of a “Genghis Khan” dance, Mongolian language lessons and many stories that we did not understand😉. We were very pleased to see many Mongolian children and teenagers who spoke English with us without accent thanks to Youtube. Often the parents sent their young ones ahead to speak to us before they had the confidence to do so themselves.

On the ride from Ulaangom via Tsetserleg to Kharkhorin, the landscape, yaks, horses, camels, sheep, goats, cows, birds of prey and gers were the main attractions for two weeks. An involuntary distraction was my upset stomach from eating moldy bread. After a night spent cowering in the gravel bed, I could barely stay on my feet the next morning. After a few hours of rest, my strength was enough for the ride to the village, which was fortunately only 15km down the valley. There David was able to refill water and do some shopping while I slept myself healthy.
A nice change was Kharkhorin, where we visited the Buddhist monastery Erdene Zuu. The colorful temples with artfully restored murals were well worth a visit.

About 45 km north of Kharkhorin is the most eastern finding place of Turkish relics. The Turkish government attaches such great importance to this place that it financed a museum and – especially advantageous for us – an asphalt road to it. We were also able to fill up our water bottles at the museum, so that we were prepared for the stretch of dirt road up to the touristy Lake Ugii. We had recovered from the first days’ exertions well enough to take another unpaved shortcut between the museum and the town of Bulgan. This way we were able to bypass the busy capital Ulaanbaatar and once again immerse ourselves in the landscape.

In this region we saw especially many large herds of horses, which are kept for milk and meat production. Milking is women’s business, with men and children leading the harnessed foals to their mothers or their pregnant counterparts to keep them still and give milk. Some of the milk is then fermented and often consumed as the national drink (“Airag”). Several times a canister was taken out of the car for us and we were given a cup. Fortunately, we had tried the drink in Kyrgyzstan, which takes some getting used to, and could politely praise it without blinking an eye. Mare’s milk risotto with curry and onions, by the way, was our most extravagant dinner😉.

Via copper mining town of Erdenet, we reached Sukhbaatar, the last major town in Mongolia. We treated ourselves to a shower in the public bathhouse and camped on the way to the Mongolian-Russian border. Before the countless mosquitoes buzzed us to sleep between the inner and outer tents, our thoughts circled around the upcoming entry and onward journey to Russia.