After listening to Travel to Mongolia – Amateur Traveler Episode 111 Sherry Ott was motivated to go to Mongolia. We caught up with Sherry to see why someone would do that, and what she thinks of Mongolia after going there.
What about Mongolia caught your imagination?
The idea of open spaces and nomadic life; it has the honor of having the least population density in the world. I had been living in Ho Chi Minh City at the time, which was one of the most densely populated cities in the world; I was craving open space. I was fascinated with the herding, nomadic culture and that it was still actively practiced in such a modern world. Finally – I recalled hearing about the annual festival of on the podcast. The culture of horse racing, archery, and wrestling fascinated me – I immediately had a desire to go experience it!
What surprised you about your trip?
I was most surprised about how families lived together in a small tent (ger) with no plumbing or ‘rooms’. When you go to Mongolia you leave your privacy at the border. If you go and really experience the nomadic life then be prepared to not have personal space. It’s an odd concept coming from the land of huge homes where family members can simply go to their room and shut a door. There are no doors except one in the ger…and that’s the front door. But because of this, the families were so tightly intertwined, it was beautiful to see.
What was the highlight?
I was traveling through the Gobi Desert and even though it was the beginning of August there were still Naadam celebrations going on in small villages (Naadam – Mongolian Manly Sports) in the Gobi Desert even though the main event in the capital of Ulaanbaater had long passed. My jeep driver notified me that Naadaam was taking place in the village we were in and I was overjoyed. After hearing about it on the podcast, I wanted to see it. I loved the smaller scale of the festival in the village; all of the villagers came out to watch the competitions and they included me in the ceremonies of sharing and drinking airag (fermented mare’s milk) and allowed me to shoot away with my camera. I watched in awe as men pummeled each other wrestling on the hard Gobi ground and young kids race at high speeds bareback on horses for 15 kilometers.
What is your best tip for travel to Mongolia?
I like to immerse myself in a culture – so my tip is to do just that. I suggest that you look into the trips that Ger to Ger puts together (Ger to Ger – Cultural Travel in Mongolia). They aren’t upscale trips – these are trips that have cultural immersion as the goal. You will see how families live on a daily basis in their gers, see how they survive off of herding, and you will be welcomed into their lives. One of the philosophies of Ger to Ger is to really have travel be a cultural exchange – so they make you travel from ger to ger via local transportation. That way you really get to experience the lifestyle, plus the locals also get to experience you and get more exposure to foreign cultures. But – if you decide upon this mode of seeing Mongolia, then be prepared to rough it; eating noodles and mutton for a week was totally worth it to me!
What is your favorite picture of Mongolia?
I came across this family of 7 moving their ger in a big truck. Everything they owned, including their ‘house’ was in that truck and they were all going to ride in it together to their new nomadic destination!
What is one unique thing about Mongolia?
There are no bathrooms in the country side. So you better be prepared to do as locals do…squat wherever you can find your privacy!