family trip to mongolia


Spice up Your Family Trip to Ulaanbaatar With these Off-Radar Activities

If you’re planning a family trip to Ulaanbaatar, chances are high that you like to take the road less traveled. Officially the coldest capital city in the world (a word to the wise: come in the short, warm summer or be prepared to do battle with sub-40 temperatures), the Mongolian capital rarely features in any international lists of the best places for family holidays. The allure of Mongolia is largely about its wide open spaces and proximity to wild nature, and Ulaanbaatar is often overlooked as a tourist destination due to its severe Soviet architecture and pollution (especially during the winter, when locals understandably burn a lot of fuel in order to warm their homes). Families who do make it here – perhaps for a few days’ stop off before heading into the countryside-  often find themselves surprisingly taken by the place. There are a good number of appealing museums, an intriguing mix of the modern and the traditional, and children will likely make friends very quickly at the local parks or skating around the town squares. Under-the-radar activities here tend to be more about getting away from the noise and smog than beating the tourist hordes – tourism here is still very much in its infancy, but these crowd-free spots are sure to add even more color to your family’s Ulaanbaatar experience.

Stay in a Ger

A what now? You might know these traditional nomad dwellings as yurts, but in Mongolia it’s a ger, and many Mongolian families still live in these round, tent-style homes. You don’t have to stray far from the high rise apartment blocks of downtown Ulaanbaatar before spotting the ger districts, and some families in the surrounding countryside open up their homes to travelers keen to experience a taste of traditional life. It’s thought that up to half of Mongolian families live in gers, and these well-insulated felt homes do a good job of protecting their inhabitants from the harsh winter conditions. A handful of companies in Mongolia now offer ‘luxury ger’ experiences, but while it’s by no means good form to just turn up at a ger camp and ask a family if you can bed down for the night, travel guides in Ulaanbaatar (many don’t have an online presence yet) can point you in the right direction. There are tourist ger camps in the stunningly beautiful Terelj National Park, which have a few mod cons, but asking around is normally enough to secure a stay in a family home, where the owners will often throw in home-cooked meals and nightly music performances for a very modest nightly rate.

Drink Airag (and Offer Vodka)

Strictly one for the grownups, this – it would be rude not to sample the local tipple (quit literally), if you’re staying in a family home, turning down a drop of the hard stuff is considered very bad manners. While it’s not hard to find more standard booze such as lager, this is the authentic booze taste of Ulaanbaatar. Airag is a potent drink made from fermented mare’s milk, and is usually ladled out of a large container into dauntingly large bowls or cups. It’s perhaps not what you’d describe as a pleasant taste, but after a couple of spoonfuls you might not notice the slighly acrid flavour. In return, offer a bottle of vodka, which is usually very gratefully received and likely to be opened – and shared – on the spot.

Visit a Hidden Monastery in Terelj National Park

The third-largest protected area in Mongolia, the mountainous Terelj National Park is also one of the most beautiful spots in the country, and feels like a real escape to wild nature, just a short distance from the city. Pass the tourist ger camps on the southern edge and families in Ulaanbaatar can find outdoor activities to suit their energy levels and the kids’ ages. There’s some magnificent trekking to be done hereincluding the tough hike to Arypala, some 3km from the photo-worthy ‘Turtle Rock’ at the park’s entrance. A stiff, winding climb leads to a small Buddhist temple and meditation center reached by extremely steep steps. The views from the top are worth the climb. You can always bribe kids and teens with the promise of archery classes – there are several places to practice this traditional sport within the par, and staff at the ger parks can point families to the nearest bow and arrow site.

Visit a Puzzling Museum

Families in Ulaanbaatar can put their collective intellectual skills to the test at the somewhat hidden ‘Intellectual Museum’, which is more kid-friendly than it might sound. A museum dedicated to puzzles and problem-solving, the first task to complete is finding the place 🙂 – a 30-minute walk from most of the downtown tourist attractions in a residential part of town. Once here, expect giant chess sets, the Mongolian version of a Rubik’s cube, and a whole host of other games that will keep kids and adults busy for hours. It’s a good rainy day option, but worth a visit even when the sun shines.

Give the Kids a Break from Mutton

Meaty, mutton-based dishes tend to be the mainstays of Mongolian dining, but there are plenty of international restaurants in Ulaanbaatar if the kids start griping about local fare. Reclaim your sanity for a moment by promising them some ice cream or frozen yogurt. The centrally-located Moyo does a nice line in Froyo with fruity toppings, so parents visiting Ulaanbaatar with kids can get some vitamins into them by stealth.

Travelling in southeast Asia, even with kids, doesn’t mean being banished to the land of the wild things.

I write this post following a number of inquiries I got on the subject. The fear that becomes bigger the closer your flight is, that you’ll have to sacrifice your soft skin, not to mention those killer selfies, in return for the dust of the roads and adventures, probably lurks in every woman’s head.
(ok maybe it skipped me, after all, I ooze sexiness naturally).

So here are a few tips I learned from my five years of experience:

♦ Southeast Asia is a cosmetic heaven. It only looks scary from the outside. Once you get here, once you stick your head to the first store in India, you’ll see that a lot of your fears were empty. But really empty. A wide range of amazing companies (and every ‘Himalaya’ product you can dream of), tons of natural products, oils, soaps, creams, scrubs. In short: pack light.

♦ Just never forget to check the expiry date before buying anything.

♦ One of the more important parameters is the weather. The main principle in taking care of your face is matching the cream to the weather.

♦ Invest in a night cream, something that gets the job done. And during the day find something appropriate for the weather.

♦ When we made our way by night bus from Beijing to the Mongolian border, I slept on a bunk when underneath me was a beautiful young Mongol woman. at some stage, before she went to sleep, she shamelessly pulled out her toiletries bag, and during the drive, in front of everyone, took cotton swabs and tonic, cleaned her face, put cream, oiled her hands and went to bed. Since then I take her with me everywhere. 40 days and 40 nights of staying in the Mongolian wilds (you thought I was kidding with the title?!), no matter how tired or lazy I felt. Cotton, tonic, face cream. In darkness, cold, heat, rain, in the good, the bad. No half assing.

♦ Keep those in a place that’s easy to reach.

♦ Make sure to wash your face in clear water (even a river, waterfall, lake… whatever) at least once a day.

♦ Have a scarf in your bag. The local women use it to cover their faces and protect them from the road’s dirt whenever they find themselves on a bus/bike. I don’t do it but I’m just lazy.

♦ Watch what you eat. In southeast Asia it’s easy to take care of your face’s skin using fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, different kinds of tea, fruit juice. Pay attention and don’t go wild with the junkfood.

♦ Even if you’re trekking or adventuring in remote places- eat fresh cooked food (over instant for example)- what the locals cook for themselves, drink water or tea (not chemical juice), snack on nuts and dried fruits. Sweeten with honey.

♦ Beauty salons are everywhere. But everywhere. Waxing, eyebrows, moustache. And maybe some face treatments, haircut, color. You can maintain everything even during a trek. Just ask the locals. And there’s a chance you’ll earn a conversation with a fascinating local woman and maybe even learn a few new techniques.

♦ Invest in a hat that looks a-m-a-z-i-n-g on you. You’ll be surprised how useful it can be…

♦ Don’t let pimples erupt. For that there’s a small narrow tube containing a colorless jell for focused treatment (In every other shop in southeast Asia) that neutralizes them within hours.

Make-up: personally I’d recommend one core principle when it comes to make-up: keep your face skin soft and pretty, so you’ll need the minimum and the minimum.

◊ Now, depending on the season but southeast Asia can get reeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaally humiiiiiiiid. No make-up is equal to this kind of weather. For this reason, I wouldn’t use much powder, mascara, or black pencil and all its variations.

◊ If anything, it’ll be in the locals stores that you’ll have a chance of finding the super eye-liners that you you could fly to the moon and back with without a single smudge. And it’ll probably cost 20 rupees.

Hair: same thing here. Keep it shiny and healthy. Not so hard in southeast Asia because the range of hair products is simply never-ending. Asian women take care of their hair obsessively.

◊  And of course all the gadgets and stuffs and things for your hair. Everything is dirt cheap and the range is unbelievable.

◊ And let’s say you went on a trek and didn’t wash your hair for a few days- baby talc will absorb the extra oil and give off a nice smell. I heard there’s also “dry shampoo”.

Skin and body care: depends on where you’re traveling. In Vietnam for example there are amazing (and cheap) spas. In India there are hot springs and natural oils, in Nepal there are amazing organic products, in short… go and discover. One of the pleasures or traveling this way is entering a cosmetics store or try out a new massage. I can tell you that the mud bath I did with my daughter, and the swim in a mineral water pool, and the other experiences we had in that area will not be soon forgotten :-).

◊ I use salt as cleaning-disinfecting pilling mask to the skin, preferably natural Himalayan salt (sometimes mix it with a bit of some oil) and honey as massage/cleaning face mask. But that’s only because I am too lazy to carry too much with me. I buy a small amounts and if anything is left I leave it behind.

Nails– mani and padi there’s everywhere. I don’t see a problem. All the other decorations for nails I also saw almost everywhere.

♦ Yoga- it balances you both inside and out.

♦ It’s likely that travelling and the freedom and that feeling of letting go will also express themselves in how you take care of yourself. Don’t be surprised if you want to make rainbow stripes in your hair. Or if your whole definition of beauty completely turned on its head.

♦ And it’s also likely that your adventures, passion, love, adrenaline, and pleasure will all show themselves in the spark in your eyes, the flash of your cheeks and the light in your eyes. Spread out all the love within you.

♦ And then there are places that make you feel like the hottest woman in the world. Let them.

And a few nice links on the subject:

 Packing Secrets from Travel Pros
 Travel Beauty Tips! What to Bring with you on Vacation/Holiday!
 18 Travel Beauty Tips — to Go
 35 travel bloggers reveal their-top beauty tips and tricks
 Stay Sexy on the Road: 6 Beauty Blogger Tips

BTW- you don’t have to be skinny to look hot. here is an awesome link for plus size hotness.