Welcome to this week’s Postcard From – the feature where I chat to some lucky explorer about their recent travels. .
Louis-Francois is a French traveller. After 2 years of backpack travel in Asia and Latin America, he decided to settle in Bangkok, where he launched the travel magazine Wandererz.
Hi Lous- Francois! Where are you ‘sending’ this Postcard from?
One of the first destinations of my asian trip was Mongolia. I was with my girlfriend and we were coming from Russia (Irkustk) through the transmongolian train. A 50 something hours ride to Ulan Baator and a crazy border cross (7 hours blocked in the bogey, forbidden to go the toilets). Once finally in the Mongolian capital, we got off in the Orkhon valley, a wonderful part of the centre of Mongolia.
Ouch – that’s one heck of a trip! So how was the weather in Mongolia?
It was freezing! We arrived in Mongolia late october and Siberia was already way below zero at night. As we did not get enough warm clothes, the host gave us some traditional warm clothes… and it really worked. It was heavy but really hot and comfortable.
Did you have somewhere nice to shelter from the cold?
Actually the whole purpose of the stay was to live with nomadic families in yurts, the traditional tents (the famous round tents). Comfort was quite simple and the general conditions were pretty rough, but the contact with the Mongolian people was really meaningful. I remember spending time with the daughter of the family playing with her doll or watching the one hour of TV per day they could get through solar power.
Wow, what a great way to connect with the locals! What else did you get up to?
We did a pretty neat round of the Orkhon valley, visiting the Erdene Zuu monastery, the Khustain Nuruu natural reserve and many more landscapes that we had never seen before. The nature in Mongolia is really fantastic because it was completely evolving with every half hour of driving. Moon like landscape here, forest there… the next day was completely snowy. It was really extraordinary to see so many different types of nature without driving thousands of kilometres.
What was your highlight?
It was a fantastic mix of absolutely magnificent landscapes and warm people living a completely different lifestyle. Something that make you really realize that you really are far from your world and your way of life. It was perfect to do that at the beginning of our trip as it was completely opening our minds and this was exactly why we wanted to do this kind of long travel.
It sounds amazing! Mongolian cuisine doesn’t get talked about much in the rest of the world – what’s it like?
Honestly, the food in Mongolia was probably the worst we had in the world. If you’re lucky, you get something quite bland and harmless. But when you get invited somewhere, you get to choose between old hard cookies and ever harder ultra strong chunks of cheese that you wish you’d never picked. The royal buffet is a big iron bucket of lamb guts and they want you to taste the home made arak, an alcohol made from the horse milk that tastes like a cross between beer and milk. While clearly not the best part of the trip, it made us laugh many times.
Do you have any tips or advice for anyone planning a trip to Mongolia?
I would first suggest to not stay long in Ulan Baator as the city is quite ugly and very polluted. A couple of days to acclimatise and see one or two beautiful temples. Though, I was surprised to see that you could organize things quite easily from Ulan Baator, especially if you’re looking for cheap group tours. People speak good English and are quite tourism oriented in the big guest houses.
A guide is a must to get in touch with people, and you really don’t want to miss that.
Great tips! Now for some questions about you! What’s your favourite travel read?
I’m not a big reader but I loved the “Longue Marche” trilogy of Bernard Ollivier. A 60 year old French guy who did on foot the silk road from Turkey to China (through Mongolia and many other countries). It’s in French though but it really should be translated as I’m sure a lot of travellers would love to read it.
And finally… What do you love most about travelling?
Travelling is a feeling of freedom and of discovery. Places, people, cultures, way of life or temples… I like to take the time and discover, wander. And what I discovered travelling with my girlfriend: I really love sharing these moments and bring them up a long time
NB – all images are owned by Louis-Francois