Me-go: Around-the-World

Arranging a Tour to the Countryside


Written by:

I had originally wanted to do one large loop of Central Mongolia covering The Gobi as well as Khovsgol Nuur (Lake). My guesthouse arranges tours so I put word in with her right away and posted my email on a cafe in town. Tours are based on a flat fee for the car and driver per day with food,?entrance fees and gas added in. After talking to people and witnessing a barrage of people wanting to go to The Gobi but not the lakes I realized that I probably wasn’t?going to find a group of 4 or 5 to share a 20 day tour with. I looked around town, speaking to a woman named Tuya with Happy Camel Tours and looking intoGer to Ger which organizes community based tourism projects. Ger to Ger wasn’t open on the weekend and appeared to take more time to arrange. Happy Camel used the same system of drivers and locations as everywhere else so it really came down to where I could find extra people to fill out my tour.

I met a woman from Northern Ireland named Victoria when I was doing research for my trip online. We were asking the same questions on message boards and realized that we were?going around the same time. Because we were both?traveling alone (she was coming from Russia on the Trans Siberian) and spending a whole month in Mongolia we decided in advance to travel together to the countryside. We both knew what we wanted to see and had assumed that there would be plenty of people coming around the same time, wanting to see the same things. There were a lot of people in town but many were staying only for 7 days. I?thought it was strange that someone would come here so close to the Naadam Festival and not?stay for it but I was considering the same thing at one time. Overall everyone that is only staying for a week or two has told me that they wish they had at least one month here.?

We got word on the evening that Victoria arrived that there were two other people interested in the lakes. We decided that it would be impossible to get?others to come along for 20 days and went with two shorter trips instead of one long one. We would have gone to The Gobi first, but if there were people?interested in the lakes we?would do that first since it was harder to book. We met at 5 and the two French guys never turned up. After a few hours we heard word that they had gone off to a national park in the North and wanted to go a few days later. Luckily, two other men came in looking for the lakes tour while we sat in the office. One was an?American man who had to leave on the 29th back to Beijing, which we were concerned about. This meant we couldn’t stay extra days if we wanted to along the way. The other man, from Portugal, seemed more into hiking and wanted to stay extra days at both of the lakes. We all bought a share of instant noodles, gas for the stove, water etc. On the day we were leaving a 5th person was added by the guesthouse which made the tour about $40 cheaper per person.

We decided to extend the usual 9 day, 8 night trip by one day to? 10 days, 9 nights.?This allowed us to stay two days at both The White Lake (Terkhinn Tsagaan Nuur) and Khovsgol Nuur. The route, which seems to be one of tow that are commonly taken had us driving most days at least 6 hours. The route was as follows:

Day 1: Ulaan Baatar > see sand dunes and monastery > sleep in Karakorum [7.5 hrs in car]
Day 2: Karakorum > sleep in Tsetserleg (there’s a monastery there and park) [3 hrs in car]
Day 3: Tsetserleg > White Lake (stop off at volcano on the way) [7.5 hrs in car]
Day 4: White Lake (horse riding, hiking etc.) [0 hrs in car]
Day 5: White Lake > Moron (long, rough road) [11 hrs in car]
Day 6: Moron > Khatgal (near Khovsgol) [6 hrs in car*]
Day 7: Khovsgol Nuur (horse riding, hiking)? [0 hrs in car]
Day 8: Khovsgol > Hutag Ondor (just a stopping point) [10 hrs in car]
Day 9: Hutag Ondor > Amarbayasgalant Khiid (monastery) [9.5 hrs in car]
Day 10:?Amarbayasgalant Khiid > Ulaan Baatar (mostly paved road)? [7 hrs in car]

*This can vary depending on where you stay on the lake. We refused to stay in Khatgal because it isn’t on the lake. We had our driver take us around the lake and because of going the wrong way, plus negotiations with the driver and guesthouses we actually spent 6 hours in the car when we were told it would only be 3 hours.

For the sake of those of you planning our trip I can give you the?following breakdown of costs:

Quoted from Happy Camel for 20 day trip?
Car and driver—43,000T per day*
English speaking guide—20,000T per day
Fuel (for 3200km)—512,000T**
Family ger—5,000–8,000T per night
Food at ger—2,000T per meal
Tourist ger camp—$10-15 per night
Tent—free to camp
Food—whatever you buy

*She said she could come down on car price without me even asking
**Fuel costs would be paid by you along the way

Actual expenses (booked through UB Guesthouse)
The driving times above reflect actual times, not those quoted by UB. Most of the times we experienced were a little longer and include lunch breaks and stopping for photos.

$795 for car, driver and gas (10 days). Split this between however many people you have, hopefully 4-5. We had a Russian van which gave us plenty of room and each a window seat. UB gave us?sleeping bags, a butane stove, cooking pots, plates, cups etc. for free.

190,800T —car, driver, gas
? 33,200T —food bought during trip
? 46,600T —gers (mostly small family operations)*
?? ?9,000T —food bought before trip
?? ?6,000T —Park fees
?? ?5,000T —2 hour horse trip on White Lake
?? ?3,500T —Monastery fee
?? ?2,000T —2 showers
?? ?1,300T —road tolls
?? ?? ?940T —internet
298,340T Total
$248.62 or $24.86 per day

*We spent two nights at a tourist ger camp. Because it was empty our driver got them down to 10,000 a person when it’s usually about 35,000. Most nights the gers were 4,000, but sometimes we were charged less if we made our own meals.

I hope that breakdown helps those of you who have been?asking?about costs. I don’t do math on my own without a lot of persuasion, even with a calculator, so please use this information. Feel free to post any specific questions in the comments (so it will be useful to others) or send me an email. The Gobi trip was quoted to me at $585 for 7 days, 6 nights plus food,?accommodation etc. Most Gobi trips seem to run 7 or 8 days. I will let you know what it turns out to be when I get back.

4 responses to “Arranging a Tour to the Countryside”

  1. Jim Avatar

    Thanks a lot for posting all that about the costs.. the detail is awesome! I thought it would have been a lot more expensive than that, so I’m really encouraged. I can’t wait to get out to Mongolia next summer!

  2. Megan Avatar


    Gald to help! It can be much more expensive but if you’re prepared to rough it you can go fairly cheaply. I thought it would be a minimum of $30 a day but it turned out less. I’m going to the Gobi now and we paid $585 for the driver/van/gas for 7 days and then if we want to add on another day we pay an additional $45–split between however many people you have.

    Five people in a Russian van is nice because you have one next to the driver, and 4 in the back with seats inbetween. Technically you could fit 7 people but most gers only have space for 5-6 anyway. At those long travel times you want to be comfortable!

  3. Jim Avatar

    Oh yeah, I am prepared to rough it. It sounds a lot like the Salar de Uyuni trips in Bolivia. Seven people, one Land Cruiser…

    Your blog is awesome, keep it up. I am traveling vicariously through you until next June.

  4. Megan Avatar

    I understand, I will try to update as often as possible for those sitting at desks right now.