Our first month on the road included three weeks in Mongolia and just 60 hours in China (to take advantage of the free transit permit) before heading to visit our friends in Singapore. Travel, especially long term travel on a budget, isn’t all rainbows and unicorns, so we thought we’d show you our highlights as well as our low-lights. We think you’ll probably enjoy hearing about our lows much more!
- Mongolia – Climbing the Khongor Sand Dunes before dawn and taking in a beautiful sunrise atop the gorgeous dunes.
- Mongolia (Susie) – Milking a yak. The act of milking was not a high at all, in fact it was really gross, especially when some of it splattered on my pants, but I was so incredibly bad at it that the nomadic family thought it was hysterical. They laughed so hard that it ended up being an ongoing joke.
- Mongolia – Surviving sleeping in a tent together, for the first time, in below freezing temps. Jan’s water bottle froze INSIDE the tent – that’s how cold it was.
- Mongolia (Jan) – Being offered vodka from a communal shot glass/dixie cup on the overnight bus trip from Northern Mongolia. Jan bravely took one shot of very powerful vodka from a jolly veterinarian. On his second attempt to give us shots, Jan pulled out the trump card we learned from our Ger to Ger training on how to politely refuse vodka. This shocked everyone and the bus erupted with cheers and laughing.
- Mongolia – Showering at the hostel in Ulaanbaatar after 9 days without a shower in Northern Mongolia.
- Mongolia – Meeting these wonderful people.
- China – Drinking craft beer at Great Leap Brewery in Beijing. Enjoying delicious, non-lager beer for the first time in weeks made us feel at home along with the friendly staff, expats, and fellow travelers. We still think about that beer and wish we could have more now that we’re back in lager-land!
- Singapore – Cashing in some hotel points to stay at the Marriott for a night. We’ve never taken so much advantage of a hotel except possibly on our honeymoon. We had gotten so used to rock hard beds in Mongolia that this bed was downright magical to us. The buffet breakfast and cocktail hour in the Executive Lounge were delightful. Having the first taste of western food, good wine and cocktails in almost a month was incredible. Even decent wifi speed was a bonus. For a couple days (yes, we milked one night into almost two days), we did not feel like backpackers anymore and it was fabulous.
- Singapore – Catching up with our friends and over-indulging in WAY too much amazing food and drinks!
- Singapore – Being able to attend Kayan’s first birthday party.
- Singapore – Doing our laundry in an actual washing machine and dryer. Washing laundry in the sink isn’t terrible, but we will never take the spin cycle for granted again! Also, having our own bathroom connected to our bedroom for the first time in weeks was very exciting. It’s the simple things that make us happy these days…
- USA – Packing and moving. Those two things suck at any point in life, but purging our stuff and packing it not just for a move, but to put in storage was a new challenge neither of us have faced. Fitting all of our stuff into a 10×12 storage unit was really tight, but our movers made it happen. Making matters worse, moving day just so happened to be one of the hottest days of the summer in Chicago, topping 90 degrees F.
- USA to Mongolia – Being delayed on our Air China flight from Houston to Beijing for almost SIX hours due to a “missing person.” That was the only explanation in English that we received about the delay. After about three hours, the flight attendants’ bright idea was to do a role call. They gave up on this solution about halfway through and just started handing out the other half of our boarding passes. We de-planed then re-boarded, which apparently solved the problem (i.e. Air China not being able to count) because we took off a couple hours later. No announcements or apologies. It was like we departed on time.
- Mongolia – Riding in a cramped, crowded, cold, bumpy, and illness-infected overnight bus to Northern Mongolia.
- Mongolia – Waiting for two hours on the side of the road for a ride to pick us up from the bus station in Murun. Some friendly (and very curious) people thankfully let us use their cell phone to call the Ger to Ger office, otherwise we don’t know how much longer we would have waited!
- Mongolia – Having to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night while sleeping in a tent in Northern Mongolia. The freezing temperatures were, let’s say invigorating, but we were very relieved to crawl back into our warm sleeping bags!
- Mongolia (Susie) – Having a cold in Northern Mongolia while we stayed with a nomadic family and on the worst day of my cold having to eat yak for lunch. Also, sleeping in a tent in sub-zero (celsius) temperatures with a stuffed up nose made for a tough choice between breathing fresh, but literally freezing air, or having a warm face inside the sleeping bag, but feeling suffocated. The sleeping bag won that battle most of the time, but I did peek it open for occasional bursts of air.
- Mongolia (Jan) – Having to herd about 300 sheep and goats from one side of the mountain to the other side of the mountain on foot. Most people nowadays herd with a motorbike or by horse. Herding by foot is quite challenging with that many animals. Jan wanted to get them to go around the bottom of the mountain, but they ended up going UP the mountain, which was quite steep. Jan followed, but it had been three hours since he left on his epic journey so our host mom went searching for him. When she saw him on the side of the mountain, she ran and yelled “Janny!” to get him to abort mission. Then he came home to a plate full of yak for lunch.
- Mongolia (Susie) – So. Many. Outhouses. The very first outhouse in the Mongolian countryside had a DEAD DOG inside it. I really hoped that was the worst of it, and thankfully it was in Mongolia. Some of the outhouses were just comical and we joked that it was a “room with a view” because it was “covered” by one strip of fabric that wasn’t even that high. When in Rome…
- China – Enduring the Forbidden City. It was beautiful and impressive to see, but it was really crowded. The pushing and shoving to get a picture of the inside of each building got out of control. After a while, it all started to look the same, we reached our limit with the pushy people, and just wanted to leave ASAP!
- China – Being hungry and lost is a terrible combination any time, but especially when you are traveling. We tried to find DaDong, a famous Peking Duck restaurant (that we later found out is a chain). Our hostel marked where it is on a map, but we didn’t see the restaurant where X marked the spot. We asked a couple people, but the language barrier made it difficult to understand what the response was. We gave in and hopped in a cab armed with the name of the restaurant in Chinese characters. We drove all the way back down the street we were walking on for the last 45 minutes, did a U turn and went all the way back to where we were, just across the street. We pulled into a driveway and the cab driver pointed to the office building. We entered in hopes of finding the restaurant inside, but to no avail. Feeling defeated, we asked a security guard and he pointed around the corner of the building to the entrance of the restaurant. We were so close, yet so very far from the restaurant. Thankfully, the duck was worth the hassle to get there.