On the trail of Genghis Khan
Mongolia | Sep 3 - Sep 8, 2023

Andy P.
United Kingdom | Reviewed on Sep 14, 2023

Having had a previous trip to Mongolia end disastrously when the van we were using with a driver who spoke no English broke down for 36 hours in the wilderness (no phone signal, people, roads etc), I was apprehensive about coming back, so I chose Kim Kim and their partner company, Mongolian Secret History, to organise a 4 day tour of the things that I had missed on the last time I visited. I previously set up a tour themed around Genghis Khan, to see where he was born in Dadal, where he found the golden horn, the heart shaped lake where he proclaimed himself Mongol leader and the Mongol era intriguing walled necropolis of Oglogchiin Khorem, the Berenveen monastery and a Mongol war camp. The car breakdown of the last trip, which was caused by going through rivers several feet deep meant we hadn't seen the monastery and Oglogchiin Khorem, so a 4 day trip ensured that we did that.
The trip was initially postponed, as after booking in 2020, Covid struck, so I ended up going back this month (Sep 2023) mainly to see Oglogchiin Khorem, but also the monastery and deer stones nearby.
The communication from first Chris and later Oyunerdene was incredibly good - I loved being able to dial them up on the computer and ask questions; both were helpful and friendly throughout. The trip went pretty smoothly - itinerary as it said on the packet and pick ups/timings as planned.
Oglogchiin Khorem is really fascinating - I have visited 90 countries and have a keen interest in history, but walking round the 3 km of walls which stretch to high on the mountainside, made me really wonder what this Mongol era place contains - on the sides going up the mountain, the walls are 18 feet high and the effort to build this must have taken a huge effort - I spotted to ancient graves on the east side - wonder who is buried there. When the archaeologists do dig, I hope that grave robbers haven't beaten them to it - could Genghis Khan be buried somewhere in the complex - well the location is right in the heart of his homeland - midway between the heart shaped lake, where he found the golden horn and his birthplace in Dadal, so it is possible, but who knows, though the experts seem pretty sceptical. In any case, the walls are extensive and the views from the top spectacular, so for me it was well worth a visit.
Bereeven monastery was also interesting - the monastery dating to the 1700's does have some original outbuildings and was once home to 6,000 monks, but now has just one monk left - aged 76, you would feel he might be lonely, but while we were there, 2 other sets of visitors turned up, so maybe he actually has more company each day than most old people do. A beautiful location for the monastery too, with hills, lakes and rivers nearby.
So all in all a good trip and I can recommend Mongolian Secret History and Kim Kim - mainly because of the good back up support, but also because the driver and vehicle were good and they were happy for me to tell them what I wanted to do and then sort out the logistics for me.
If you are interested in Genghis Khan, this is a part of Mongolia that attracts few visitors, so the nomads are hospitable and my guide said that the nomads were very different to those in the tourist areas, who ask the tourists for money and treat them as cash cows - my hosts were welcoming and friendly. A bonus was seeing a horse branding occasion, something not at all set up for tourists, some westerners would baulk at this, but it is important to remember that for nomads, it is vital for them to be able to show that they own a particular animal, and they do without question take very good care of their animals.
Anyone wanting to see the sites of Genghis Khan should aim for the statue where he found the golden horn, the Mongol war camp nearby, the heart shaped lake, Oglogchiin Khorem and Dadal. That would probably mean a 5 day tour from Ulan Batar I'd have thought.
One additional bit of advice - if on a tight budget, if you like spicy food, try the Korean restaurants in Ulan Batar - you order one plate of food for around $5 and get about six other plates of sides free - my favourite place was on a road next to the State Department Store, going north from Peace Avenue on the east side of the store - the humble place called Korean Cafe had fabulous food and was dirt cheap.
I also stayed at Gana's Guest House on the western side of Ulan Batar - for $15.50 a night I got a comfortable en-suite room with hot water 24/7, in a ridiculously quiet area allowing a perfect night's sleep, with a comfortable bed and very nice owner, Gana, who allowed me to use his computer for free and store luggage. Previously I stayed more centrally and although it is probably around 15 minutes to walk to the dead centre of town, this location is better than staying centrally as central Ulan Batar is full of traffic and noise, so what you gain from being at the centre of things, you will lose in terms of too much noise and loss of sleep.
Overall a great trip and so I wanted to share to help other future travellers, as finding a good and reliable company can be a nightmare, as my previous trip showed.

Local specialist: Christopher Smith