If you have a day or two spare after the trip, we can arrange a visit to Khustai National Park to see the world's only true wild horse. The park is only two hours from UB, but staying over-night is best so you can see the horses as they come down to water holes to drink at dusk.
There is a good chance of seeing some of Mongolia's other increasingly rare wildlife such as wolves, elk and gazelle.
That's a tricky question, since there is such a wide range of people. We get all sorts! The thing that most people have in common is a desire to experience authentic Mongolia, rather than something put on just for visitors. If the words 'cultural performance' make you cringe, then you should find yourself in good company with us.
"Best part of the trip was feeling I was in the real Mongolia, living and riding real horses with real Mongolian people, rather than in a tourist-Mongolia" Sue, 2008.
Often our riders are people who might normally travel independently, or have done in the past, and have trouble with the idea of an organised tour. However to do more than just visit Mongolia's tourist hot-spots it makes sense to join a group of like-minded people when heading off the beaten track.
Have a read of the following questions regarding the demographics of our past riders. If you are still nervous about who you might end up with on a ride, ask us and we can tell you about the people who are already booked. You are very unlikely to find yourself the odd one out in terms of age, or riding experience – the 'worst' that can happen is that you might be the only guy amongst nine women!
We use hiking tents, shared by two people. You will not be required to share with someone of the opposite sex (unless by mutual consent). If you would prefer to have a tent to yourself, a single supplement ($300NZD) will apply. Our tents are very easy to put up, but there will always be someone to assist if necessary. If you have a favourite tent of your own, feel free to bring it along with you.
In the Altai we have our own ger, which makes a cosy place to retreat to on a cool night.
***UPDATE*** For the 2018 season we will be providing individual tents for those who would prefer not to share. The single supplement will no longer apply. Hotel accommodation will also be in private rooms, where possible.
Not really. But you do need to have a well-developed sense of adventure, and be prepared to rough it when necessary. And a sense of humour always helps. You will be driving off-road, riding over rugged terrain, camping every night and going places few westerners have ever been. If this sounds like you then lets go. If not, we can suggest a couple of other operators who will give you an excellent tour, if a little less adventurous than travelling with us.
In order to secure your place on a trip you need to pay a deposit of 20% of the trip price. The remainder will then be due 10 weeks before the start of the trip. We will send you a reminder prior to this. If booking on a trip within 10 weeks of departure, payment in full is required.
As of 2014, our riders have ranged in age from 19 up to 70. One thing we have learnt over the years is that age really is irrelevant – the sort of people who wish to plunge in to the wilderness of Mongolia with us are always young at heart, no matter how old they are. Half of the people who have ridden with us so far have been under thirty, and half over thirty (that just indicates that it's not only for 'grey nomads' or gap year students).
70% of our riders are in their 20s to 40s, so that means another 30% are in their 50s or older. The main point is that you will not be the only granny amongst a group of grand kids!
Having read the description of the weather to expect, you can see that you need to bring light clothing for warm days, and plenty of warm clothing for the evening, or when the weather turns cold. By September you will want to pack a few extra layers. Bring more gear for Altai trips at any time of year, as you will be riding high in to the mountains.
If you do not have a lot of experience in the outdoors (and camping at Glastonbury Festival doesn't count!), we strongly recommend that you talk to us about what to bring, particularly your sleeping bag (see below). We find that people tend to underestimate how much warm gear they really need. If you send us your proposed gear list, we can confirm whether it is appropriate.
Having the right gear is something we take very seriously because of the wilderness environment we ride in. If you get it wrong, you will be cold and miserable, or worse. You could consider buying a traditional Mongolian del – they're not cheap but are very warm and look cool!
You need a good waterproof coat. A proper outdoor one, not something that just looks good on the high street. A light pair of waterproof over-trousers is also a good idea.
More information on appropriate clothing will be posted here.
You might be thinking that using a support vehicle, rather than pack horses, detracts from the idea of the trip as a true adventure. There are several reasons why we use a support vehicle. Leading a packhorse is no easy matter, even for an experienced rider (think what happens when it makes a sudden unscheduled pee stop…), and does slow things down considerably. The vehicle allows us to take more gear and better food (we’re adventurers not martyrs!), and is our backup in the event of an accident. Perhaps the best thing about it is that if you just want to rest for a day, you can travel with the driver as he stops and visits the families of his friends and relatives and partake of their legendary hospitality.
Sometimes we arrange to meet the vehicle for lunch, but usually we don't see them until we meet up at the end of the day. If you would like to try a trip with pack horses (and/or camels), see our Altai Expedition.
Part of the fun of visiting another country is to try the local food. Most foreigners struggle with the Mongolian cuisine, but you will certainly have the opportunity to try it. On each trip we buy a sheep off the local nomads, despatch it in the traditional way, and then everything is eaten, with nothing wasted. And we mean nothing - you will get to try every internal organ there is, if you so wish (boiled of course). Some of it is great, some of it less so. We often stop in and visit families along the way, when you will get to drink bowls of suutei tsai or salty, milky tea (better than it sounds). We also keep an eye out for airag, or fermented mare's milk.
70% of our riders are women. It does seem a pity that more guys haven't realised that horse riding is actually great fun. We do get couples, but often our riders join the group as a solo traveller, either because they prefer to travel with a group, or they have left a reluctant partner behind. In 2014 our Zavkhan Multi-trip is aimed at encouraging non-riding partners (ie blokes) to come to Mongolia, with not only horse riding, but also camel trekking and hiking.
No, our treks are suitable for both beginners and experienced riders. In fact we've had the odd person who had never been on a horse before, and they loved it! We have horses that are very forgiving of inexperienced riders, and we will make sure you are matched to a suitable horse. Once you gain more confidence, or for those with more experience, you will be amazed just how fast they can go. You will be challenging the locals to races in no time.
We teach you the local riding techniques, and how to ride safely, such as never approaching your horse from the right (i.e. the wrong!) side.
For experienced riders we have horses that you will be wanting to take home with you at the end of the trip.
We take the attitude that horses are a much better (and more environmentally friendly) way to experience Mongolia than looking out the window of a jeep. The locals live and breathe horses and will respect you for choosing to ride rather than drive. We can also get to more places on horseback, but ultimately it’s just damn good fun!
Read more about the experience levels of a 'typical' Zavkhan Trekking rider.
Three quarters of people who join our trips are either experienced riders, or have at least been a rider in the past. The other twenty five percent recognise that the best way to see Mongolia is by horse (and in some areas the only way). In our experience everyone loves Mongolia, but if you are a rider you will really appreciate the fantastic horses and wonderful riding country.
A good three to four season sleeping bag that lets you sleep comfortably down to zero in the summer, or down to -10 in September is ideal. If you know you are a cold sleeper, bring a better bag. Down bags are superior to synthetic, if you are buying one.
If you're not sure that your bag is adequate, you can buy a 'booster' bag, a light down bag that adds a season to your main bag, or can be used on its own on a warm summer night. If you find yourself short of a decent bag, hiring from a place such as Trekhire in the UK or similar is a good option.
We recommend (from personal experience), a down-filled infatable sleeping mat such as those from Exped.
It depends whether you go early in the season or later, and how high up you are. In July the mosquitoes and other bugs can be a bit annoying, but the reason they’re there is because of the profusion of wild flowers. As the weather cools off, the bugs decrease, but then so do the flowers. Take some insect repellent and you will be fine.
A traditional Mongolian remedy is to burn small piles of dry horse dung around the camp - it works well. A traditional Kiwi remedy is to eat a lot of vegemite...
If you cannot come on the trip, let us know at least 8 weeks before the start, and we will refund the cost of the trip, less your deposit*. If you can only give us between 4 weeks and 8 weeks notice you will lose 50% of the cost of the trip, and with less than 4 weeks notice we will unfortunately be unable to give a refund. If you have a good reason why you can't make it, your own insurance should cover any loss.
*Just because we're such nice folk at Zavkhan Trekking, we can hold your deposit and you can put it toward a re-booked trip for the following year (but only if your trip is not yet fully booked and therefore we have not been turning people away.
There is often an expectation that you will be forced to eat boiled mutton everyday for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That's certainly the basis of the diet of local nomadic people in the countryside ("meat for men, grass for animals"). The climate makes it very difficult to grow vegetables, and they're difficult to herd, when it's time to move on. It's therefore not surprising that vegetables are as rare as hens teeth (or hens for that matter - you can't herd those either).
At Zavkhan Trekking we pride ourselves on the meals we create from the limited supplies available. We bring fruit and vegetables with us from Ulaan Baatar, along with staples such as rice, flour and pasta. We trade for delicious yoghurt, cheese and milk when we encounter local people. In the evening we cook fresh bread on the camp fire. In autumn we feast on blueberries, currants, pine nuts and other fruits of the forest. And the rivers hold some excellent eating fish, if you can catch them.
We typically have a vegetarian main dish, and a separate meat dish, so vegetarians will be fine. See below.
You are welcome to pitch in with cooking if you enjoy creating camp fire cuisine, so bring along your favourite yak (or chick-pea) recipe. We sometimes bring a cook along, but it's also fun to work as a team.
Roughly half our riders to date have come from the UK (that's where we started out), followed by the US, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and most other parts of Europe.
You may be surprised, but people do ask us if we take people from all countries. So yes, we accept people from anywhere.
It is difficult to describe a typical day, as they vary so much. Around six hours is about right for most people. We often set out at the start of the day with no clear idea of where we might end up, but ideally we like to make camp no later than four in the afternoon. That gives us plenty of time to relax at the end of the day. If you haven't had enough riding by then, there is always the opportunity to ride out from camp in the evening, perhaps as part of a foraging party looking for local herders to trade with for milk and yoghurt.
The amount of time you can comfortably spend in the saddle depends on the pace too. Six hours of walking makes for a very long day. A mix of walking, trotting and cantering, with galloping for the confident riders, eats up the miles and makes the day fly by, and is our preferred way to travel.
We have rest days along the way, such as at the abandoned mountain spa in Zavkhan, where you can hike, fish, ride some more, soak in the baths or just read a book. If we feel the group is up to it, we will offer you the chance to try completely new routes some days. You do need to be prepared for some longer days when doing this. On a 'normal' day we would cover around 30-50km, depending on terrain.
A pair of light hiking boots is ideal. They can be used for riding, wearing around camp, leading your horse over rough ground, and for wandering around the streets of Ulaanbaatar. No need for serious hiking boots, but trainers (sneakers) are really not serious enough. The stirrup irons we use are 'plate-type' and wide enough to take light hiking boots. Some people do prefer to take a pair of short riding boots, which are also fine (as long as they have some tread on the sole), and keep another pair of boots or trainers for around the camp.
A pair of sandals can also be useful (depending on the time of year). It may sound odd, but a pair of gumboots can be very useful around camp, when the grass is long and wet. We provide chaps, so there is no need to bring long riding boots.
Mongolian! If you know Russian, you may find someone who understands you, particularly older people. It is rare to find a Chinese-speaker, and best not to try it out on a stranger. Not everyone looks favourably on the giant neighbour to the south. Russia on the other hand is often viewed more like an old friend. In the Altai region where we ride, the local people also speak Kazakh.
It is extremely rare to find English-speakers in the countryside, but in Ulaanbaatar there are young people keen to practice their English with you. Learning a few key words and phrases in Mongolia is useful, and sure to get a laugh out of the locals. We provide you with a small card for your pocket listing important words, especially horse-related ones.
If you are like most people, a major concern is that you are joining the right sort of trip. We aim to convey through our website exactly what our trips are like, so you know what you are getting yourself in to. We do not promise a luxury holiday, complete with hot showers and flushing toilets. What we do offer is a truly authentic experience of Mongolia, and to do that you need to get well off the tourist trail. You do need to 'rough it' at times.
Please ask us more about our trip style, if you have any doubts.
All our trips in 2010 will be lead by either John from New Zealand, or Jen from the US. Eventually we hope to have well-trained local people who can lead trips. We are working toward this, but are not yet ready to unleash them on you (or you on them?). So far we have found that our mix of foreign trip leader, Mongolian translator, and local wranglers working together as a team is ideal.
Pack as you would 'normally' when travelling ie. one large backpack, or duffel bag, or two smaller pieces. A suitcase is also fine, especially one with off-road wheels (yes, they are out there), as it would fit nicely in the support vehicle and is easy to work out of. The downside is that it will get a hard time, dragged in and out of the vehicle, so it should be an old one (not your favourite piece of Louis Vuitton). There won't be a lot of carrying, just from the vehicle to your tent at the end of each day.
Having two medium pieces of luggage works well. Pack a duffel bag inside your main luggage while travelling to Mongolia, and for the domestic flight. Once in the countryside, divide your gear into one bag for the things you need daily, such as your sleeping bag, the other for spare clothes and items not used everyday, that can remain in the vehicle. Less fighting to fit everything back into one bag each morning too.
Also bring a small day bag, for items that you would like to keep at hand while travelling from UB, before we meet the horses.
On trips where we use pack-animals (eg Mongolian Altai and Kazakhstan), we provide the saddle bags for loading on the animals. You should bring dry bags (or heavy-duty rubbish sacks) to put your personal gear in to keep it dry.
Not the saddle on the left! They are strictly for Mongolians and masochists. We use the much more comfortable style of saddle on the right, also used by local people. The bridles are basically similar to what you might have used in the past, and the horses respond to western-style neck-reining. We have wranglers to look after the horses and help with saddling up, but you are welcome to help (we will show you all you need to know).
Mongolians ride very short, like a jockey, so we have our own stirrup leathers, meaning that you are still able to walk at the end of the day.
With international terrorism and crime in general constantly in the news, you may be wondering whether Mongolia is a safe country. Our personal experience is that it is very safe in the countryside where we go. The local people are extremely friendly and generous. There are no separatist movements or religious groups vying for power (except perhaps the Mormons, but they tend to be non-violent). Ulaanbaatar has its dodgy areas, but no more than any big city. There are lots of pick-pockets in the Black Market in Ulaanbaatar, but as long as you don’t have wads of cash in your pockets and keep your wits about you, it’s not a big problem.
If we do not get 5 people booked on a trip, we may not be able to run it. In this case we will notify you as soon as possible, or at least 1 month before the start date. We will either suggest an alternative trip if available, or give you a full refund including deposit. We will not be obliged to offer more than this.
Don't be too concerned about this happening, it is extremely rare for us not to run a trip as scheduled. Feel free to ask us how our bookings for a trip are progressing.
There will be plenty of room in the support vehicle, so bring everything you think you may need. Don't skimp on warm clothes. We provide washing bowls, warm water and soap powder if you need to wash clothes. There will be rest days when you can do your washing.
For domestic flights, there is an allowance of 15kg per person (including hand luggage). You may need to pay airline baggage charges (about $4USD) for each kg over this.
Don't worry, we won't leave you to starve on the steppe and be eaten by wolves. In fact our meals tend to be based around a vegetarian main with a meat accompaniment (see above). We can also cater for people on a gluten-free diet. However if you're vegan, you will really struggle!
"The food was much better than I had feared given my vegetarian requirements." Duncan, UK.
That could be taken as 'damned with faint praise', but our trip leader Jen is vegetarian, so she knows her vege cuisine.
The riding in the Altai does tend to be slightly more hard-core, with some steep mountain trails, but also plenty of opportunities for fast riding. Toward the end of the season you may encounter snow storms in the mountains, so you do need to be prepared for inclement weather. Both regions still have the wonderful Mongolian tradition of hospitality, but if you really want to experience the local culture, the Altai definitely has the edge. Wildlife can still be seen in the Altai (ibex, elk, wolves etc), but are less common in Zavkhan.
Zavkhan is more geographically diverse, with classic open steppe, desert lakes and forested mountains. You also get to experience the Great Mongolian Road Trip if driving from UB to Zavkhan. And don't forget the abandoned hot spa we usually visit in the mountains of Zavkhan - perfect after a few days hard riding!
Realistically anyone who is fit and active and has a good sense of adventure will be perfectly capable of participating in trips to either area.
Each time we stop and set up camp we dig a simple Asian-style squat toilet, with surround. During the day while riding there is always somewhere to wander off to for a bit of privacy. You might like to practice squatting at home to strengthen your legs (there is no need to go all the way).
There is a secure lock-up at the hotel where you can leave any items you don't think you will be needing. It's not a bad idea to leave a set of clothes at the hotel to change in to after the trip, perhaps those you wore while flying to Mongolia.
Yes, we will be there whenever you arrive, even if it's an unsociably early hour of the morning. The same goes for dropping you off after the trip if you decide to stay on for a few days. We provide extra information, once you have booked, about what to do if you don't find someone waiting with a friendly smile waving a 'Zavkhan Trekking' sign.
We take no more than 10 people on our riding trips. We find this is a good size in terms of managing the horses, and socially. Also in terms of impacts on the local culture and environment. For hiking trips, we allow a few more, since people on the ground are easier to manage than riders!
No. We specifically aim to take you to the places other people don't go. Mongolia is not really a country with discreet 'tourist attractions'. It's more about getting out into the countryside, amongst the local people. Surprisingly (and luckily for us), the majority of visitors to Mongolia end up in the same handful of 'tourist' spots, so it is still possible for us to get off the beaten track. You do need to be prepared to be the subject of great interest by the local people. A bunch of funny-looking foreign people riding by makes an irresistible break from herding yaks!
We endeavour to follow the trip plan, especially the number of days spent in the saddle. However Mongolia is not the sort of place where you can always stick to strict schedules and plans. There is a large element of the unexpected, which is probably part of the reason why you want to go there. Consequently we may need to make small changes to the plan prior to departure, in which case you will be notified. If the change is substantial you will have seven days in which to cancel your booking and receive a full refund.
Mongolia is a relatively safe country to travel in. It's highly unlikely, but these days you never know when a war, epidemic, terrorist attack, or hurricane might strike. This is known as 'force majeure' and we can't be held responsible for any changes due to these sorts of reasons, which are beyond our control.
More likely is that we will need to make small changes in response to conditions while on the trip, such as taking a different route to avoid a collapsed bridge, in which case we will not be able to offer any compensation.
If a necessary change in the trip plan through no fault of ours results in you being delayed getting back to Ulaan Baatar, and missing your international connection, we will assist you with any insurance claim you may need to make.
We travel in remote areas, so we take your health and safety very seriously. We do everything in our power to avoid accidents, but they can happen, and it may be some time before you can get adequate hospital treatment in the event of an emergency. Our trip leaders are medically trained, and will provide care to the best of their abilities until you are able to reach a hospital.
The support vehicle is available if necessary. It is vital that you have your own travel insurance which includes repatriation.
Part of the fun of visiting another country is to try the local food. Most foreigners struggle with the Mongolian cuisine, but you will certainly have the opportunity to try it. On each trip we buy a sheep or two off the local nomads, despatch it in the traditional way, and then everything is eaten, with nothing wasted. And we mean nothing - you will get to try every internal organ there is, if you so wish (boiled of course). Some of it is great, some of it less so.
We often stop in and visit families along the way, when you will get to drink bowls of suutei tsai or salty, milky tea (better than it sounds). We also keep an eye out for airag, or fermented mare's milk, which everyone should try at least once.
OK, so this isn't a frequently asked question, but it has been asked. Of course we do! We aim to provide everything that you could possibly need on a wilderness camping trip – not least toilet paper!
There is often a fear that a ride with Zavkhan Trekking will be like a pony trek back home. You know the sort of thing - tired old horses following nose to tail, the only sign of life when they turn for home. No riding faster than a slow canter. Stay behind the leader at all times. Etc.
That's certainly not us! Our horses are forward-going and fun to ride. If you would like something challenging, we can oblige. If you would prefer to be able to enjoy the scenery, we have horses for that too. We always have spare horses along on the trek, so you can swap from day to day, depending on your mood. There are plenty of opportunities to gallop, if you are confident. However we do have rules relating to riding safely, particularly in ways that impact on other riders.
Mongolia has a dry climate, so you won't be getting hot and sweaty as you do in places such as South East Asia, but we always camp by a water source, so there will be water for a wash, and plenty of firewood to heat it up a little. There are also opportunities to swim in the rivers and lakes if the weather is warm enough (there are no nasty creatures to worry about). On Zavkhan trips we ride to an old abandoned hot spa in the mountains, where there are lovely hot baths, filled from natural hot springs, so you are guaranteed to get a wash and a well-earned soak!
We provide washing bowls and soap powder to wash clothes if necessary.
You won't find the mighty Mongolian tugrik anywhere outside Mongolia, even in China. The easiest way to get cash is from an ATM (as tugriks), of which there are several around Ulaanbaatar. There is also one at the airport, which a good place to stock up as you arrive (if it's working). We can help with this when we meet you. Most cards are accepted, especially if visa-linked. Bring travellers checks or cash (USD) as a back-up in case of emergencies (such as losing your card)
Major currencies can be exchanged at banks in UB, including UK pounds, US dollars, Euros and Australian dollars. Most banks will provide cash advances on a credit card (bring your passport). Once you leave UB, don't expect to be able to obtain cash.
Ask us about how much extra money you might need while in Mongolia. You shouldn't need much unless you plan on being in UB for a few extra days, and are buying lots of souvenirs. See Booking and Payment for extra costs which you may need to cover.
All our trips tend to be exploratory to some extent. We don't like to ride the same old routes, when there are so many unexplored passes to cross and valleys to ride through. However on an exploratory trip we consider that you have given us permission to push the boundaries a bit more, to go places that may prove challenging, to ride harder, longer and higher. If you are prepared to keep going, even when you wanted to stop an hour ago, in order to reach somewhere suitable for the horses to graze and us to camp, then consider joining us on an exploratory trip.
If you would like to bring your partner, but they don't want to be riding every day (or at all), there is still plenty to do. Our Zavkhan Multi trip is aimed at riders with less enthusiastic partners, but it would still be possible to come on any of our trips. Accompanying the driver in the support vehicle is a great way to experience the local culture, as he visits his friends and family along the way. There is usually somewhere to dangle a line, and we all appreciate a fish supper at the end of the day! There is plenty of hiking to be done, and bird-life to be spotted. Talk to us about other options for your non-riding partner.
It is important to remember that we are offering a serious wilderness trekking experience, which carries an inherent level of risk. While we endeavour to minimise this risk, we cannot be held responsible for injuries sustained through no fault of ours. In the unlikely event of an injury we will do all that is required to help you. Our trip leaders are medically trained, so can deal with most things through to emergency child birth...
Most standard travel policies will cover you for general horse riding, but it does pay to check carefully. We suggest describing to a potential insurance company exactly what you will be doing on the ride (including whether you intend wearing a helmet or not). If you don't already have an insurer you have used previously, we can provide a list of companies that people have used for our trips.
There is nowhere to buy drinks (or anything else) once riding. However you may have the opportunity to buy local beer at the last town before we meet the horses, to take along. There is a wide variety of vodka, ranging from dire to passable. Don't even think about wine (unless you bring it from UB). You might get the chance to try airag, or fermented mare's milk if you are lucky.
In general, the price of the trip covers everything (see here for what is included). There is no 'local payment' required. Once we are riding, you will not see a shop or any other place to spend money. That's what we mean when we say it's remote.
The only things which you may need to spend money on after the trip starts are:
- Over-weight luggage – we include an allowance of 20kg per person on domestic flights; you may need to pay an airline baggage fee for each kg above this (about $4USD). If you have more than 20kgs, you may have more gear than you need.
- Tipping – see below for this vexatious issue.
We will advise on how much money to take with you, 'just in case', and the likely costs if you are staying in UB before or after the trip.
Firstly and most importantly, you should have fun. You are also responsible for your own visa (which we can help with), travel insurance, and any necessary vaccinations (none are legally required). While riding, we like to operate as a team, making group decisions on where to go and when to stop, rather than being told what to do. However when necessary the group leaders authority will need to be respected.
We do not require you to wear a hat, and we do not provide them. However your insurance policy may have something to say about this. Check the small print to see whether you are still covered in the event of an accident if not wearing a hat. We suggest that if you feel more comfortable riding in a hat, bring one along and wear it at least initially until you are familiar with your horse.
If you have read the information on our website and decided that you are capable of meeting the challenges involved, then you are welcome to join us. If in doubt, please ask us. The main thing is to have the right attitude. A reasonable level of fitness is also required in order to get the most out of it, especially if you are not an experienced rider. You are expected to be able to mount and dismount unaided. Anyone who is fit and active enough to enjoy the trip (even if inexperienced) will have no problem - remember the horses are small!
We do not have an upper age limit. HOWEVER if you are 70 and a non-rider with a hip replacement and bad knees, we would suggest there may be a better way to see Mongolia. We hope to still be travelling off the beaten track at that age too, but the reality is that people do fall off, and the older we get, the less we bounce.
If you have a known medical condition which could be a problem you will need to let us know before the trip. If you weigh over 100kg (220 pounds), please talk to us. It is not necessarily a problem if you are fit and active. See the following question regarding children.
We pay our local staff well, and they do not rely on tipping to supplement their income, in order to make a living. We say tip if you would like to, as a way for you to say thanks to the staff if you think they did a great job, but most definitely do not feel like you need to. All tips are pooled, so if you don't wish to tip, no one is any the wiser. We will advise you on a suitable amount.
No, you will not be forced to work on our trips. However we find that it makes for a better trip if everyone pitches in when necessary. The wranglers are responsible for looking after the horses, but riders are more than welcome to assist and learn local techniques. Sometimes we take along a cook, but often the trip leader will be in charge of meals, so a bit of help slicing and dicing is always welcome. Pitching of tents is the responsibility of the rider, but there will always be someone to help. Riders can help with camping activities such as gathering of firewood if they wish. We welcome your input when deciding on potential routes while riding.
Where we ride you can drink the water straight from the streams. Unlike in the West, local people have enough sense not to foul their own water supply, and there are no water-borne diseases. Having said that, we do provide boiled water each day for those who need it, and we also have a water filter (for trips to Zavkhan only). You may also like to bring water purifier tablets with you so you can treat your own drinking water.
Mongolia is a relatively safe and healthy country due to the low population density and cold winters. Ask a travel doctor about appropriate vaccinations, and what to take with you in the way of medicines. See some of our vaccination recommendations here.
Regarding rabies, we can't advise you to not get vaccinated. However from our experience in Mongolia, we believe the risk is low. We have never been menaced by a dog, rabid or otherwise. Since their main job is protecting livestock from wolves, it is good policy to not approach any dog, unless the owner has 'introduced you'. Then they tend to be perfectly friendly. If a dog does approach you - they sometimes come around camp - pretending to throw a stone at them sends them on their way.
The Black Death does occur now and then. We call it the 'marmots revenge' since it tends to be marmot poachers who catch it. These days it can be treated quite easily and is not a threat.
Children can come as long as they are well supervised by a parent or guardian. If a child can ride confidently, keep up with the group, and is happy camping in remote places, they are old enough to come. The support vehicle is available if necessary. Only our Altai Expedition is unsuitable for children. We have never actually had any children along on a trip yet, but they would undoubtedly have the time of their life.
Yes, we can book extra nights at our group hotel. There's no extra costs from us. The easiest option is to stay at our hotel where we will all be staying for the first night of the trip, and at the end, but we can suggest a more basic (ie less expensive) guest house.
If you would like to splash out after all the roughing it in the countryside, we can point you to other (ie more expensive) options. During Nadaam (11-13 July), accommodation is scarce so let us know well in advance.
July/August is the height of summer so you can expect warm days at this time of year. Sometimes hot enough to throw yourself in the nearest river at the end of the day, but usually just a pleasant riding temperature. The evenings can be cool, so you do need warm clothes for sitting around the camp fire. It can get down to below zero Celsius even in summer. In Zavkhan, summer does tend to be the rainy season although don't be thinking English rain, it's more the odd brief shower. Early summer is a good time to visit to see the spectacular wild flowers.
By September we are heading back in to autumn, so the days are crisp and sunny and there is always the chance of an early cold snap, particularly in the Altai. Autumn brings a touch of colour to the forests and perhaps a dusting of snow to the mountains, and nomadic herders are busy preparing for the coming winter. By late September-early October it is not uncommon to wake to a world of white, making for challenging but beautiful riding conditions.
Winter in Mongolia is long and harsh, but still lovely. We offered a winter trip in 2009-10, but didn't get enough interested people. We were a little surprised that the idea of -30C days would put people off! But if you think you've got what it takes, we will try again in 2010-11.
Spring comes in April-May, and is not a good time to see Mongolia at it's best – cold, grey and windy. At the end of a long winter, and before the grass has started to grow again, it is a tough time of year in the countryside.
The highest peak in Zavkhan near where we ride is just over 3000m. It's a hard old day walk to the top, but mostly we are camping and riding around 1500-2000m. In the Altai the mountains around us are up to almost 4000m on the Chinese border but we ride down around 2500m mostly. If you find yourself short of breath, you can blame the altitude rather than your fitness!
Do you have a question that we haven't answered above?
If so, please don't hesitate to contact us.