One Day in Mongolia

Sunday, June 19, 2011 10 No tags Permalink 0

Singing Sand Dunes

Hello from Mongolia! It’s about midnight here but I’m too excited to sleep just yet. Mongolia was not on our original itinerary for this trip. But my parents have a knack for springing last minute surprises. So here we are with a family friend who said our trip would not be complete without a day in Mongolia.

Dining Room for Lunch

Who were we to refuse? The flight from Beijing to Mongolia is just an hour. We landed at noon at Ordos* (鄂尔多斯) airport in inner Mongolia** yesterday and were whisked away to lunch. Or rather a feast (which would characterize most of our meals in China, but more on this later!) Save for Hong Kong, each city we visited was either for seeing friends or business purposes, and friends of my parents were incredibly generous in making this a once in a lifetime holiday we never expected to come across. We were lucky to have drivers and local friends/guides who made the trip absolutely seamless and took care of every little detail down to making sure my sister’s favorite snacks were in the car. Talk about hospitality.

Lunch was a parade of 30 dishes for a 12 people (us 5 visiting and 7 local friends) at a restaurant in the city center. The bulk of the dishes were served either cold or at room temperature, followed by about ten hot dishes. Steamed buns stuffed with lamb, dumplings similar to xiao long bao, and hand pulled noodles in soup were served at the end of the meal.

Roast Baby Pig

This was my favourite of the meat dishes…a baby pig no longer than 18-inches. Roasted till the skin was crackly crisp, seriously effortless eating. The meat was milky tender and sweet. We were instructed to dip some of the skin into a bowl of sugar – they say this enhances the flavor of the skin.

Bellies full, another hour of driving took us to the desert, home of the Singing Sand Dunes. It’s so named because when you slide down the sand it makes this soft whistling noise. NYT has an article on “Secrets of the Singing Sand Dunes.” But more than sliding down dunes, what I loved was just standing in the middle of the desert – the sheer size of the surrounding sand dunes is simultaneously overwhelming and beautiful. NYC is very much not the center of the universe after all ;)

We took part in camel riding throughout the desert for a good part of the afternoon. It was my first time seeing camels or sand dunes, and the feeling was very much surreal. At one point I found myself eating cold watermelon on a rock between dunes and my first thought was how about I just stay here forever? Well, forever was until sunset and I wish you could have seen the sky with shades of deep blue and the pinkish hue from the sun. We rented a vehicle to drive up and down the dunes till the sun went down…with plenty of sunscreen and wide-brimmed hats of course.

Lamb-Stuffed Dumplings

From there, dinner was a 3-hour drive to a remote farm that’s part of a government initiative to educate both visitors and locals on the farming and agriculture of Mongolia. It’s a huge piece of land, almost a town in itself, coupling farmland with restaurants and rental villas. Though we missed the lamb slaughtering which takes place each morning, we received a tour of all the animals and vegetables and fruits. In the future they’ll also be producing local liquors here. The customs and rituals involved in the types of meals we partook in deserves a post all its own, so I’ll stick to just food in this post.

Warm Lamb Face

A whole lamb was prepared 9-ways (9 is a lucky number, and 99 is the luckiest). Lamb face was served as an appetizer with the cold dishes. Then wind-dried lamb jerky, lamb soup, lamb-stuffed dumplings, lamb stew with soft buns, pulled lamb with cold noodles, roasted lamb ribs, hunks of lamb in a millet soup, and lamb and blood sausages. Again it was another 30-course meal that left us absolutely stuffed and happily drunk on the local bai jiu. Bai jiu translates to white white but that’s fairly deceiving as the alcohol content is much higher! Vodka is a more appropriate comparison.

Dinner started at 8pm and finished at 1am – I was worried about the long ride back to the city. But then it turned out we were staying a villa on the farm! As part of the government initiative, many villas were built with the idea that people could visit as a weekend getaway and have a complete trip without leaving the farm. A farm-resort? ;) It’s not yet open to the public and we were honored to be the first overnight guests in one of the villas.

Sleep at 2am and up again at 7am! Early breakfast at the same restaurant on the farm and because our planned One Day in Mongolia was so much fun…we decided to stay another day

Happy Sunday.

*Go Katayama has a must-read article – completely with excellent photos, on
Ordos and the (supposed) over-development of this new city.

**Another fun fact: Ordos in inner Mongolia is the wealthiest city per capita in all of China…who would have guessed?!

10 Comments
  • thoughtfulplate
    June 19, 2011

    This reminds me of my trip to Dunhuang. All that sand dune, lamb dishes, camel rides, and of course, the hottness, which I enjoyed. :) Can't wait to hear about your breakfast! Did you try the lamb milk?

  • anonymous
    June 19, 2011

    That looks like so much fun! It is one of my life goals to ride… and eat… a camel… hehe.

  • K and S
    June 19, 2011

    awesome!

  • anonymous
    June 20, 2011

    FANTASTIC! I need to know about that plate of noodles!

  • anonymous
    June 20, 2011

    Im sold! Never in mind have I thought Mongolia is a place I should visit but those were some convincing photos and heavenly looking breads.

  • anonymous
    June 20, 2011

    Wow, what gorgeous photos! I have a friend who studied abroad in Mongolia and loved it. Enjoy the rest of your trip!

  • Kathy YL Chan
    June 20, 2011

    Hi Thoughtful Plate! Yes!! It took me a few tries to get use to the lamb milk, and though I like it now, I don't think I could drink it at every meals (which the locals seem to do!)Hi Stephanie! Thanks!! I didn't know about the camel riding until we arrived in the desert and they were like…surprise!! ^_^Thanks Kat! ^_^Thanks Soos! Will have more to come on it later…wish I didn't need to sleep so I can catch up on all the backlog of photos/posts!Hi Christine! Yay! We didn't plan on visiting, but I'm very, VERY glad my parent's friend convinced us otherwise!Hi Ada! Oh man, studying abroad there must have been an amazing experience…we were only there for a few days, we saw/did a lot but I feel like a return trip is definitely in order!

  • anonymous
    June 21, 2011

    Ooh… so fantastic! I'm living vicariously through your adventures while I sit in the middle of Times Square plotting my fanciful travels in the distant future.I hate to admit, even to myself, that I find NYC to be a kind-of center of the world. Mostly because of the fact I haven't found a place so like it. The hodge podge of multi-cultures and food, entertainment, and so on. Surely, I dislike a majority of the people here, the landscape, the attitude, the cost of living, but it's what makes it the stubborn city the whole world knows (or not)! Haha. But, it's a hate love relationship that I have.I'd trade almost anything to get me out of the city to view and view the world. Especially riiiight now.Villa on a farm! Wow, great.Oh, I noticed the photographer's name is "Go Katayama" ;) Not Takayama. For a moment there, I thought Greg had visited Mongolia before.Following your trip/photos, I kind of want to visit Mongolia if I ever visit China. Ordos especially. I'm fascinated now.

  • anonymous
    June 24, 2011

    Kathy, these are such beautiful pics. I went to Inner Mongolia a few years ago and my pics pale in comparison to yours. Thanks for sharing and taking me down memory lane. :)

  • Kathy YL Chan
    June 24, 2011

    Hi Diana! Thanks for noting the correction! Would definitely love to take a return trip to Mongolia…was only there for a few days, so much to see and do! Am sure you've got a lot of travel plans for next year. See you soon! ^_^Hi Ml! Thank you! Am so happy you enjoyed ^_^

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