A Travellerspoint blog

Terelj National Park

26th July

This morning we travelled 40 minutes on a dirt road to Dalanzadgad, which is also located on the edge of the Gobi Desert. It is the capital of Omnogov Province. The airport is called Gurvan Saikhan.

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We took a 75-minute flight back to Ulaanbaatar. We had the rest of the day free so relaxed at the hotel and in the afternoon, we went back to the state department store to do some souvenir shopping.

27th July
This morning we travelled 80km which took around 2 hours and arrived at Terelj National Park. It rained all the way there but despite the rain we had lovely views. We stayed in a Ger camp with beautiful alpine scenery just like the Alps in Europe.

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The furniture inside the ger was beautifully painted, even our beds were really fancy.

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There were also lots of wild flowers.

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We visited Turtle Rock known locally as Melkhii Khad, it is appropriately named because of its resemblance to a turtle when viewed from a certain angle.

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The weather has created bizarre shaped rocks.

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From here, we visited Aryabal Monastery. Aryabala meditation temple was built in the 1810s by Mongolian and Tibetan artists in the Gorkhit valley. In many cases Buddhist monks from the Manzushir monastery came to this temple for meditation. The temple is more Tibetan styled. In 1937-1939 Mongolian communists came to this temple and destroyed it completely and killed some monks from this temple. Later in 2000 Buddhist monks of the Lamiran temple in Ulaanbaatar initiated the project to restore this temple.

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Along the way there were lots of messages. Shane particularly liked this one.

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The temple was carved from wood and had lovely colourful carvings.

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There were paintings on the rocks.

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This one says “Om Mani Padme Hum” which is a mantra and is the biggest of its kind in Mongolia. He who comes to the temple shall read the mantra 108 times.

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We had great views of the area.

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In the evening the sunset had a pink tinge to it. It was quite pretty over the mountains.

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28th July

This morning we travelled 80km back to Ulaanbaatar, stopping en route to visit the Genghis Khan Statue Complex. This complex is located 54km east of Ulaanbaatar. The statue is 30m high and the complex itself is a total of 40m high. The statue was erected of Genghis Khan sitting on a horse and is said to be pointed in the direction of his birthplace. First you drive through this impressive gate.

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There are also lots of Mongolian warrior statues around the complex.

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The statue is made of stainless steel and is absolutely magnificent.

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You can go to the top of the horse, you can people with their umbrellas.

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When you enter the complex, there is a big Mongolian boot.

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And a big Mongolian whip.

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We then went to the top for a look. There was only a small lift, so we took the stairs. I was puffing by the time we reached the top.

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We had lunch at the complex before heading back to Ulaanbaatar. In the evening we went to a folklore concert for our final evening in Mongolia.
They had more Mongolian throat singers. For those that have never heard it I have put a link here so you can see how amazing it is.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1rmo3fKeveo&list=PLoiRQR159lLjSNJyT-tlEZY5LG3EA6Lqq
They also had musicians playing the horsehead fiddle. This fiddle has a carved horse head and only has 2 strings. They get so many sounds out of it including imitating a horse.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oRmVXjOOXio

We the had dinner on the 17th floor of a hotel. It was a lovely meal and we also got to see the square and the city.
The square and government house.

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Part of the square by night

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Even government house was lit up.

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We can’t believe Mongolia has come to an end. We have enjoyed every minute of our time here and could have stayed much longer. The scenery was amazing, the people were wonderful, and their hospitality was unbelievable.

29th July

We were sad to say farewell to Mongolia today. We were due to have an early start at 4am but late in the night we received a phone call to tell us that the 0625am flight had been cancelled. We would now be flying out at 1300. The flight was then late leaving Ulaanbaatar and it took a while before we got clearance to land in Hong Kong. We missed our connection. After some discussions with staff at the airport they told us that the next flight to Adelaide was 2 days away and that it already had a wait list so there was no guarantee that we would get on the flight. So we took the flight to Melbourne which left at 10 minutes past midnight and then arranged a flight back to Adelaide. Anyway we made it home so that is us signing off from another adventure.

Posted by shaneandnicola 05:16 Archived in Mongolia Comments (0)

Wild Mongolia Part 2

20th July

This morning we went to see the Erdene-Zuu Monastery. After the collapse of the Mongolian Empire; the city was abandoned and fell into disrepair. With the remains of the city Erdene Zuu (Hundred Treasures) Monastery was built in the 16th Century, the first Buddhist monastery in Mongolia. In 1792 it housed 62 temples and 10,000 lamas and since 1990 it has again become an active monastery, retaining much of its former glory.
This is the walled monastery from a look out.

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Before seeing the monastery, we visited the famous turtle. Back in the day there were 4 of them outside the monastery.

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We walked around 3 of the outside walls. There was a gate on each side.

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The walls are quite high with lots of stupas.

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Enclosed in this immense walled compound are three temples that are dedicated to the three stages of a Buddha's life: as a child, adolescent and adult. The main central temple is called the Zuu of Buddha and has statues of Buddha as a child. This part is now a museum. This is the entrance.

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Here are the temples.

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This is the working monastery.

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Other temples and stupas within the walls.

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We then said farewell to Kharakhorum and headed another 100kms south.
Some more views of the town from another lookout.

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We stopped for a coffee break at this statue. It is Buddhist and has a nice story behind it about helping one another and being considerate. These animals were by an apple tree but they couldn’t reach the fruit so they worked together to be able to get some apples. You can see the rabbit, monkey and elephant all have an apple.

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The scenery went from the green steppe to us suddenly seeing small sand dunes against some big rocky mountains.

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Our first camel sighting.

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After settling into our ger camp near the Mongol Sand Dunes, we had lunch. This is the restaurant.

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The view from our camp.

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This is only the start of the sand dunes, but we couldn’t resist going up one.

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After a break we drove through Khogno Khan Natural Reserve. This reserve is spread over 46,900 hectares. The scenery was different to what we had seen so far.

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We explored the remains of the 17th-century monastery, the Uvgun Khiids, which is located at the foot of Mt Khogno Khan. The monastery was built in 1660, after the existing monastery was destroyed by warring armies in 1640.

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The monastery had views with spectacular scenery.

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21st July

This morning we farewelled Mt Kogno Khan and headed to Ongii. We drove 300km, we left at 8am and arrived at 14.30.
We continued for a while with lush green scenery.

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We drove around 60 km on tarmac. We had a blow out so had to stop and change a tyre. But what a spot to have to wait, it was hard to take. We had lots of toots and waves as us westerners stood on the side of the road.

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We then turned off for another 240km off road. In a short time you could see that it was becoming flatter.

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We had a lovely coffee stop.

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While we were there we took these photos of Marla and the drivers and all of us.

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There are so many tracks that you can pretty much choose your own route.

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We then drove further for a picnic lunch as there was nothing around us.

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Around 14.00 we came across a little town with a petrol station in the middle of nowhere.

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While there we had a frozen yoghurt.

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Shortly after heading off again we started to get to a real rocky and dry area. We are now in what is called the middle Gobi.

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We stopped to see some rock art. They were petroglyphs of antelopes. We felt privileged to see them as they were in the middle of nowhere.

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From the top of the hill the views were spectacular. There were both green and rust colours in the landscape.

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We then continued on our way.

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We stayed in another Ger camp close to the Ongii River.

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We went for a walk along the river.

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As we walked along the river front there were little frogs about 1cm long hopping all over the place.

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We visited the ruins of the Ongiin Khiid Monastery located on the bend of the Ong River. The first monastery, Barlim Khiid, was built in 1810 on the north bank of the river.

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The second, Khutagt Khiid, was built in 1970 on the south bank. Once the largest monasteries and home to a thousand monks, it was destroyed in 1937 during the communism period. Over 28,000 monks were killed in Mongolia during this time. Two monks now call the ruins home, after a small temple was constructed in 2004.
As they raise money the are slowly updating the ruins.

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Before heading back to camp, we decided to hike up the hill close by. They had replicas of some of the local wildlife that is now hard to find.

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We saw this lizard on our way back.

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It was still a lovely evening, so we got to eat dinner outside. We had a lovely sunset.

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22nd July
The sun rises around 5am so we are often up early. This morning we watched some birds near the river.

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After breakfast we continued our travel to Bayanzag, more commonly known as the ‘Flaming Cliffs’. The drive from Ongii involved covering a distance of around 180km. In the middle of nowhere was an oowo so we stopped. The drivers did the usual ritual with 3 rocks and 3 times around the oowo to wish us safe passage.

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The ground became flat and there were still gers in the middle of nowhere.

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Not long after that we saw our first camels for this region. The nomads have a lot of camels down here.

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We were on 4WD tracks over dry plains as once again there are no direct roads.

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We passed a radar station.

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Once you arrive at this station you are now in the Southern Gobi.
We then passed some ruins remaining from when the Russians were here. Looks like part of it is still being used. Probably in winter.

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The landscape changed again. There was a lot of volcanic rock and lovely coloured rock formations.

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We even stopped for a coffee break to look at the views.

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At times it even became sandy.

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This journey took 4 hours, we had arrived at Bayanzag. Before heading to our camp we stopped to see the red sands and the traditional Gobi Tree.

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When we arrived at camp we had a traditional greeting and shared in a bowl of milk.

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After lunch we had a break as it was really hot. Shane put out his solar panel and charged up our camera batteries. As we are in the middle of nowhere, they only have electricity in the restaurant between 8pm and 11pm. We don’t have to worry thanks to Shanes forward thinking.

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Bayanzag is a traditional desert with rock, red sands and scrub, known worldwide for the number of dinosaur bones and eggs found in the area. Some of the dinosaur bones we showed you back in Ulaanbaatar were found here. The first excavation was in 1922 by palaeontologist Roy Chapman Andrews. Once it cooled down a bit we visited the Flaming Cliffs.

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We had a beautiful sunset to finish off the day.

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23rd July
The Gobi Desert is home to many of Mongolia’s renowned landscapes and the largest sand dunes within Mongolia are located at Khongoryn Els. So, this morning after an early breakfast, we travelled by 4WD 150km to Khongoryn Els. We were first sent on our way by the lovely girl who met us yesterday. She put milk on all the tyres to wish us good luck.

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It took longer than usual to get to our destination as we had to stop in Bulgan to get the flat tyre fixed from the other day. So we had a walk around town. Most of the buildings are from soviet time and are quite old.
The bank

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Their temple.

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The school.

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The hospital and pharmacy.

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The shopping centre.

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The only new building in town was of course the local government building.

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Once the tyre was fixed we were on our way. We still couldn’t believe we were in the Gobi. We have always thought of it as the Gobi Desert so you just assume sand dunes, but the Mongolians just call it Gobi and there were so many contrasts in landscape as we travelled the Southern Gobi. It is such a harsh climate for animals but there was plenty of livestock around. We stopped at a pumping station in the middle of nowhere. They were pumping water into the troughs for the animals.

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Shane looked inside the shed. This was the old motor.

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Our next stop was at another nomad family. Marla had spotted the way the horses were tied up, so she knew that they were milking their mares. This was something to see as we had never heard of milking mares until our visit to Mongolia, but this is how they make their airag.
This is their ger. It is grey not white as they have a waterproof cover on it. You can see they once again have the mod cons.

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The children work hard too.

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The horses normally roam free, but they are tied up and the foals are tied up separately amongst the mares.

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They then get a foal and once it starts suckling they pull the foal away, so they can milk the mare.

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After we had seen how it was done we were welcomed into their ger to drink airag. We really can’t believe how hospitable these people are. We just drove up to strangers asked to see how they milk the mares and next thing we are sitting in their ger drinking their airag and eating their snacks. We do make sure that they are left with gifts for doing this, but still.
This is what they put the milk in to ferment it.

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We noticed the medals hanging up. The young boys had won these at the Naadam Festival at their local race.

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Of course, when they have down time they are like any other children around the world. They were watching TV.

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We then headed on our way again and past by all these horses hanging around some water troughs. There was no water in them, so our drivers got out and manually filled the troughs for the horses.

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Shane then helped too.

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A cow and her calf were waiting behind the horses.

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After driving a bit further, it was time for coffee. Another picturesque place to stop.

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We also found this interesting bug hopping around. We had never seen anything like it.

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We then headed off towards the mountains. We had to drive through them to get to the dunes on the other side. Again, a total change in scenery.

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Once we came over the top of the hill we had our first sighting of the sand dunes.

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This was the view from our ger.

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We had lunch at camp and then had a break until later in the day. It was still pretty hot when we set off but we just had to visit the remarkable sand dunes. They are located to the west, in the heart of the Gurvansaikhan National Park. Also called the ‘Singing Sand Dunes’ due to the noise the sand dunes make when the sand is moved by the wind. They measure up to 800m high, 12km wide and approximately 100km long. We had the choice to explore the desert countryside on a camel. We stopped at a nomad family who have camels. We visited their ger and then went out to the camels. They looked relaxed.

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Shane went for a ride on the 2 humped Mongolian camel.

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I walked along side for a while and took some photos, but it was too hot for me to wander too far.

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We then stopped at one of the biggest dunes.
We were amazed that you could really hear the dunes singing. The sound was incredible. At first I thought it was a plane flying over but it was the noise of the dunes.
I hung around the bottom.

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Shane decided to see how far he could get in a limited time. He got about half an hour from the top. It can take about 90 minutes to climb if you are fit.
Here he is at the bottom.

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On his way

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Shane looking more like an ant.

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Higher he went at times scrambling on all 4’s.

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This is the view while he was climbing.

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Time got the better of him and he had to return to camp.

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On the way back to camp we were lucky enough to see some black tailed gazelle. A mother with 2 fawns.

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We are now about 200km from the China border so have pretty much travelled from the top to the bottom of Mongolia.
Just before a late dinner we had a beautiful sunset in the Gobi.

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24th July

This morning we set off and travelled another 220km which took almost 5 hours. We followed the sand dunes for some time.

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Slowly the dunes reduced to flat sand patches.

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We once again stopped for coffee. This was the view.

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While we were there the drivers spotted a plant that they boil up and drink. It is apparently good for diabetes. So, they picked bags of it. Baatavaa picked the most.

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We also found another lizard.

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After around 4 hours we returned to tarmac. This is a new road. As they have commenced mining in the south Gobi they have built a road there.

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We still marvelled at the way they transport their horses.

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Once again, the scenery changed dramatically.

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Once over the hills we again came to a flat plain.

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We saw some more cranes.

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We ended up at the edge of the Gobi Desert at Yolyn Am. The Ger camp is near Gurvansaikhan (Three Beauty) National Park where we get to spend 2 nights. We are still in the South Gobi.
Later that afternoon we went and learned how to play some of the Mongolian knuckle games. We learned 2 games, horse racing and farming. Each knuckle bone has 4 sides and each side represents a horse, camel, goat and sheep. With the horse racing you have 10 knuckles in a row. You throw 4 knuckles and how ever many show the top as a horse is how many moves you make. The first one past the 10 knuckles wins.
The second game involves throwing lots of knuckles on a table. The trick is to then use your fingers to flick a matching pair of knuckles. If you do this successfully you keep the knuckle. The game continues until only one person has all the knuckles. We really enjoyed playing them. A little girl even joined in and she was very good at flicking.

25th July
This morning while we were waiting for breakfast Shane spotted a brown rabbit. It was just grazing in the paddock next to our camp.

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After breakfast we went into part of the Gobi National Park. The park stretches for 2.7 million hectares.

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We were on the lookout for the local wildlife. Within a short time we had found some mountain ibex, they are a wild goat. You can see how high up they were.

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I was able to zoom in to see them better. They continued to climb the rocks.

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We also had the opportunity to view the stunning scenery of the famed Eagle's Gorge or Yolyn Am, which is the native name. We did a lovely hike.

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We saw lots of wild life along the way. We found these cute Mongolian Pika's.

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They were even sprawled out in the hot weather.

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A gerbil in his burrow and outside.

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We even came across a snake.

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We were even lucky enough to spot a second group of ibex.

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As we got to the steep walls of the 2km long Yolyn Am Canyon, there is a stream which freezes in winter and it is possible to walk along the ice, but it had well and truly thawed this time of year.

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Returning to our vehicles there were these birds nesting in the wall of the cliff.

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This one looked like a finch.

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We headed back to camp for a farewell traditional Mongolian BBQ lunch as we would be saying goodbye to the drivers tomorrow. It was totally different to the Mongolian BBQ we have at home. It was big lumps of boiled mutton meat, with boiled carrots, potatoes and cabbage.

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It was tasty.

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After lunch we had a fun afternoon finishing off another bottle of vodka and then doing some karaoke. We also shouted the drivers a few beers.

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The quality of the pictures is poor, not sure if it was the vodka or the excitement of the afternoon.
Here is Marla with Baatavaa, Uujgii and Turuu.

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Turuu got us up to dance.

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I sang Guantanamera with him.

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Shane sang Abba’s thank you for the music. We laughed all afternoon.

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We had a couple of hours rest before dinner. (not that we were that hungry) and got our bags packed as we are off back to Ulaanbaatar tomorrow.

Posted by shaneandnicola 17:51 Archived in Mongolia Comments (0)

Wild Mongolia Part 1

14th July

This morning we departed Ulaanbaatar and took a flight to Môron on Hunnu Air (the wings of Mongolia).

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The flight was only 90 minutes. Here is Môron from the air.

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Shane at the airport.

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Upon arrival we found our 4WD and driver who will take us around some of the remote parts of Mongolia. A 4WD is best suited for the road conditions here. We drove 130km to Lake Khovsgol. 100km was on tarmac but the last 30 kms was off road. On the way we saw lots of beautiful scenery.

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There was a petrol station in the middle of nowhere.

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We had a stop to see the sign posts for the lake town

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Also, there was a shaman oovo on the top of a hill. You have to pick up 3 stones and walk around it 3 times clock wise and each time throw a stone on the oovo.

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We stopped to look at some yak.

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This is the view from the bottom of the lake.

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Upon arrival we checked into our Ger camp where we were staying for the next two nights. The camp is located on the eastern shore of the lake. Located in the northernmost province, it is Mongolia's largest and deepest lake and is the largest tributary stream of Lake Baikal. Being the second largest freshwater lake in Asia at 1,645m above sea level, it freezes over from January until April or May. It is known as the ‘dark blue pearl’. Amazingly 90 rivers flow into the lake, yet only a single river flows out-the Egiin Gol, which ultimately reaches Lake Baikal in Siberia. A ferryboat operates between the two towns. We are about 200 kms away from the Russian border.

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There are squirrels all around the camp. We can see their tunnels under our ger and they are really loud. They are pretty cute though.

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15th July
After a beautiful day weather wise yesterday we awoke to a cold over cast day.
Last night we had a fire in our ger so we were lovely and warm while inside.
After breakfast we went on a 4 and a half km hike to visit a reindeer family. On the way it started to rain and continued to rain for the rest of the day. It didn’t stop us from enjoying our visit to the reindeer family though.

It was so picturesque with tall forests and lush meadows.

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When we arrived, we saw the tent they live in. As they are nomadic they don’t live in a ger only this tent.

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They invited us in.

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This is some of the reindeer meat they eat. They have no fridge. It was just hanging in the tent.

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The baby was 8 months old so I had a hold.

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Then we visited the reindeer.

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We then hiked another 4 and a half km back to camp. It poured the whole way home.
We had the fire in our ger lit so we could dry our clothes and relaxed for the afternoon listening to the rain on the ger.

We had an interesting evening. To celebrate the start of our wild Mongolia excursion Marla (our Mongolian guide) bought a bottle of Chinggis Khaan Vodka. The 3 drivers, Marla and the group drank the whole bottle. It is tradition for the first glass of vodka to be sacrificed for nature. So, the driver went outside, said a prayer and threw the vodka into the bush around us. Doing things in 3’s is good luck so we all had to drink at least 3 shots of vodka. Then the singing started. The drivers had lovely voices. We were then asked to sing something, so we started with Waltzing Matilda. It was a lovely evening and we got to know the drivers.

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16th July

We had a full day travelling to Jargal Jiguur today. It took 12 hours. We headed off at 8am and retraced our steps back to Môron. It had poured all night so the 30km of unsealed road was slippery and the creeks were much deeper than when we had arrived.

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Just before Môron we stopped to visit the Deer Stones of Uushighn Uver. These Deer Stones date back 3000 to 4000 years during the Bronze Age.

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Researchers believe that these statues were dedicated to leaders and great warriors of a tribe. There are no bodies under them, they appear to be a ceremonial funeral tribute. They are called Deer Stones as they all have deer petroglyphs on them.

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So far about 1200 deer stones have been discovered in the world and around 90% are in Mongolia. This complex has 14 deer stones.

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There are also burial mounds.

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We also had a toilet stop. This is the outback toilet. What a view, and we had goats.

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We had lunch in Môron and after a short break we continued travelling another 200km on steep and unsealed roads and had breath-taking views of the surrounding plains and glacial peaks. We had rain on and off which made the adventure even more exciting. There were tracks everywhere, no road as such.

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This is one of their winter camps. The nomads move around 4 times a year with the seasons. At winter time they return to a more substantial building for their live stock and erect their gers around the structure.

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We came across a truck carrying horses. No horse floats. They just had them in the truck.

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We stopped for afternoon tea and it began to rain. One of the nomads came to see us and invited us to have tea in their ger. Wow what hospitality.

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They gave us Mongolian tea which was tea with yak milk and salt. It had an unusual taste. They also gave us some treats to try. There were yak cheese balls and yak milk dried curd.

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The man was cleaning his gun

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When we were ready to leave it was still raining quite hard. To our surprise their goats and sheep had returned and were all around our vehicles.

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They were even sheltering under our cars. It took ages to get them out.

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We finally made it to the top of the final hill where there was a sign for the town.

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We then sighted Jargal Jiguur.

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We arrived at Jargal Jiguur, known as ‘home of the yaks’, due to many local families seen herding yaks. Tonight, was another Ger camp.
Jargal Jiguur is also well known for the Khunjil natural hot springs. They had separate his and hers springs so we didn’t bother.
This is the camp and the view we had.

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17th July

Today we travelled 120km to the serene Great White Lake (Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur). This drive took half a day, there were stunning backdrops as we drove along.

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They are hard to see but there were wild flowers everywhere.

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We even got to see some bird life. An eagle and a crane.

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We also stopped to visit a ger family who were treating their stock.

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This was their home.

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We also encountered some more water crossings and muddy crossings today.

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We stopped at a natural spring. The Mongolians stop here for some water. It is meant to be good for your gut. We drank some, it was clear and nice and cold.

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We stopped at the top of the valley for coffee. There was another oovo to walk 3 times around.

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We then got to see the lake for the first time.

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We then crossed another hill which gave us a beautiful view of the lake.

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There are lots of Toyota Prius in Mongolia and they take them everywhere. We have come across them all the way through our journey. After we crossed a water crossing in our 4wd’s the Prius went through. It was quite funny.

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The Great White Lake is a fresh water lake that is certainly the highlight of Arkhangai Province. Surrounded by extinct and craterous volcanoes (part of the Tarvagatain Nuruu Range), the lake, bird life and mountains are protected within the 73,000-hectare Khorgo-Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park.
Upon arrival, we checked into our Ger Camp and had lunch. The camp is located within one of the most beautiful areas of the famous Great White Lake and Khorgo Volcano. After lunch Shane went for a swim. He said it was pretty cold, he didn’t stay in very long.

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This is our camp from the hill.

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Later in the afternoon we visited the Khorgo Volcano

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We enjoyed a hike up to its cone, which took around 15 minutes to ascend.

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Everyone was so friendly. When we got to the top they were saying “Welcome to Mongolia”, they even wanted their photos taken with us.

After descending the volcano we visited a collapsed lava tube.

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Before returning to camp we went to the shoreline to see all the lava stone structures. The black lava stones over time have been made into different height towers by people.

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18th July

We headed off at 8am for our next destination. We received a blessing as we headed on our way.

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We passed the volcano again but this time we saw the other side. There is nothing growing on this side.

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There was black volcanic sand and lots of lava. There are some trees now growing in it.

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After leaving the park we eventually got back onto a tarmac road.

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Sometimes the tarmac was missing. There seems to be no specific side of the road to use in these situations.

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We have seen these town signs everywhere. It is nice to drive through them and have an introduction to the area.

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We were lucky enough to see some eagles and vultures today.

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Up on a hill we then saw a lot of vultures in one spot.

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We stopped at Chuluutiin Khartsal where we had lovely views of the river.

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We had a morning tea stop right by a creek. A lot of horses came by.

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I couldn’t resist this horse. I have no idea how he could see.

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We had to stop a few times for the animals to cross the road.

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Once again we had beautiful green scenery.

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Just before lunch we stopped at a popular Mongolian tourist attraction. This rock is called Taikhar.

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Shane had a ride on a yak.

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We then passed through the capital Tsetserleg in the province of Ar Khangai.

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We stopped to have a look through the small market.
We were just in time to see these animal heads come out of the butchers.

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They sell lots of the dried animal curd in all sorts of varieties.

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Fruit and veg stall.

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Nicola in one of the isles.

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Shane helping Marla with a water purchase.

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After lunch the last 25km was again off road.

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Another river crossing.

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We drove around 360km today and arrived at Tsenkher Jiguur Hot Springs at 15.30.
We were lucky enough to get the honeymoon suite. (just kidding but we got a nice big bed).

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We had time to relax in the hot springs and take in the surrounding alpine scenery.

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The springs are volcanic hot springs. There are several resorts here and there are lots of pipes coming from the hot spring source.

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19th July
Last night we had a terrific weather front come through. Our honeymoon suite kept us warm and dry. It poured most of the night and there was lots of thunder and lightning. When we awoke the rain had cleared. We had a chance to wander around before breakfast. This is the resort area of the springs.

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This was the view from our ger camp.

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We stopped just up the road to visit a yak family. They were milking so let us come and watch.

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Shortly after heading off from the yaks we came across the remnants of the storm. There were big hailstones everywhere. It looked like it had snowed.

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You can see how deep the hail was and in parts the rain was so torrential it washed the hail away.

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Ahead of us was also low cloud.

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We stopped to visit a nomad family who were again very welcoming.

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They had all the mod cons. This family even had a freezer and nice sized TV.

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They poured airag (fermented mares milk) for us to drink. They also gave us cured milk snacks.

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Their daughter had a 3-month-old daughter who I held and managed to get her off to sleep, they seemed surprised.

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I had some lolly pops so gave them out to the 4 children that were there.

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We then started heading through the forest. It was muddy, and we got bogged.

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Once down on the plains we saw some nomads constructing their ger so we stopped to see. They had had to move as they got flooded out.

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We then returned to the tarmac to drive to the ancient capital of Kharakhorum, situated on the Orkhon River. We had come out of the forest scenery and were now on the steppe. There were no longer any trees, just lush grassland and hills.

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Late morning, we stopped for a coffee break by this sign.

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This was a roadside store.

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The drive to Kharakhorum was 150km.

Upon arrival, we settled in to our Ger camp. After lunch we went to visit the Kharakhorum Museum which was very interesting. Kharakhorum was the capital of the Mongol Empire between 1235 and 1260, and of the Northern Yuan in the 14–15th centuries.

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We were then due to visit the monastery but it poured with rain so change of plans. We went supermarket shopping instead. By the time we had finished there it had stopped raining so we headed up to the viewpoint to see Kharakhorum.
The city from the lookout.

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At the lookout was a tribute to the Mongolian empire.

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There were 3 sides to the monument showing their conquers. The first picture shows the expanse of their empire in gold and the blue is current Mongolia.

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There was an oovo in the centre.

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When returned to the hotel the power was out due to the storm. They were told that it would take 3 days to get the power back on as 30 power poles had fallen down. They closed the toilets and showers, so we had to walk out into the field to go to the toilet. Just another adventure for us.

Posted by shaneandnicola 01:20 Archived in Mongolia Comments (0)

Ulaanbaatar - Mongolia

9th July
We had another day in Hong Kong today as our flight to Mongolia was not until 18:30. We decided to have a relaxing morning at the hotel before heading off to the airport at 13:30. We arrived in Ulaanbaatar at 23:10 so it made for a late night.
Ulaanbaatar is the capital and largest city of Mongolia. Located in north central Mongolia, the municipality lies at an elevation of about 1,300 metres in a valley on the Tuul River. It is the country's cultural, industrial and financial heart, the centre of Mongolia's road network and connected by rail to both the Trans-Siberian Railway in Russia and the Chinese railway system. One third of Mongolia’s population lives in Ulaanbaatar.
The city was founded in 1639 as a nomadic Buddhist monastic centre. In 1778, it settled permanently at its present location, the junction of the Tuul and Selbe rivers. Before that, it changed location twenty-eight times, with each location being chosen ceremonially. In the twentieth century, Ulaanbaatar grew into a major manufacturing centre.
By the time we got to our hotel it was well past midnight. Settled into the hotel and got a good night’s sleep.

10th July
Our first full day in Ulaanbaatar was spent visiting some of the sights. Unfortunately, it was only 16 degrees today and pouring with rain. We couldn't believe our luck. Mongolia has over 250 days of sunshine a year and it was raining.
Our first stop was at Sükhbaatar Square where we were lucky enough to arrive in time to see the military parade, the president even arrived to inspect the troops.

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Whilst at the square we got to see some of the Naadam Mongol costumes. By this time is was literally bucketing down. They all got wet. It wasn’t as spectacular as there were umbrellas everywhere, but you can see their colourful costumes.

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We braved the wet and stayed and watched a concert. The music was beautiful.

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We also visited the State Department Store. We just had a look around today and will go back and buy some things before flying home. It is 7 levels of goods just like any department store back home. On the 6th level it is set up for tourists to buy Mongolian souvenirs.

Our last stop of the day was at the Gandantegchinlen Monastery, which is usually called the Gandan Monastery. It is a Mongolian Buddhist monastery that has been restored. The Tibetan name translates to the "Great Place of Complete Joy". It currently has over 150 monks in residence. It features a 26.5-metre-high statue of Avalokiteśvara. We couldn’t get a picture of the statue as it was inside, and we couldn’t take any photos. It came under state protection in 1994.

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By 4pm we were wet through and headed back to the hotel to dry out.

11th July
We chose this time of the year to visit Mongolia as we had heard about the Naadam Festival. Naadam is a traditional festival, also locally termed "eriin gurvan naadam" (the three games of men). The games are Mongolian wrestling, horse racing, and archery, and are held throughout the country during midsummer. Women have started participating in the archery and girls in the horse-racing games, but not in Mongolian wrestling.
In 2010, Naadam was inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO.
We mixed with locals and nomads alike to witness the Opening Ceremony of the Naadam Festival, at Central Stadium.

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It was just like an opening ceremony for the Olympic Games. First the horsemen bought out the 9 banners of peace which are made of horse hair.

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These will be guarded by 4 guards 24 hours a day during the festival.

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This is how they will stand. They must have their eyes on the banner. The guards are changed every hour.

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They looked so smart riding off on their horses.

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Then the president opened the festival.

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The entertainment was colourful, there were lots of traditional costumes and the entertainment had lots of themes.

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The lunar calendar animals came around with colourful costumes and masks with them.

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Then the theme was family.

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Old traditions which are still in use in parts of Mongolia.

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The children came out dressed as some of their animals.

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Then as Mongolian wrestlers.

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The Mongolian horse is infamous in Mongolia.

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They even light a flame.

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They then went to modern Mongolia.

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There was a childrens choir.

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The horsemanship was terrific.

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These people are wearing gold medals. Mongolia has a tradition and they reward their people for good service.

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Unfortunately, we had some rain during it. You can see they had given out umbrellas as the umbrellas were the same colours as the Mongolian flag.

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After the Opening Ceremony, the first round of wrestling and archery was held. We went to see the women’s and men’s archery. The only difference is the men shoot 10 metres back from the women. This is what they are aiming at. It is much smaller than our usual round targets.

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The women are brave, they stand around the target to check the scores.

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They wore their traditional costumes while shooting.

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We then went to see the knuckle shooting competition.

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They put the animal knuckle bone on a board.

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They use their fingers to shoot it towards the wooden box which has small targets in it.

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We then had a wander around the stalls outside of the stadium. We tried Airag which is fermented mares milk. It didn’t taste too bad.

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We then got Mongolian flag stickers put on our face.

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We couldn’t resist taking some photos of the cakes in this bakery.

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In the evening we saw the Naadam Traditional Folk Show, which included the renowned ‘throat singing’. That was amazing. We had a gala dinner celebrating the Nadaam Festival. They also had throat singers and other singers.

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It had been a big day and we were looking forward to a good night sleep ready for the last day of the festival.

12th July
Today a thrilling day unfolded as we travelled 30km outside the city to view the cross-country horseracing; also known as the ‘tumnii ekh’ (leader of ten thousand). It seemed that most of Ulaanbaatar was going to the races. Look at the carpark, it goes back a long way. This is usually just paddocks.

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When we arrived it was a carnival-like atmosphere. They had lots of things for families to do including camel and horse rides, a big jumping castle area and lots of food stall.

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There were gers everywhere, as they arrive from all over Mongolia and stay preparing for the festival.

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We participated along with the locals in cheering the athletes as they competed and were enthralled in the way everyone got so excited. The races are based on the age of the horse. They have 5 categories. 2-year-old horses, 3 year old, 4 year old, 5 year old and stallions. The 5-year-old horses race 27 km. Due to the distances the jockeys need to be light, so they only use 8 to 15 year old children. We watched the 2-year-old horses. Would you believe they race 10km. As this is the first year these horses race there are also a lot of new jockeys. The horses are quite small but the jockeys also looked small. In each race there can be 100 to 200 jockeys. We got our seats and watched the jockeys gradually go past us to the starting area.

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The race officials.

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This is part of the course.

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We sat and watched the race. The start of the race was on a big TV screen so we could see what was happening. After a while you could see the dust in the distance so you knew they were coming.

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As they past us near the finishing line everyone was cheering them on.

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Even the jockey coming last got a standing ovation.
In the afternoon we went back to the stadium to watch the wresting. We really enjoyed that. They have 9 rounds which slowly knock the wrestlers out. Round 9 has the last 2 wrestlers. What is interesting about the Mongolian wrestling is there is no time limit, no specific wrestling area and they are not knocked out unless their elbows or knees touch the ground. There was certainly a lot of passion in the crowd.
The introductions.

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The wrestling.

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If they win their round they saw like an eagle.

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After one of the rounds we got to see the medal presentation ceremonies.
This was the archery winners.

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The horse racing winners came all the way from the race course with their horses. There are 5 medals in each class.

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They stand in front of the stand where the president is and a Mongolian on a horse sings a victory song.

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Then the boys get off their horses and go up into the stand to meet the president and receive a prize. The president kissed all the boys.

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Here they are walking back with their prize which was a back pack.

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The jockey that came last in the 2-year-old race also gets recognised and encouraged. The whole crowd cheered him on and a song is sung to him which tells him he will do better next year.

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After another long day we headed back to our hotel.

13th July

Today was another day looking around Ulaanbaatar. Our first stop was at Sükhbaatar Square. This is where we saw the military parade a couple of days ago. Today the weather was much better. It was 24 degrees and mainly sunny. The square was previously known as Chinggis Square, it is the central square in Ulaanbaatar. The official name was changed in 2013 in honour of Genghis Khan, considered the founding father of Mongolia, and then changed back in 2016. A large colonnade monument to Genghis Khan, as well as to Ögedei Khan, and Kublai Khan dominates the square's north side directly in front of the Saaral Ordon (Government Palace).

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In the middle of the square was the zero point where they measure distance for Ulaanbaatar.

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The centre of the square features an equestrian statue of Damdin Sükhbaatar, one of the leaders of Mongolia's 1921 revolution.

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We visited Zaisan Memorial Hill. This was erected by the Russian’s to commemorate those killed in World War Two. The Memorial stands on a hill overlooking the city. There are approximately 187 steps to the top of the monument.

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There is a circular mosaic depicting the armistice between the four countries.

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The view from the top was amazing as it was a clear day.

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At the bottom of the hill were further monuments.

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We also visited the Museum of Mongolian History which aims to preserve Mongolian culture through the display of historical, ethnographical and cultural objects ranging from 800,000 years ago to the end of the 20th Century.

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There have been a lot of dinosaur bones found in Mongolia. They are currently building a dinosaur museum but in the mean time some of the bones are on display in a shopping mall. This seemed a bit strange.

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Posted by shaneandnicola 06:29 Archived in Mongolia Comments (0)

Hong Kong

overcast

4th July
We had an early start today. Our flight was at 6:25am and we had to be at the airport 2 hours before that so we headed away from home at 3:45am.
Once at the airport we checked in our little bit of luggage. This is the lightest we have ever travelled. We are only allowed 10kg of luggage and 5 kg in our hand luggage.

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We booked ourselves Premium Economy as we wanted a bit more room on the flight. When we checked in we were told we had been upgraded to Business Class. What a great surprise.

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The flight was meant to take 8-hours and 50-minutes to Hong Kong but due to the amount of air traffic we had to slow down and circle for a while, so it took a bit longer. Well were in Business Class so we weren’t bothered at all. Once we landed we had to catch a train from our terminal to the main terminal where immigration was. It didn’t take too long at all to get through immigration. It was a nice surprise to see our 2 pieces of luggage too.
Hong Kong, officially the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China, is an autonomous territory on the eastern side of the Pearl River estuary south of the mainland Chinese province of Guangdong, and east of the special administrative region of Macau. With over 7.3 million Hong Kongers of various nationalities in a territory of 1,104 km2, Hong Kong is the fourth-most densely populated region in the world. Hong Kong was formerly a colony of the British Empire and was handed back to China in 1997 after the 99-year lease expired.
The humidity hit us straight away. 90% humidity and overcast.
Anyway with luggage in hand we made our way to our hotel, the Metropark Hotel in Causeway Bay. Once again, we were in luck. We were upgraded to a harbour view room. This is the view from our room.

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5th July
Today we headed out to see some of Hong Kong. We were once again braving the humidity. It didn’t take long before we were feeling pretty sweaty.
Our first stop was Aberdeen. Aberdeen is famous not only to tourists but also to Hong Kong locals for its floating village and floating seafood restaurants located in the Aberdeen Harbour. The Tanka people, who used to live on boats in the Aberdeen Harbour, are generally associated with the fishing industry, and there are still several dozens of them living on boats in the harbour. It was quite strange seeing the old boats and the modern buildings in the background.

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You can now see the modern boats in the harbour too.

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Here is the famous Jumbo Floating Restaurant. I have an identical photo I took of this restaurant back in 1988 so it has been around a long time.

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Right next door was another floating restaurant.

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We then headed quite a way to see Repulse Bay and Stanley.
Repulse Bay is in the Southern District. It is one of the most expensive housing areas in Hong Kong.

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Stanley is a coastal town and a tourist attraction. It is located on a peninsula on Hong Kong Island and is famous with tourists for the Stanley Market.

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Our final stop was Victoria Peak. The Victoria Peak Tram is a funicular railway, which carries both tourists and residents to the upper levels of Hong Kong Island. The Peak Tram's route from Central district to Victoria Peak covers about 1.4 kilometres and an elevation of just under 400 metres.

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Our ticket

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It offered good views over the harbour and skyscrapers of Hong Kong.

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On the way back to our hotel we stood and watched the trams. They only have them on Hong Kong Island, but they are narrow and two storeys. There are a lot of them in use.

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Most of their buses are two storeys too. You can see the bus behind the trams.
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6th July
Today we headed to Lantau Island which is the largest of Hong Kong's islands, it lies at the mouth of the Pearl River. Its mountainous interior includes the 934m-high Lantau Peak, we took an express ferry from Hong Kong Harbour.

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Our first stop was Cheung Sha Beach. It was a lovely beach with a shark net to keep the locals safe.

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We then visited Tai O Fishing Village. It is located on the western coast of the island. It is a community of fishermen who have built their houses on stilts above the tidal flats. There is not a lot of fishing because of areas being fished out so they rely on visitors. We went on a short boat ride to see the stilt houses.

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We then had a walk around the village. There were lots of stalls selling dried fish of all varieties.

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We then made our way to the Po Lin Monastery which is a Buddhist monastery, located on Ngong Ping Plateau. The monastery was founded in 1906 by three monks visiting from Jiangsu Province on the Chinese mainland and was initially known simply as "The Big Hut". It was renamed to its present name in 1924. The main temple houses three bronze statues of the Buddha – representing his past, present and future lives – as well as many Buddhist scriptures.

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There were even cows wandering around.

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We had a vegetarian lunch at the monastery. The food was plentiful and tasty. (for vegetarian food)

You couldn’t miss Tian Tan Buddha, which is a giant Buddha statue completed in 1993, it is an extension of the monastery. Low cloud had come in which in a way made the statue even more impressive. We managed to get some photos while the cloud moved through.

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Around Buddha were lots of other statues.

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To make our way home we went on the Ngong Ping 360. We walked through the Ngong Ping village.

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We then boarded a gondola which runs between Tung Chung and Ngong Ping.

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The statue from the cable car.

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The ride took about 25 minutes and even with the overcast weather we had some great views.

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The airport from the gondola.

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7th July
Its Shanes birthday today. So, for his birthday I took him to Macau. No sleep in though as we headed off at 7.30. It ended up being a 13-hour day, but we really enjoyed it. We headed for the ferry terminal, where we boarded the Cotai Water Jet and crossed the open sea.

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Macau is an autonomous region on the south coast of China, across the Pearl River Delta from Hong Kong. A Portuguese territory until 1999, it reflects a mix of cultural influences. Its giant casinos and malls on the Cotai Strip, which joins the islands of Taipa and Coloane, have earned it the nickname, "Las Vegas of Asia. Originally Macau had 4 casinos, they now have 36 and another 6 will be completed by the end of the year. They have also just completed a bridge that is about 65kms long from Hong Kong to Macau. This will be opened in August. More is gambled in Macau than anywhere else in the world. 40% of profits from the casinos goes back to the Macau government. As it is such a rich place the permanent residents of Macau pay no taxes at all, no GST and no income tax. All their studies and medical costs them nothing.
Our first stop was the Venetian Hotel. This Venetian is even bigger than their name sake in Las Vegas. They have 3,300 suites. We took a wander through the hotel and found St Marks Square. The roof is even painted like the sky so that people who stay there lose track of time and stay longer.

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They even have a canal running through the hotel with gondolas on it. Just like Venice.

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As we were driven around we saw lots of familiar casinos and hotels from when we went to Las Vegas.

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We then stopped at the Macau Tower, which is located in Sé. The tower measures 338 m (1,109 ft) in height from ground level to the highest point. Its observation deck features panoramic views, restaurants, theatres, shopping malls and the Skywalk X, a thrilling walking tour around the outer rim. It offers the best view of Macau and in recent years has been used for a variety of adventurous activities such as sky jumping or bungee jumping. The tower is one of the members of the World Federation of Great Towers. (I never knew there was such a thing). Besides being used for observation and entertainment, the tower is also used for telecommunications and broadcasting. We decided not to go to the top.

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Our next stop was the A-Ma Temple which is a temple to the Chinese sea-goddess Mazu located in São Lourenço. It was built in 1488, the temple is one of the oldest in Macau. The name Macau is thought to be derived from the name of the temple. It is said that when the Portuguese sailors landed at the coast just outside the temple and asked the name of the place, the natives replied Maa-gok or A-maa-gok (The Pavilion of the Mother). The Portuguese then named the peninsula "Macau" The temple was well described in ancient Chinese texts, as well as represented in paintings, related to Macau. It is also one of the first scenes photographed in Macau. In 2005, the temple became one of the designated sites of the Historic Centre of Macau, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The temple consists of six main parts - Gate Pavilion, the Memorial Arch, the Prayer Hall, the Hall of Benevolence (the oldest part of the temple), the Hall of Guanyin, Zhengjiao Chanlin - Buddhist Pavilion.

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These are incent sticks which burn for about a week.

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We then made a stop at the local bakery, so we could buy some of the famous Portuguese Egg Tarts. They were yummy.

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We saw the last statue erected by the Portuguese before it was handed back to China in 1999. It is the Goddess of Mercy.

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We then headed into downtown Macau to visit the Ruins of St. Paul's. They are the ruins of a 17th-century complex in Santo António. It includes what was originally St. Paul's College and the Church of St. Paul also known as "Mater Dei", a 17th-century Portuguese church dedicated to Saint Paul the Apostle. It was built in the 16th century by Christian exiles. Today, the ruins are one of Macau's best known landmarks. In 2005, they were officially listed as part of the Historic Centre of Macau, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We walked to the top of the ruin’s 66 steps which offered incredible views of the stone carvings and structural remnants around the site.

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We could not believe the number of visitors. We think half of China was there.

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It was lovely walking around the streets as there were so many old buildings and at times you had modern towering over the old.

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We even found a big apple.

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We ended up in the smallest casino in Macau called the Grand Emperor Hotel. It is owned by Jacky Chan. There are 88 gold bars inserted into the floor in the foyer.

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On the way back to the ferry terminal we drove along the Guia Circuit where the Macau Grand Prix is held. You can see the lines where the cars line up.

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The view of Macau from the bridge.

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We then boarded the water jet and headed back to Kowloon.

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8th July
We weren’t sure what to do today so we decided to take the underground metro to Ocean Park. We had heard it was worth a visit. Ocean Park is a marine mammal park, oceanarium, animal theme park and amusement park situated in Wong Chuk Hang and Nam Long Shan in the Southern District of Hong Kong.

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This park is amazingly situated. Due to lack of space they have the first part at sea level but then the rest of the park is located over a hill on a hillside with various levels. To get to the top you can either take the cable car or the Ocean Express which takes you up through the inside of the hill.
The bottom part of the park.

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This is how you get to the top part.

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The bottom part from the cable car.

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We weren’t too fussed about the rides but thought it would be nice to visit the panda area. As usual they were sleepy.

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There were also some beautiful monkeys from China. They were unusual as they had long hair on their backs.

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Once at the top of the park we had a wander around.

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We then visited the North Pole and South Pole experiences. This bought back some memories for us as we have visited both poles. The King, Gentoo and Rockhopper Penguins were still lovely to watch and you could see them swimming under water which was a bonus.

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Shane saying goodbye to the penguins.

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Shane decided to go on the Raging River ride, there was a little French girl there who wanted to go on the ride, but her grandma didn’t want to go so Shane took her on.

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It was a very colourful park with lots of fun things to stop and take photos of.

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The heat and humidity had taken its toll so we headed back to the hotel for a rest.

Posted by shaneandnicola 20:47 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (1)

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