I convinced the two new friends to join me on a tour offered by the hostel by subsidizing their costs so that it was a good deal for them and reasonable for me compared to paying the full price for a vehicle by myself. I also asked to be dropped off at the train station afterwards.
After breakfast, we loaded up in an old van and drove east. Once outside the city, our first stop took us off road to a bird of prey stand where you could take pictures with vultures and eagles.
Then, instead of turning around, the van stayed off road as the driver laughed and pointed at the toll booth which we were bypassing with our excursion. At this moment, I knew this would be a fun trip :).
We eventually reach Terelj National Park, again skipping through another toll booth and then reached Turtle Rock, an unusually shaped rock which did not seem very safe for climbing. We visited the gift shop overlooking Turtle Rock and the gorgeous Mongolian steep.
Next, we made our way to the Buddhist Aryapala Temple located in the hillside and read hundreds of teachings as we hiked to the top of the temple where we got a great view of the landscape.
After leaving the park, we stopped by a small little restaurant in the middle of nowhere for lunch. They were waiting for us and made special vegetarian khuushuur, a stuffed flat bread.
Next, we headed off to the Chingis (Genghis) Khan Statue and museum. As we approached, a massive metallic horseman appeared in the horizon in the middle of nothing. At the base of the complex was a small horde of battle ready horsemen. This was probably the biggest sculpture I’ve ever seen, easily beating out Batu Caves of Malaysia, and Cristo Rei of Timor Leste.
On our way back to Ulaanbataar, we stopped by the a few bus stops to buy a bus ticket to Zamyn Uud, but they were all sold out, then we went to the train station, but there was no luck there either because no trains would make it in time to catch the Mongolia-China bus connection. The driver didn’t seem too worried all day and continued to remain calm as I began to worry and watch dust storms form around my travel plans. Then, he talks to a fixer who arranges car rides and I hop in with three others for an overnight drive to the border.
I recommend planning the amount of time to spend in a country proportional to it’s population size, unless you plan to hike and spend your time outdoors. The larger the population, the more culture, malls, museums, parks, people and other attractions there will be to visit, interact with and learn about.