Most people would struggle to find Mongolia on a map, let alone plan a holiday there. But Lisa Eldridge not only spent a month in the remote Asian country, she did it all while travelling on her own. Lisa writes the popular Girl About The Globe blog, which advises women on how to travel safely and well solo.
I caught up with Lisa to talk about her experiences in Mongolia, where she visited the capital Ulaanbaatar and spent several days living in the Gobi desert with nomadic families. I’m not sure that Lisa was totally bowled over by Mongolia’s biggest city. “The city itself is very modern and looks like you could be in Europe with skyscrapers and designer shops, but my initial impression was that they’re not very trusting of Westerners, she told me. “They only ever see mining companies coming in and taking their resources so they think any European is there for bad intentions.”
Lisa said one of the biggest surprises was how well dress the women were in Ulannbaatar. “They’re really fashionable. It used to be communist and once that ended, I think they just wanted to embrace their freedom and wear what they want, she said. “So I’d see Mongolian women walking around in the middle of the day wearing little black dresses – things that we’d wear at night in a club!”
Lisa didn’t feel there was much going on in the capital, although there were some unusual cultural highlights. “There is Mongolian wrestling and there’s a ballet stadium,” she told me, not entirely convincingly. But Lisa said a unique musical art form really caught her interest. “They do Mongolian throat singing, which is so interesting, although it sounds a bit like gargling. You can go to one of the cultural centres and watch that live.”
But Lisa said her four days living with nomadic families in the desert gave her a completely different view of the country. “The city was a completely different experience from staying with the nomads in the countryside,” she told me, adding, “You see the proper Mongolian traditions, like horse-riding, travelling in oxen carts and milking yaks. That was such an amazing experience and the people are so hospitable.”
Lisa used an eco-tourism company to arrange her travel. “All of the profits go to the nomadic tribes that host you,” she explained. “The father of the family met me and took me on his ox cart to his yurt – a sort of round tent that resembles a circus big top. The whole family sleep and cook in there.”
Lisa had the chance to try a traditional Mongolian diet although she said you need to be a meat eater or go hungry! “They eat a lot of mutton and lamb. I didn’t find a lot of fresh fruit or vegetables. It’s very meat based, so if you’re vegetarian it’s not the best place to go.” And Lisa told me that her first cup of tea was a shock. “It’s a sort of milky, salty tea with butter in it. It’s a very fattening, stodgy drink. I can see why they drink it, because of the extreme temperatures. It keeps them warm in winter.”
English isn’t widely spoken in Mongolia but Lisa said she still managed to communicate. “I had my phrase book and I was trying to speak Mongolian but you’re fairly limited in the conversation. After about ten minutes, you don’t know what else to say to each other. So that’s where the body language and smiling come in.”
You can read more about Lisa’s experiences in Mongolia and get tips on travelling solo around the globe at girlabouttheglobe.com.