為烏蘭巴托到北京的直通火車的班次，我們停留蒙古整整 5 天。
間間旅行社的行程都大同小異，3 個晚上走訪 3 個不同的國家公園。我們不想浪費時間在車程上，只想遠離塵囂，隱居幾天，所以一心鎖定只到離烏蘭巴托最近的 Gorkhi-Terelj 國家公園。但不管你走多遠，包車和住宿的價錢還是以天數計算。因此，若只到一個地方的話，Airbnb 的選擇更多亦更便宜。
Gorkhi-Terelj 國家公園是烏蘭巴托人的後花園，他們每逢週末便來度假，所以高檔的蒙古包酒店不計其數。但我們最想體驗遊牧生活，選擇了在著名的「烏龜石」以北，20 公里外的一個遊牧家庭投宿。
在蒙古，別說草原，就算在城巿內，要找一個地址都非常困難。幸好近年有一個新的座標 Apps what3words，自選 3 個英文生字的獨特組合去定位，全球定位準確度達至 3 米乘 3 米的空間，不少蒙古餐廳和商店都以 what3words 代替地址，方便遊客。
如願以償，我們 3 天的蒙古包生活，都在無手機訊號、無電、無水及無廁所的草原上，三餐全包，而我們亦準備足夠的零食和清水。別以為遊牧生活過得清閒，我們要照顧剛出世的山羊 BB，又要揸牛奶，亦有機會在大漠草原策馬趕羊，然後跟屋主一起包餃子準備晚餐，還學懂如何用乾牛屎燒暖爐，而每晚入黑後都可以拍攝到星河。
而 3 天之中最開心的，是不用看電郵及覆手機短訊，眼睛一直盯著在草原上慢慢移動牛、羊、馬群，這才是真正的思想放空。
I think everyone that visits Mongolia is looking for the same thing: wilderness, nature and sleeping in a ger. Since Ming Hay had been to Mongolia before, he knew more of what to look for to appease our style and taste. We didn’t want to just sleep in a ger, we wanted an authentic, nomadic family experience.
The closest “wilderness” to the capital, Ulaanbaatar, can be found just 75km northeast in Gorkhi-Terelj National Park. Once you enter the park you have all kinds of options on how to have your “Mongolian experience”. There are high-end hotels, fancy tourist ger camps and low budget ger camps. We didn’t want any of these options.
Another popular option for tourists is to book a multi-day tour that provides transport, accommodation and the option for different activities. This option sounded good at first, but we only had three nights and we wanted to spend it in nature, not in a vehicle for the majority of the time. We also wanted to see how locals live, not get a show put on for tourists.
We had found a girl in Ulaanbaatar that has family deep in the National Park living a nomadic lifestyle. She was able to arrange our transportation and coordinate our three-night stay with her family. So, after one night in the city, the next morning our driver picked us up and drove us to the National Park.
On the way we stopped at the famous “Turtle Rock” and then arrived at the hotel, Ulaanbaatar-2. From there, we got out of the car and had to carry all of our stuff across two foot bridges to cross the river where our host was waiting for us in a four-wheel drive vehicle. His camp was still another eight kilometers drive away.
We were so deep in the National Park, there were no tourists around after crossing the river and the closest neighbor’s camp was at least a 10-minute walk. There was nothing around but farm animals, the family and the rolling hills. It is the first time on this journey that I can recall “hearing” complete silence.
There was no electricity, no running water and the toilet was a hole in the ground with a shelter on three sides. We had brought enough drinking water, toilet paper and snacks, and our meals were provided by the family.
We spent our days playing with the new-born cows and goats, watching the grown animals freely graze on the hillsides, lots of hiking, riding horses and learning how the wife of our host handles the upkeep of the nomadic lifestyle. By the evening we sat in the family’s ger and watched or helped make tasty homemade dinners of classic Mongolian food. From handmade noodles and dumplings to fresh goat and lamb meat, even fresh cream for breakfast.
After dinner we learned how to build a fire with cow shit to heat our ger and gazed at the stars. Since we were so far from electricity, there was no light pollution hindering our view of the milky way.
It was so refreshing to be cutoff from the rest of the world for a few days and to be engulfed in the nomadic lifestyle. Not staring at a monitor or answering emails or even thinking about anyone who wasn’t there, was a nice feeling for a few days. It kept me in the present and made me remember to always be thankful for the little things.