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Western Mongolia
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Marcel Bak
(Rzez) - F
Western Mongolia on 04/19/2012 15:06:30 MDT Print View


I'm planning ~40 day, solo, hiking/packrafting/horse riding trip in Western Mongolia (Altai) and Russia (since it is not possible to get Mongolia visa for more than 30 days without visiting Ulaanbaatar). I'm starting on 8th of June and end on 17th of Junly - plane from Warsaw (Poland) to Barnaul (Russia).

I was thinking either about 2 x shorter loops (~500 km-600 km each since I have a limit of 30 days for whole Mongolian trip) or one longer route ~900-1000 km. Additionally I would like to hike in the Tavan Bogd and get to the top of Malchin Peak.

Direct link to route - for Google Earth - if I choose the latter option the route will be extended so that I'll hike a bit more near Chinese border.

Could you please comment on planned route & possible problems when trying to get by bus/hitchhiking from Barnaul to Olgii?

In Russia I will have transit visa and ~5-6 days to spare in the mountains - maybe someone could recommend nice rivers & mountain ranges there? I've been told that Aktash area is extremely beautiful and the Chuya river seems really great. I was thinking to flow it a bit, but probably can't go on sth harder than WWIII. Maybe there is some nice valley to hike from the M52 road and than float back on packraft?

Direct link to gearlist - I will appreciate any comments about gear taken. I was thinking about bringing in some synthetic pants - namely Montbell Thermawraps - as the weather can turn to minus digits (Celcius) and some snowfall can be expected up in the mountains. The problem is that day min and max temperature may differ by 25-30 degrees...

Hope to get some feedback from you.

Edited by Rzez on 04/19/2012 15:29:31 MDT.

John Nausieda
(Meander) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: Western Mongolia on 04/19/2012 18:19:47 MDT Print View

Border hassles.

8:44 PM (20 hours ago)

to oriental-list
Here is an article that appeared to today about the number of expats in China who have to leave the country to renew their visas.

Zhuzhou Families

A Popular Side Trip for Foreigners in China: Visa Runs

Every Few Months, Expats Dash Out to Renew Papers; Guard's Harvard Question

The Wall Street Journal
• Updated April 18, 2012, 8:40 a.m. ET

ERLIAN, China—Lisa Guetzkow, a 25-year-old American, is crossing the dusty border from China to Mongolia crammed into the front seat of an ancient Russian jeep that has a scarf for an inside door handle. She's making a visa run. If it works out, she'll be able to stay another three months in Beijing, until she has to dart across the Chinese border again.

Beijing and other Chinese cities are magnets for young expats in the way that Paris was after World War I and Prague was after the Cold War. The dollar is still strong, jobs are plentiful and the bar scene vibrant. "It's not hard to teach English in China," says James Schiffer, a 25-year-old Oregonian, who returned home last year after three years in China. "If you have a white face and a pulse, you can get a job."

Many of the 20-somethings either have tourist or business-meeting visas that are good for a year, but require holders to leave the country every two or three months to be renewed—a requirement aimed at preventing visitors from settling down and taking jobs without the proper work visa. To get around that, young people make dashes to the border before their visas are set to expire, sometimes spending just enough time to get a foreign stamp in their passport before heading back to China.

Russian and Eastern European models have especially tough times on the border, say visa specialists in China, because the guards suspect they may be prostitutes. The models generally have tourist visas and can't admit they are working, so many say they want to get back to China to spend time with long-term boyfriends.

Andy Parker, a British male model in Asia, says some of his female colleagues dress to the nines to impress the border guards that they have high-powered and well-connected Chinese boyfriends. But a Polish model in Beijing, who asked that her name not be used, says her agency gives the opposite advice: Dress down in jeans, plain tops and no makeup. "Look like a student," she says.

One 29-year-old Californian who teaches social studies in southwestern China has taken 10-hour bus rides to the Laotian border and eight-hour trips to Vietnam for visa runs. Laid-back Laos is a snap, he says, but re-entering China from Vietnam can be a hassle.

Some visa runners have had their China guidebooks confiscated if the books have maps that mark Taiwan as a separate country rather than a province of China, he says. And during one crossing, a border guard grilled him about what college he attended. "Harvard," he answered. Is Harvard's president male or female, he says the guard demanded to know.

The teacher says he guessed male but the border guard knew better. Drew Faust had become Harvard's first female president. He explained he was thinking of the years he went to college, an answer that earned him entry back into China.

Some try to avoid the hassle of a border run altogether by turning to visa agents who claim they have enough clout with local governments to get visa renewals or fresh visas for fees ranging from about $450 to $2,000.

One visa agent, who goes by the name of Peter, requires customers to check into a hotel with other expats and hand over their passports and other paperwork. Later he walks his customers through a local police station that handles visas and gets them the necessary stamps.

Mr. Schiffer, the Oregon native, was a customer of Peter's when he sought a new visa. "Overall the entire experience reminded me of weed runs I would go on with friends back in the States," he says.

Reached by phone, Peter wouldn't give his last name. He also wouldn't explain his techniques. "That's the whole point of my business," he said. "How can I tell you about that?"

China's Public Security Bureau, which handles visas, didn't comment on specific questions about visa runs, except to cite Chinese regulations.

Ms. Guetzkow, the 25-year-old American, chose Mongolia for her visa run because it was cheap and seemed romantic. She passed up the cheapest way to get to the border—a $40 overnight bus where 40 passengers sleep in submarine-tight quarters—in favor of a $55 morning flight. Her destination was Erlian, a Chinese border city, whose main road is decorated with green statues of dinosaurs in honor of dinosaur bones found nearby.

The border scene is chaotic. Drivers rev the motors of their beat-up vehicles, shouting in Chinese and Mongol for passengers to board for a 300-yard drive to the Chinese immigration center and then another few miles to the Mongolian equivalent. Travel blogs warn some drivers will stop halfway between the two buildings and extort expats to pay twice the usual 50 yuan fee ($8) to continue, but Ms. Guetzkow made it to the other side with no problem, happy she now had a Mongolian stamp in her passport.

She had hoped to ride a horse in the Mongolian city of Zamiin-Uud on the border. But the achingly poor town doesn't appear to have a blade of grass—the dust next to the sidewalks is four inches thick—let alone a horse, although a yak wanders by. She settles for a photo of herself in front of a tree whose limbs are wrapped in blue scarves.

When it is time for the return trip to Erlian, she manages to convince a jeep driver to take her and a traveling companion for 70 yuan, instead of the usual 100. But at the Mongolian checkpoint, the driver has second thoughts, pulls a U-turn and heads back to Zamiin-Uud. "180 yuan," he demands.

No deal, says Ms. Guetzkow, who then spends an hour looking for someone to take her and her companion for the usual 100. Word had spread instantly that 180 was the new normal.

Eventually, a female taxi driver agrees to ferry the pair for the usual price, and Ms. Guetzkow gets the stamp in her visa that entitles her to spend another three months in China. For her next visa run, she's going upscale. She plans to go to South Korea and spend time on a resort island there.

—Yang Jie contributed to this article.
Write to Bob Davis at

Neil McGee

Locale: Northeast, East Asia
A few things... on 04/19/2012 20:49:51 MDT Print View

I can't access your planned route or gear list via the links you provided, but a few things:
1. A sufficient amount of insect repellant is going to be critical if you'll be spending any amount of time in the grasslands of Mongolia in late spring or summer. Plan more than 2 strategies for dealing with bugs in that part of the world. It gets hot on the steppe and its a perfect breeding ground for insects.
2. Because of diplomatic treaties, I believe U.S. citizens are freely given a visa to enter Mongolia, even when fresh off the plane without prior arrangements. If you're a US citizen, you might look into the diplomatic arrangements that may be of help here.
3. Do you speak any Russian, Mongolian, or Chinese? Strong English skills are rare in that part of the world, which can lead to some very frustrating and confusing situations if you don't have some language skills.
4. Read, read, read up on proper cultural etiquette of the Mongolian people, especially if you think you may avail yourself of local hospitality. Mongols are tremendously generous hosts, but there is a proper protocol to follow and you should make every effort to understand how to be a good guest. You also may want to acquaint yourself with the impact a Mongolian diet closely tied to advanced animal husbandry may have on your digestive system.
5. Safety should always be your primary concern. Have a plan in case you're injured. Keep your money locked down. Consider how you might handle situations where you might be asked for "tolls" "bribes" "taxes" etc. Consider how you might handle situations where you are robbed. Such things most likely won't happen to you, but be sure to have an idea of how you will deal with such things should they come up.
6. Do make sure you take reliable gear with you on this trip. It will be difficult and exorbitantly expensive to replace/obtain gear when your there.
Just some thoughts...

Marcel Bak
(Rzez) - F
Re: A few things... on 04/21/2012 13:17:17 MDT Print View

1a. Files - any problems with entering the website? Should I try to upload them somewhere else?
1b. OK. Checked - repellent + head net. I found this to be enough for sleeping. Windshirt/windpants should work fine against mosquitos.
2. I am Polish citizen - applying for visa is compulsory for me. Getting extended Mongolian visa is not a problem unless I visit Ulaanbaatar (which I do not intend to do - too much hassle to get from there to Olgii etc.).
3. I do not - only Polish, English and German. However, I have contacted local guide to (i) get needed permits (namely for national parks and border area), (ii) receive some pieces of information about local conditions etc. and (iii) arrange things like transport/hostel/supply post in advance.
4. Checked.
5. Checked.
6. Checked.

Thanks for some food for thought!

Marcel Bak
(Rzez) - F
Finalizing the planning on 06/03/2012 16:01:46 MDT Print View

Hello again,

Final route - for Google Earth - ~1000 km, around 50/50 hiking/packrafting.

Direct link to gearlist - probably I will add Mont-bell Thermawrap Pants.

Hope to get some comments/feedback from you regarding gearlist/route. - photos from this weekend's preparations - mainly meals/some gear modifications.

Marcel Bak
(Rzez) - F
Done it ;) on 07/06/2012 05:11:49 MDT Print View

Small changes made in the planned route on the spot. Mixed route, ~450 km covered on packraft (up to around WW III/+), ~550 km on foot. No support, no resupply. Done it in 19 days. Some photos can be found below. Hope to prepare some kind of trip report. Mongolia seems to be a perfect place for mixed hiking/rafting trip.

Initial photos - more to be uploaded within 2 weeks.

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Welcome back on 07/06/2012 11:29:05 MDT Print View

Welcome back, Marcel.

A stellar expedition in fine style.

I love the shot of the little unexpected visitors. That alone makes me want to travel to Mongolia. Quite a contrast with the screaming kids you see in a U.S. Wal-Mart these days.

Marcel Bak
(Rzez) - F
Photos / route ;) on 07/10/2012 14:03:02 MDT Print View

Thanks :) To be honest, I was inspired by Arctic1000, but wanted something a bit more remote than Scandinavia.

Photos from the trip - there may be few photos more, but I'm not still sure about them (+ I do not have more space available on Picasa:). Some examples below:

First day on Khovd River.

Among the storms

Milking time

Tsagaan Gol

Route in Google Earth - used for estimate calculation of the distance. Not sure, but I think that the actual distance is 10-15% longer (in reality one never walks/packrafts on straight lines). What's your opinion?

SPOT route (GPX), SPOT route (KML).

Shane Stewart
(anacrime) - F
! on 07/12/2012 18:00:03 MDT Print View

So epic and so jealous. Incredible pictures, look forward to a trip report.