Personal and Professional Essentials For Traveling In Mongolia

But first, to help everyone get in the mood for Naadam, which begins a week from tomorrow, here’s a terrific music video from Nomin Talst called “Minii Mongol Naadam” or “My Mongol Naadam”. This is a great example of why I love Mongolia:

On Monday, I’ll do my last post before I leave. It will include one video for each of the Three Manly Sports that are held during Naadam: Horse racing, wrestling and archery.

I leave next Wednesday, so the organizing and packing has begun. Over on Facebook, a friend asked what I consider essential, both personally and professionally. FWIW, here it is:

Personal Essentials:
I don’t go there anymore without a Thermarest pad, even for hotel stays. The beds, everywhere, are HARD, seriously hard. My hips don’t do “hard” anymore. I also take my 20F rated down sleeping bag. It’s a rectangle, not a mummy bag, so I can use it as a comforter on a ger bed if it gets nippy.

Drugs for all the basics: cold, flu, sinus plus bandaids, antibiotic cream, sunscreen, Cipro, etc. and medical emergency air evacuation insurance, which I get from my tour company. There’s essentially no western standard medical care in the capital, Ulaanbaatar, except for an SOS International Clinic and something called the Russian Hospital. In the countryside, well, I don’t know much about traditional Mongolian medicine yet.

For anything serious, like a sprained ankle (yes, that can be serious) or a dog bite, you’ve gotta get to Hong Kong, Beijing, Bangkok, Seoul, you get the idea. And that can run, so I’ve heard, around $10,000 to get flown out, so $40 a month for the insurance is a pretty reasonable deal, I think.

My one major preference that I indulge is the ability to have a cup of coffee when I get up in the morning. This has proved iffy at times at the ger camps when I’ve gotten up early and haven’t been able to score a thermos of hot water the night before. I now take an Esbit stove, which is basically a small metal stand that one can put a small stainless steel camping pot on and that uses solid fuel cubes, which travel in my checked luggage. Heats enough water for two large cups of coffee in about 8 minutes. I buy packets of three-in-one coffee and milk tea at a grocery store in UB before I head out to the countryside. I take a coffee mug, too. Oh, and matches.

A Fozzil bowl that stores flat and snaps together and will hold water. I use it mostly as a place to put my watch and rings and stuff at night, but I can use it to wash underwear and socks in a pinch in warm or hot water that I heated up with the…Esbit stove. The stoves in the gers aren’t really used in the summertime, so I can’t count on access to one of those and wouldn’t want to use fuel for that kind of thing anyway.

Two Travel Towels, each of which fits into its own little bag. I never have to worry about having a towel and I like to have one for my hair. It’s small stuff like this, which is different for everyone, that seems to make travel go more smoothly.

As is true for many places, I always plan to dress in layers. Sturdy pants, light hiking boots or walking shoes, fleece jacket, t-shirts, turtleneck, thermals just in case. Teva flip-flops for going to the shower ger or if it’s hot.

I also always take a couple of del, the long, traditional Mongolian garment. Perfect for a robe in the morning, to wear to the toilet or shower, sit around in in the evening or, and this is really traditional, portable privacy on the road in a country where there are mostly no trees. And it can be really, really flat.

One change from previous trips is that I have lots to do in UB this time with various people. I’ve only had “field clothes” before and always felt like I’d just crawled in out of the Gobi. I really needed a nice warm weather outfit. So, our very own local Bohemian Mermaid, Bekki Scotto, carved out an hour a few days ago before she hit the art festival road and met me behind the Safeway store in Arcata with a rack of tempting goodies to choose from. I bought a couple of her hand-dyed rayon t-shirts, and a matching skirt and scarf to wear in town. She made me promise to get my picture taken wearing her finery in Mongolia.

My iPhone with excellent earbuds. I don’t care about airport delays anymore since I can always zone out to music, play solitaire or Paper Toss if I don’t feel like reading. Or watch my virtual koi pond.

I take a small stack of books, paperbacks that I will mostly leave behind as I go.

A Timbuk2 messenger bag for my non-roll-on piece of luggage, which my purse fits into, so I still only have two items. Clever me. It also holds the laptop, my file folder of trip stuff, all the power and charger cords and USB cables, snacks, a water bottle, a book and…my First Class Sleeper, which is more or less a half-size air mattress that you put between you and your cattle car-class seat back. It provides lumbar support, cushioning and has “pillow flaps” on either side. It has made a huge difference in my inflight comfort and arrival fatigue level. For $29.95. I just wish they’d make it from something that didn’t outgas at first.

My Mongolian-English and English-Mongolian dictionaries, since I’m really trying to learn the language.

Professional Essentials:
All the camera equipment: two Nikon D-80 bodies, 28-300 lens, 80-400 lens, 8, 4 and 2GB memory cards, four batteries, and a charger.

New KATA daypack for carrying same.

MacBook Pro for primary image storage in iPhoto. New Toshiba 500GB portable hard drive for back-up.

Car lighter adapter for charging batteries since not only do the ger camps usually not have electricity, but I’ll mostly be either camping out or in a fairly remote research camp this time.

Sketchbooks, pencils, gel pens, pan gouache, more paper, pencil sharpener, brushes, water-soluble colored pencils, a collapsible water container.

Nikon Monarch 10×42 binoculars.

Final essentials: patience, flexibility, a sense of humor and a willingness to set a goal but let the Mongols figure out how to do it. And my sense of wonder always gets a thorough workout.

3 thoughts on “Personal and Professional Essentials For Traveling In Mongolia

  1. I loved the video! Those horses in flight! I think that once you get all packed and have everything ready to go, you should take a photo of all the gear, luggage, etc. and post it. Reminds me of my scuba days – so much equipment to haul around! But well worth it, I’m sure!


  2. I don’t think that there will be much to see. I’ll have a roll-on, a duffle, a cardboard box and my messenger bag. At some point in the packing for a major trip like this, I usually think of Robert Heinlein’s short story “He Built A Crooked House”, about a house that extended into another dimension, but looked very small and ordinary in this one. It was a tesseract and I remember sitting at the kitchen table with clay and toothpicks at about age 14 trying to recreate the geometric figure the protagonist in the story describes. No luck. Whoever invents a tesseract suitcase with access to multiple dimensions for packing stuff will have the blessings of travelers forever.


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