Mongolia Unveiled: The Naadam Festival

The annual Naadam Festival in July is a rare glimpse into Mongolian Culture

Mongolia has remained relatively unchanged for centuries; it is one of the few countries that retains its ancient traditions and has one of the only horse-based, nomadic cultures in the world. Home to nomadic herders who still roam the steppe as they have since the time of Chinggis Khaan.

During this private tour, travel the remote vast steppe of Mongolia, exploring crystal-clear alpine lakes, traditional ger camps, and visiting traditional camel-herding families. Catch the towering dunes of the Gobi at sunrise and the brilliant Flaming Cliffs at sunset, and spend a thrilling day documenting the colorful contests of a private Naadam demonstration during Mongolia's most important festival, Naadam, which will be attended on both days.

Naadam Festival is the only one of its kind; it is a sophisticated and eloquent expression of nomadic culture, it is the honored celebration of a national independence, and it is an outstanding combination of arts and sports. Even, the core of the festival – three manly sports – the wrestling, horseracing and archery, embrace many elements of arts, such as singing, dancing and performing. Nomadic Mongolians have known when to throw the parties. Naadam Festival is held in the most enjoyable month of the most pleasant season in the country. Therefore, everyone takes the opportunity and enjoys the Festival in diverse schedule such as travelling to the countryside, camping out and gathering in their closest herds. Everyone is so looking forward to Naadam that after each Naadam, Naadamers moan that next Naadam is too long to wait. Don’t be one of those moaning about next Naadam being too long to wait! Come travel to Mongolia with us to experience this Festival, which is the only one of its kind, in the world.

Unearthing the Atmosphere of China's Living History

Some of China's iconic sites need little introduction: the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, an emperor's army of Terracotta Warriors. Yet they don't feel like museum pieces. As this signature tour explores the historical highlights, you're slowly immersed in the atmosphere of a distant time. Hear your footsteps echo through the Temple of Heaven, explore the mythology of Guilin's limestone pinnacles, and discover ancient hutongs (alleyways), where locals natter besides fragrant tea stalls.

So much tradition lives on and at the archaeological sites you'll find a surreal connection with the past. This signature tour cover over 5000 years of history and the expert local guides help you make sense of all its subtleties. These aren't merely photogenic sights, but stories as elegant and endearing as the local calligraphy.

Exploring the Destinations of Tomorrow

China loves to innovate and cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong feel like odes to tomorrow. Yet journey beneath the forests of neon and you discover that these cities are about so much more than famous, panoramic skylines. Uncover boutique markets and sprawling antiques stores. Wander through colonial history, then find ambient markets just steps from glistening city lights.

Contemporary art, floating communities, stalls of traditional medicine, acrobatic shows, operatic performances...China's cities have always made their own way and specialist guides ensure you experience the hidden corners, those that only the locals know about. And when this tour takes you to ancient capitals and cute old towns, you'll also find distinctive examples of innovation. When wandering millennium-old streets, you can feel how they were also once the destinations of tomorrow.

A Tapestry of Contrasts That Makes China so Unique

This tour celebrates China's contrasts. Yet one destination isn't just contemporary and the next focused solely on tradition. Each destination has been handpicked as it can reveal many different stories in one place. History, culture, nature, famous sights and surprising experiences...these 17 days will uncover China's remarkable tapestry, covering 5000 years and all the creativity of a country leaning towards future. It celebrates the feeling of a country that can only be understood when you're immersed in its atmosphere.

Highlights and Experiences

  • Explore the icons of Beijing, from its legendary sites to its flashy, contemporary architecture.
  • Journey through Ming history by walking Xi'an's city walls and discovering where the emperors went on summer vacation.
  • Discover the canal city that predates Venice by millennia, cute Zhujiajiao the serene contrast to your time in Shanghai.
  • Spend four days cruising the Yangzi River, an experience that is both an interlude to classic China and the quintessence of the country's allure.
  • Uncover the secrets of Hong Kong and Shanghai with expert local guides.
  • Games: Traditional wrestling, horse racing, and archery
  • Horse racing

Day by Day

Day 1

Arrive Ulanbaatar


Depart Beijing for short flight the the capital city, Ulanbaatar. Upon arrival at Chinggis Khan International Airport, clear customs and meet your escort, then transferring your hotel in the city  center. The rest of the day is at leisure, with guide and driver on call.

Tonight, we recommend dining at your hotel's selection of five venues, including dining experience in one of our five restaurants with the finest Mongolian, Japanese & European cuisine

Kempinski Hotel Khan Palace Junior Suite

Kempinski, although nothing remarkable, is nonetheless the capital's finest hotel. The Junior Suite spreads over 79 square meters, with a separate living room and a bedroom.

Occupying the 5th to 9th floors are five bright and spacious suites inviting to the skyline views. Dining if offered in five restaurants with the finer Mongolian, Japanese & European cuisine.

Day 2

Ulanbaatar

This morning, begin formal sightseeing with a visit to Sukhbaatar Square, the central square named after the 1920s revolutionary hero Damdiny Sukhbaatar who declared independence from China. After, exploring Gandan Monastery, Mongolia’s largest functioning Buddhist monastery—and one of the few to survive the Stalinist purges during the 1930s. Listen to the horns calling lamas and monks to temple, and witness monks’ daily rituals while visiting the adjoining Megjid Janraisig and Kalachakra Temples.

Following lunch, visit the National Museum to get an overview of Mongolia’s history and culture. Here, we will examine exhibits on nomadic life, including Stone and Bronze Age artifacts, traditional costumes, and sacred relics. At dusk, taking in panoramic views from Zaisan memorial hill.

In the evening, take in a performance of the mesmerizing traditional Mongolian dance and khoomii, or throat singing. (B,L)

Day 3

Yol Valley National Park

After breakfast, return to the airport for flight to the mystical Gobi, site of some of the most important paleontological discoveries of the 20th century. Upon arrival, drive to Yol Valley National Park, tucked between the foothills of the Altai Mountains. An ancient river carved this verdant valley, and its remnant streams create ice formations that provide a striking contrast to the surrounding desert.

After refreshments, embark on leisurely hike (or horseback or camel ride, by preference) through the valley, camera in hand, and look for indigenous lammergeiers, Altai snowcocks, ibex, yaks, and Egiyn Gol, or wild mountain sheep. We'll also visit a local natural history museum to learn about the flora and fauna of this area. Afterwards, driving to the Three Camel Lodge, voted one of the Top 50 Ecolodges. After settling in for a brief rest in your deluxe ger at Three Camel Lodge, viewing the stunning landscape with sweeping views of the Gobi-Altai, in late afternoon driving to Havtsgait Valley, site of ancient rock drawings left by early Gobi settlers. Here, we can admire these striking petroglyphs in their best light. (B,L,D)

Three Camel Lodge Deluxe Ger

The Three Camel Lodge was voted as one of the "Top 50 Eco-lodges" by National Geographic Adventure magazine. The lodge is a leader in Environmental Conservation and Cultural Preservation. The Lodge has the highest percentage of local employees of any camp in Mongolia, and also serves as a base for scientific research and wildlife monitoring in the Gobi Desert.

Handmade using a latticed wood structure covered with layers of felt and canvas, each ger at the Three Camel Lodge is heated by a wood stove and appointed with hand-painted wood-framed beds and furnishings. The elegantly simple design of the gers blends with the Gobi's remarkable landscape, and each has a southward-facing door, a nomadic Mongolian tradition, providing an unobstructed view of the desert and the Gobi-Altai Mountains.

Day 4

The Great Gobi

The next three days will be spent exploring the vast Gobi, the habitat of the Bactrian Camels, Argali mountain sheep, Golden Eagles, Jerboas- which resembles the Kangaroo rats, Saker Falcons, and more. Today we will explore Moltsog Els, one of the few regions of the Gobi covered by sand dunes. Although smaller than the famed Hongoryn Els, the sand dunes at Moltsog are much closer to the Three Camel Lodge and offer a range of picturesque landscapes of mountains, steppes, river wetlands, and sand dunes. Wild animal species of the area include red deer or elk, Siberian roe deer, wild boars, Mongolian black-tailed gazelle, Argali sheep, Bobac marmot, Eurasian badger, Corsac fox, gray wolf, red fox, Pallas cat, and Eurasian lynx. Birds species include the Great Bustard, Black Stork, and the Red-crowned crane. During the day, we will also visit a camel herder’s family and will have the opportunity to ride a Bactrian camel.

Day 5

The Flaming Cliffs

Begin the day with a visit to Tugregiin Shiree, where paleontologists discovered the famous “Fighting Dinosaurs” fossil in the 1970s. Afterwards, continue to Bayanzag, also known as the Flaming Cliffs where brilliant red sandstone harbors a treasure trove of dinosaur fossils and eggs.

Hiking down into the gorge to photograph the breathtaking span of the desert landscape, and capture the shifting palette of sunset. Then enjoy an incredible al fresco dinner beside the cliffs. In the afternoon, relaxing and savoring views from the eco-lodge. (B,L,D)

Day 6

Naadam Festival

Over the next two days, attending the grand spectacle of Mongolia’s most famous festival and sporting event—Naadam. At this massive celebration, witness traditionally-garbed participants who compete in the “three manly sports” (wrestling, archery, and horse racing). We will witness the contests up-close, taking photographs in the middle of the action. Capture the colorful pomp and pageantry, and zoom in on the whirling excitement of the horse race.

Naadam is the biggest festival of the year for Mongolians. Although the event incorporates Mongolia's traditional nomadic, sporting, and military cultures, the three-day festival formally celebrates the Mongolian Revolution of 1921 and the nation's independence from Chinese occupation. Each Naadam festival kicks off with a grand procession featuring dancers, horse riders, athletes, musicians, and monks. The festival's local Mongolian name, "eriin gurvan naadam," is translated as the "three games of men." That is, archery, horse racing, and wrestling. Whereas horse racing and archery competitions have gradually incorporated women participants over the years, wrestling continues to be a highly male-dominated sport.

Day 7

Terelj National Park

This morning, return to airport for flight back to Ulaanbaatar and then transfer to Terelj National Park. This is an unforgettable excursion into some of Mongolia's most beautiful landscapes, with massive rock formations, expansive and picturesque valleys, winding river, and groves of trees. Many nomads inhabit the park itself, using the park as grazing land for their animals. After visiting with some of these families, we will pay a visit the Aryabal meditation center located inside the mountains to learn more about Mongolian Buddhism.

Terelj Luxury Hotel Deluxe Suite

The five-star Terelj Hotel is a luxurious oasis and base from which to explore the barbaric splendor of Terelji. Set on the banks of Terelj River in a remote spot surrounded by wild, tree-covered mountains in the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, Terelj Hotel is a comfortable sanctuary with a rejuvenating spa, a stunning heated indoor pool surrounded by columns, two restaurants and a cafe all within 50 kilometres of Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaanbaatar. At Terelj Hotel, a palatial residence in the heart of the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, you'll find yourself immersed in the dignity and majesty of the Mongolian culture, a world away from city life. Surrounded by the Terelj River and Mountains, the hotel stands out like a jewel amidst the raw nature it inhabits.

The guestrooms offer an attractive blend of traditional and modern touches, including cool marble floors, antique furnishings, and local art - all with stunning views of the countryside. You can explore the landscape from horseback (if you're feeling really adventurous - a camel), or go on one of the hotel's planned excursions to discover more about the region's rich culture and history. French-born executive chef David Baruthio cooked at Raffles L’Ermitage Beverly Hills, and his gourmet dinners at the elegant Morin Khuur restaurant include foie gras that tastes imported (it’s actually local), honey-roasted duck, lamb loin, and risotto Milanese. Relax in the Tea Lounge, Cigar Lounge, or Cocktail Lounge and enjoy the indulgences for which each is named.

Day 8

XIII Century Complex Park

After having breakfast drive to XIII Century Complex Park. On the way, pausing at the Chinggis Khan’s Statue for photos and mingling with locals. After arrival at the XIII Century Complex Park we will stroll the various buildings and camps created to reflect the country's various cultures, also observing craftsmen at work, Mongolian calligraphy, learning hands-on to write Mongolian traditional scripts, dine with kings and queens, archery, horse training and rodeo. After lunch in the King Palace camp near the park, return back to Terelj Hotel. (B,L,D)

Day 9

Neolithic Mongolia

This morning, drive to Hustai National Park Hustai National Park. The park is site of a unique re-introduction plan of the Przewalskii’s horse (Equus przewalskii), called "takhi" by Mongolians. It became extinct in the wild in 1969 and, since 1992, has been successfully re-introduced to Hustai from zoos around the world.

The national park is rolling steppe terrain with rather large patches of birch and aspen forests. There are also visible remains of Neolithic graves. In addition to the horses, red deer (Cervus elaphus) and wolf (Canis lupus) have increased in number during the last few years, as well as Mongolian gazelle. Species also present in Hustai though usually not seen include Lynx, Argali Sheep and Roe Deer. After lunch we will drive to HS Khan Resort to relax and enjoy the sublime setting. (B,L,D)

Luxury Camp Yurt

The luxury yurts are comfortably appointed with private lavatory, toilet, audio (can be connected to iPod), refrigerator, shower, bathroom, electric coffee pot, safe box, and bar counter. On premises dining at “TAL KHEER”, which stands for “Prairie” in Mongolian, is a French Restaurant, which is divided into two large “Ger” furnished with Oriental Antiques and overlooking the plain.

Day 10

Depart Mongolia

In the morning, return to Ulaanbaatar. There is more to see in the capital, time permitting before departure flight, including the Bogd Khan Winter Palace Museum-residence of Bodg Jabzan Damba Hutagt VIII—Mongolia's last theocrat. Or we can enjoy a leisurely stroll in the town center. (B,L)

TOUR INFORMATION

The best time to make this trip:

Mid-July is when the annual Nadaam take place, but custom tours can be arranged anytime with May to September being the best weather overall.

Transport:

Discover Mongolia use the highest level, latest model, air-conditioned private vans or 4WD vehicles for the maximum comfort on your touring days. .

Meals:

For convenience, all meals are included in this trip. In Ulaanbaatar, dining at fine European and Asian cuisine restaurants. Mutton, beef, rice and noodles form the basis of the Mongolian diet, and meals will be based around this. However, trail rations may include vegetables, eggs, peanut butter, cheese and sometimes yak! On some days there will be lunchboxes from tourist camps. However, please let us know in advance if you are a vegetarian.

Accommodation:

We believe that comfortable, welcoming accommodation is vital to the enjoyment of your trip. You will be stay in a standard 3-4 star hotel in Ulaanbaatar and a tourist ger camp (traditional dwelling) with currency (220V), shower and other useful services (2 or 4 people per ger) in the countryside. All accommodation offered by Discover Mongolia is personally checked by our staff to ensure high standards.

Guide:

An experienced English speaking Mongolian guide will accompany you at all times. In addition, a tour manager in Ulaanbaatar will greet you upon arrival for orientation and be monitoring your trip throughout your time in Mongolia, and be available for contact 24 hours a day, everyday.

Other:

Warm thin layers of clothing are the best such as bring a waterproof jacket, sandals and a hat and headscarf to protect you from the sun and winds. Don't forgot insect repellent, sun cream, lip-gloss and first aid kit (medicine for headache, cold, diarrhea, runny nose; bandages; any medicine prescribed for you ). All your camera equipment.

Call us in San Francisco at (415) 680-3788 or submit your contact information below to have us contact you.

INDOCHINA Travel Company

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1283 12th Avenue San Francisco, California
Phone: (415) 680-3788