Mongolia & Russia: Naadam, Buryatia and Lake Baikal Combo Tour
Join YPT for a summer full of nomadic thrill as we follow the influence of the Khans in both Mongolia and one of the prettiest part of Russia, Buryatia all the way to Irkutsk and Lake Baikal on this combo tour!
Pick your Mongolia to start! Start either in Beijing for a train trip through Inner-Mongolia, visiting Ordos-Kangashi, China’s most infamous ghost town and Erlian, its dinosaur border town. The more budget or time-conscious will chose Group B and start in Ulan Bator.
The moment we arrive we’ll jump right into the national parks nearby the capital! we will leave the city to visit both the Mount Khogno natural reserve and Terelj National Park, both famed for their wildlife and unforgettable trekking opportunities. We’ll ride camels in the dunes and horses on the steppes before heading back to Ulan Bator just in time for the festivities of Naadam. Naadam is centered around 3 main sports – horse riding, wrestling and archery. After taking in the festival, we will spend a day checking out all the highlights of the capital. It wouldn’t be a YPT tour without checking out massive Soviet monuments and political museums. From there, we will ride the train to Ulan-Ude, crossing all of Mongolia. We stop for a day in the capital of Buryatia to meet the Buryats an ethnicity of Russia which shares common ancestors with the Mongols.
We’ll then make our way out of Ulan-Ude, capital of Buryatia by train to Irkutsk and the stunning Lake Baikal. This section of the transsiberian railway is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful so we’ll take the day train to see it properly. Train enthusiasts will rejoice! We’ll be exploring the city of Irkutsk, Siberia’s second city after Vladivostok, and one with an amazing history and culture of St Petersburg exiles and local ethnic groups.
We’ll be spending 3 nights in and around Lake Baikal on Olkhon Island, the biggest lake island in the world, its various villages and islands, including a visit to Stalin’s ‘fish gulag’ at Peshchanaya village, and a bonfire meal and drinks with the local Shamanistic Buryat people! We’ll ride around untouched sceneries of extreme beauty on the world’s biggest lake island. Hiking on scenic coasts and climbing up the dramatic Burkhan Cape.
Naadam is the biggest event in Mongolia, attracting massive crowds. We can expect accommodations and tickets for the festival to be sold out months in advance. Don’t be left out, book now!
Group A: Inner Mongolia + Republic of Mongolia + Buryatia & Baikal
GROUP A: Meet your group and tour leader in front of the McDonald’s of Beijing West Station at 18:00.
Your tour leader will go through the itinerary and any questions you might have before heading out to get your train tickets.
Quick dinner around the train station
Board the overnight train K573 from Beijing heading to Ordos at 20:35.
Saturday 4th July – Ordos
Arrival just before lunch at Dongsheng West station, Ordos main train station, usually always empty!
On the drive to Wulan International Hotel, one of the few hotels allowed to accept foreigners in the town, we catch our first glimpse of Kangbashi ghost city and pass numerous vacant residential blocks.
After checking into our hotel, we head to Ordos 100, a construction project curated by swiss architects and controversial artist Ai Weiwei
Check into the hotel and go for some food and night-time exploration, grabbing a few beers in an empty bar
Sunday 5th July – Kangbashi
After an early breakfast we go out for a walking tour of Kangbashi city centre, from Genghis Khan Square with its giant Mongol statues past the museum built in the shape of a beret and the library built to resemble three books on a shelf and on to the skyscrapers on the riverfront.
Visit the 80,000-seater Kangbashi stadium, gymnasium and swimming pool on the way from Ordos, built to hold the 2015 Chinese Ethnic Minority Olympic Games but usually empty.
Check out the ‘Athletes Village’ from the Ethnic Olympics – this huge residential area was built specially for the athletes and now lies completely empty in the middle of nowhere
Grab a quick lunch and drive out to Dongsheng People’s Hospital – a newly built but incredibly empty hospital where you wouldn’t want to be going to in an emergency!
Swing past the mosque – built for three local Muslim families and with the idea that more Muslims might come in the future
Head over to a huge abandoned mansion complex – this would have been a gated area for millionaires, but the money ran out half way through the project and the mansions stand as hollow shells in a development gone wrong
Dinner at the bizarre North Korean restaurant – mainly bizarre for the North Koreans who end up working here, but who are happy to supply Taedonggang and soju (when a new shipment has come in), chat with us and on occasion sing a few songs!
Head back to the hotel or find a drinking spot/karaoke house
Overnight in Kangbashi
Monday 6th July – Kangbashi-Hohhot
Get up slightly later but still head out early to the giant sand dune to the southeast of the city with a great view of the whole city, unfinished residential tower blocks and a family of camels roaming around!
Head out to the area around the Genghis Khan Mausoleum. The mausoleum is an optional extra at 150RMB, but the area around it is full of riches. We pass by the Mongol Yuan Dynasty film set before exploring the seemingly random abandoned buildings dotted around the countryside.
Head for a late lunch at a traditional Mongolian yurt camp in the countryside where we can do some archery, ride a horse or a camel (extra charge) or enjoy the views as our Mongolian feast is prepared – if we’re lucky the main owner will be around to welcome us with a traditional Mongolian ‘nada’ ceremony where we will be presented with a scarf, serenaded and given a shot of milk alcohol!
Make our way to Dongsheng West train station, where we might well be amongst the very few catching the train K574 to Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia, departing at 18:36.
On the train, we should be able to see the sunset as the scenery changes drastically from the desert of Ordos to the grasslands of Hohhot.
Arrival at Hohhot train station. We’ll check in at the hotel and then head out the explore the city’s nightlife.
Overnight in Hohhot
Tuesday 7th July – Hohhot
Today is a city tour of Hohhot. Hohhot is an interesting city which claims its mongolian identity while being very Chinese at the same time.
We’ll first head out to Dazhao Temple, the most famous Mongolian style temple of all Inner-Mongolia
Then, we’ll head to the old city of Hohhot, there, we’ll have time to explore the old Mongolian style buildings and temples but also try some Mongolian delicacies for lunch.
After lunch, we will head to the Inner Mongolia Museum, this massive museum is dedicated to grassland culture as well as the Mongolian heritage of China.
Dinner of Mongolian sheep hotpot.
Sleepy from the hotpot and Mongolian wine, we board the overnight train T4202 to Erlian, leaving Inner Mongolia’s capital for China’s dinosaur capital.
Wednesday 8th July – Erlian/Ulan Bator
Early morning arrival in Erlian, a weird border town of Inner Mongolia which tried to become a tourist attraction by promoting dinosaurs. Fossils have been found here.
After leaving our luggage at the station, we’ll head by taxi just outside of town to visit the kissing dinosaurs of Erlian. They are the biggest dinosaur statues in the world.
Head back to Erlian for some exploration of the city
Lunch of mongolian fare in Erlian
In the afternoon, we will head to the Dinosaur park of Erlian
Thursday 9th July – Ulan Bator
GROUP A: Arrival in Ulan Bator in the early afternoon
GROUP B: Arrive at our centrally-located hotel at your leisure.
Dinner where we will get to know our new members of the group joining for the Republic of Mongolia part of this trip and have our first look at the nightlife of Ulan Bator
Overnight in Ulan Bator
Friday 10th July – Ulan Bator
Up early for our city tour of Ulan Bator
After breakfast, we’ll head slightly out of town to visit the enormous Zaisan Memorial which will not only offer the best view of the city but also an enormous fresco commemorating the sacrifices of the Red Army which came to liberate the Mongolians from the Japanese. On our way down, we will see a tank memorial.
We head back into town to visit the Memorial Museum of Victims of Political Persecution. Here, we will learn more about the dark side of the Soviet rule of Mongolia and the impact its omnipresent secret police had on the locals.
Lunch at the nearby Chojin Temple Restaurant.
We head to the Gandantegchinlen Monastery, one of the most important site of Mongolian buddhism. During the communist reign, it was the only monastery allowed to function even though it only did so as a token homage to Mongolian culture while most others religious sites were destroyed and their lamas executed.
We head slightly north to the Sukhbaatar Square, place where the very iconic statue of Genghis Khan, most famous Mongol of all history and terror of the western world, is located.
We go to the outskirts of town to visit the Military Museum of Mongolia. Warning: Soviet tanks galore!
Dinner in a restaurant nearby our hostel.
Overnight in Ulan Bator
Saturday 11th July – Ulan Bator
TRIP HIGHLIGHT We partake in the first day of the Naadam Festival. Spirits will be high all across town as Mongolians reunite for the event of the year, showcasing their culture through a competition involving the three main sports: wrestling, archery and horse racing.
We attend the opening festival ceremony. The nine tribes of Mongolia are escorting a horse tail of Genghis Khan to the stadium, accompanied by horsemen, monks and dancers.
We will attend the first rounds of the horse racing competition. Races can include thousands of horses with child riders and span over more than 10 kilometres.
Head back to our hostel to try a traditional meal of Khuushuur, a deep fried meat pie which we will rinse down with fermented mare’s milk, like the true Mongolian warriors we’ll be by then.
Sunday 12th July – Ulan Bator
Wake up nice and early for breakfast
We go and spectate the second day, this time watching wrestling in the stadium. Mongolian wrestling is unique in that the wrestlers are not divided by weight and compete all together. We will get the opportunity to familiarize ourselves with the special costumes the wrestlers wear.
Lunch on site
We head outside the stadium to see the archery competition. Here, we’ll witness archers shooting arrows over a distance of 75m using the infamous Mongolian Compound Bow which was instrumental in Genghis Khan’s conquest of the world.
For dinner, we’ll head to a Mongolian hotpot restaurant to gorge on delicious lamb meat and then head out to check out Ulan Bator’s night life.
Overnight in Ulan Bator
Monday 13th July – Mount Khogno Khan Natural Reserve
Up early as we have to drive to Mount Khogno Khan Natural Reserve, 250km away from the capital. This park contains a bit of all landscapes iconic of Mongolia, with sand dunes, the steppes and the taiga. Its ecosystem is extremely varied, with birds, gazelles and deer.
Our cook will prepare us a delicious lunch in the park.
In the afternoon, we’ll get the opportunity to do some more hiking or go camel riding in the nearby dunes.
Dinner and overnight in a traditional Mongolian family Ger, where we will sample Mongolia`s legendary nomadic hospitality.
Tuesday 14th July – Terelj National Park
Up early again. Today, our day is dedicated to driving to the Terelj National park. On the way, we’ll stop by Turtle Rock or Melkhii Khad, a rock formation that bears a striking resemblance to its namesake animal.
Lunch prepared by our cook
We start exploring the National Park trekking around accompanied by our expert guide. The park is famous for Khagiin Khar lake and the Tuul River which flows through it. We will also get the opportunity to visit a traditional Mongolian Buddhist temple.
Dinner and overnight once more in a traditional Mongolian family Ger,
Wednesday 15th July – Terelj National Park
It wouldn’t be a Mongolian adventure without a horse ride so we’ll ride around Terelj National Park like the Khan meant it to be.
Lunch with our personal cook
We start making our way back to Ulan Bator. On the way back, we’ll stop by the enormous statue of Genghis Khan, which we’ll be able to climb to appreciate the view.
Arrival in Ulan Bator for dinner and drinks to celebrate the completion of our tour!
Thursday 16th July – Ulan Bator
Free morning to visit some optional sights or do some shopping.
We board train 005 to Ulan-Ude, Russia, at 15:22.
Dinner on the train as we go through the stunning Mongolian scenery
At night, we will go through immigration procedures and enter Russia.
Friday 17th July – Ulan Ude
Arrival in Ulan Ude, we head to our hotel to check-in and take a quick shower.
After breakfast, we go check out Ulan Ude’s world famous Lenin Head Statue. It is three-story high!
We then head to Victory Park, the biggest park of Ulan-Ude, filled with soviet statues and the best place to people-watch in Ulan-Ude
Lunch at restaurant Tengis, specialising in Buryat fare.
We take a taxi and head north to Ulan Ude Ethnographic Museum. This open-air museum is one of the biggest in Russia, with over 11,000 exhibits. It will help us get an idea of the history of the land and the Buryat people.
We head back to town for dinner, this time at restaurant Buryatia. Every night, they put on a special buryat performance.
Walk around town to check out the cathedrals, statues and the Selenge statues
Stop by a classic soviet era bar to quench our thirst reasonably. We’re taking an early train tomorrow!
Overnight at our hotel
Saturday 18th July – Train/Irkutsk
Early morning check-out as we board train 069Я to Irkutsk. Along the way, we will pass some of Russia’s most magnificent sceneries. If you wanted to see the best of the transsiberian railway without actually doing the whole ride, this is it!
Arrival in Irkutsk at 16:20 local time.
Walking Tour of the 130th Quarter, we go to churches and monasteries, the planetarium and public observatory, the Eksperimentary Museum of Science, the ‘Window to Asia’ exhibition and the House of Folk Arts, all built to celebrate Irkutsk’s 350th anniversary
Head out for dinner at Rassolnik, a restaurant serving local recipes in a nostalgic soviet décor and drinks to find out what goes for a night out in Russia’s Far East!
Overnight in Irkutsk
Sunday 19th July – Listvyanka
Breakfast at the Hotel
We drive to the nearby village of Listvyanka to have our first look at Baikal Lake.
Drive out to Listvyanka village at Lake Baikal and check out the fish market and then scour the souvenirs market for Soviet kitsch. We get the opportunity to swim in the lake.
Picnic using local produces and Baikal, a local vodka famed all around Russia.
Visit Baikal Museum where huge aquariums are refilled with water from the lake and head on to the Under the Open Sky Museum
Drive back to Irkutsk
Dinner at a Nomad Restaurant. Those of us who were in Mongolia previously will reminisce on the taste of that wild land.
Evening walk around town, as this is a YPT tour, we’ll make our compulsory visit to a statue of Lenin
Overnight in Irkutsk
Monday 20th July – Olkhon Island
Early breakfast in the hotel
Depart for Olkhon Island, one of the largest lake islands in the world. It’s a 5-6 hour journey by bus and ferry but the scenery we pass through means it feels like a short trip!
Check in to our accommodation on the island
Lunch at the hotel Baikalov Ostrog styled after building built during the conquest of Siberia.
Visit Khuzhir village, the main settlement on the island and home to mostly Buryats, the native ethnic group
We’ll head on a trek to Burkhan Cape.
Dinner and overnight in Khuzhir
Tuesday 21st July – Olkhon Island
Head out after breakfast up to the northernmost point of the island – Khoboy using 4X4 to get there off-road!
We enjoy a traditional Buryat lunch cooked on an open fire of barbecued slated fish and ukha – traditional fisherman’s soup
We stop by Uzury a quaint and pleasant hamlet isolated from the rest of the world to understand how people live around here.
Head back to Khuzir and relax in a banya bath house (optional extra)
Dinner and overnight in Khuzir, we’ll keep warm with the help of an old friend – vodka!
Wednesday 22nd July – Olkhon Island
Today, we’ll head to the southern part of Olkhon for most of the day. We will first take a boat to island Ogoy.
We will be Island Hopping around the Islet of the Small Sea.
We finally reach Ogoy Island where the stupa of enlightenment, a holy site for the Buddhist Buryat, can be found.
It is hard to believe that we are still in the middle of a lake, as we will pass through steppes, sandy beaches and taiga.
We make our way to Khuzhir, stopping on the way in many of the abandoned villages, including Peschanaya, that used to form Stalin’s Fish gulags. While its history has been darkened, it remains a place of serene beauty.
Thursday 23rd July – Olkhon/Irkutsk
Breakfast at the hotel
Today, we have to cross all the way back to Irkutsk by bus, but the road ahead of us is certainly one of the most beautiful in the world.
Arrival in Irkutsk in the evening.
Dinner in the 130th Quarter followed by a pub crawl of the many bars in the surroundings. After all, we have to celebrate our last day!
Friday 24th July
Breakfast in the hotel and end of tour
End of tour. Connections by train and plane can be arranged by YPT.
•All transportation from Beijing to Ulan Bator
•Accommodation on twin share basis (single supplement available)
•Naadam stadium tickets
•All transportation to complete tour
• Breakfasts & Lunches
•Dinners while camping
•YPT tour leader, local English-speaking guide and cook while camping
•Horse and camel rides
•Getting to/from Irkutsk
•Visa fees if applicable (YPT can provide visa support for China and Russia)
•Russian letter of invitation (€25)
•Single supplement (€280)
•Banya bath house
•Getting to/from Irkutsk
We have expert guides ready to help answer any questions you may have.