Posts Tagged ‘sainshand’

Cycling through the Gobi Desert – an overview

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Most of you reading this will not even be contemplating cycling through the Gobi, yet there may be a few ‘adventurous souls’ (read: crazy people) out there who are now tempted by the idea. Not cos it’s easy or fun, but because of the challenge involved. So here is a quick overview of the route and our journey to give you an idea. If you want more detailed info, please contact us directly.

“The Gobi measures over 1,610 km (1,000 mi) from southwest to northeast and 800 km (500 mi) from north to south. The desert is widest in the west, along the line joining the Lake Bosten and the Lop Nor (87°-89° east). It occupies an arc of land 1,295,000 km2 (500,002 sq mi)[2] in area as of 2007, making it fifth largest in the world and Asia’s largest. Much of the Gobi is not sandy but is covered with bare rock.” (From Wikipedia)

Cross the Chinese border at Erlian by train or jeep and you will arrive in Zamyn Uud, Mongolia.

Zamyn Uud is a well stocked town and you’ll be able to buy vegetables, chocolate, fresh bread and vegetables, toiletries, tuna, milk, fresh cream cakes, potatoes, rice, pasta, sausage meat, tins of beef meat and of course water. In the building left of the train station there are ATMs and  a mobicom shop where you can buy sim cards and phone credit. There are a number of hotels, not much of a water supply for showers though, and places to eat. In fact coming from China we were pleased to see food that we hadn’t seen for ages, like cheese and pasta sauce. We stocked up with 8 days of food here and 30 litres of water. Leaving Zamyn Uud you’ll be on tarmac, however after the first kilometre it rapidly turns to sand and dirt track. It is very flat and quiet though.

There is a new road being built all the way to UB, and you will see it as you go. It is not sealed yet (June 2011) and ends abruptly or has big mounds of sand and dirt every few hundred metres. However it does go all the way to UB, so you can use it as a guide.

Ulaan Uul (102km north) – make sure you change the bearing on your compass in order to find this town. We missed it completely as we were headed for Sainshand and we heard reports of other missing it too and having to get a lift! There are NO road signs or markings of any kind and people you ask give very vague waves of the hands in one or more directions. Ulaan Uul is a place to stock up on water and food supplies, and fuel if you need it. If you do miss it and end up going to the west then you will see a small settlement about 20km after you’d hoped to see Ulaan Uul and you’ll be by the new road. You may be able to buy water from the people living there, we did, but it depends on their supply. They didn’t have any fuel (petrol) though.

If you see signs outside yurts or makeshift buildings saying ‘XOON’ that means food, so you could stop for something to eat and some milk tea if you needed to.

As you approach Sainshand (100km north of Ulaan Uul) you’ll reach a 20km stretch of new road that is tarmaced. It goes up and down and is a nice respite for the bumpy road. You can’t see Sainshand as you approach as it is just over the top of a ridge and well hidden from sight. The climb up is really quite steep, however there is a road going off to the left that is more gradual and takes you a more direct route in Sainshand too! Sainshand is the provincial capital and a strategic town historically and now. It has lots of small shops and supermarkets so you’ll be able to get whatever you need there. We can highly recommend the Dornogobi Hotel, although it’s not cheap, it has hot water and all mod cons – ask to put your bikes in one of their garages. The restaurant is great and has a menu in English too. As you enter the town you’ll see Best Restaurant on the right hand side. This is also good and the staff speak some English. Good mobile phone reception and wifi in the hotel. ATMS here too. Watch out for power cuts!

The road out of Sainshand is very sandy and bumpy. Tsaagandorv is the next stop, about 110km north of Sainshand. This town appears after you climb up and down for a while and then cross the railway track. The small centre has various shops and a butchers where you can buy big hunks of fresh meat. You can buy most things here and the locals are very helpful and friendly, if a little surprised! Couldn’t see anywhere to stay here. Good mobile phone reception.

About 20km on from there is Tsomog, a very small settlement that has a shop. It is just after the mine/industrial site. The shops sells fresh bread some veg, water, coke, chocolate etc and the girls there speak some English. You’ll see a sign for Ulaanbatar saying 300km as you leave. After this a you climb for a while, the the route is very up and down, not steep just rolling.

About 40km before Choyr you will see the new road like a scar across the landscape. Eventually you’ll see the tarmac road going up a reasonably steep hill. Once you reach the top, Choyr is about 6km from there. At the petrol stations turn left up the hill and follow the road into town. It’s not a very nice looking town but there is a nice hotel by the station. It’s not marked but ask and people will help you, particularly the kids as they can speak English. There are no showers or hit water in this town form what we could find. There is an ATM at the station and good mobile coverage. There are shops and places to eat.

From Choyr the new road goes all the way to Ulaanbatar, 230km north. The first 160km is all flat or mostly flat. There are several very small towns along the way where you can restock and get water or food, although not all shops were open. Then the following 30km is up and downs some spectacular hills. Not too bad though, and the scenery is a welcome sight after the desert. Once you reach the military compound at the top of a hill you’ll see a town to your right and UB is ahead of you. It is pretty much all downhill to UB for the next 30km.

The road into UB is busy and trucks and cars don’t have much idea about giving bikes room, that said they are ok and most were pleased to see us. As we got nearer the centre into the heavy traffic we found that behaving as if you were car was the best tactic – just sit in the centre of your lane and stay behind the car in front. The traffic moves slowly so this was fine. We wore our reflective jackets though and used our bells a lot, particularly for the buses, to let them know we were there. Plus we have a mirror each. Head for Peace Avenue to find beer, nice food and guesthouses! Look for the big blue sky tower, shaped like a half moon at the top.

Relax and enjoy!

Oh and by the way…  in May the wind is very bad and blows constantly. Apparently in June it is better. Some recommend going at the end of winter, early spring as the ground is still hard and easier to cycle on, however the weather can be very changeable and you’ll still get extreme temperatures and snow. In summer it is very hot, despite the Gobi being called a cold desert, it’s still flippin’ hot by most people’s standards!

On the whole route, there are no bikes shops or places to buy anything vaguely bike related – come prepared! Don’t leave your stuff unattended, possession is 9 tenths of the law here in Mongolia and a handful of people think it’s ok help themselves. That said, the people are lovely and will help you out without any fuss!

Top Tip – Bring a toothbrush for the zips on your tent – the sand trashes everything and you’ll need to brush your zips each day if you want to keep your tent doors working! And bring baby wipes… need I say more!

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Gobi – Day 8 Reaching Sainshand (and a shower!)

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

We had a leisurely morning drinking coffee and tea and using the last of the fuel for breakfast. Despite missing Ulaan Uud, the town where we had hoped to resupply, we still had some noodles left and the water that we had got from the yurt was just enough to keep us hydrated till we reached the town. We set off mid morning, and got back on to the tarmac road and started to climb up the hill. We were glad of its safety as the track to the side was steep, narrow and very sandy. Not enough room for a bike and a truck to safely pass. We reached the top of the hill and tried to get our bearings.

Into Sainshand

There were a large group of buildings and yurts to the west and the railway line was infront of us. I was convinced that this was not the town and just the start of it. My research indicated that the place would be much bigger. Liz assured me that this was it.


We cycled on a bit further and checked our position on the phone. We were right on the outskirts of town. We cycled up the small hill and the town opened up. Much better I thought, we cycled into town and stopped at the first shop to celebrate our success with a couple of cold cokes. We were soon surrounded by locals, young and old, interested in our bikes and which direction we were going.

Local kids (1024x768)

We explained as best would could then waved good bye, in search of a shower and a bed. After about 15 minutes Liz had sniffed out the nicest, most expensive hotel in town. I couldn’t say no, not many girlfriends would leave home and cycle across the world, and make it half way through the Gobi desert!

2011-05-20 001

To be fair the room is lovely and it’s nice to have a desk to work at. We have been here for a few days now, catching up on the blogs and resting. The last two days there has been no power, so it has been a little frustrating. But when I reflect that we are in a city the size of my home town, that is literally surrounded by desert for miles and miles in every direction, having any power in the first place is amazing. The power is back now and we have taken a gamble to stay one more night to try and get on top of our jobs. Yes jobs, it’s not all one big holiday you know!

2011-05-17 002

The wind should be in our favour on Monday and Tuesday and we hope to make great progress to the next big town 200km away called Choyr. We hope to give you the odd Tweet or Facebook update if the mobile waves stretch across the sand, but if not then have a look back on the blog. I have posted some new blogs about my time in the mountains of Sichuan, China. Snow, ice, altitude and bears!

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Gobi – Day 6 & 7 Cooking with camel poo!

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

We got up early as planned around 7am and there was no wind. Moving fast so we could get on the road we packed up, ate and loaded the bikes. Two camels and their babies were in the distance. We left and climbed a small hill before enjoying a long long downhill. In the distance we could see buildings and yurts. That must be Ulaan Uud. Through the monocular it did not look much, but hey it’s Mongolia! And we headed that way.

I Spy with my little eye...

As we got closer the road did not seem to go there and it looked like we would have to turn off the track to reach the settlement. Now up close, we weren’t really sure if this was the place, but we needed water and fuel so we had to go and see anyway.

Ulaan Uud or not (1024x768)

As we approached, we saw that it was just a few yurts, some unfinished building and some animals. We went to the yurts with the animals, asking if this was Ulaan Uud, they said no and pointed to the east and behind us. How far we asked, 18km was the answer written in the sand. 18Km wow, we must have totally missed it coming two far to the west. We asked if we could have some water and they turned on a big hose for us. I filled up our four litre water bladders and a water bottle, we gave them some money. They did not have any fuel though, the water was probably rain water, but we would need to boil or pump it to be sure. They told us Sainshand, the next town was 100km away.

We left and cycled up the hill behind their settlement, then stopped to regroup. Looks like we will be cycling straight to Sainshand then. We had hoped to buy bread, veg, meat, chocolate, cheese, rice, water and fuel in Ulaan Uud. But the thought of going back 18km was too depressing. We got the map out and the compass and with our Nokia phone got a GPS location. 110. 8 by 44.4 We then plotted our location on the map. (Our phone has no stored maps on and without a mobile phone signal we can’t see google maps. Chris is working on a free way to get maps on the phone for us. So for now it’s the old school maps with a bit of modern GPS technology.) We were west and slightly north of Ulaan Uud, however our bearing had been right for Sainshand. Ans now as the crow flies we were only 70 or 80kms away. We decided to set off and try to cycle 40km on the same bearing of 315 degrees. This would take us half way, with low fuel and food we felt that we should push ourselves now.

Onwards (1024x768)

The wind was very low and it was actually nice cycling, we ate chocolate and raisans to keep us going. For the first time we cycled side by side and were able to talk without shouting over the noise of the wind. The road was more sandy in places and coming down a hill fast, I almost lost it as I hit the sand at the bottom, skidding all over the place. I managed to stay upright and come to a halt, but I certainly felt my adrenalin pumping!

After 25km we stopped for food, it was 4.30pm and we had cycled 40km in total with just breakfast inside us. I needed food. To save our fuel, Chris collected dry camel dung and built a fire using the dung for fuel. It was all very Bear Grylls and I filmed Chris doing a spoof of us surviving in the desert!

Boking water for dinner Bear Grylls styley! We're cooking on dung! (1024x768)

We cooked rice, sausage meat and boiled water for tea. It was slow but the food was delicious and the black sweet tea gave me a boost. We needed to cycle another 10-15km, it was 6.30pm and I was tired now. A side wind blew in and it would have been easy just to stop and camp there. But with the sun still shining we knew we should carry on and use the last of the daylight. We managed 10km more before it was dark. We pulled off the road and pushed our bikes over the bumpy sand. There were jeep tracks criss-crossing the land, where to camp? We were both very tired and a bit cold now, trying hard not to be grumpy. We found a spot eventually and it was too dark to see properly, so we had to hope for the best. As we were setting up a motorbike camp over and two guys stopped to say hello. Chris chatted with them briefly, they were camped over the last small hill in their yurt. Not much was said but I think they left, satisfying their curiosity and perhaps knowing that the two lights moving slowly across their land were of no threat. We got into bed and pretty much passed out.

I woke up to Chris telling me that there was an amazing sun rise then promptly went back to sleep, it was around 5.30am. I woke later and lay snuggling in my sleeping bag. I was very tired and aching all over. Yesterday had been a long day, we did 50km and did not really stop until 9.45pm. Today the sun is shining and the wind blowing from the north west, not too bad but a bit gusty. I lay in my sleeping bag drinking tea that Chris made for me. It was a lazy morning.

We just finished our porridge when a guy on a horse turned up, it was one of the men from last night.

Visiting horseman (1024x768) Semi wild horse

Chris sat and drank tea with him, while I tried to sketch his horse from the tent. He was interested to know more about what we were doing, despite the language barrier Chris showed him our bikes and route across the world on a small map we carry.

View from the tent

I wanted to say hello to his horse but he waved me away. When the time came for him to leave I understood why. His horse seemed to be trying to bite him as he attempted to mount! Once on top, Chris managed to get a great shot of the feisty horse and his rider as it reared up, before taking off down the hill.

 Feisty one!

We set off and enjoyed day dreaming together about the strawbale house that we would like to build, discussing each room in turn.

Surveying the land (1024x768)

After 10km and a break for noodles, we picked up the new road, which at this stage appeared to be fully sealed with smooth tarmac. It was still unfinished with mounds of dirt every few kms, enough to deter the big truck but not some adventurous 4×4 and us. Our speed increased from 8km an hour to about 15km an hour it felt so fast. To our delighted a 4×4 stopped and gave us an ice cold bottle of water each, which was lovely given the heat of the day. Not long after we saw a group of camels being rounded up and were very close to them, giving us our first proper look at them, up close.

Poser! (1024x768)

We stayed on the tarmac and whizzed along clocking up 30km without much effort. It was a completely different experience to be on the tarmac and I suddenly felt apart from the desert. We now came alongside the railway and from our map we could see that we must be near to Sainshand.

On tarmac (683x1024)

The mounds of dirt were getting closer together and bigger, riding over them was becoming harder. We spent the last hour having fun trying to ride over them in unison, like synchronised swimmers, until eventually we had to admit defeat and go back to the sandy gravel track to the side of the road. We could not see Sainshand and there was a big hill ahead of us, so we pulled over to camp for the night. On our mobile phone we were able to get a signal on our Mongolian sim card and Chris soon worked out, using Google maps, that were were only 10km from water, food, fuel, and hopefully a hot shower, hurray, roll on the morning!

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