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Mongolia Grand Odyssey

Bulgan, Khangai & Gobi Desert cycling adventure

By invitation only.

LabRat Runs have quickly become a PaintedRoads tradition. A group of easygoing and adventurous regulars, The LabRats annually sate their appetite for adventure by joining the inaugural running of a PaintedRoads adventure tour.

The third and final in the trilogy of PaintedRoads Mongolia LabRat Runs, this journey will take us on our most eclectic Mongolian odyssey yet. 

We begin with a classic train trip across the Mongolian Steppe, before mounting or bicycles and heading south across the Bulgan hills, the beautiful green Khangai mountains and onwards to the fabled Gobi Desert. 

At a Glance


Total Days: 20

Cycling Days: 15

Difficulty: 7/10

Daily Average: 56km

Off-Road: 100%

Max. Alt.: 2250m


Please Be Aware

Please be aware that this is a wilderness camping expedition on unsealed and changeable roads. Therefore the route and overnight stops are subject to change. Distances quoted are as a rough guide only.

Days 7 & 8 are similar to two days of the Khangai, but in reverse. Days 10 & 11 are the same as days 9 &10 of the Khangai - but hey, the Khangai is a brilliant tour :)

 

OVERVIEW

An adventurous off-road tour in the far west of Mongolia exploring the country's highest mountains - the formidable border with Russia and China.

 

DIFFICULTY 

The Cycling

The cycling is entirely on unsealed roads and trails through an unspoilt and amazingly varied wilderness of grassland, desert, alpine pastures, rolling hills, craggy rocks, rivers of crystal clear water and desert tracks. Whilst a high level of technical skill is not necessary, this is a cycling holiday for more experienced cyclists with some off-road experience. There are on occasions short steep sections where we cross passes on rocky trails with loose surfaces, and these need to be approached with caution and a willingness to perhaps push your bike at times, both up and down. There are also rivers to ford by foot, so wet feet are to be expected as part of the adventure.

On the whole, we are riding on gravel roads, grass trails, and hard-packed dirt tracks and roads.

Distance

The distances may look short in kilometres, but with some long climbs and unsealed conditions, the days are full and not to be underestimated.

 

The Accommodation

This is a wilderness tour, meaning most nights under canvas, wither in a ger camp, or a tent. Whilst camping we use three-man dome tents each shared by two people. Those who opt to pay a single-occupancy fee will have a three-man tent to themselves and a hotel room alone for four nights. Along with our sleeping tents, the campsite features a dining/mess tent, a kitchen tent, a toilet tent, and a shower tent with hot water.

Three-man dome tents are provided on a twin share basis or single occupancy for those paying a single supplement. If you have your own tend which you enjoy using please feel free to bring it along.

Accommodation for the duration of the tour is as follows:

Hotel: 2 Nights.

Camping: 11 nights.

Ger Camp: 5 nights.

Sleeper Train: 1 night.

 

Bicycle Advice

Although we usually recommend using your own bicycle for tours, the logistics of this tour means that the support vehicle with our equipment will leave Ulaanbaatar a few days before our train trip, and will not arrive back in UB until a day or two after we finish riding. 

If you feel anything other than a 100% desire to use your own bike it would be beneficial to use a rental bike as this also avoids the possible luggage delay issue with a bike for those flying through Beijing or Moscow.

I fully understand the preference to use your own bicycle, if this is the case please contact me to discuess the logistics - arrival and departure dates.

The bikes we supply are well maintained Giant XTC hardtail mountain bikes. With an aluminium hard frame, front suspension, hydraulic disc brakes, 27.5" wheels and 30 gears these bikes are ideal for this tour and the rental fee is just US$100.

Although our rental bicycles are ready to ride, if you have a saddle at home upon which you are comfortable we strongly recommend bringing it along. Likewise, if you use clip-less cycling shoes such as Shimano SPDs please be sure to bring matching pedals. We are of course happy to help you with fitting these items.

If you do feel that the only way to really enjoy the ride is with your favourite bike please get in touch to discuss what bikes are suitable and the general logistics for this tour.

Rental Bike Fee: US$200

 

For Those With Their Own Bike:

Spares and Repairs

We will be in the wilderness for the entirety of the journey with no bicycle shops or availability of spares. It is therefore essential that you ensure your bicycle is serviced and properly maintained.

If you are unsure about the mechanical side of things a professional service at a reputable bicycle shop is essential, make sure the bike shop is aware of the circumstances of your journey

Spares to consider include:

    •    tyre x 1

    •    inner tube x 2

    •    sealant if you use tubeless tyres (also bring 1 x tube even if you are running tubeless).

    •    puncture repair kit

    •    pump

    •    chain link

    •    spokes of the correct length (spokes have the ability to know if you are carrying spares - Murphy's Law applies).

    •    derailleur hanger 

    •    brake pads

    •    cables

    •    chain lube

Also useful is a means of carrying your camera, sunblock, rain jacket etc. such as a lightweight backpack, or something from the variety of bike-packing bags that are now readily available.

 

Clothing and Sleeping

Temperatures can vary considerably with night-time temperatures between 5º and 15º, and daytime temperatures between 15º and 35º. Layering is always a good idea and for these conditions merino wool is excellent. Rain is possible so a waterproof jacket is essential. A down jacket is a good idea for the evening.

You will need to bring your own sleeping bag. Pillows are not provided, a down jacket makes a good pillow, alternatively, bring along a travel pillow. Sleeping mats are provided.

Three-man dome tents are provided on a twin share basis or single occupancy for those paying a single supplement. If you have your own tend which you enjoy using please feel free to bring it along.

 

Joining Instructions

Arriving at Ulaanbaatar airport you will be met by a driver and guide and transferred to our joining hotel where you will be met by David, your tour leader. 

 

Early Arrival - Ulaanbaatar.

Ulaanbaatar is a town well worth arriving early for. Despite a population of one point three million people, the centre has a relaxed small-town feel and a surprisingly modern vibe. There are museums to visit, and the restaurants, cafés, and bars where the staff speak good English. As with any new town to just wander and absorb the atmosphere is a fine introduction to a new land. 

If possible early arrival is recommended to allow time to overcome the ravages of a long flight before we head out to the steppe.

 

IMPORTANT!

Moscow and Beijing airports have a reputation for baggage delays. In our experience up to 50% of luggage from these airports is delayed and arrives up to 48 hours late. Please keep this in mind when deciding on flights and arrival dates. 

NB. Of the two airports, our experience is that Beijing is constantly the worst offender.

 

Price includes: 

All accommodation

Camping & cooking equipment including sleeping mats, dining, shower and toilet tents

Indicated meals & drinking water

Extra drinks and snacks during cycling

Sightseeing, national park fees in the countryside

Sightseeing fees in Ulaanbaatar

Overland transport

Flight Gobi - Ulaanbaatar

Train ticket Ulaanbaatar-Erdenet (4 berth compartment)

English speaking guide

Cook with an assistant

 

Price excludes:

Travel insurance

Sleeping bags

Excess baggage fees on domestic flight

Personal cycling accessories and clothes

Meals not indicated

Drinks & Alcohol

Gratuities

Mongolia Bulgan Khangai Gobi bicycle bike packing tour map

Print Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Ulaanbaatar. Group meeting at welcome dinner 

Arriving in Ulaanbaatar, meet with your guide and transfer to the group hotel. Depending on your arrival time, you may enjoy an opportunity to explore the capital city, where nearly half of Mongolia's 3 million inhabitants reside today. You will certainly feel the vibrancy of recent changes towards modernity. Meet with the rest of the group at welcome dinner and get an informal introduction to the great cycling tour ahead of you. Overnight at the group hotel. 

Dinner. Hotel.

 

Day 2: Ulaanbaatar city tour, followed by an overnight train journey to Northern Mongolia

The introductory city excursion starts with a visit to the country's main Buddhist monastery. The awe-inspiring gigantic gold-plated Buddha statue is the principal object of worship. You will also observe local believers busy with various worship rituals and generally praying, many of them wearing colourful traditional overcoats. Then visit the central square adjacent to the parliament building with a facade adorned by marble statues of Genghis Khan and his successors. Rightfully, the city's signature photo point, it is always busy with newlyweds, reunification parties and the public in general. Consider hearing an overview of Mongolia's history from stone age period to modern era at the National Museum and seeing a few but remarkably important dinosaur fossils such as intact nests containing eggs, carnivores fighting herbivores and embryos still in the eggshell in the Paleontology Museum of Mongolia. A panoramic view of Ulaanbaatar from an elevated hill on the city's edge gives an idea of its size and topography. Finally, having enjoyed a show of traditional music, songs and famous throat singing, board a train to northern Mongolia. It will be a chance to meet some local passengers and see Mongolia's wheat-producing region through the windows of the coal-fueled soviet era train. 

Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Sleeper-train.

 

Day 3: Arrive in Erdenet, warm-up ride, cross Rocky Pass

Arrive in Erdenet just in time for breakfast and meet with your support team. The Erdenet town sitting on Asia's largest copper deposit is a remarkable story to be told by your guide. Having made final adjustments to our bikes, we start our cycling adventure by riding across crop fields and a wide-open grassland with wooded mountains as the backdrop. Having warmed up, we pedal along a lush meadow and gradually ascend to the day's high point amidst mixed forest dominated by larch and birch. Although rocky, the following descent opens splendid views of immense cycling playground comprised of vast grasslands and wooded slopes. Here we establish our famous "all amenity" tent camp. On most of the nights on this trip, you will sleep in a comfortable tent camp erected every afternoon upon finishing the day's biking. It provides all comforts of a good wilderness camp including tents designated for dining, showering and bathrooms, not to mention great meals cooked by a chef. 

Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Camping

Cycle 55km

 

Day 4: Cycle across Boorolj Valley taking in authentic nomadic culture

We start riding in the morning cool taking in the invigoratingly fresh air. A couple of easy climbs and we free-wheel through the Dundat valley, passing in just a few yards by many nomadic encampments and massive animal herds. Horses get particularly agitated on seeing cyclists and excitedly run alongside your way. We stop to chat with nomads and sample milk tea and dairies. Tonight we camp at the base of a wooded mountainside in knee-high grass. 

Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Camping.

Cycle 35kms

 

Day 5: Descend to rich steppe pastures where large flocks of horses gallop across the rolling route

We climb some faint tracks at a modest gradient following a narrow valley floor squeezed between densely wooded slopes (still to be scouted). From the day's highest point, we descent to more expansive grasslands, the classical landscape most commonly associated with Mongolia. It's a place to witness the nomadic idyll – relaxed, tranquil existence in a pristine natural environment. This part of Mongolia is famous for producing fermented horse milk of exceptional quality and taste, and today you will notice many mares and foals separately tethered outside of nomadic tents. Making of the airag, as it's locally called, is a continuous and labour consuming process: mares are milked every two hours throughout the day, and extensive churning is required to boost the fermentation in large barrels or ox hide sack. Our campsite today lies amidst flat grassy valley surrounded by distant mountains. 

Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Camping.

Cycle 80kms

 

Day 6: Bike along the Khunui River and camp at a lake-view campsite

We start the day by climbing a couple of passes before arriving at a desolate settlement resembling a wild west movie town. You might buy an ice-cream or a drink while entertaining yourself with scenes of the rural town. Following lunch, we continue along the Khunui river valley and soak up a spectacular scenery of mountains sides strewn with rock formations and camp on a high bank that overlooks a pretty lake with shores covered in reeds. This is an important nesting and breeding ground for migrating birds, some of them rare and strictly protected. Having prepared camp, you can try your luck at spotting some interesting birds. 

Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Camping.

Cycle 65kms.

 

Day 7: Easy cycling, break at a Bronze Age megaliths and burial sites, visit a nomadic family

We cycle on a terrain that allows fast going enjoying pretty views of wooded mountainsides and rocky ridges as well as felt-covered tents of herding nomads, and their many animals. Visiting them is potentially a first-hand experience of a lifestyle that has not changed since a few millennia. A group of Bronze Age ritual site markers decorated with images of flying deer lies on the way, a suitable place to get introduced to Mongolia's rich historical heritage. After lunch, we cross the day's high point and finish the ride with a 25km fast spin to our campsite. 

Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Camping.

Cycle 100kms.

 

Day 8: Cycle to foothills of the Khangai range and on to Tsetserleg town

It is a challenging day compared to all previous riding. This morning we reach the Khangai mountain foothills and make our way to Tsetserleg town, a pretty provincial capital located in the shelter of a spectacular granite ridge. After crossing the Tamir river the road twists and turns following narrow grassy valleys and through dense woods finishing at our lunch spot at nearly 2000m, the day's highest point. A fast downhill followed by a brief climb reveals the colourful vista of view of a traditional rural town, geometrically aligned, with many bright rooftops. We will have ample time for exploring the town, including its busy market where local people sell pine nuts, various wild berries and other natural produce of the Khangai region. In just half an hour's pedalling, we settle in a traditional style guest accommodation with relative comforts of a conventional hotel such as running water, showers and bathrooms. For a guest room, you will be allocated a real Mongolian ger. 

Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Ger camp.

Cycle 75kms.

 

Day 9: Rest-day

We enjoy a well-deserved rest in a comfortable setting. You may relax, walk along the clear river that flows beside the camp or take an excursion to explore Tsetserleg town. 

Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Ger camp

Cycle 0kms.

 

Day 10: Ride to the Flower Valley

Before lunch, we negotiate three short, but steep passes each followed by an excellent descent on packed soil and continue further south along lush meadows covered in carpets of flowers. The area is famous for its massive herds of horses that will race across your pathway as if demonstrating their grace and power. 

Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Tent.

Cycle 50kms.

 

Day 11: Climb up a few challenging passes and descend to the Orkhon Riverbank

A fast day on smooth soil with a few steep passes. Great views of virgin nature open from their tops with some extinct volcano craters seen from the last pass. A 20km breathtaking downhill to the Orkhon valley floor completes today's ride. A designated UNESCO historical heritage site, the Orkhon valley contains an overwhelming wealth of historical data such as burial mounds, deer stones and prehistoric settlements. We establish our tent camp right beside the river and take a dip in its cool waters. 

Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Camping.

Cycle 55kms.

 

Day 12: Cross Orkhon valley basalt fields to Olontor River

We cross the Orkhon river and continue pedalling downstream along the valley strewn with massive lava fields. Home for centuries to significant political, trade, cultural and religious activities of successive nomadic empires, the Orkhon valley served as a crossroads of civilizations, linking East and West across the vast Eurasian landmass. In the afternoon we leave the river valley behind and head towards the Gobi desert which however is still separated by southern folds of the Khangai range. We camp in the picturesque valley of Olontor river where local herders breed mostly yaks. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Tent.

Cycle 50kms.

 

Day 13: Cycle to the edge of the Gobi Desert

We make our way along the last fertile valleys of the Khangai mountain range and reach the edge of the Gobi desert. The change in the landscape is abrupt and dramatic. Just a single mountain pass separates lush forested slopes from arid land with little vegetation. From the top of the pass, you will see desert mountains and rugged ridges looming in the far distance with no apparent sign of human habitation. We camp on the edge of this land which one might call "the middle of nowhere". Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Tent.

Cycle 50kms.

 

Day 14: Car transfer to Bogd Mountain

We enjoy a short morning ride winding between rock outcropping and load bikes. We then drive to a large town located at a major crossroads of Central Mongolia. Here we restock on food and drinks and continue further south. The terrain flattens out, and vegetation disappears inevitably suggesting a comparison to "nothingness". It's a chance to sense the vastness of Mongolia's territory and the variety of its landscapes. This evening we camp by an extinct volcano with rugged slopes strewn with ancient petroglyphs and burial mounds. Time permitting, we will take a short walk to find some of them. 

Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Tent.

Cycle 10kms.

 

Day 15: Ride to Khongoryn Dunes

The first leg of the Gobi cycling part we start on smooth gradually ascending ground that brings us to the mouth of a narrow canyon cut in the Bogd mountain range. We cross the picturesque canyon road winding between rocky mountainsides and climb to the highest point of the range at 2000m. The following descent brings us to the edge of a vast sandy tract with thick growth of Saxaul, heavy and coarse shrubs that grow 2-3m high and have spongy and water-soaked bark. Their knotty and crooked trunks make a dramatic appearance on the backdrop of sand drifts and gullies. Here we load bikes and transfer (2hr) to Khongoryn Sand dunes, one of the largest dune masses in Mongolia. They stretch for almost 100km and measure anything from 3 to 15km in width. From the foothill to the crest of the highest dunes is a good 200 meters. Local people refer to them as to the "Singing Dunes" due to aeolian sounds heard on windy days. We first settle in a ger camp and later when the heat subsides take an excursion to the dunes. Climbing the highest dune is a "ritual" that will allow you to feel the immensity of the desert and enjoy a bird' s-eye view of the dunes and rugged ridges, which are exceptionally beautiful in the evening light. After days of camping, we enjoy a night in comfortable gers. 

Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Ger camp.

Cycle 50kms.

 

Day 16: Ride to Dundus Valley

Another 2 hours long car transfer along the dunes will take us across some of the worst corrugations. Once clear from the "washboard" we cycle across several undulating hills on smooth packed surfaces enjoying dramatic landscapes of rift valleys, rugged ridges and colourful geological formations. The last 3km is a dry river bed filled with loose gravel upon completion of which you will find yourself at a spectacular campsite with rocks formations of weird shapes and softly lit mountain folds in the background. This tranquil place will be your last wild campsite of the tour. 

Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Tent.

Cycle 35kms.

 

Day 17: Ride across Gurvan Saikhan range to Gobi Mirage ger camp

We continue riding along the inner of the Gurvan Saikhan mountain range used as summer grazing ground by local herders. The riding surface is predominantly smooth, albeit with some brief sandy sections. Occasionally you will see their large flocks of goats, sheep and even horses as well as nomadic tents; a lifestyle that seemingly has not changed for many hundreds of years. Emerging from the Gurvan Saikhan range, we pedal to an island of luxury amidst an ocean called the Gobi Desert, the Gobi Mirage ger camp. Having taken a hot shower, we celebrate our ride. 

Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Ger camp.

Cycle 70kms.

 

Day 18: Rest day, excursion to Flaming Red Cliffs

Our last day in the Gobi dedicated to rest. In the afternoon we take a short car trip to Flaming Red Cliffs, a world-renowned dinosaur fossil site where, in the 1920s, the first-ever dinosaur eggs in their nests were unearthed. Upon reaching the cliffs that contrastingly stand out of the infinite arid plain, we explore the cliffs on foot. We return to the ger camp for dinner and overnight. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Ger camp.

Cycle 70kms.

 

Day 19: Return to Ulaanbaatar

This morning we transfer to a desert airport and catch a flight to Ulaanbaatar. Upon arrival, you will be transferred to your hotel. In the evening we gather for a good-bye dinner. 

Breakfast, dinner, hotel.

 

Day 20: Departure

Transfer to the airport for your return flight back home. Breakfast.

Mongolia Bulgan Khangai Gobi bicycle bike packing tour map

We're sorry we don't have any future dates for this trip in the calendar yet. Do please get in touch if you'd like to ask about some dates or a custom trip.