Having spend a couple of days exploring the highlights of Ulaanbaatar, I joined a small tour group to explore the national parks near to Mongolia’s capital. Our first day was mostly spent travelling, arriving at the Elsen Tasarkhai Sand Dunes in the late afternoon.

Our tour bus was a rather rickety and slightly uncomfortable van – not the best choice considering the rather poor Mongolian roads (which at times became just driving over open grassland) but it seems like every tour operator around uses them. Within a couple of hours it hit problems, and we had to wait for a couple of hours in a small village for a replacement van to be sent.

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Van no. 1

In the village (literally just a single street of houses), we had a delicious lunch at a small restaurant, then wandered around and explored. There was a tiny school round the back of the buildings, apparently just for a couple of pupils, and various animals milling around. A couple of the local kids came over to meet us, one “borrowed” my camera and took some surprisingly cute selfies! The same little guy then showed off his incredible horse riding skills, riding up and down the small carpark on one of the tough Mongolian ponies.

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Literally the most adorable kid!

Finally, the replacement van arrived and we continued onto our journey to the sand dunes. Dropping off our bags with the local nomadic family we were staying with, we then met our camels for the ride to the sand dunes.

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Our tour group setting out on the camel ride

I have to admit they were not the friendliest of creatures (terrible breath, and mine kept biting my leg!) nor the most comfortable ride – but still I’d really recommend a camel ride for the experience!

We were led around by a couple of the younger family members, who were experts at getting the camels moving!

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One of the local nomadic family members leading our camels

The sand dunes were pretty impressive – although it was rather odd that they had randomly appeared in the middle of the grasslands! Camels were definitely the right animal for the trek – their wide feet spreading the weight more over the sand so they didn’t sink in (unalike when I tried to wander around!).

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Three camels and a dog

After spending around an hour riding the camels and exploring the sand dunes, we headed back to the Mongolian nomadic family gers where we would be spending the night. Our tour leader kindly cooked a delicious, simple meal and we curled up in front of the stove to sleep.

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The incredibly detailed interior of the ger
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Sun setting over the nomadic camp
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