Defeated by Mongolian Roads

We've had 17 days of cycling (14 on dirt roads) and last night we were finally defeated by 100km of deep sand and dried up river beds. We had a really hard day and after 81km we made it to a town called Zuungovi where we sat exhausted, surrounded by locals looking at the weird
cyclists and tutting and sighing a lot as they realised that we'd cycled 1300km from Ulaan Baatar. We sat there drained and tried to rehydrate and eat chocolate outside a shop before making any decisions about camping. All of a sudden a boy came past on a motorbike and said that there was a jeep going across the 100km of sand in 10 minutes time and did we want to go in it. We said yes. No food in us just a desire to never see sand again, or dried salty mud!

It arrived and despite it only having 4 seats and the smallest space behind the rear seat for luggage, 7 people got out. We assumed that they were finishing their journey there and then.. and proceeded to load the bikes into the space at the back with the seats folded down (we took the front wheels off). To my absolute horror the driver then replaced the seat and wedged all our panniers into the gaps between the bikes and then the 7 people got back in. We then wedged ourselves in (6 at the back and 3 at the front) and spent the next 5 hours driving across the desert and several dried up rivers. We spent an hour at about 11pm trying to pull a truck that was stuck in the sand, while a thunderstorm raged around us....and then when we failed after breaking the tow rope for the 2nd time and moving the truck a total of 1m, we left them including the 8 passengers who had been riding on the roof, and continued our journey into the storm.

It was so uncomfortable, my thighs ached after 7 continuous days of cycling and Isabelle was perched on top of them....she had her neck bent the whole journey because the ceiling was low and I had to hold the window open to get some wind in to cool us all down. A local man fell asleep on my shoulder as I held the video camera bag to stop it from falling on to the head of the old lady who was singing beautiful songs until she too fell asleep. It was HELL...but strangely fun. Every bump (and there were thousands) made we wince and when we did stop for a wee I couldn't feel my right foot for ten minutes. It was an exercise in Zen Buddhism, to actually blank out the pain and the impossible desire to sleep. How anyone fell asleep was a miracle. You cannot imagine a journey like it. There were no roads for 100km, just various choices to avoid huge sand traps and rocks and holes - and
mostly in the dark!

When we did arrive at Ulaangom it was 12.45 am (5 hours later) and we then slept on the floor at the drivers house, under a carpet to keep us warm in all our clothes. At 5am he woke us up and we then unloaded and remade the bikes and off he went to drive somewhere else, leaving us in his fenced yard...with a dribble of interested neighbours popping in to see us as they woke up. We had a coffee on our stove, one of the neighbours made us a little stool out of bricks and a cardboard box and we shared a can of tuna (in the nicest tasting tomato sauce ever). Everyone here is so incredibly friendly and hospitable it puts us all to shame!

We eventually got to a hotel with running water and an ensuite bathroom with the coldest water on earth coming out of the taps. I am now clean and have just eaten a meal with vegetables in it - carrot, cucumber, onion, potato, cabbage and am nearly recovered. We will have one more day of rest and then cycle back up into the mountains towards Olgii and then into Russia and tar sealed roads.  YEAH!!!!! We will miss the dirt... but at the moment every muscle aches, especially my hands from all the vibrations.

We also got stuck in mud for one day crossing a high valley and had to clean our bikes in a river to even be able to turn the wheels. We had another day of the worst corrugated road ever where we covered 36km in nearly 7 hours, so we had a bit of a slow patch in the middle. It hasn't all been hard, we've had some exhilarating days in the mountains and found some beautiful campsites, rivers and villages.

I've lost about 7 or 8 Kg and need to eat like a pig. My thighs and calves are BIG and I have a really strange sun tan. We have been taking a photo of us in our underwear once a week to see what this cycling does to our bodies and Isabelle is already describing the Trans-Mongolia Diet as the best diet ever - "You can eat as much chocolate as you want and still lose weight"!!!! is the catch line for when we start to market it.


Half way and knackered

We've finally mad it half way... it's taken us about 9 and a half days to do the 860km so far. The roads are getting worse - today's was the worst ever - riding through sand and then following it with rocks and then dried earth, then hardened grit and limestone, then grass...this is meant to be the easy bit!! Ha Ha

45km in 5 hours will not get us very far and there's no way our bikes could cope with that for the rest of the journey. At the moment we're in Tosontsengel with very slow (but working) internet. We expect to get there in about a week.

The people are amazing, the landscapes incredible and our campsites are almost unbelievable. We've had 2600m passes, desert, rocky mountains, volcanoes, lakes, rivers, wide valleys and steppes.

We've met one other tourist - Michael Brown....we even know his name:

Today we went to the river, cleaned our bikes and bodies and feel almost refreshed enough for the next hard 7 days. There are no showers anywhere, so the river has to do.

We will post more when we get to Ulaangom - so many amazing photos and thoughts need to be shared (road surface pictures in all their variety, Why the Chinese are short sighted, How to make cheese, How do Mongolian's avoid scurvy? What's the best way to ride in sand.


En route s'a croute!

Voila nos premiers 500km sont parcourus. 6 jours de velo pour arriver a Tsetserleg une petite ville de 27 000 habitants. Apres avoir recu notre nouvelle chain (merci Jules!) et nos extentions de visa, nous avons quitter UB vendredi le 11 juillet. Malheureusement nous n'avons pas assiste au festival Naadaam qui commencait cette journee la. Ca fesait deja 6 jours que nous etions dans cette ville et bien franchement nous en avions asser. UB n'est pas la ville la plus fascinante et nous avions des fourmis dans les jambes.

Le gouvernement Mongol entreprent de construire plus de 2500 km de route a travers la Mongolie. Le projet s'appelle " millennium road"(plusieurs disent que c'est parce que ca prendra mille ans a construire!) Malheureusement nous sommes en avance sur les travaux et la route est quelque fois asphaltee mais la plus part du temps c'est un petit chemin de terre battue un peu comme ceux qu'on retrouve sur les fermes. A velo ca va, il y a toujours moyen de trouver une belle ligne bien droite mais j'imagine qu'en voiture ca doit etre asser penible! Le sable est notre plus grand ennemi!

La steppe Mongole, c'est beaucoup plus grand que je l'avais imagine. Des collines vertes a perte de vue, on dirait un terrain de golf geant. Il y a meme un americain qui a traverse la Mongolie en golfant il y a quelques annees, ce n'est pas mon truc mais je comprends comment il a pu imaginer ce voyage. J'ai vu plus de chevaux ici dans les six derniers jours que dans toute ma vie, le festival western de St-Tite ce n'est rien compare. Je suis meme sure que plusieurs petits cavaliers temeraires y gagneraient la plupart des competitions equestres.

Nous sommes passer par une region qui s'appelle le semi-gobi, c'est en bordure du desert du Gobi, il y a des dunes de sables et des chameaux au milieu de la steppe. C'est tres aride et notre plus grand probleme jusqu'ici c'est de pouvoir trouver de l'eau et de pouvoir en transporter suffisamment entre chaque village.

Pour la nourriture ca va, beaucoup de biscuits et de chocolat(Marie aimerait ca!) en collation et quand on s'arrete dans les village pour le lunch on mange dans des petits cafes. Le met national c'est les buzz, des especes de petites poutine(raviolis-dumblings) a la viande de mouton bien grasse. C'est pas ci mal quand on s'habitue au morceaux de gras. Quand on est chanceux on trouve des oeufs, du riz et de la salade de choux. Le soir, on prepare nous meme nos repas sur le bruleur, rien de tres gourmet mais c'est mieux que du mouton!

Aujourd'hui c'est une journee de detente et de reorganisation. Nous devons laver et huiler les velos, acheter des provisions changer de l'argent et biensure vous ecrire des courriels. On loge dans un petit auberge tenu par des britanniques , ca s'appel fairfield. Il y a des douches (miracle apres deja 5 jour sans pouvoir se laver) et des la super bonne bouffe(sans mouton), on refait le plein de calories.



More cyclists on the road

On the way into Tsetserleg we met two French cyclists who, like us had been affected by the Chinese visa restrictions. They'd intended to cycle through China but had had to fly over and content themselves with a tour of Mongolia.

It was almost a magic moment, they were just finishing their trip and we were just starting and we met almost at the top of a hill under an arch entering the town.

They were Ludo and Elisabeth and it was just fantastic to see someone else doing what we were doing. We got a bit nerdy about bikes and examined each others bikes (theirs were SURLY) and they told us some great routed they'd found that aren't on all the maps. Unfortunately they'd done a loop around Mongolia and hadn't been right to the West.....so no more information than that....but hey!!

Elisabeth and Ludo - More cyclists

On our cycle out of Ulaan Baatar we also met two French couples travelling in cool van/truck/4-Wheel drives who'd actually been through the border posts we are attempting to go through. They also had no trouble in the Altai region of Russia and absolutely loved it there. Very reassuring!


Birds of prey everywhere

As we cycle along we often get followed by huge birds of prey who follow us for hundreds of metres flying about 10m above our heads. They seem to be using the us to flush out any wildlfe living by the sides of the roads. It's really amazing looking up occasionally to see them and if we're cycling in the right direction their shadow ends up just infront of your bike as though they're on the journey with you.

The other day we cycled past a huge owl - his wing span looked like about 1.5m or more - that had obviously been hit by a vehicle in the night. It sat there by the side of the road and watched us really peacefully waiting to die. It didn't seem flustered or stressed, just tired.

Owl on road


Gers (Yurts) are changing

As we cycle along we can't help but notice some things are changing round here. Most gers (Yurts) are now quite modern affairs, many with a Lexus 4-Wheel drive parked outside.

Ger with Satellite and boy on horse

Ger with basketball hoop


Some amazing sunsets

Amazing sunset -orange

Amazing Sunset - red


Cak Bum Ace

This is a favourite drink of ours available everywhere:

Cak Bum Ace


Mutton, mutton, mutton

We've been stopping lots for food in little restaurants that seem to dot the roads in most of the towns. Some of them are really friendly, some you feel like you've just walked in on someone's funeral.....but hey, it's not my country.

Isabelle has been suffering from the amount of fat in the meat dishes and the constant taste of mutton when she's cycling. If we buy Buuz (a kind of dumpling) which is easy to find she spends most of her time trying to avoid her automatic fat content gag response. It can get quite embarrassing....but extremely funny as I remind her that in Mongolia it's considered very rude to leave anything on your plate.

Occasionally we find some salads and then she cheers up a bit.


Mongolian roads are certainly different

The roads here are quite amazing - sometimes there's tar, but mostly it's dirt or gravel. The tar roads at the beginning were fast but boring, whereas the dirt is much more interesting and we can go nearly as fast as the cars. If it rains this will be a different story!!!

The whole route to Tsetserleg will be tar-sealed within a couple of years as the main structure of the roads and drainage is already there. We've had a few detours to avoid road building - one horrendous 15km detour to avoid a 4km long new road....really frustrating.

We've also been the only vehicle on a soon to be opened new road, so we can't really complain. While the roads are being built people drive anywhere all over the land making hundreds of trails. There's a Millenium Road target in Mongolia - 2000km of new roads to be built - people here joke that it's called the Millenium Road because it will take a millenium to build them.

Lots of the roads suffer from landlides and mud slides although none of the gradients are very steep. We've climbed about 500m in 500km which gives a good idea. Passes marked on maps are often 50m higher than the valley. The valleys on the other hand are often 30km across. This is a very big place. Even with a 400mm zoom lens, photos still look like your using a wide-angled lens.



South China Morning Post Article about our trip

We got a brief mention in the SCMP:

Cycle ride newpaper article

I like the "Popular teacher' bit.

We've become Born Again

The first night we arrived in our gorgeous flat we had a very quiet Korean guy there as well, who just lay on a bed reading the bible. We started chatting and he very kindly gave us some small comics to read (he'd got them all the way from America)

We learned how God carries a video camera (a bit like us) and films everything that everyone does and that he knows about everything (he must have so many cameras - maybe that's what's going on in the UK with all the CCTV cameras)

We also discovered that we've been educated wrongly and that God made everything too, including the stars and my mum and dad....WOW!!!! He sounds so cool. Evolution is nonsense apparently. I wish someone had told me about him before. It all seems so simple now.

The best bit is that when we die we can all go and live in heaven with GOD. When I get there I'm going to live with all my friends all around me.

Mongolia seems full of these really nice Christians - they're here to help the local people with their education which is so nice of them. Apparently most of them come from Korea or Utah in America and they always go to try and educate the people in the most trouble, especially the starving and homeless. They bring lots of comics and give them out for free. Often they drive around in big Toyota Landcruisers looking for people who need help even right out in the country.

The nice Korean left to go to help the people of China...we will miss him.

When we get to heaven


Our apartment in UB

We're staying in an old Soviet block on the 3rd floor not far from the centre of the city. They all have about 6 floors and a huge central courtyard with swings and basketball courts. There's often shops on the ground floor round the outside of the blocks and it seems quite a good way of accommodating people in cities - people work not far from where they live and it doesn't feel as dead as housing estates in the UK, or anywhere near as threatening.

Inside it's a bit functional and a little 1970s with extra beds everywhere and only two plates for eating off. It belongs to the mother of some people who run the Golden Gobi guest house and is costing us $18 a night which is superb.

Front Room

We're leaving soon once we pick up our bicycle chain from DHL tomorrow and also our visa extensions from the Office for Foreigner Registrations, so maybe only one more night.


We will miss it........


Enfin en Mongolie

Nous sommes enfin arrives en Mongolie! Le voyage a ete beaucoup plus long que prevu. Apres une derniere nuit passe sur nos matelats de sol dans notre maison vide, nous nous sommes reveilles avec un petit mal dans le bas du dos vers 6:oo. Puis, ca a ete la course pour prendre le traversier de 7:20 (sur notre iles il n'y a pas de voitures et tous doit etre transportes sur des chariots.) A l'aeroport, le personnel de Air China a ete fort sympatique et nous a seulement charge un velo en surplus de poid (environ 15 kg) Il faut dire que j'ai profite des baggages a main pour transporter plus de 10 kg, chose que j'ai regrete!

Le premier pepin du voyage est arrive quand nous avons passe la securite de l'aeroport de Hong Kong. Dans mes effort de la veille pour reduire le poid des baggages enregistres, un peu saoule, fatiguee, triste et distraite par des amis qui sont venus a la maison pour un dernier verres, j'ai mis par accident une chaine de velo de rechange. A ma grande surprise, oui je le sais je suis naive! Les agents de securite ont confisque la chaine sous pretexte que c'est une arme mortelle. Je les ai supplie mais rien a faire, meme ma remarque que les talon aiguilles et les boucles d'oreilles pointues de la dame d'a cote etait probablement plus dangeureux que ma chaine de velo n'a pas fonctionne. Ou est la justice!

Ensuite, nous avons eu une escale d'une nuit a Bejiing(Pekin) Extenue, nous n'avons pas eu le courage de visite la ville. Le lendemain matin reveil a 5:15 et en route pour l'aeroport de Bejiing. C'est un aeroport absolument incroyable, l'architecture est moderne et l'espace est impressionant, en plus tous fonctionnes comme sur des roulettes, de quoi faire rougir les aeroports des pays de l'Ouest! Malheureusement notre vol a ete retarde jusqu'au lendemain, mauvaise temperature on nous a dit mais vraiment c'etait pour empecher les touristes d'atterir dans les emeutes de Ulaan Baatur. Air China nous a place dans des chambres d'hotel pres de l'aeroport, c'etait ma premiere experience de delais et je dois dire que ca n'a pas ete trop souffrant.

Donc deux jours apres notre depart de HK nous avons finalement atteint UB et heureusement tous notre equipement (2 velos, 8 sacoches et une tente) nous a suivi.

Nous logons dans un petit "guest house" qui s'appelle Golden Gobi. Notre chambre est dans un vieux bloc appartement Soviet c'est bien drole et aussi bien situe. On doit maintenant attendre pour recevoir notre extention de visa, nous devons obtenir trois semaines de plus ( en tous 7 semaines) pour completer la traverse du pays. C'est possible mais on doit etre patient car tout est tres long dans le systeme bureaucratique post- soviet, ca devrait arriver vendredi. En plus une amie nous envoit une chaine de bicycle 9 vitesses, qui est impossible de replacer ici, par DHL.

Toute cette attente est un mal pour un bien car apres une semaine de fou a essayer de vider la maison, poster des boites importantes chez la mere de Simon, faire une vente de garage, nettoyer la maison, obtenir les derniers visas, preparer nos velos et en plus avoir plusieurs party de depart, nous etions extenues! On avait vraiment besoin d'une petite vacance!

Aujourd'hui nous sommes alles au musee national d'histoire de la Mongolie, c'etait vraiment interessant, il y une belle collection d'objects ancients. Vendredi c'est le festival Nadaan, il y aura de la lutte et des courses de cheveaux, nous devrions etre sur la route des Samedi.



Cycling from Mongolia to Russia - Border crossing between Bayan Olgii (Mongolia) and Kosh Agach (Russia)

We have spoken to many people in Ulaan Baatar and scoured the web for info:

This border is open for foreign tourists (Ewan McGregor crossed the other way in 'The Long Way Round') but there is no public transport across the border area. We intend to cycle across the border and will update the info here.

There are no permits needed for this border area although you have to register in Kosh Agach or within 3 days of entering Russia. There are a few other places along the road where registration can be done.

We have been told that it isn't essential to have a visa support letter detailing your route as long as you have the visa. We will see.

In Olgi there is internet and also the possibility of flights to Astana.


Border crossing between Rubvotsk (Russia) and Semey (Kazakhstan)

Here's a useful website with some details about a land crossing by motorcycle into Russia from Semey in Kazakhstan:


Another site with info from some travellers who crossed from Russia into Kazakhstan at Semey:




In May 2007 we had an idea - could we cycle from HK to the UK, via Nepal?

We made plans, bought maps, guide books, invested in some extra equipment and then in April 2008 went to get our Chinese visa to allow us to cycle through Tibet into Nepal. Unfortunately for us, the day before we applied, the Chinese government (in their infinite wisdom) decided to reduce the visa to 1 month. We also discovered from people organising cycle tours in China, that it has always been illegal to cycle in China (outside the cities) , but over the last 5 years the authorities have turned a blind eye and ignored cyclists....until the problems in Tibet made it impossible.

Stubborn as hell we thought - how else can we get to Nepal? This trip was then born. We would have liked to start our journey in HK but as teachers we felt responsibility to our students - so we stayed until the end of the school year. This placed an additional restriction on us with the cold weather closing in on the Karakoram Highway in Pakistan in late October. We decided to start our journey in Ulaan Baatar to avoid this issue.

We aim to reach Nepal in November (via Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, China, Pakistan and India), cycle around India until the Spring and then head back across the Himalayas via Mt Kailash and on towards Istanbul, via Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Iran. We've no idea if we will make it - but we will give it a good go. We've heard of a guy in a Land Rover who completed the same journey a few years ago so we reckon we can do it too.

This website is eventually meant be a resource for anyone who wants to try and cycle through this part of the world and we are indebted to all the other cyclists who have left information on some fantastic websites (see the links). If you want to know how we do then click On the Road for updates, or just Email Updates to see how we do - there are various options including RSS. If you speak French - Isabelle will put some posts in the Sur La Route section. You can contact us securely through the link on the right for more information.

Thanks for your interest.
Simon Taylor and Isabelle Bedard - July 2008


We've finally arrived in Ulaan Baatar

We've only just arrived in Ulaan Baatar - they've had riots and killings over an election - lots of rumours going around about why. It's very calm and peaceful now.

It took us three days altogether and we had to spend 2 nights in Beijing while the 'Bad Weather' cleared - the government weren't allowing anyone in or out!

Isabelle put a bike chain in her carry on luggage which the over efficient airport staff confiscated, apparently it's a dangerous weapon - we had a few tears! (lots in fact) - it was all a bit too much. Never put any bike parts in your carry-on luggage - they're even suspicious of spanners.

We're now having to get another chain DHL's to us from HK. Isabelle also left a Lonely Planet on our airport trolley (although she says it was me who did it - easy to do with no sleep for two days) Luckily our 11 pieces of luggage (8 panniers, two bikes and a tent) all arrived so we're quite content really.

This morning we managed to steal a whole buffet breakfast each from a posh hotel by eating while we wandered around, avoiding the hotel staff who were trying to get our room number. We put 5 hard boiled eggs in our pockets, but I managed to stop Isabelle putting toast in hers. She says she's taking a bag with her tomorrow!!
It was such fun! We've also managed to replace the LP and had a nice coffee.

We found a really good outdoor shop just off Peace Avenue - called Seven Summits - they sell gas, stoves, maps, guide books and speak good English. They have some bike spares - inner tubes and general maintenance stuff but none of the bikes here have more than 7 gears on the rear cog - so no useful chains. There's also a market that sells bicycle parts and people reckon that if you get really stuck they often have parts from stolen bicycles which might be useful in an emergency.

Section: Mongolia + English + On the Road

Cycling Guides for download