Jun 14, 2017

How to survive the Mongolian Gobi Desert!


Before I realize, it's nearly two years since I embarked on my Trans-Siberian journey and toured the Gobi Desert. Yes, I have a problem staying on top of this blog thing.  I know the Trans-Siberian journey is one of legends and myths and is on the Bucket list of practically every wanderlusts. And many young wander "lusters" like me, rely solely on the internet for our travel research because we're too cheap for Guide Books. So I'm paying it forward here with a short entry xD

- Click here to read about my 6 days in the Gobi Desert.


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Other than being known for having the longest and oldest train routes on earth, the legendary Trans-Siberian journey is also famous for the diverse landscape and cultural experience it provides.  A trip into the exotic and charismatic Gobi desert is a must-do if you ever decide to take on the Russia –> Mongolia –> China route.

Without further blabbing, here is my short entry on preparing for the Gobi Desert while you are on your Trans-Siberian adventure because ... let me be honest with you, it's harder than you think.


1) Wet Wipes

First up, make sure you prepare a lot of wipes and I mean A LOT. Depending on how long your tour into the sands will be, that's how long you'd be without a shower.

If you haven't caught onto it yet, part of the traditional nomadic lifestyle appeal is going without modern sanitary so make sure you jump into the shower room and get a good wash before you start the trip. Wet wipes will pretty much be your only line of defense against body odor. Well, deodorant works too but 7 accumulative days of deodorant can't be good for your pores.



If you haven't got enough of them, don't worry, you can always pick them up at the stores along the way. The tour will always stop over at a village for lunch so there's plenty of opportunities to pick a packet up along with some vodka (haha!).



2) Antibacterial Wipes, Gel or Hand sanitizers

Along with the lack of a modern showering facility is surprise! surprise! the lack of a hand-washing facility! You'd figure that at 2015 (the year I was there), the concept of diseases spreading germs would have already made their way to the desert. Well, apparently not. Or maybe Mongolian nomads are just too bad-ass to care.

Well to be fair, there are mechanical wash basins like the one below inside the Ger sometimes. But more often than not, they are as parched as the land outside.


Simple but ingenious . Wash basin in olkhon island #russia #travel #olkhon #khuzir

A post shared by @elpheal on


While I don't recommend hand sanitizers over actually washing your hand, exceptions will have to be made here where water is scarce and I really just need to do something to my hands after I'm done answering nature's call. The germophobic culture I grew up in stays strong within me no matter how far I geographically am.


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And this hand washing thing goes deeper than you expect because the wind brings so much sand up into the atmosphere that your hands and nails are perpetually dirty no matter how hard you try to keep up. Wet wipes and sanitizers are your safest bet.



3) Bring a Swimsuit or Sarong


Still on the topic of personal hygiene is bringing a swimsuit, sarong or any clothes you'd feel okay getting them dirty and wet.


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On the 5th day of my 7 days tour into the Gobi desert, we actually stayed in a beautiful Ger beside the Ongi river. Many of my tour mates spent no time jumping into the water for a quick clean up while I looked on in envy with wet feet. Granted it was probably a little too cold to be dipping Alfresco but if you happen to be on a 12 days tour in the desert then it is probably better to just brave the cold. It also makes for a more interesting travel experience, doesn't it?



4) Makeup Remover + Wipes


The lack of water meant a lot of things we took for granted in our everyday lives became a luxury. While bottled water is provided for brushing your teeth and washing your face everyday. It seemed a little too luxuriant to be spending copious amount of the precious commodity on washing away a face full of foam. Yes, I'm talking about facial foam cleansers.



While the beauty enthusiast in me would never claim one can replace the other, it was so much easier to clean your face with just water-based makeup remover wipes and bottled water in the desert. The lack of a wash basin meant you'll be squatting or leaning forward at an awkward angle outside the Ger when you do your daily wash-up and trying not to get foam on your clothes is a daily struggle.

Unless you intend to pile miles of makeup on your face, Micellar water cleansers like Bifesta or Bioderma along with some wet wipes would ensure a good enough cleansing for a couple of days. But obviously though, do whatever you think your skin needs. If you can't live without your foam cleanser, then foam away by all means!



5) Toiletries

Still on the topic of personal hygiene is erm, toiletries. I made the mistake of leaving most of my already very lightweight toiletries behind in the hostel. And when I did find water to wash up, realize I had no shampoo or soap to clean with.

Click here to check out my top tips for packing light!

I found a small wash basin filled with water in front of the Ger on the 3rd day of the trip and had to meekly borrow shampoo from my lovely Mongolian guide to wash my hair.



I'm not too sure about the quality of the water though as my hair, strangely felt more oily and flatter after the wash -_-; But if you ever find a river with clean water, at least your shampoo's got your back right? or maybe I should say, hair.


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And don't worry about the weight of your toiletries. The fact is, you're going to be chauffeured everywhere and the only times you need to carry them is from the Van to the Gers and vice versa. So just bring everything you need without shame!


6) Bring some Perfume / Fragrance

On the trip, we sleep at a completely different host family every night. The Gers are spacious and houses modern beds which we sleep on while sleeping inside our sleeping bags. It's so cold out in the desert at night that we usually sleep with two layers of blankets on top. The sleeping bags belong to the Hostel who planned the tours and goes into our van with us every day.


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I like to think of them as public property that needless to say, smelt slightly of the Mongolian land (think goats).

I've never been a fragrance sort of girl but I mysteriously brought along a tiny vial of perfume for the trip and it was a life saver. Since you would be sleeping in the sleeping bag itself, any odors, however faint, would be too close for comfort. A little spritz of your favourite fragrance helps coo you to sleep before you start noticing the odor again. 



7) Remember Your Shades!

Coming from an equatorial country, you'd expect me to be more acquainted with sunglasses. But since the sun hits the equator almost perpendicularly, being assaulted by blinding sun rays is the least of your concern here.


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But things are very different in the rest of the world and Mongolia is no difference. You will be on the road a lot and you'll be staring out of the window more than you can imagine. So make sure you bring a pair of sunglasses to protect your eyes while you space out comfortably at the bare Mongolian sand and brilliant blue skies. After all, Mongolia is known as the land of the eternal blue sky so expect a lot of sunshine!


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These are just some little nuggets of wisdom I've gathered from my trip and I hope they will help prepare you both physically and mentally for your endeavor into the land of the eternal blue sky! If you found the information useful, remember to subscribe for more travel and beauty related content. And if you have a second, leave me a comment and share your own travel experience in Mongolia with me.

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