Naadam Festival in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Another #TBT entry from my travel last year to this beautiful country that sandwiched between Russia and China. I always wanted to go here and watch the Naadam festival, the biggest festival of the year for Mongolians. Usually occuring in July every year, it runs for three days in all parts of the country and highlights the greatest athletes in horse racing, archery, and wrestling: Mongolia’s most popular sports. This festival has been held for centuries as a form of memorial celebration, as an annual sacrificial ritual honouring various mountain gods and to celebrate community warriors.

I flew with Finnair from AMS to Seoul via Helsinki. Then onto Ulaan Baatar (UB) with Korea Airlines, using 30 000 FlyingBlue miles (return). The flight from ICN to ULN was about 3.5 hours and as I arrived quite late at night, I have organised a driver to pick me up from the airport to the hotel.

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My Finnair flight from AMS to ICN

I used Discover Mongolia Travel (www.discovermongolia.mn) to organise my 3-day trip to the Naadam Festival. Highly recommended. Oyuna, the travel agent, was very helpful from my initial email communications to the end of the trip. The package cost me about USD$840 for the 3-day trip (not including flights), which included standard single bedroom in Ulaanbaatar Hotel, guiding and interpreting service, all meals in Ulaanbaatar, transfers by bus and car, all entrance fees and Naadam ticket. Some countries do need to apply for a visa to go here (UK, France, India)  but some, e.g. Malaysia, Brazil, Japan,do not require a visa to enter Mongolia.

The driver dropped me off at the Ulaan Baatar Hotel (www.ubhotel.mn), a Soviet era ‘luxury’ hotel in Mongolia. According to the website, Ulaan Baatar Hotel is a ‘5-star elegant hotel’ located in the centre of UB (I let you be the judge from the pictures below!). Check-in was swift and since it was very late at night, I went to bed straight away.

The bed was surprisingly comfy but the room was a bit dated. Bathroom was fine and functional. Breakfast was OK with an option of Mongolian buffet breakfast. I opted for an omelette since I was not that hungry. 🙂

The tour guide, Tegi, pick me up from my hotel at 10am. There were 7 other people in the group for that day. On this first day, we went out to see the preview of the Naadam Festival and visited the archery tournament venue and see how they practice. We also got the chance to see the ‘Shagai’ shooters, a Mongolian game of sheep-ankle-bone.

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Mongolian flag
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Archers practicing their skills

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Shagai players
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Shagai target in the box

We finished the tour that day by having dinner at a local restaurant nearby.

The second day was the opening ceremony of the festival, with lots of traditional dances and folklore singers. The main venue was at the stadium, just outside UB. There were also lots of stalls selling food outside the stadium as this was the main festival of the year for the Mongolians, everyone dresses in their finest Mongolian attire. It is the time of the year that they most look forward to. Mid-summer sun did not help at all as the temperature was scorching hot but everyone was as happy as they can be! The main event for the day was the Mongolian traditional wrestling and horse racing which took place about an hour drive away outside Ulaan Baatar.

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Ulaan Baatar city
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Group lunch
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Nomadic Mongolian children
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Ger tents in Gobi dessert
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Mongolian horse whisperer
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Gobi dessert

It was an honour for me to be able to be part of their favourite time of the year. Everyone; young and old,  rich and poor, were enjoying themselves and it was an excellent way for me to immerse myself in the local culture. Oh, did I mention the Mongolian Vodka?

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