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Tea Trails Sri Lanka

Discover the wonderful Tea Trails Sri Lanka has on offer

Always being a coffee drinker myself, it was great to visit Sri Lanka and learn more about tea. After ordering my first cup of “coffee” on the island (yuck!), I instantly knew I was converted to a tea drinker for the duration of my trip! Tea trails Sri Lanka, here I come…after all, it does have a reputation of being the finest in the world!

FILL YOUR LIFE WITH ADVENTURES, NOT THINGS. HAVE STORIES TO TELL NOT STUFF TO SHOW.” -UNKNOWN

Tea Trails Sri Lanka - Long days working on the plantation

Long days working on the plantation

In visiting the hills of Sri Lanka, taking a tour of the tea factories is a must. Newara Eliya is amongst the best-known tea growing regions in Sri Lanka, so we headed there. This region boasts the high grown teas. Our visit to Mackwoods  & Blue Field tea factories was a definite highlight. The fresh aroma was just as inviting as the workers themselves.

Tea Trails Sri Lanka - Mackwoods Tea Plantation

Mackwoods Tea Plantation

It was simply amazing to get a look at how tea is made and discover the tea trails Sri Lanka has on offer. For those of you that have no idea yourself, here is a quick look at the process:

  1. Plucking: As our guide showed us, they want to pick the young, light green leaves. Due to the sensitivity, leaves are transported from the fields to the factories multiples times a day.
    Tea Trails Sri Lanka - The perfect tea leaf

    The perfect tea leaf

  2. Withering: Air is circulated through the tea. This stage dries the tea about 50% over a minimum of 12-hour period using large fans.
    Tea Trails Sri Lanka - The withering process

    The withering process

  3. Rolling: A relatively short process (20-30 minutes), tea leaves are crushed using wooden blades. The leaves are twisted and cells broke down to bring the tea juices to the surface.
    Tea Trails Sri Lanka - Check out the rolling machine

    Check out the rolling machine

  4. Fermenting: Tea leaves are exposed to air to undergo the oxidation process. The degree of fermentation is based on smell and colour.
    Tea Trails Sri Lanka - Preparing the tea for the fermentation process

    Preparing the tea for the fermentation process

  5. Drying: Tea undergoes the final drying stage. The leaves are left with only about 3% moisture.
    Tea Trails Sri Lanka - Hard at work

    Hard at work

  6. Grading: The tea is sorted according to size.
    Tea Trails Sri Lanka - Where all the magic happens

    Where all the magic happens

  7. Packing: Afterwards, the product is dispatched and sent to Colombo. Here, it’s fate is determined at auctions.
    Tea Trails Sri Lanka - 20% is sold locally; 80% is exported

    20% is sold locally; 80% is exported

In this region of Sri Lanka they grow black, green & white tea. Though each tea starts from the same plant, the end result varies based on the process used.

Tea Trails Sri Lanka - Beautiful tea plantations

Beautiful tea plantations

Black tea undergoes all the steps of the aforementioned process.

Green tea is made via the same exact process, though without fermentation.

Though green tea is considered healthiest amongst many western cultures, it is actually white tea that contains the most health benefits.

White tea is produced without using any machines. It is plucked and then left to dry in the sun. It also does not undergo the fermentation process.

Tea Trails Sri Lanka - Cheers!

Cheers!

During the grading process, the tea is sorted according to its size. The smaller the leaf, the weaker the taste; the larger the leaf, the stronger the taste. While grading terminology differs from region to region, here are a few of the common Ceylon tea grading categories.

  • BOPF (Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings): Used in tea bags
  • BOP (Broken Orange Pekoe): Commonly found in blended teas
  • Pekoe: Standard English breakfast tea, often served with sugar & milk
  • OP (Orange Pekoe): Fine & rich flavour with strong health benefits
Tea Trails Sri Lanka - Grading categories

Grading categories

So, the next time you sit down to enjoy a cup of tea, have a quick think about all the love and hard work that has gone into it. Reminisce about tea trails Sri Lanka and enjoy!

Travel to Mongolia

Why You Should Travel To Mongolia

Why You Should Travel To Mongolia

Sain bain uu! (Hello!) And welcome to Mongolia. Not knowing much about travel to Mongolia before visiting, we were pleasantly surprised by what we discovered. A people so kind, so helpful – so generous. A landscape, so flat, so full of hills – so diverse. The beautiful contradiction that is discovered when you travel to Mongolia!

I’LL LOOK BACK ON THIS AND SMILE, BECAUSE IT WAS LIFE AND I DECIDED TO LIVE IT. – UNKNOWN

Travel to Mongolia - The kids in Mongolia will melt your heart

The kids in Mongolia will melt your heart

MONGOLIA VISA

When you travel to Mongolia, visa’s are relatively easy to get but do require a couple of days for processing.

If you happen to be in Vietnam, check out how to get your Mongolian Visa in Hanoi.

Travel to Mongolia - Get your visa sorted

Get your visa sorted

MONGOLIA WEATHER

Ulaanbaatar is known as the coldest capital in the world. Though with fickle temperatures, come prepared for anything.
When you travel to Mongolia be prepared for four distinct seasons:

  • Summer: Mid-May – August
    • Peak season, where weather is most enjoyable, though extreme temperatures can occur in all regions
  • Autumn: September – October
    • Bring layers as you are likely to experience four seasons in one day, with unpredictable weather patterns in this season
  • Winter: November – February
    • With temps as low as -40°C, I’d recommend avoiding visiting during this time unless you are very keen on cold weather
  • Spring: March – mid-May
    • Expect heavy rainfall during this period, especially in Northwestern Mongolia
Travel to Mongolia - Experience the best Mongolia has to offer

Experience the best Mongolia has to offer

SEE MONGOLIA

Noteworthy annual events include – https://www.toursofmongolia.com/pages/festival-event

  • Tsagaan Sar: Lunar New Year, typically between January & February annually
  • Winter Nomads Festival: Ice, Eagle & Camel festivals held throughout the country each March
  • Naadam Festival: Mongolian national festival focusing on competitions in 3 events: wrestling, archery & horse racing, starting from 11 July each year
  • Golden Eagle Festival: Celebrated in west Mongolia each October
  • Nomads Day Festival: 17-18 September celebration of nomads

Check out overviews of the places we’d recommend visiting –

Visit the amazing Gobi Desert

Travel To Mongolia - Horseback riding along the incredible Khovskol Lake

Horseback riding along the incredible Khovskol Lake

EATING & DRINKING IN MONGOLIA

When choosing to travel to Mongolia you need an open mind, especially when it comes to food and drinks.

See below for a taste of what you’re in for:

  • Buuz – Mongolian steamed dumpling
  • Guriltai shol – Noodle soup
  • Khuushuur – Fried dumpling typically filled with meat
  • Borts – Meat (ie. camel, yak, cow or goat) dried for a month and can be kept for several months without losing its nutritional value
  • Aaruul – Dried curds made with or without sugar to form a biscuit like consistency
  • Orom – Often seen sitting in bowls around gers, cream is formed from the top part of milk after it has been boiled, stirred & cooled
  • Milk Tea – A Mongolian staple; you are sure to get offered this every time you enter a ger
  • Vodka – Super cheap with a variety of brands on offer (Chinggis is a popular choice) – if you’re feeling brave, you can even try fermented mare’s milk vodka
  • Beer – The taste is ok but the packaging is most interesting – buy it in either 48-ounce cans or 2-litre bottles
Travel to Mongolia - 2 litres of beer!

Travel to Mongolia for 2 litres of beer!

MONGOLIA BUDGET

We budgeted for $47.77 USD/day (for 2 people). Actual was $72.58/day x 24 days = $1,742 total.
Breakdown below:

  • Accommodation – $256
  • Beverages – $60
  • Food – $159
  • Transport – $137 *
  • Entertainment – $1,101 **
  • Miscellaneous – $28 ***

*excludes flights from Hong Kong to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia & Trans-Siberian train from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia to Beijing, China

** includes visa ($50/person + $4 processing fee) & Gobi & Khövsköl Lake tours. The biggest cost came in not really being able to organise independent travel; tours came at a higher cost, but were well worth the experience.

***includes carwash, yak socks, necklace & public toilet fees

 

Travel to Mongolia - A traditional Mongolian ger

A traditional Mongolian ger

OUR MONGOLIA HIGHLIGHTS

Travel to Mongolia - Reindeer getting hydrated

Reindeer getting hydrated

  • Seeing wild reindeer drink from the lake
  • Better understanding Mongolia’s rich history by exploring Mongolia’s National Museum
  • Arriving at the Ulaanbaatar airport to a “Rob & Kim” sign waiting for us
  • Riding 2-humped camels in the Gobi Desert
  • Dressing up in traditional Mongolian costume
  • Meeting Bolor & Barkhaus – our incredible Air BnB hosts
  • Visiting Terij National Park
  • Petting a 10-day old calf
  • Seeing Siberian marmots run around the countryside
  • Spotting Przewalski wild horses in Hustai National Park
  • Going on a 7-day road trip around Southwest Mongolia
  • Staying in a ger, a traditional Mongolian house
  • Teaching our new friends how to play cards
  • Receiving blessed tea from a young monk
  • Riding semi-wild horses on a 2-day lakeside excursion in Northern Mongolia
  • Meeting Baya, our horse guide, and his family
  • Drinking “miracle” water from Khövsköl Lake
  • Rob being invited (& participating) in a Reindeer Race dressed as a traditional Mongolian man
  • Experiencing Naadam
Travel to Mongolia - Wrestlers getting ready to participate in their national festival, Naadam

Wrestlers getting ready to participate in their national festival, Naadam

MONGOLIA TIPS

  • Summer can be very cold
  • An adventurous attitude is required for eating and drinking (in case you hadn’t already guessed)
  • Independent travel is more challenging
  • Reliable utilities are not a given
  • The internet is not yet a popular resource for information
  • Daylight lasts forever (literally, from 6am-11pm)
  • For further details on the aforementioned tips, be sure to check out our post called “5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Visiting Mongolia
Travel to Mongolia - Yakity-yak, don't talk back

Yakity-yak, don’t talk back

One Week Exploring Ulaanbaatar city & surrounds

1 WEEK EXPLORING ULAANBAATAR CITY & SURROUNDS

1 WEEK EXPLORING ULAANBAATAR CITY & SURROUNDS

Upon arriving in Ulaanbaatar city (“UB” for short), it was a pleasant surprise for our AirBnB host, Bolor, to be waiting for us at the airport with a “Kim & Rob” sign. After picking us up, she escorted us to her apartment where she introduced us to her husband Barkhas. They set us up in our own bright, spacious room. We shared the common area and enjoyed mingling when we were all around. Bolor’s English was excellent! The apartment was within a 15-minute walk of the city center and plenty of restaurants and supermarkets a short 5 minutes away. The WIFI connection was good, with occasional outages, which I think is common around Ulaanbaatar city.

We got along well with Bolor and Barkhas and ended up hiring them to take us on a 7-day/6-night tour of southern Mongolia. It was a great way to get to know each other better and get an authentic look at the countryside.

DAY 1

After breaking free from the Ulaanbaatar city traffic, we drove another 45 minutes until we reached the entrance to Terelj National Park. Such a stunning place with a number of sites to see.

Turtle Rock was a popular stop amongst local tourists and with the lead of Barkhas we found our way to the top of the rock. Once there we squeezed our way down through a tight gap to an opening with sweeping views. It is said that Chinggis Khan used to stay here and watch for coming bandits.

That night, we returned to stay in Ulaanbaatar city, so we could get a good nights rest before the rest of our adventure began.

Ulaanbaatar city - Easy to see why it's called "Turtle Rock"

Easy to see why it’s called “Turtle Rock”

DAY 2

The next day, we awoke early and headed in a different direction. This time, we had our eyes set on Hustai National Park. About 2 hours later, we veered left off the main road and began venturing 13 kilometers away from the road. We stopped in to look at the Moltsog Sand, referred to by our guides as a “mini Gobi,” before proceeding further down the path until we finally reached the Hustai Tourist Resort.

We grabbed some tickets ($3/person), had a quick pit-stop for lunch, and loaded back in the car to begin our hunt for the infamous Przewalski horse. Takhi, the Mongolian name, is the only living wild horse, which was successfully reintroduced to the park in 1992.

We were lucky enough to see a couple of the horses on the ridge line. Though far in the distance, you could still see their beauty; their undeniable grace. In addition to the wild horses, we also enjoyed spotting the multitude of Siberian marmots, popping their heads up in the field, before running along and retreating into the holes in the ground.

Ulaanbaatar city - Welcome to the beautiful Hustai National Park!

Welcome to the beautiful Hustai National Park!

Afterwards, we visited the infamous Chinggis Khan statue. We were impressed to hear it is the largest man on horseback statue in the world (though admittedly when we asked if there were many to compete with, they said, “no.”) Nevertheless, we visited the museum ($5/person) and then proceeded to climb to the top of the statue. Upon standing eye level with Chinggis, you really begin to feel the enormous impact he had on Mongolia. He was their definitive hero! After returning to ground level, we decided to take part in dressing up in traditional costumes.
Ulaanbaatar city - The man himself - Chinggis Khan

The man himself – Chinggis Khan

After a fun introduction to the real Mongolia, we stayed in a hotel in a neighbouring town, about 45 minutes away.

DAY 3

We woke up the next day, eagerly awaiting the next leg of our trip – the Gobi Desert. Whilst we were only touring around in a Hybrid car, we couldn’t make it to the interest points in the southern parts of the Gobi, but we still enjoyed our time in the desert nonetheless. It was camel time!

We saddled up on our two-humped camels and away we went. Rob was uncomfortable on “Sir Humps-a-Lot” within about 2-minutes, but we continued on. My camel, who I affectionately named “Henry,” was a bit of a wild man. He would have sudden bursts of energy and take off in a sprint – me holding onto his front hump for dear life. Once he knew he couldn’t get rid of me that easily, he settled down and became my friend. As we journeyed through the desert, tackling sand dune after sand dune, we became at ease on our camels, whilst taking in the epic scenery.

Ulaanbaatar city - Meet "Henry," my partner in crime

Meet “Henry,” my partner in crime

After exploring the Gobi for a while, the sky began to darken. We thought it best to say goodbye to our new friends and continue on our adventure – finding a ger for the night.
On our way, we drove to the base of the nearby mountain. We admired the beauty from afar, and as we got closer, our appreciation heightened again. We didn’t stay long as the storms were approaching closer, but it was a remarkable site for sure.
Ulaanbaatar city - Remarkable views from the base of the mountain

Remarkable views from the base of the mountain

Afterwards, we found a lovely nomad family and stayed at their camp for the night. Wildlife roamed the lands and the views were remarkable. Barkhas lit up a mean fire (from dried horse poo), that nearly roasted us out of the ger. Yep, we were nice and toasty.

DAY 4

While some cities in Mongolia are quite lackluster, Kharakhorum, the Ancient City, is anything but. The museum paints a historical picture of the city, which makes the exploration by foot even more worthwhile. The city housed multiple religious monuments, most notable being the Erdene Zuu Monastery.
Ulaanbaatar city - Kharakhorum, Mongolia's Ancient City

Kharakhorum, Mongolia’s Ancient City

Across the road from the Ancient City, are a couple of infamous rocks. Penis Rock is meant to provide fertility qualities. Turtle Rock is said to bring good luck. In case you were wondering, yes, Mongolians are quite superstitious. 
 
Ulaanbaatar city - Ohhh, Penis Rock

Oh, Penis Rock

 
That night, we stayed in a Family Ger belonging to a small Monastery in a neighbouring town.

DAY 5

After sleeping in the next morning, we finally awoke and made our way to check out the small monastery that had been kind enough to host us. It was beautiful! Monks chanting, people praying and children running around. We paid our respects, gave a small donation, and went on our way.
Small, yet beautiful, generous monastary

Small, yet beautiful, generous monastery

We drove out to the Turkish Museum. Thinking we might be a bit “museumed-out” by this point, we were actually pleasantly surprised. We enjoyed the relics on display from recent excavations, and the large deer-stones in the open area.

On the trip back, we veered off on this seemingly never-ending road until we reached Protector Lookout. The views from the lookout were amazing and expansive.

Incredible views from Protector Lookout

Incredible views from Protector Lookout

Being in the same vicinity that night, we once again rested our heads at the Monastery Family Ger.

DAY 6

The next day, we were in for a treat. We visited Xykupt Natural Springs, where the water is bottled and sold all over the country. Coming prepared with our empties, we filled up about 8 bottles directly from the spring and continued on our way. The water was so cold, so fresh and so beautiful! A little further down the road, we stopped at a nomadic horse farm where we sampled fermented horse milk…it was an interesting drop, though one glass to share was plenty!

We continued down the road until we reached Ögii Lake. She was a beaut! We took in the views whilst we practiced skipping rocks.

Lakeside!

Lakeside!

Surrounded by ger camps, we stayed lakeside that evening. We played cards and drank the night away (except for Bolor of course, as she’s 6-months pregnant). What a great last night to have on our trip of Southern Mongolia.

DAY 7

Ah, as our adventure was coming to an end, we began the trek back to Ulaanbaatar city. As warm showers awaited us, we also realised the hybrid looked worse for wear. So, we promised Barkhas a car wash to get his car back to the shade of white it was before our trip.

Thanks very much for hosting us Bolor & Barkhas, our new friends. It was an experience we won’t soon forget! And we can’t wait to see pictures of your little cherub arriving in September – best of luck and lots of love always x

Khovsgol Lake

NORTHERN MONGOLIA – FOLLOW ME TO KHOVSGOL LAKE

NORTHERN MONGOLIA – FOLLOW ME TO KHOVSGOL LAKE

Situated just south of Siberia in Russia, Northern Mongolia has a lot to offer. From its scenic nature to the array of outdoor activities, you’re sure to find your “happy place” amongst it all. The best time to visit is between June-July. By then, the weather starts to warm, you can enjoy a number of local festivals in the region and enjoy the spectacular nature on offer.

MY FAVOURITE THING IS TO GO WHERE I HAVE NEVER BEEN. – DIANE ARBUS

MÜRON

Head to the Dragon Bus Center in Ulaanbaatar, hop on and settle in for the 15-hour journey to Müron. Alternatively, fork out a couple hundred dollars, and fly into Müron in less than two hours. Whilst there’s not a lot to see or do one you reach Müron, it is a great place to stop to rest and recoup after the long bus ride.

Look who came to visit us in our ger

Look who came to visit us in our ger

STAY & EAT

  • Bata’s Guesthouse
    • $7.5/person incl. breakfast
    • Complimentary tea & coffee, WIFI & pickup from airport or bus station
    • Limited food menu and drinks (incl. beer & vodka) available on-site
    • Hot showers available for $1/person
    • Laundry available as requested
    • “Pit” toilet on-site
    • Provide assistance with organising tours upon request

PLAY

  • Visit the Black Market – load up on souvenirs, camping gear and essentials
  • Climb the nearby mountain – a 3-hour trek will provide a rewarding view overlooking the town of Müron
  • Naadam Festival – commences 15-July

TIPS

  • The Black Market is closed on Monday’s
  • Beware of pickpockets at the Black Market
  • Buses to and from UB depart at 8am, 3pm & 7pm daily ($16/person)
  • Buses to Khatsgal ($7.5/person) will pick you up directly from your guesthouse
The beauty may not be that obvious upon arrival, but if you look for it, you'll find it...

The beauty may not be that obvious upon arrival, but if you look for it, you’ll find it…

KHATSGAL

Only a short 90 minutes from Müron, Khatsgal welcomes you with an array of multi-coloured roofs and a plethora of Guesthouses. As you are entering into the Khovsgol Lake National Park, you will be requested to pay $1.5/person upon arrival.

Khovsgol Lake National Park

Khovsgol Lake National Park

STAY & EAT

  • MS Guesthouse
    • $10/person incl. breakfast (Ger)
    • $7.5/person incl. breakfast (Dorm)
    • $2.5/person excl. breakfast (Tent)
    • Complimentary tea & coffee, WIFI & hot showers (towels not provided)
    • Food (all meals $3.5) & drinks (beer, coke & water) available on site
    • Laundry available as requested
    • 2 seated sawdust toilets & 2 “pit” toilets on-site
    • Provide assistance with organising tours upon request

PLAY

  • Organise horseback riding excursions on the West Side of Khovsgol Lake for as little as 1-day up to as many days as your schedule permits – here is an indication of some of the costs:
    • Guide $17.5/day
    • Riding horses $12.5/day
    • Packhorse $12.5/day (note, if you are taking more than a 2-3 day excursion, you will also need to hire a packhorse to carry all your gear)
  • Take a tour down Khovsgol Lake on the Ferry, departing daily at 12pm ($11.5/person)
  • Trek along the East Side of Khovsgol Lake for a less developed, peaceful look at the surrounding areas
  • Naadam Festival – held from 11-13 July

TIPS

  • There are ATM’s available in the supermarket in the “city centre” (though not always super reliable)
  • Drinks are cheaper at the supermarkets (versus the Guesthouses) and are generally within walking distance from most facilities
  • Most Guesthouses also rent camping gear:
    • Tent $5
    • Sleeping Bag $3.5
    • Cooking Gear $3.5
  • Never ridden a horse before? Don’t worry, neither had we. But, the guides have years of experience and you are prepared with a brief introduction and hand holding for the first part of the ride.
KHOVSGOL - Plan your trip to take part in the local Naadam festivities

Plan your trip to take part in the local Naadam festivities

KHOVSGOL LAKE

From Khatsgal, it’s only 30-minutes by car, 4-hours by horse or 1-day by foot. However you get there, this beautiful area can not be missed. Also known as the “Blue Pearl,” Khovsgol Lake is a place for local and foreign tourists alike.

Ahhh, she's perfect

Ahhh, she’s perfect

 

STAY & EAT

  • There are plenty of Family Gers and Ger Camps available
    • Typical prices are around $10/person incl. breakfast
    • If you go with a guide, they will arrange the ger for you – just pay the family/camp direct

PLAY

  • Go for a swim in the lake!
  • Explore the areas around the lake via horse, kayak or trekking
  • Tsaatan “Reindeer” Festival – held 7-8 July
Khovsgol Lake - Beautiful reindeer in the wild

Khovsgol Lake – Beautiful reindeer in the wild

TIPS

  • Fill your water bottles directly from Khovsgol Lake – it’s clean and there are multiple claims of it being “miracle water”
  • Don’t let the cold water deter you – we promise you’ll feel alive and refreshed afterwards!
  • The return trip from Khovsgol Lake to Khatsgal was some of the most spectacular scenery we have seen to date
Stunning sunset over Khovsgol Lake

Stunning sunset over Khovsgol Lake

World Challenge

SIMPLY TRAVELLED MEETS WORLD CHALLENGE

Near Mount Dandenong, in Victoria, Australia, there is a small town called Monbulk. In this town, many students attend high school at Monbulk College. After recently having a chance to meet some of the schools years 10 and 11 students, I can tell you, these kids are going to leave their mark on the world!
Narelle & Michael, both teachers at Monbulk College, and 17 students set out on the adventure of a lifetime! They teamed up with Barry, World Challenge representative, and away they went. World Challenge is an organisation that partners with schools to enable students to get immersed in a local culture in a different part of the world! Through 4-phases, they learn leadership, problem-solving and decision-making skills in an environment outside the classroom;
  1. Acclimatisation – In this phase, students are introduced to their new environment and prepared for the weeks to come.
  2. Trekking – In tough conditions, students are challenged both physically and mentally as they tackle some incredible trekking opportunities. This year, over 9 days, Monbulk College students experienced life with a nomadic family along with a horse trek around the beautiful Khöskovöl Lake in Northern Mongolia.
  3. Project Work – Giving back to the local community is a key component of this program. Monbulk students partnered with a local kindergarten, painting, interacting with the kids and playing games. The students even decided to donate the leftover money from their fundraising efforts to the school for a new building. The existing school was overpopulated, leaving 300 kids in the area missing out on an education. The donated funds will facilitate building efforts, allowing another 50 students to attend school.
  4. Rest & Relaxation – Ahhh, after all that, wouldn’t you want to relax too? Of course! This is the fourth and final phase of the Challenge, allowing students time to unwind, relax and reflect.
Now it’s time to meet a few of the extraordinary students who took part in the Challenge. You’ll also hear from an incredible teacher that believed in bringing this cause to Monbulk College!
World Challenge - Keegan - Year 10

Keegan – Year 10

  1. Why get involved with World Challenge? Funnily enough, Keegan was inspired by a television show he used to watch growing up. While he can’t recall the name of it, it was basically kids doing the exact same thing he’s doing now. A group of students were together, hiking and exploring the world. So when the opportunity came up to participate in World Challenge, Keegan was extremely keen to jump on board.
  2. First impression of Mongolia? Keegan admits it was a bit daunting. Being his first time out of Australia, he was taking it all in. It was all new for him – no one spoke English, the roads were bad, and everything was foreign.
  3. Most interesting thing eaten? Sheep stomach & heart. Keegan described it as nice, tender and well-cooked meat. And it wasn’t just any sheep! This sheep was slaughtered in front of them, which was an interesting experience in itself. Keegan felt like the whole process was probably a lot more humane than what is done in the factory, as they take care in cleaning the parts and not wasting anything. The sheep also provided “blood sausage” which Keegan was not shy about saying was absolutely disgusting!
  4. Highlight? Keegan thoroughly enjoyed spending time with the nomad family. He was excited to stay in the ger and be part of their normal lives. He had his hand at herding and milking yaks, before watching the family make cheese from the milk.
  5. Most looking forward to about going home? Toasted sandwiches! Of course, Keegan is also excited to see his girlfriend of 6-months too.
  6. Biggest takeaway? Keegan was impressed by just how friendly and hospitable the Mongolian people are. He told a story of a drunk guy who walked into the family ger. The family did not know him, but welcomed him nonetheless, and invited him to join for dinner before he continued on his way.
Keegan is an enthusiastic character, whose energy is super contagious! He wants to go on to be either a Paramedic or Police Officer – either way, I know he’s going to make this world a better place. Thanks for being you Keegan!
Keeley, Year 11

Keeley, Year 11

  1. Why get involved with World Challenge? Keeley loves travelling. She likes the fact that World Challenge allows you to get immersed in the local way of living, not just visiting as a tourist. Keeley’s older sister participated in the Challenge 2 years ago in Nepal, which also inspired Keeley to check it out for herself.
  2. First impression of Mongolia? Having travelled to countries such as Thailand and Germany before, Keeley was not quite sure what to expect of Mongolia. She describes it as “a calm chaos.” She said it’s hectic but seems coordinated. People know what they’re doing and no ones angry about the situation.
  3. Most interesting thing eaten? Sheep intestines. After watching the sheep get slaughtered, Keeley helped clean out the intestines by first cleaning out the grass and then running them through the water. The family then filled them with sheep meat before cooking them. When served, she really enjoyed them. She also mentioned that the family rarely prepares this dish, because it is very fiddly and time-consuming. So, she appreciated being part of the experience and for the family going that extra mile for them.
  4. Highlight? Keeley loved playing with the kids at the kindergartens they volunteered at. She enjoyed painting with the kids, playing duck, duck, goose and doing the hokey pokey with the groups. PS. Keeley is so considerate; she even brought copies of one of her drawings (yes, she’s a bit of an artist) of a kangaroo to give to the kids.
  5. Most looking forward to about going home? Keeley is looking forward to a proper shower. Only having 2 in a couple weeks, it’s easy to see why this one is such a priority. She’s also looking forward to getting back to school, seeing her family and hearing the sound of a flushing toilet! Ahhh, there’s no place like home.
  6. Biggest takeaway? This trip served as a gentle reminder to Keeley to always be welcoming and generous. All the people she’s come across on this trip have been that way, so she wants to give back. She also pointed out that they may not always have much but they are happy to give all!
Recently recovering from a bout of food poisoning, Keeley had no hesitations talking about sharing the impact this journey has had on her! Thanks for sharing your take on your journey – it is very inspiring. Good luck with your continued studies Dr. Keeley (in the making).
Matthew, Year 11

Matthew, Year 11

  1. Why get involved with World Challenge? Matthew loves experiencing new cultures and places. He applied to be part of the program before the destination was decided, as he was happy to go anywhere. When Mongolia was announced, he was stoked, because it’s somewhere that he probably never would have the opportunity to go again in the foreseeable future.
  2. First impression of Mongolia? The group first arrived into the capital city of Ulaanbaatar (UB). Matthew felt it was a “city of contradictions.” Admittedly it was different than what he was expecting. UB is very spread out and Matt thought it would be less run-down than it was. Having been to big cities in other third-world countries, he had a few expectations, but UB was completely different to anything he was expecting.
  3. Most interesting thing eaten? Hor hog. A traditional Mongolian dish, Matthew really enjoyed this stewed lamb. The nomadic family prepared it and presented it with so much care. He was grateful for the opportunity to experience it.
  4. Most looking forward to about going home? Matthew’s been missing a sitdown toilet, which is fair enough. He’s also keen to have fresh water readily available when he gets home.
  5. Biggest takeaway? Even though conditions may not be the best in Mongolia, Matthew realised it’s some of the nicest people you will ever meet!
Well said Matthew. It’s easy to see you’re an asset to the group. I heard you look after the budget for the group which is no small feat, so great work mate! Thanks for sharing your experience with us Matthew!
World Challenge - Michael, Teacher for 20+ years

Michael, Teacher for 20+ years, currently teaches Science, PE & is the Year 9 Coordinator

  1. How did Monbulk College get involved with World Challenge? Michael has always enjoyed running school camps. He enjoys watching the students grow and develop outside of the classroom. When the World Challenge information came across his desk, he knew this would offer students another great opportunity. After pitching it to the students, and some gentle negotiation with the Principal, he was happy to get the program off the ground a few years ago. Michael wanted to share the adventure and growth experience with students!
  2. How did you decide on Mongolia? This is Monbulk’s third year participating in the World Challenge. The school previously went to Borneo & Nepal. Michael wants to ensure each group of students gets a new, unique experience and this year, Mongolia ticked all the boxes.
  3. What’s something that did not go to plan & what was the resolution? Perhaps Michael could have answered with “what did go right?” But in all seriousness, travelling to developing country, does come with its own challenges. First of all, maps in Mongolia can be deceiving. The team had mapped out a route to camp and hike around the Northern part of Khövsköl lake. But after consulting their guide, they needed to change the initial plans due to timing and weather conditions. With the horses in Mongolia being wild, there were a couple of times it made things a bit uneasy. Luckily, after a couple of days, the group settled in and found a rhythm.
  4. First impression of Mongolia? Michael reserved any judgment of Mongolia until he got out of UB. It was raining, they were shopping for essentials, and being a big city, he knew it wouldn’t be representative of the real Mongolia. Michael first stopped to think about his first impression of Mongolia when they were driving out of town on the main road on their way to Renchinlhumbe . Suddenly the driver just turned off. He thought he must be stopping for a smoke or toilet break when he in fact just kept driving. Then it dawned on Michael; this was the road – and this was Mongolia. Once he came to terms with the fact that this was the road (or lack thereof), he immediately thought how boring it would be for everyone whilst they were driving in the Foregones (old Russian vehicles) for hours on end. He thought the endless barren lands would soon get old. But he was pleasantly surprised, as the path was full of wildflowers and pine trees. The students were having a great time, enjoying the ride, naming their vehicles and making new friends! See, I told you, a lot did go to plan.
  5. Most interesting thing eaten? Whilst staying with the nomad family, Michael thoroughly enjoyed helping (or attempting to) milk a yak and making cheese with the family – being involved with the end to end process was simply amazing!
  6. Biggest takeaway you’ve had? Michael wanted more clarification on what I was looking for, but I gave him a little guidance, advising it was entirely up to him. I suppose that’s what happens – these questions without notice, they take you by surprise sometimes. In the end, I think Michael had so many takeaways that it was hard to choose just one. He really enjoyed getting to know Yumba (one of the wranglers) and Yona (their translator) throughout the duration of the trip. This year, Michael’s daughter, Claire, was also on the trip, which made it extra special for him too. But I think the thing that most impressed him was watching the students grow. He had seen a phenomenal transformation in one student in particular, and he was stoked to have shared this experience with them.
Michael, thanks for being a true advocate of growth and getting outside your comfort zone. Thanks for leading by example and being a great influence on these students – in the short time I met you, I can tell you’re an absolute legend mate!
Simply Travelled inspires people to take a LEAP! – an adult gap year, career break, sabbatical – call it what you will. But one thing is for sure this time – the Monbulk College students participating in the World Challenge really inspired us! They inspired us to give back more, to continue to get outside our comfort zone and to try anything once.  Join us on our travel blog, Simply Travelled as we document our adventures along the way.
Thanks a lot guys – pleasure meeting you and wish you all the best always!
Live Every Moment,
Kim & Rob
Simply Travelled
www.simplytravelled.com
Visiting Mongolia

5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Visiting Mongolia

5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Visiting Mongolia

I’ll admit, we didn’t know a lot about Mongolia before deciding to visit. And that was part of the appeal. We knew it would be an adventure, and were excited about the prospect of it! In hindsight, there are a few things I wish we would have known in advance before visiting Mongolia.
  1. Summer can be very cold. It makes sense. If you look at a map, you can see how far north Mongolia is. If you Google the average temperatures, you can get a fair idea what you’re up against. But, like I said, we didn’t do much research ahead of time. Personally, I just heard “summer” and immediately thought it’d be warm. And don’t get me wrong, some days it is warm. Like right now for example, as I’m writing this, I’m basking in the sun’s rays. Ahhh, so nice! But as soon as that sun goes behind a cloud, brrrr…it gets cold. And I can tell you the majority of the clothes in our bags are more suited to subtropical, humid climates, so not the best attire for this so-called summer. Of course we packed the essential pants and long-sleeved shirt for the occasion. And yes, I layered with the same scarf that I’d previously been using as a swim cover. But we also had to do a little shopping! A packable down jacket and some “made in Mongolia” camel socks, and we were set!
    Visiting Mongolia - Yep, snug as a bug!

    Yep, snug as a bug!

  2. An adventurous attitude is required for eating and drinking. Like I previously mentioned, before visiting Mongolia, we were definitely up for the adventure! But some of the things we were faced with at the dinner table were, um, lets say…interesting. At times, it felt like we were on an episode of “Fear Factor.” Nearly every dish is served with mutton. Living in Australia for 7 years, I never really grew fond of lamb, so I didn’t always fare too well with the more mature variety either. Fermented milk vodka (made from horse milk) anyone? I don’t think I could get drunk enough to enjoy this one. Being so cold one morning (see #1), I was keen to have a cup of milk tea. But I was quite surprised when I discovered rice and meat in the bottom of my cup. Very interesting! Believe it or not, overall, we didn’t actually mind the food, and some of it we really liked! But, it was always entertaining to see what we’d be served next. And I highly doubt that I’ll be having many cravings for Mongolian food after I leave the country.
    Visiting Mongolia - Our beautiful host, cooking us something tasty

    Our beautiful host, cooking us something tasty

  3. Independent travel is more challenging. In budgeting, we can typically keep our travel costs down by arranging our own transport and limiting organised tours. However, this is a bit tricky in Mongolia. Of course you can explore Ulaanbaatar and visit the nearby Terelj National Park on your own, but outside of that can be quite the challenge. Beyond that, you’ll likely need to reserve a spot with a tour. To do so, you can check the options available online (which may be limited – see #5), or speak to a local guesthouse in UB. If you are keen to do some independent travel on your upcoming trip to Mongolia, be sure to check out some sound advice from our friends at Goats on the Road.
    Visiting Mongolia - The upside on taking a tour is you can meet a cool guide

    The upside on taking a tour is you can meet a cool guide

  4. Reliable utilities are not a given. Fair enough, when you’re staying in a Ger in the middle of the Gobi Desert. But I’m talking about even in the capital city of Ulaanbaantar. There were a number of mornings we woke to a cold shower! Power outages were common across different parts of town. And internet connections were lost multiple times a day. Not the end of the world, but something that would have been nice to know ahead of time.
    Visiting Mongolia - Rob fell asleep waiting for Google to load

    Rob fell asleep waiting for Google to load

  5. The internet is not yet a popular resource for information. This probably makes sense after reading #4, but I was surprised to find this in a city of 3 million people. Need to confirm bus times? There isn’t a website, so maybe try calling. Just joking, the phone number listed doesn’t work either. Your best bet is to go there to find out in person. Dirty clothes? Good luck finding a laundromat. We randomly found one on the street, but no matches online. Headed to the countryside and want to book accommodation in advance? Not likely (unless you’re part of a tour as mentioned in #3). If you are planning on a tour, check out NOMADasaurus’s epic experience visiting the Mongolian Reindeer Herders for a bit of inspiration.
    Visiting Mongolia - No running water or toilet...but if you want to watch satellite tv, you're in luck.

    No running water or toilet…but if you want to watch satellite tv, you’re in luck.

P.S. Daylight lasts forever. Ok, actually I’m kind of glad we didn’t know about this one ahead of time, as it was a nice surprise! But seriously, the sun comes up around 6am, and sets about 11pm. A few people told us, “Don’t go out on the streets after dark.” And I thought, no problem, that’s past my bedtime anyways, haha. If you’re out of the city, your best bet is to actually set yourself an alarm to wake up when it’s dark outside so you can take in the beauty of the epic sky. I have never seen so many stars in my life!
Visiting Mongolia - The stunning sky, circa 10pm

The stunning sky, circa 10pm