Sunday, May 27, 2012

Elegance of the Hedgehog

Our life is made up of moments. Of scenes when time slows down and you find yourself engulfed with an overwhelming feeling-- of sadness, of gratitude, or of melancholy.

Today, I had such moment.
While reading the last pages of a book.

Camellias. From hence on forward, I will dream of Camellias; and of the sun on one's shoulder. And the beauty and incredulity of life... and of death.

Thank you to a dear colleague for recommending this book.
Thank you for allowing me to have a moment.
Thank you.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Guide to Ulaan Baatar

Here goes the guide! 'Tis to hoping it would help you have a great stay at Ulaan Baatar like we did!

How to get there
From the Philippines, there is no direct flight to Ulaan Baatar. Either you take a connecting flight from Hong Kong or Seoul or do as we did and go to Beijing and take the transiberian railway. I highly recommend riding the train because it is truly a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience. You may read my full post on the transiberian railway here.

Where to stay
Hotels in Ulaan Baatar are a bit pricey. Most are in the USD$70-$200 price range. To save money, we opted to stay in a hostel instead. May sound a bit scary, especially when it's your first time, but the "hostel" experience was not as scary as I thought it was, it was actually very enjoyable!

We stayed at Zaya Hostel, which is at the 3rd floor of a building by Peace Avenue. From the outside, it looks like an old building but inside, it is very cozy and warm. The decor was also very cozy and pretty. We especially liked the lounge area where you can surf the net, cook food, watch movies and just hang out with fellow travellers. We made a lot of friends there and it was a nice change from the usual stiff atmosphere in hotels.

I also enjoyed the simple breakfast they serve:

You may contact Zaya through their website Say hi to Zaya and Bayor for us too!

The weather in Ulaan Baatar is absolutely bipolar! Although it's generally cold, there are days when it's a bit hot too. Choosing what to wear then becomes a major challenge and a hit-or-miss kind of thing. If you're travelling in May or in summer months, you could wear long sleeved clothes but if you're going at start of spring, bring with you thick winter clothing! The lowest temp we experienced was 2 degrees celsius plus wind chill which was around -5 degrees.

Tourist Attractions 
Ulaan Baatar is not a modern city yet. The appeal of the place is how beautiful their natural surroundings are. If you're a nature lover or just someone who wants a different kind of travel experience, then UB is for you!

Most tourist spots are outside the city. The nearest is Terelj National Park which about 2 hours away from the city.

Some tourists go on 4-day hiking trips where you will stay in ger camps as you go around Mongolia. Since we didn't want to stay overnight in a ger, we opted to go to national parks nearest Ulaan Baatar, Terelj National Park and Hustai National Park.

My favorite would have to be Terelj National Park because its more populated and there are so much to do there. We got to dine with a Mongolian family inside their ger and got to ate traditional Mongolian food. We also rode horses around the park which made the experience even more enjoyable.

On the way to Hustai National Park, we dropped by the Gobi desert. Too bad we couldn't visit the sand dunes but dropping by a section of the desert was enough to satisfy us.

Hustai National Park is home to Mongolian wild horses. They run free in the area along with other animals. As our host Zaya said, some tourists don't appreciate Hustai that much because there are only animals in the area. To appreciate the place, you have to look with your heart, not your eyes. And so that's exactly what we did in Hustai.

Mongolia is heaven for carnivores! There is so much meat! They serve pork, beef, horse, & mutton. Vegetarians on the other hand will have a more difficult time but we're not exactly deprived. When in Mongolia, you must try the authentic Mongolian grill. For vegetarians, they have tofu and a lot of root crops, so no worries ;)
My favorite Mongolian product on the other hand is called Aarts (like what I've been saying in my previous posts). It's milk curd and resembles the taste of yoghurt. I love it because the milk itself is delicious and the sourness is not too strong. It's subtler than having yoghurt. If you're ever in the area, do not miss out on this-- especially the Aarts cake!

When I think of Mongolia, leather comes to mind. And true enough, leather products in Mongolia are plenty!-- and best part is, they're cheap!
 These leather wallets range from USD$5-$20! How affordable is that! And mind you, they're the real deal!

Apart from leather, it is also best to shop for chocolates in Mongolia. European chocolates are super cheap but my favorites would be Golden Gobi, which is Mongolia's local chocolate brand. They are sooooo good! You could taste the difference in the milk they used. Two-thumbs up indeed!

1. Days are longer in Mongolia. Sunset is at 8:30pm, so if you're planning to go somewhere far, you need not worry in having to travel in the dark.

2. Try to avoid traveling via plane as much as you can. Mongolian Air is notorious for delayed flights. And it's not just a few hours delay, they get delayed for days! Apparently, it's challenging fly over the mountains in Mongolia especially when it gets too windy. We experienced this on our flight back to Beijing which was delayed for 10 hours. 

3. Taxis are more discrete and there are no signs on them. You just have to stick your hand out and wait for a car to stop in front of you-- then you'd know it's a taxi. Taxi fares are cheap, flag down is normally at 2,500 tugrug which is roughly around $1.50usd

There you go! Hope this guide would help you in your visit to Mongolia! Have fun!

Related posts: Guide to the Transiberian Railway , A photo tour of Mongolia

Friday, May 25, 2012

Guide to the Transiberian Railway

We went to Mongolia via the transiberian railway. It's the normal route taken my most tourists because it not gives you a chance to view the countryside, it is also relatively cheaper than a plane ride (hehe).

The Transiberian railway spans from Beijing - Ulaan Bataar - Moscow. It takes 30 hours from Beijing to Ulaan Baatar with a few stops in between. There are only two trips in a week so you have to schedule your travel around the train's schedule.
We stayed in Beijing for a couple of days prior to the trip because we arrived on a Saturday and the train was set to leave on Tuesday. We took the K23 train from the Beijing Railway Station in Dong Cheng district.

A note to the faint hearted: the people who use the railway station are mostly locals--and by locals I mean the not-so-rich kind. Be wary of your things, don't be disheartened by the uncleanliness, and remain hopeful! It gets better, I promise :)

We got a 4-berth hard sleeper which we found very cozy:
Our cabin was for four people, but luckily not a lot of tourists go on the train during spring so we had the cabin all to ourselves.
As I said, the trip lasts for 30 hours so you have to come prepared! For us, being prepared meant bringing food, a book, and an ipod to ease the blues.
Don't be too worried about getting bored though because the view outside is spectacular and you'd be too busy getting awed to even feel an ounce of boredom.
If you didn't bring food, there's a restaurant in the train. Be wary though about the time because it has a schedule and if you miss it, you won't be able to buy food. If, however, you didn't get to eat, you could go down at Erlian (the last stop in China), and get some supplies. The trains stops at Erlian for three hours so it can change tracks.
Note however that it would be best if you just go down for a while because the train has to change tracks and if you're left outside, you would freeze from the 2-hour stay outside in negative weather!
Crossing borders is another thing. Immigration is tough but relatively harmless. The immigration officers go up the train and visits berth to berth. It just gets a little scary when they climb up and the Chinese/Mongolian officers shout "wake up! wake up!" or "LOOK AT ME". It feels like being in a military boot camp. Still, no worries, they're just tough but they're harmless :)

The one thing that is not so harmless though is the weather! We crossed the Gobi desert at night and I felt like I was about to die from hypothermia. It was so cold! What made it worse was the fact that I was currently suffering from hyper teeth sensitivity. I literally cried in my bed. I was already covered by two thick blanks but the cold still penetrated. It was the worse feeling ever.

When morning came, all worries dissipated and a few hours after, I found myself in Ulaan Baatar :)
What an amazing experience! Truly, it was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing :) So that's it! Watch out for my next post--TMF guide to Ulaan Baatar!

Related post: A photo tour of Ulaan Baatar , Guide to Mongolia

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Discover Mongolia

A journey that started in Beijing and ended in the middle of the Gobi desert. Let me take you to a brief photo tour of the best of Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia:

Truly, God's creations at its rawest are the most beautiful sights in the world. Thank you Lord for keeping Mongolia pure and beautiful :)

The TMF guide to Mongolia will be posted in the coming days. For now, I'm just glad and thankful to be back!

Related posts: Guide to Mongolia , Guide to the Transiberian Railway 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Hooked on Aarts

Remember the cake I was raving about in my last post? Well, it's apparently made from Aarts which is sour milk, much like yoghurt.

It's one of Mongolia's traditional food products and they use it everywhere. They drink it, put it in cakes, pies, and even in oatmeal (like what they serve us during breakfast!)

It's super good! I am so hooked on the taste because I love yoghurt but this one is a little less sour and has a subtlety to it that is so appealing to me. Yum yum yum!

To my future husband,

Dear, I found our wedding cake! Better start contacting bakers in Ulaan Baatar so they can prepare the best Aarts cake for us!


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Greetings from Ulaan baatar!

Hi everyone! Missed me? After a loooong journey that started in Beijing, here I am on my first night in Ulaan Baatar. Just a quick post before bed time. Just wanted to share this really delish "special" cake our newfound Mongolian friend gave us.
It's super good! Will ask her more about this tomorrow. Speaking of, I have a dentist's appointment in the morning. So unlucky to be having tooth problems while on a trip. Wish me luck!

Thursday, May 10, 2012


I'll be going to Ulaan Baatar a few days from now and in preparation for that I bought a pair of boots.

My intention was to buy a pair that I could wear as I go traversing the desert and do all kinds of natgeo stuff. But for some reason, I fell in love with these heeled booties from Charles and Keith and my intent to wear something "rugged" and more outback was forgotten. HAHA. Good luck to me.

I wanted to take it out for a "test run" before I leave so wear it out I did.
I super love the faux fur detail and the thin laces.
They are actually very comforable and light so I'm thinking maybe they would do. I'm just scared it would be hard if I'd have to climb up a camel or something. Gaaah. Really, my preference for heels gets me in trouble sometimes.

For those of you having trouble with geography, Ulaan Bataar is in Mongolia. I'll be traveling via transiberian train route from Beijing. I'll try to blog as much as I can in Ulaan Baatar but if internet is a problem, then I guess it'll just be "see you in a few weeks!"

Wish me luck on these boots. HAHA

Zebra t-shirt - Revenge Fork
Denim shorts - Crissa jeans
Lace up boots - Charles & Keith

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Gourmet Lollipop

It's no secret. I have a sweet tooth. So when my godmother handed me these, I almost finished the entire box in one sitting!

Gourmet. Hmm.. it's lollipop! How do you make it gourmet? Well, apparently See's has got it all figured out. I didn't expect much considering it's lollipop but just one lick on it and immediately I understood how it could be "gourmet".

In Cafe Latte flavor
It's really delicious! You could taste how authentic the ingredients are and you could really tell the difference from a regular lollipop. I feel like it's from a 60's candy store where candies are home made. I imagine the "bakers" (do you call them bakers?) pouring pure milk chocolate or butterscotch into square molds and waiting for it to harden. So vintage-y!
My assorted box comes in chocolate, vanilla, butterscotch and cafe latte flavors. I LOVE the butterscotch. I don't often come across butterscotch-flavored candy. My only recollection of having tasted such is eating butter balls as a child (remember those?). Of course those butter balls are no match to these ones from See's!

My lollipops came all the way from New York but I hear there are branches in Hong Kong and Macau so I suggest you drop by if you're ever in the area! (Or may want to ask your relatives in the US to bring these home as pasalubong :P) The lollipops are one of their bestsellers but you want to check out their other sweet offerings as well.

For more info and to check out other products See's offers, check out their website here

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