Mongolia Bus Ride from Olgii to Ulaanbaatar – a Cultural Experience

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Mongolia Bus Ride

There are 2 ways to get from Olgii to Ulaanbaatar – by flight or bus. The flight takes 3 hours and the bus takes a mind-boggling 36 hours. I heard how difficult the bus was but needed to save and looked at it as an experience.

Arriving at the bus, I realized I was the only foreigner taking that one. The taxi driver tried to explain to one of the 3 bus drivers to take care of me (I guess) and luckily my ethnically Kazakh seatmate turned out to be kind. She knew about 2 words of English (the same amount as my Mongolian) so we didn’t talk much but shared a few snacks.

The idea when I pre-booked a window seat so that I could lean against something as I tried to sleep in a chair that only reclined about 45 degrees, but it was definitely not a comfortable ride. Soon after leaving Olgii around 10am (rather than the 9am that was scheduled – welcome to Mongolia!), the dirt roads became gravel ones with some potholes so big we couldn’t avoid them. The constant swerving makes even the normally regulated stomach feel slight queasiness. Those with car sickness – you’ve been warned! On top of the road conditions, the bus was fairly cold at night and there was a long break at 1am which hindered a solid night’s sleep. During the daytime, there were pee and smoke breaks perplexingly often, as there was no toilet on board. I would’ve preferred fewer for a shorter ride! On another note, thank goodness the young toddler didn’t cry…

It was about hour 30 when we were all getting a bit antsy, looking forward to arriving in Ulaanbaatar. This is when the magic happened. I heard some rustling from the back of the bus (I was in the front row to see the views) and then…

A man pulled out his accordion and started to play a lovely song, which turned out to be a popular, perhaps traditional, song as everyone started singing along with him. Having traveled for a while at that point (and been on that bus for a butt-painful amount of time), I never imagined a surprise so heartwarming…this one moved me so much my eyes watered!

Many songs continued to play over the next few hours. Another person brought out a flute, another had a guitar with a lovely voice. The elderly lady behind me sang beautifully to many of them. When everyone sang together, it was rather harmonious! I would love to know what the names, meanings, and importance of these songs are, so if you’re Mongolian, please let me know!

After returning to Ulaanbaatar, I told others about this experience and found out that they didn’t have anything similar happen to them. One friend had a drunk in the middle aisle, but that was the most excitement he got.

I feel truly lucky to have experienced such a wonderful few hours thanks to the musically-inclined locals. That bus ride was a test of endurance, patience, and physical fortitude, but the little concert made it more than worthwhile. I wish this was something I could guarantee for others’ long rides!

Some photos from the journey (click to enlarge):

Here are more of my videos of the mini-concert in a playlist to lighten up your day. Enjoy!

If you liked this post, please do let me know so I can know to post more like this. Until next time!

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