If you go to Mongolia, experienced travelers will probably tell you to pack jeans for horseback riding, a camera, warm clothes for nighttime, a lighter to start your dung fire and sunscreen for your desert camel rides. Helpful? Sure. But essential?
Here are the true Mongolian essentials.
There were five of us on our 11-day tour, and we went through approximately 250 wet wipes. Held a baby goat? Use a wet wipe. Sliced up a sheep intestine with a bloody knife? Have a wet wipe. Kisses from a smiley, dirt-smeared baby? Better take a wet wipe. Haven’t had a shower in five days? Try a wet wipe. Pushed the van through mud barefoot? Wet wipe.
When Jared and I ordered our backpacks from GMarket, they came with a free gift: a headlamp. Initially the main benefit was so Jared could wear it around the house on the ‘pulse’ setting and demand that I call him Disco Jared.
When he packed it for Mongolia, I didn’t think much of it. When I had to navigate a field of cow pats and skittish goats to get to the designated toilet hole at 10:00PM, I was so grateful it was there. It was also a bonus when the gers didn’t have electricity and we wanted to play games/read books/not sit around in darkness in the evenings.
Toilet Paper: It’s not just for wiping.
We brought a full roll of toilet paper to Mongolia from Korea, and bought two more while we were out there. Maybe it’s a western hangup, but I can’t get into hand-as-cleansing-device. I learned to always stash some toilet paper in my pockets and purse, because I never knew when a toilet opportunity would arise.
On the first night, our tour guide, Tushig, told us to stuff squares of toilet paper in our ears.
“Stop the small bugs,” he explained. “They crawl into your ear holes when you sleep. Very painful.”
See what I mean? Toilet paper. It’s multi-purpose.
Ziploc Bag and Laundry Powder
I read this tip once that you could do laundry in a plastic bag when you didn’t have access to laundry facilities. Well, guess what? It’s true. By the time we reached the White Lake, a week after leaving Korea, I was like that Pigpen kid from Charlie Brown – a barely discernible human surrounded by a cloud of dust.
I filled the bag with lake water, a little bit of laundry powder, and stuffed some dirty clothes inside. Zip the bag. Agitate. Voila! A do-it-yourself laundromat. Hung the clothes on the sunny side of the ger and everything was good as new.
As an afterthought, I think that bringing a small bottle of Febreze would be useful, too. Maybe a little over the top, but useful.
Peach Rings (or telling your guide you like wegetables)
Mmmmm, peach rings. You can get them from the State Department store in Ulaan Bataar, and at select convenience stores in Central Mongolia. Chocolate wafers and fizzy coke bottle candies are close runners-up. We had mutton for nearly every meal (except breakfast, when we had hard bread, jam, and goat-broth-scented tea), so peach rings and other snacks became like gold dust. They are surprisingly effective at wiping the oily mutton aftertaste from your mouth.
On day 7, we mentioned that we liked vegetables.
“You like wegetables?” Tushig said, surprised.
The van squealed into a supermarket parking lot next to a truck full of sheep pelts. Tushig returned with carrots, cabbages, cucumbers and onions. That night we feasted on a delicious vegetable soup while Tushig and the guide poked at their bowls with spoons.
But I’ll tell you what everyone liked – peach rings, that’s what. Peach rings.
What are some other Mongolian essentials? Leave a comment if you’ve got any ideas!