Hafslo to Ulaanbaatar – and back again

Our route from Hafslo to Ulaanbaatar

After almost three years of planning we left Hafslo the 8th of June to drive to Mongolia, and we did it! We returned to Hafslo the 2nd of August, after almost 8 weeks on the road, by air and the car in a container from Ulaanbaatar.

You can see our route in yellow – not entirely correct, but close enough to give you an idea. The blue line is Tim & Isabel’s line coming from England. In total we have travelled more than 17000 km through 18 countries, and we’ll need a couple of months to process all of this.

In the meantime, here are some of the

Basic “Facts”

    • 4 people
    • 2 Land Rover Defenders
    • 8 weeks
    • Driving about 6000 km from Hafslo to the Iranian border, through:
      • Norway
      • Sweden
      • Denmark
      • Germany
      • the Czech Republic
      • Slovakia
      • Hungary
      • Serbia
      • Bulgaria
      • Turkey
    • Thereafter through the following countries:
      • Iran: 2000 km
      • Turkmenistan: 480 km
      • Uzbekistan: 770 km
      • Tajikistan: 1160 km
      • Kyrgyzstan: 1150 km
      • Kazakhstan: 1463 km
      • Russia: 1137 km
      • Mongolia: ca. 3000 km
    • In total, about 17160 km
    • through 18 countries (+ driving along the borders and looking into Afghanistan and China)
    • needed 7 visas and permit for entering 6 GBAO zones in Tajikistan (+ 1 visa to China that we didn’t use)
    • spent about 28 hours at border crossings
    • passed at least 50 police check points, and had to stop at about half of them
    • 5 bribes
    • highest mountain pass: 4700 meters above sea level
    • passing through several time zones, at the most we were 6 hours ahead of Norway

We did learn a couple of things

  • Very unlike some of the stories and advices we heard before we started, we left Iran with a feeling of having visited one of the most friendly places on earth!
  • The experience in Iran reminded us that there’s a difference between a regime and its people!
  • Samarkand is exactly as interesting as it’s history as the center of the Silk Route indicates
  • Highlight in the Pamir was the homestays and the people living there, perhaps more than the road itself
  • Mountain roads in Kyrgyzstan are underrated
  • It is difficult to find hotels in Kasakhstan
  • Police in Russia behave more or less similar to how they are described in guide books
  • One of the guide books advices that you should always confront police or other authority by asking for their ID. This might work occationally, but meeting them with a big smile and small talk about their fantastic country – or in the case of language problems, mentioning “football – Manchester United”, you might end up with a smiling police officer instead of a barking one
  • The roads in Mongolia are as bad as you expect
  • The roads in Turkmenistan are far worse than you’d even dream of!
  • You will get fined if you don’t wash your car after it has been raining in Turkmenistan (to compensate for the horrible roads?)
  • The Mongolian dish Khuushuur, a tradition at Naadam, is very tasty and delicious when coming fresh from the fryer
  • Traffic in Ulaanbaatar is absolutely horrible! (but we cracked the code!)
  • Rain in the Gobi desert makes it grow green!
  • Land Cruisers are more common than Land Rovers / Defenders in Mongolia, and more than once we had to explain, “No, it is not a Defender Land Cruiser”
  • Defenders are however better looking than Land Cruisers, and even military border guards queued up to have their photo in front of our cars!
  • Border crossings are sometimes closed (we experienced that in Iran and Mongolia) so make plans that allow for unexpected delays
  • On the practical side: When you apply for visas, say you need much more time than you do, because things happen! We used a company in Oslo, but they did not help us with this, so we had challenges with visas in several countries because we were delayed from the start because of the election in Iran (sitting in Iran waiting for the visa to the next country, knowing that if it is delayed you will no longer have a valid visa in Iran is not a good feeling!) Next time we’ll use TheVisaMachine – the company dealing with Mongol Rally (ouch, what do you mean “next time”?)
  • And finally, it might sound like a bad idea to drive all the way from Norway to Mongolia, but it is possible with a little planning, it is not as scary as we thought before we left, and – although we won’t recommend it for anyone – if you want to do it, go for it!

So in short, we had a fantastic journey, experiencing new landscapes, people and cultures every day, pinching each other’s arms to check that it was true that we were in Teheran or looking at Afghanistan from Tajikistan or driving in sand dunes in the Gobi desert.

Waking up early morning in Istanbul and being back home at Hafslo in the evening is also good!