The Great Mystical Taiga · Part 2: How to get there?

What should you expect?

The whole trip will be very uncomfortable but moderate physical activities. The hardest part is winter; it could get as cold as -40 degrees Celsius and even worse in those windy days. You will stay in a teepee with no floor, wooden beds make out of logs, only with a wood-burning stove, some blankets or animal skins to keep you warm. You have to keep the fire going before bedtime, or else it would be a cold and uncomfortable sleep through the night. We used to wake up around 5 am to warm up the stove again.

Inside teepee

Similar to trekking in the forest, there is no functional toilet, no running water, neither internet nor electricity, but they use solar power for lighting at night.

Our natural toilet

Reindeers can only carry up to 80kg, ideally around 70kg. You can use a horse if you are heavier, but not over 100kg. Pack only the necessities in a soft backpack or duffle bag with you, no hard-cased luggage.

It’s going to be a long journey to get there. Driving on bumpy dirt roads and frozen lakes for two days, and then you’ll face at least 3 hours to 2 days on horseback to the camp (depending on which camp you come). Bring medicine if you have motion sickness.

When is the best time?

As I mentioned in part 1, there are 3 camps in Taiga.

1. Summer Camp (March- July)
It’s tourist season. So you should expect to see more visitors around in this area, can be up to 20–40 visitors at once. For this camp, it will take you about three days on horseback since the people and reindeers move further to the top of the mountain for lower temperature(reindeers cannot live in hot weather, maximum around 24–26C)

2. Autumn Camp (August — September)
This camp is surrounded by a fantastic colour palette of the autumn forest. It starts getting colder at night, but still bearable. You can reach this camp by two days riding.

3. Winter Camp (October — February)
This is the closest camp that is reachable by car, but you are still challenged the harsh winter. It’s harder to get water since everything is frozen. Daily physical activities also seem more problematic during cold and windy days. However, you will see a magical scene like a wonderland when the forests and mountains are covered by snow.

Twilight at nowhere on the road.

East or West?

Taiga people separate to 2 different areas, knowns as the East Taiga and the West Taiga. Both camps are home to around 20 families, respectively. Culturally, there is no difference between East and West, the reason they split into two areas because of woods and grass supplies for reindeers.

Teddy Bear, her daughter and I / Having tea inside Shaman’s teepee (Aka Aje)

Plan Your Trip

Tsagaannuur Village

From this part, I would like to quickly quote from the article of Cara Crawford as a reference, since she noted down pretty clear steps by steps :)

This is not a trip that you can do independently. You need to contact a local tour operator to get a border permit. Most of Mongolian cannot speak English, so without a guide and driver, it is impossible to reach the Tsaatan camps. A great translator is a must to get into the community.

The Tsaatan Community & Visitors Center (TCVC) is the Tsaatan community that forms a link between the reindeer herders and the tourists who come to visit them. Their goals are to maximize the economic benefits of tourism for the Tsaatan people by coordinating with tour companies and providing services such as local guides, horses, and cooks, to protect the environment of the taiga.

Option 1: Contact Tour Mongolia or another Tsaatan Community & Visitors Center (TCVC) endorsed tour operator

This is by far your best option for visiting the Tsaatan reindeer herders. By booking through a TCVC approved tour operator you’re guaranteed an easy and stress-free trip planning process that results in an amazing trip for both you and the local Tsaatan community.

Recently, only one agency still corporate with TCVC that is Mongolia-expeditions. They provide excellent service. Zaya and her husband* are working in this agency as a tour guide & driver.

Some information on the TCVC website is no longer accurate since the owner is disappeared; Zaya cannot access the website to update information.

  • About Zaya: She is a Mongolian woman who grew up in the US, but met her Dukha husband ten years ago while working at the Tsaatan Community Information Centre in Tsagaannuur (TCVC). You can find many articles about her on the lonely planet and google.
Zaya grew up in the US and studied a bachelor in Shanghai, but decided to be a part of reindeer herders for love with her husband and nature.
Ultsen (Zaya’s Husband) is an experienced and careful driver. You can feel safe when going with him either by reindeers or driving offroad.

Option 2: Contact the TCVC directly or their English speaking operator, Zaya

To arrange a trip to the Tsaatan camp with the TCVC, you can either contact them by email at visittaiga@gmail.com or contact Zaya, the Tsaatan’s only English speaking community member at zaya_004@yahoo.com or by calling her at +976 99770480 /+976 98840143 . To reach Zaya, it’s best to make contact between November and April when the Tsaatan is at their winter camp, and she has access to internet and phone signal.

You definitely can get a lower price with this option. (plus Zaya and Ultsen — excellent translator + driver). However, you need to email her at least 2 -3 months in advance since she can only access the internet when going to town.

Option 3: Book Through 99 Guesthouse in Ulaanbaatar

You could read more details here

However, I would not recommend this option. Those guesthouses have lousy service, and they usually promise to have good translator, driver, and cook; but not. What they do is asking some local people who barely know a few English words to pick you up from Tsagaannuur to Taiga camp. Without a useful tour guide, your trip will be a waste since you can only be there as an observer without understanding the culture and people.

Itinerary from Ulaanbaatar to Moron.

On the way to Tsagaannuur Village
Tour Map

See Tour Map Here:

Step 1: Ulaanbaatar — Moron

There are two options for traveling to Moron from Ulaanbaatar, take a 1 hour and 15-minute flight or a 12-hour bus. If you’re planning your trip from Ulaanbaatar and haven’t booked ahead of time you’ll probably have to take the bus as there are only a couple flights a day to Moron on small planes and they usually fill up fast.

A public bus from Ulaanbaatar to Moron costs around $30 US dollars one way while flights costs $200–300 round trip.

Step 2: Moron — Tsagaannuur Village

Once you’ve made it Moron, if you’ve got a guide already they will pick you up at either the bus station or the airport depending on which mode of transport you took, and take care of the rest of your transportation from there.

If you don’t have a guide I’d suggest you stay at a guest house in Moron and inquire there about arranging a driver to take you to Tsagaannuur Village. Public transportation to Tsagaannuur is scarce so you’re better off just hiring a driver.

Hiring a driver from Moron to Tsagaannuur will cost you $100–200 in fuel plus $30–50 dollars a day for the driver.

You can see how this trip can add up quickly, even doing everything independently. It’s part of the reason why all the organized tours to the taiga are so expensive as they have to cover their costs and then make a profit on top of that.

Fuel is astronomically expensive in Mongolia so any type of overland journey by car or bus is going to cost a pretty penny. Transportation costs add up fast when you have to travel long distances, and the journey from Moron to the taiga is over 300 kilometers.

If you’re opting to go independent on this trip, you still need to find a local agency or guesthouse to get border permit.

Step 3: Tsagaannuur Village — Tsaatan Camp

In Tsagaannuur Village, you can stop by the TCVC to arrange horses and a guide to take you to the Tsaatan camp.

Five things you need to know before the trip:

  1. Some agencies may try to bring you to the “Commercial” or fake reindeer herders near Khovsgol lake. That location is reachable by one-day driving from Moron. There is no way to reach the Taiga camp less than 3 to 5 days by car and horse.
  2. Bring some practical gifts for your host and other families. Practical gifts are battery, soap, tea, lotion, notebooks & pens (for kids) since it’s hard to get those things in a remote area. Don’t bring too many candies for kids, since there is no dentist in the village. Also don’t give them alcohol, we should not encourage the bad habit.
  3. Learn some essential words for greeting. Do not enter a teepee without greeting first, asking permission when you take their photos, especially when you bring a professional camera and drone. People feel annoyed sometimes when visitors behave like they are in a “zoo”. Please respect their privacy.
  4. Taiga people don’t have much income. Please help the community by buying some carvings on reindeer antlers. Those are beautiful artworks at a reasonable price; you cannot find anywhere else in Moron or UB.
Carvings on reindeer antlers

I hope you will have a great experience like us :) Please don’t hesitate to pm me if you need more information.

Other useful articles for your reference :)

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Anh Pham (AP)

Anh Pham (AP)

Product Designer. I believe joy exists in simple forms, so does design. I’m studying joys for a living.