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Mongolia’s Naadam: The Festival of Three Games - 2020

Seoul, South Korea • Ulaanbaatar and Gobi Desert, Mongolia
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Just once a year, Mongolia comes together to celebrate Naadam: a dazzling, kaleidoscopic festival dedicated to the history, culture, and celebrated sports of this storied land. Part festival, part competition, part ebullient exhibition of national pride, Naadam brings people from all over the country to honor the traditions that have endured in Mongolia over millennia.

On this exclusive departure, you’ll have a seat in the stadium as the colorful spectacle unfolds all around you: performances, parades, fireworks, and an array of fascinating traditions at the heart of the Mongolian culture. The three main sports in this country — wrestling, archery, and horse racing — take center stage, but Naadam is so much more than just a competition. This is a truly unique event bursting with marvelous pageantry and deep resonance with the people of this proud country: So much so, in fact, that UNESCO has inscribed it on its Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

Of course, that’s just ONE of the many experiences you’ll have on this adventure in Mongolia.

This legendary land is renowned for its breathtaking landscapes, distinctive (and largely unchanged) culture, and of course, its world-changing history.  This destination will come alive for you on a nine-day adventure that includes 21 included features and Cultural Discoveries. You’ll enjoy a demonstration of Mongolian horsemanship, hear the famed “singing sands” of the Gobi, listen to the hypnotic harmonies of Mongolian throat singers, and witness the beauty of the timeless Gobi dunes. You’ll even get a chance ride a camel through the desert!

Plus, you’ll add another stamp to your passport: South Korea. Admire the largest and most beautiful of Korea’s “Five Grand Palaces,” explore the glittering capital of Seoul, savor a special BBQ meal, and more.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime type of experience, and space is limited — so make this the year that you travel to Mongolia for the world-famous Naadam festival!

What memories will you bring home on this adventure? Check out our photography page for inspiration, tips and tricks, and more. Explore now!

Departure date: July 5

Festival of the Games

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DAY 1:

Depart home

Board your overnight flight to Seoul, South Korea today.

DAY 2:

Arrive in Seoul, South Korea

We arrive in Seoul tonight and transfer directly to our deluxe hotel in the heart of South Korea’s capital. An evening arrival affords us the luxury of settling in and getting a good night’s rest before beginning our discoveries.

DAY 3:

Visit UNESCO-listed Changdeokgung, enjoy a BBQ lunch, and visit a hanok village

We’ll begin our adventures with a Welcome Briefing and Reception at the hotel, followed by some afternoon exploring. Our focus will be Changdeokgung, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Korea’s “Five Grand Palaces.” The entire complex of halls, pavilions, gardens, gates, bridges, and shrines was designed to harmoniously blend with the park-like setting.

You’ll also savor a special lunch which will introduce you to this country’s famous barbecue dishes. Korean barbecue, or galbi, has become immensely more popular around the world, and you’ll get to see (and taste!) the reason why during this delicious meal. While enjoying some of the delectable dishes that have garnered such fame for this east Asian cuisine, you’ll also learn more about their preparation and prevalence in Korea. Delve further into traditional Korean life when we walk through Bukchon, a historical hanok village of antique houses, courtyards, and alleys that is nestled between two royal districts. This evening, after joining your fellow travelers for a Welcome Dinner at a traditional Korean restaurant, take in sweeping views of the city from N Seoul Tower.

Included Feature:

  • Visit the UNESCO-listed Changdeokgung Palace
  • Stroll through Bukchon Hanok Village
  • Visit N Seoul Tower
Cultural Discovery:
  • Galbi Korean barbecue lunch

Included Meals:

Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner

DAY 4:

Discover the Largest of the “Five Grand Palaces” and learn about traditional Korean life

Built in 1395 as the main residence of the ruling Joseon dynasty, but abandoned for nearly 300 years after the Japanese destroyed it in a 1592 fire, Gyeongbokgung has undergone several restorations as well as repeated destruction during WWII and the Korean War. But the splendor of what remains is enough to explain why Gyeongbokgung is called “the palace greatly blessed by Heaven.” While here, we will visit the onsite National Folk Museum where you will learn about everyday Korean life through the ages, admire costume and crafts displays, and try your hand at using everyday implements.

We’ll then proceed to the Insadong neighborhood, a popular enclave of shops and old tea houses where you’ll get to sample a cup of the local brew.

Included Features:

  • Full-day tour of Seoul, including a visit to Gyeongbokgung Palace
  • Visit the National Folk Museum
  • Walk around Insadong neighborhood
Cultural Discovery:
  • Hands-on Korean folk arts class at the National Folk Museum
  • Experience a traditional tea ceremony at Insadong

Included Meals:

Breakfast  & Lunch

DAY 5:

Experience the Demilitarized Zone in South Korea and fly to Ulaanbaatar

Today’s excursion will be both electrifying and sobering, as we travel to the world’s most heavily armed border, the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea at roughly the 38th parallel. The DMZ was formed in 1953 when the North and South Korean governments agreed to an armistice (with prodding from their respective Chinese and American allies). On average, the buffer zone is about 2.5 miles wide and though it is lined with troops, electric fences, land mines and tank traps, it has also become a pristine nature reserve. When the two Koreas need to negotiate, they enter the DMZ at the village of Panmunjom and confer at the JSA (Joint Security Area), which you will be able to visit. Heavily armed North and South Korean soldiers standoff here in a tenuous truce, and this is as close as you can get to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (also known as North Korea). You will also have the chance to enter one of the four tunnels beneath the DMZ that were secretly dug by the North Koreans and later discovered. Also featured is the Dorasan Station Observatory where you can peer through binoculars across the border into the North. You’re going to want to have your camera or GoPro ready — the entire experience is thrilling and is filled with opportunities to take great photos to show friends and family back home — a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience! We’ll enjoy lunch at a local restaurant here, and at the end of our, transfer to airport directly for flight to Ulaanbaatar.

Included Feature:

  • Full-day tour of the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)

Included Meals:

Breakfast  & Lunch

DAY 6:

Explore Mongolia’s capital on a comprehensive tour

This morning, we’ll travel to a nomadic encampment on the edge of town. Here, we’ll get the unique opportunity to see how a typical Mongolian family lives in a ger (wood and felt tent) dwelling, as well as enjoying a demonstration of traditional horsemanship, livestock management, domestic crafts, and distilling. A delectable lunch will be served, introducing us to some traditional Mongolian specialties.

After lunch we embark on a panoramic city tour, which will introduce us to important sights of Ulaanbaatar, including Sukhbaatar Square (where the leader of the country’s revolution, Damdin Sukhbaatar, declared independence from China in 1921) and the National History Museum. A local guide will lead the way through Mongolia’s largest museum, which holds nearly 60,000 artifacts relating to the history of Mongolia and central Asia.

This evening, join your fellow travelers for dinner at hotel.

Included Features:

  • Half-day Ulaanbaatar city tour
  • Guided visit at the National Museum of Mongolian History
Cultural Discovery:
  • Showcase of Mongolian nomadic lifestyle at a nomad encampment

Included Meals:

Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner

DAY 7:

Experience the Festival of the Three Games

After breakfast we’ll transfer to the National Sports Stadium to experience the pageantry, excitement, and athleticism that is Naadam. It begins with parades and an opening ceremony and a speech by the Mongolian president. There will be more cultural performances before the first event commences: Mongolian wrestling. This single-elimination tournament pits 512 — 1,024 wrestlers who compete in nine or ten rounds. The first man to touch the ground loses and the victor is deemed an arslan or “lion.” Next we visit the archery field and watch as male and female teams vie to hit 33 targets. The final event is a race that celebrates the Mongolian tradition of horsemanship. Riders aged 5 to 13 saddle up on thousands of horses from all over Mongolia, racing up to 18 miles. You will enjoy a boxed lunch as we cheer on the racers.

Late in the afternoon we return to the capital, but the Naadam fun continues as the city celebrates with fireworks, parties, and performances. Share your impressions tonight at an included dinner in a local restaurant.

Included Feature:

  • Full day at the Naadam Festival opening day

Included Meals:

Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner

DAY 8:

Fly to the Gobi Desert to experience its beauty and wildlife

A morning flight brings us to the South Gobi Desert and our first desert camp resort, Dream Gobi Camp. Here you will take in the stupendous beauty of the steppes from your own ger, a round Mongolian tent made of felt and wood. Settle in, relax, and explore the facilities before we ride out to the Yolyn Am Gorge. Here, we behold a rugged oasis of sheltered canyons, unique wildlife, and a river of ice known as the Gobi Glacier. Keep your eye out for furry pica and birds of prey like the golden eagle or saker falcon. Before returning to camp we’ll also peek into the nature museum at the park’s entrance. Tonight after dinner, relax by the fire or do some stargazing beneath Mongolia’s “eternal blue skies.”

Included Features:

  • Visit Yolyn Am Gorge and the Gobi Glacier
  • Visit the Yolyn Am Nature Museum
Cultural Discovery:
  • Stay in a Mongolian ger tent

Included Meals:

Breakfast & Dinner

DAY 9:

Singing Sands and two safaris: 4 x 4 Desert Safari and Camel Safari

Today we leave Dream Gobi Camp and embark on a 4x4 desert safari to Khongoryn Els, a dreamscape of shifting dunes whose colors change with the light and whose sand particles emit a hypnotic “singing” sound.

In this more westerly location, you’ll enjoy a different desert perspective from your lodgings at the Gobi Erdene Camp. In the afternoon you will ride back across the magnificent dunes on a “ship of the desert,” a two-humped Bactrian camel. This camel safari takes about half an hour and allows you to experience this unique form of transportation amid the sand dunes of the Gobi Desert. Should guests not wish to ride a camel, there is also an opportunity to do some light trekking near the oases at the Khongor sand dunes. Later, enjoy a relaxing evening.

Included Feature:

  • Full-day excursion with 4x4 safari and camel safari at Khongoryn Els

Included Meals:

Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner

DAY 10:

Marvel at the “Flaming Cliffs” of Bayanzag

Our leisurely morning includes a ride back across the desert to the Dream Gobi Camp. After lunch, we’ll explore Bayanzag to admire its flaming “Red Cliffs.” It was here that the American paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrews unearthed the world’s first-discovered dinosaur eggs and other important fossils, such as the Velociraptor and Protoceratops. Andrews himself was said to have been an inspiration for the Indiana Jones character of Steven Spielberg’s epic adventure films. We’ll enjoy a bit of light trekking around the site before savoring a delightful picnic dinner. Imagine the scene: the light of the fading sun painting the cliffs as we enjoy our meal, perhaps recounting the day with fellow travelers as you soak in the stunning scenery. It’s the perfect ending to a remarkable day.

Included Feature:

  • Visit the “Red Cliffs” of Bayanzag
Cultural Discovery:
  • Sunset picnic dinner featuring Mongolian barbecue

Included Meals:

Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner

DAY 11:

See the towering Genghis Khan statue and fly to Seoul

Flying from Dalanzadgad, we arrive back in the capital and spend the morning at the unforgettable Genghis Khan monument. Standing 131 feet high atop a 33-foot-high coliseum, this stainless-steel behemoth is the world’s largest equestrian statue and a fitting tribute to a man who stood larger-than-life. Exhibits within the coliseum depict important events in Chinggis’ life, including his legendary discovery here of a golden horse whip that foretold his destiny. You can ride an elevator and emerge from between his legs to gaze at the lush Mongolian steppe from a deck atop his steed’s head.

Back in Ulaanbaatar tonight we will enjoy a delicious Mongolian feast for our Farewell Dinner, along with a marvelous musical performance — a Vantage exclusive. You will be dazzled by the costumed folk dancers and Mongolian throat singers, masters of an art form in which individual singers are able to produce multiple tones at once.

You’ll also have use of a dayroom to rest and relax before tonight’s transfer to the airport for our overnight flight to Seoul.

Included Feature:

  • Visit the Genghis Khan Statue Complex
Cultural Discovery:
  • Farewell Dinner with traditional Mongolian performances, including throat singing

Included Meals:

Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner

DAY 12:

Fly home

After arriving in the early morning hours you will have use of a day room near the Incheon airport. Take some time to rest and enjoy a leisurely breakfast before we transfer back to the terminal for our return flight home.

Please note: Arrive to your destination or home rested and refreshed! Convenient gateway city stopover options mean you can break up longer flights easily — just ask our Flight Experts for assistance.

Included Meals:


Important Notice: The above day-by-day itineraries are preliminary and therefore subject to change. If changes occur while on tour, you will be notified by your Vantage Adventure Leader or regional expert.

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Mongolia’s Naadam: The Festival of Three Games - 2020

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