5 DAYS FROM $749
Munkh Khukh Tengri. It means “Eternal Blue Sky” and when you first lay eyes on the clear, cerulean blue heaven that unfurls above the Mongolian steppes, or gaze at a Milky Way so dense with stars you feel you could scoop them with your hands, you’ll understand why the Mongolians worshipped the sky and named their country for it. Travel in the footsteps of Genghis Khan into the Gobi Desert (where you will interact with nomadic people and also stay in a traditional ger tent), and greet the surprisingly modern face of Mongolia in Ulaanbaatar, with its rich cultural offerings. As a bonus, you’ll also explore the South Korean capital of Seoul, a mix of high-tech marvels and antique temples, palaces, and hanok villages where time has stood still. Another locale frozen in time is the Demilitarized Zone where, for 60 years, North and South Korea have held the peace in a tenuous truce. Thought-provoking history, dazzling culture, deluxe accommodations, breathtaking beauty — it all awaits on a journey as epic as the eternal blue Mongolian sky.
Depart home / Cross International Dateline on overnight flight
You'll cross the International Date Line during your overnight transpacific flight, meaning that you'll arrive in Seoul on Day 3.
Overnight flight / Arrive Seoul, South Korea
We arrive in Seoul early in the morning after a full day of flying and crossing the International Date Line. (You will therefore lose a day but regain it upon your return flight home.) After taking the morning to rest, we’ll meet for a welcome briefing and reception and 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.
This evening we’ll adjourn to the N Seoul Tower, a radio tower atop Mount Namsan that is the symbol of Seoul and a favored spot for its scenic city views, restaurants, shops, and exhibit spaces. We’ll take it all in from a revolving restaurant where we enjoy a festive Welcome Dinner.
Seoul, South Korea
After breakfast our full day of discovery begins. Start at Gyeongbokgung, the largest and most spectacular of Korea’s iconic “Five Grand Palaces.” 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, the complex 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.
After lunch at a local restaurant, you’ll delve further into traditional Korean life when we walk through Bukchon, an authentic hanok village of antique houses, courtyards, and alleys that is nestled between two royal districts. Our walk leads us to the Insadong neighborhood, a popular enclave of shops and old tea houses where you can sample a cup of the local brew. From here we call at the Jongmyo Shrine, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, and conclude our exploration in Namdaemun, Korea’s largest traditional market where you can browse 30 or so buildings and stalls overflowing with clothing, housewares, fabrics, jewelry, accessories, toys, food, flowers, stationery and appliances. The market is near our hotel, where we will reconvene later for our included dinner.
Seoul / Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) / Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
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 stand off here in a tenuous truce, and this is as close as you can get to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (aka 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. We’ll enjoy lunch at a local restaurant here, and at the end of our tour return to Seoul with time to relax before our evening flight to Ulaanbaatar.
After breakfast we’ll begin exploring Mongolia’s capital city, starting with Chinggis Square. Today it is named for the most famous Mongol of all, Genghis (Chinggis) Khan, but the square is also still referred to as Sükhbaatar, named for a hero of the 1921 revolution that declared Mongolia’s independence. The square is lined with government buildings and memorials to the most important khan and revolutionary heroes. It was also here that massive protests against Soviet oppression took place during the Democratic Revolution of 1990. Nearby we will also visit the Museum of Mongolian History, with an historian docent as our guide. After our lunch at a local restaurant, you will have the balance of the day free until we meet again for dinner.
This morning we explore Gandan Monastery, Mongolia's largest and most important Buddhist center. Built in 1809 and expanded in 1838, Gandan was one of about 100 monasteries in Ulaanbaatar at the beginning of the 20th century. Much of Mongolia’s religious heritage was laid waste during the purges of the 1930s, but Gandan was spared as a “showpiece” for foreign dignitaries until the 1990s, when the people began to once again openly practice Buddhism. Today, about 600 monks serve here.
We will also visit the Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan; and the Zanabazar Museum of Fine Arts, whose collection of Mongolian art from prehistory through the early 20th century is the best of its kind. It is also a repository of works by Zanabazar, a 17th-century artist and Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader who is known as the "Michelangelo of Asia."
From here we proceed to a nomadic encampment on the edge of town, stopping first at cashmere factory outlet store. Unforgettable moment: At the nomadic camp, we see how a typical Mongol family lives in a ger (wood and felt tent) dwelling, and enjoy a demonstration of traditional horsemanship, livestock management, domestic crafts, and distilling. An included lunch introduces us to some traditional Mongol specialties. Dinner tonight will be a western-style meal.
Ulaanbaatar / Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park
A morning flight brings us to the South Gobi Desert and our first desert camp resort, Dream Gobi. Here you will take in the stupendous beauty of the steppes from your own
Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park
Unforgettable Moment: Today we leave Dream Gobi Camp and travel by 4x4 vehicles 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 have the opportunity to ride back across the magnificent dunes on a “ship of the desert,” a two-humped Bactrian camel. Enjoy a relaxing evening.
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 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 we return to camp for dinner.
Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park / Ulaanbaatar / Flight 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. You will be dazzled by the costumed folk dancers and Mongolian throat singers, masters of an artform in which individual singers are able to produce multiple tones at once. Later tonight we’ll transfer to the airport for our overnight flight to Seoul.
Seoul / return flight to the U.S.
After arriving in the early morning hours you will have use of a Deluxe 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.
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.