Quite a trip: the 10,000 mile Mongol Rally is underway

This is a Hipmunk post from Jodi Ettenberg of Legal Nomads

Passing over a huge swath of land from London to Mongolia, 10,000 miles in all, is the Mongol Rally. With 8 time zones, no set route to follow and no help or support available once you set off, it’s a crazy run. The rules require a tiny car (maximum 1.2 litres in engine size), a minimum charity contribution and serious drive for adventure. Also, some time – on average, the trip takes close to 6 weeks.

Since its inception in 2004, the Mongol rally has attracted participants from 18 to 74 years old, requiring a total of 41,539 visas as they started accepting applications for the 2011 race. As this breakdown shows, in that same period of time (2004-2010), the teams have suffered 9 breakdowns each on average, a total of 34 crashes and have altogether consumed over 217 goat testicles and paid out $9,890 in bribes. 

In short, not for the faint of heart.

(On the plus side, however, the teams have raised over $1.6 million for charity – and rising.)


From the official Mongol Rally site, their mission is set out thusly:

Imagine you’re lost in a massive desert, hundreds of miles from civilisation, driving a car even your granny would be embarrased by. 50% of your wheels just fell off and a search for tools turns up a dirty sock and two dried apricots. This is what the Mongol Rally is about. Getting stuck, lost and in trouble, then finding your way out armed with just your wits and the sock and apricots. It’s about setting forth to tackle 1/3 of the surface of the Earth; unprepared, ill-advised and with no idea of what might happen. What you generally find is a whole giant shit heap of adventure. 10,000 miles of pure adventure over mountains, deserts and some of the most remote, challenging terrain on the planet. All in a tiny car designed for doing the weekly shop.

Or, from the event’s Official Handbook (PDF): “Take a dump on health & safety – do the Mongol Rally”.

The Social Media Syndicate’s Mongol Rally Car for the 2011 rally. Photo Credit: The Planet D

They’re not kidding about the small cars.

It’s not just cars, either. There are motorcycles too, and many ambulances as well. (When you think about it, an ambulance is a pretty good bet for a rugged, safe vehicle that needs to go 10,000 miles.)

The rally, which kicked off July 23 in London, will continue for the next several weeks. This is not a race – the point is to make it through unscathed (or as unscathed as possible), raise money for charity and have an incredible adventure. In addition to the entry fee and minimum charitable donation, at the end of the rally the cars are donated to charity in Mongolia before the teams head home.

Mongol Rally’s kickoff party, The Festival of Slow. Photo credit: Mike Sowden

You can follow the many teams on the official site`s map, a Marauder’s Map of all the teams and their location on one screen.

I’ve been following fellow travel bloggers Rick, Dave, Deb and Sherry of the Social Media Syndicate on their crazy adventures, and I’ve been seriously considering doing the rally myself. Until then, I’ll just have to stick to the crazy stories coming out of the 2011 rally run!

Where’s the craziest place you’ve slept while traveling?


This is a Hipmunk guest post from Jodi Ettenberg of Legal Nomads

With news that Hipmunk has improved its hotel search to speed up and streamline results, I thought I’d turn to the quirker side of accommodations and see where Hipmunks have stayed that deserves a mention.

In my years of round-the-world travel, I’ve certainly had my share of strange places to sleep. 

For starters, this:

Having driven 8 hours out of Ulan-Bator in Mongolia into the Gobi desert, I was staying with a nomadic family near the ancient site of Gengghis Khan’s Karakorum. This tent-like structure, called a ger in Mongolia (or a yurt in other central Asian countries), comes with a very strict series of rules. The inside of the ger is divided into two parts, one side for men and the other for women, with their respective tools (cooking pots on the woman’s side, saddles and hunting materials on the men’s side), separated out by supportive pillars.

Mongolian culture is replete with customs and deeply ingrained superstitions, each taken very seriously. Among them is the prohibition on walking between the pillars inside the ger – always walk around them. This was hard to remember, but under the watchful eyes of my hosts, I did my best to make sure I was respectful. 

The pillars inside the ger:

Given that this was the Gobi desert, there wasn’t any toilet in sight and the family did not use an outhouse. Instead, they dug a hole about half a kilometer away, topped by a wooden box. For short people like me, this was semi-private; for taller people let’s just you wouldn’t be able to hide much. After I settled in, I realized that there wasn’t a direct path to the toilet because these guys:

were in the way.

The family had 500 horses (the horse to person ratio in Mongolia is 13:1, so this was a fairly established family) and over 1000 sheep and goats. In the middle of the night, this was a bit of an issue. These sheep and goats would come in toward the ger for warmth, and it was impossible to make my way to the bathroom with a headlamp to guide me. I can’t count how many sheep I tripped over before I gave up and went back to bed until daybreak.

Overall, this remains one of the most memorable places I’ve stayed. For several days, isolated in the wilderness with animals and a family of nomads, heating my ger with sheep’s dung (yes, it stunk) and sharing meals around the fire at night. 

The family’s grandmother (59 yrs old) and her great-granddaughter (4 years old)

So where’s the craziest place you’ve ever stayed on your travels? I’ve enabled photo replies in the comments – let us know in pictures or words!

Awesome Animals of the World and Where to See Them

This is a Hipmunk guest post from Jodi Ettenberg. Her views and opinions are hers alone and do not represent Hipmunk. 

1. Land Iguana.  Endemic to the Galapagos Islands, Charles Darwin described these yellow and orange reptiles as “ugly animals . .  from their low facial angle they have a singularly stupid appearance.” Stupid or not, they’re incredible to see in person and at a length of up to 5 ft (and 25 pounds), a sea of land iguanas is a wondrous thing to behold. 


Land iguana on Fernandina Island, the Galapagos

Where? The Galapagos Islands, off the coast of Ecuador. Fly into Quito, and onward to San Cristobal on the Galapagos. Boat trips must be booked to see most of the islands; many are off limits because of the fragile ecosystem and can only be visited with accredited tour guides. Boat trips can be booked with a wide variety of agencies, but I’ve used Sangay Touring with great success.


View from Bartholome Island, the Galapagos

2. Blue Poison Arrow Frog. The dendrobates azureus is a type of poison dart frog, iridescent and shimmering blue and found in the forests of Suriname and Brazil. Also known as the blue poison dart frog, it’s one of the more beautiful – and dangerous – frog species out there.


Where? Probably best to view these extremely poisonous frogs at New York’s Museum of Natural History, where their “A chorus of colors” exhibit of the world’s most bright, poisonous and enormous frogs has been lauded as a big success.


New York sunset from the Brooklyn Promenade.

3. Goats. I’m a big believer that goats are underrated animals, falling to the wayside while shiner ones take center stage. In my travels, I’ve had many great sunsets and quiet moments made even better by the presence of an adorable goat like this one, taken at Burma’s Bagan.


Where? Bagan, the site of thousands of ancient Theravada temples strewn on plains the size of Manhattan. Located in Myanmar, Bagan is a lesser known but beautiful place to see temple ruins if the crowds of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat are too claustrophobic. To get there, you’ll need a visa ahead of time and a flight to Yangon (most easily accomplished via Bangkok). No tour agency is needed – independent travel is the best way to see Myanmar.


Buledi temple at dawn, Bagan.

4. Elephants. Certainly tough to see these beautiful animals in the wild, regardless of where you are in the world. The unfortunate prevalence of trekking trips that include elephant rides or elephant shows don’t afford a responsible way to appreciate these big grey beasts.


Elephant at Chiang Mai’s Elephant Nature Park. [Photo credit]

Where? The Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai is a perfect solution for those who love elephants but don’t want to take tours that might be damaging to them. The Nature Park serves as a sanctuary for abused and mistreated Asian elephants, rescued from a wide variety of situations. Some were worked to the bone while logging or trekking, others were street elephants, begging with their mahouts for change. See Justin’s one-week volunteer wrap up for a personal account of a week at the park.

5. Camels. Like goats, there are many places to get up close and personal with camels on a your travels, from Jordan desert trips to Wadi Rum to the Sinai in Isreal to Morocco. But my favourite was a trip to Mongolia, staying with nomads in the Gobi Desert. Nothing like hugging a camel before you go to bed in a yurt



Where? You’ll have to fly into Ulaanbaatar and drive 8 hours into the Gobi desert, but it will be worth it. Alternatively fly into Beijing and take the Trans-Mongolian train into Ulaanbaatar, a slow but fascinating way to see beautiful scenery and experience local culture. Trips into the Gobi can be booked with Shuren Travel.


Erdene Zuu monastery in the Gobi Desert.

(Note: any tour companies I recommended in this post are ones that I’ve used and are recommended on that basis. Unless otherwise noted, photos were ones I took from each of the destinations mentioned here.)


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