Discovering the world with relentless curiosity

Category: Destinations

Radisson Sonya, St. Petersburg: A Literary Boutique Hotel

Step into Radisson Sonya in the heart of St. Petersburg to uncover the pages of one of Russia’s most celebrated literary novels – Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. If…

Step into Radisson Sonya in the heart of St. Petersburg to uncover the pages of one of Russia’s most celebrated literary novels – Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. If you’re like me, I knew nothing much about this novel but found a deep compelling sense to find out more after my stay at the Radisson Sonya.

The story starts in the lobby, a re-creation of the author, Dostoyevsky’s studio where he begin penning the novel. A large bookshelf filled with 100 or more copies of the novel in various languages and editions jumbled with some manuscripts and photos of Raskolnikov and Sophia, the two main characters of the novel.

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The novel is a tale of a gruesome murder committed by Rodion Raskolnikov, an impoverished student as a result of an ideological poisoning. Raskolnikov conceived himself as being an extraordinary person and believed that if he murdered a despicable pawnbroker, he can use the money to make the world a better place. After the murder, Raskolnikov went into a mental spiral, overthinking his crime and was literally eaten away by his thoughts.

The light of redemption illuminated when he met Sophia “Sonya” Semenova Marmeladova, a sweet middle-class girl forced into prostitution to save her family from bankruptcy. He confessed the murder to her and she talked him into turning himself in. He was sentenced to prison in Siberia and begun his transformative redemption.

The hotel echoes chapters of the novel through interpretive decor starting at the lobby with a large sofa taking the form of a Russian lacquer box beautifully painted with scenes from the novel and a dark-glass coffee table etched with a 19th century map of St. Petersburg where Raskolnikov, in the novel, spent many gruelling hours walking and contemplating the murder he committed.

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The hallway leading to the my suite is shadowy, accentuated by the dark printed carpets and pictures of old St. Petersburg in black and white, depicting the long wandering walks that Raskolnikov took around the city as his mind raced in delirium after the crime. Each room number is accompanied by quotes from the novel.

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Entering the Business Room, I initially thought there was a mismatch in its decor. It is not the run-of-the-mill business room with white-washed walls and minimalistic decor. Instead, the wall featured a painting of a woman’s arm, whom I later found out was that of the Sistine Madonna, a character mentioned in the novel. The room featured a lounge area, an extended sitting area in the small oval overlooking the busy street, a working desk and a modern dark-tiled bathroom.

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The combination of furniture, colours, patterns, art and objects have been carefully selected to enhance the Russian atmosphere and to make it creative and a little eccentric. After all, the novel is a whirlwind of frantic thoughts and events. There are only two suites at the Radisson Sonya and it features a grand photo of Napoleon, the very character that gave Raskolnikov the inspiration to murder the pawnbroker.

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Meandering through the hallways of Radisson Sonya and uncovering the little details that bear reference to the novel is an adventure on its own. Unlike any other boutique hotel, a literary boutique hotel is both a work of art on the part of the designer and the author.

Radisson Sonya is located along Liteyny Avenue and is a great starting point for exploring St. Petersburg. It is within walking distance to Nevsky’s Prospect and the Summer Gardens and a few subway stops to the famous Hermitage Museum.

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Baltschug Kempinski, Moscow: A Taste Of Luxury

Every city has a tourism heritage distinct to her own history, culture, tradition and socio-economy status. Very few ‘first’ hotels are still standing, much less in operation or thriving. It…

Every city has a tourism heritage distinct to her own history, culture, tradition and socio-economy status. Very few ‘first’ hotels are still standing, much less in operation or thriving. It was a great honour to visit one of the first 5-star hotels established in 1898 in Moscow, the Baltschug Kempinski. This luxury heritage hotel can’t be in a better location, overlooking the Moscow River and a panoramic view of the Red Square, the Kremlin and the unmistakable St. Basil’s Cathedral, Russia’s architectural icon.

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Built by the well-known Moscow architect Alexander Ivanov, the stunning facade embellished with decorative figures is the only remnants of the original building dating back to the reign of Tsar Nicholas II. By nightfall, the building illuminates and its reflection shimmers on the Moscow River, a great reminder of this hotel’s grand history.

The hotel is not short of VIP guests from international dignitaries to celebrities like Tina Turner and Sting. It’s hard to resist a charming hotel that’s a stone’s throw away from the Red Square with unobstructed views of St. Basil’s Cathedral. We were ushered into our Kremlin Suite, a beautiful and spacious suite tastefully decorated with luxurious European-styled furniture in shades of royal blue, dark grey, and creme.

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The suite has a large lounge area, a powder room, a small study desk and in a separate room with curved walls and windows looking overlooking the river and the Red Square is the master bedroom, the hallmark of the Kremlin Suite. The bedroom connects to a walk-in-wardrobe leading to a sensational bathroom featuring a standalone claw-footed bathtub on marble flooring, rainwater shower and a double dark-marble sink. I have been told that some suites have been designed by minor members of the British royal family.

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After catching a glimpse of the suite and its decadent decor, I was ready to taste the fine offerings of the Baltschug Grill. Chef Louis Badenhorst introduced himself and recommended some signature dishes – yellow fin tuna tatar and gazpacho for starters and for mains, prime steak cooked to perfection, paired with a red wine & thyme sauce and a green-pepper sauce and a grilled seabass on a bed of fresh greens and consomme. The table was beautifully filled with delightful side dishes like pommes allumettes (finely cut french fries), mashed potatoes, juicy asparagus shoots and a platter of cheese and crisps. Seth, our little toddler had his own serving of handmade freshly made pasta which he gobbled without much effort. Our amazing lunch ended on a perfect sweet note with a surprise from Chef Louis, a special that’s not on the menu – salted caramel ice cream macarons.

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The following day, we enjoyed another decadent breakfast at the Baltschug Grill. The open grill was whirling with activity and the restaurant offered a luxurious buffet spread of Russian favourites like blini and caviar, a salad bar, cheese bar, cold meats counter, overflowing sweet pastries, fresh fruits and other continental favourites like sausages, baked potatoes and eggs cooked in any way you desire. We sipped on beautiful rooibos tea and tucked into a hearty breakfast while enjoying the buzz around us.

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With professional and top class standards of service that befit the Kempinski Hotel group and as member of “Leading Hotels of the World”, the Baltschug Kempinski is a luxurious haven of peace and comfort away from the large crowds in Moscow city center, yet close enough to not miss out on the city’s happenings. I climb into my deep bathroom tub for one last soak, taking in all the grandeur this city has to offer – it truly is the glimpse of the glitz and glamour of the rich.

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Travel Guide: The BEST Of Siem Reap

There is so much to see in Siem Reap and this little province is bursting out of its seams with eateries, pubs, boutiques, markets and entertainment aplenty. Of course, you…

Siem Reap Travel Guide
There is so much to see in Siem Reap and this little province is bursting out of its seams with eateries, pubs, boutiques, markets and entertainment aplenty. Of course, you can’t avoid the fact that the magnificent ancient Angkor Wat sits at the very center of this booming province making it an essential destination when you travel Cambodia.

I have to admit, every time I make a trip to Siem Reap I’m bubbling with excitement – it’s that sense of familiarity – going back to favourite restaurants and massage spas, coupled with the sense of curiosity – trying out that new cafe or staying at the new hotel that keeps the anticipation stirring. I live three-hours away from Siem Reap, in the lovely countryside province called Battambang. While I absolutely love the laid back, friendly, local lifestyle here, I’m ever ready to play tour guide when it comes to bringing visitors to Siem Reap.

When, Smart Travel Asia contacted me to write a guide for Siem Reap, I was thrilled! The link below will lead you to a comprehensive guide to the province’s BEST. So pass the word around to anyone you know who’s planning a visit to Siem Reap – read it before you arrive, it’ll help you make the most of your visit.

P/s: If you have a few more days to spare, take a bus or a cruise to Battambang. I assure you, the people, ancient temples and old French buildings will make for a charming stopover.

Go to Smart Travel Asiahttp://www.smarttravelasia.com/angkor.htm for the full travel guide.
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Heritage Suites, Siem Reap: Hospitality With Heart

Cambodia’s a developing country, where the gap between the rich and poor is vast and the slow emerging middle class is the very stratum of society that indicate the country’s…

Cambodia’s a developing country, where the gap between the rich and poor is vast and the slow emerging middle class is the very stratum of society that indicate the country’s economic progress. Travel ten kilometres out of Siem Reap, Cambodia’s vibrant tourist town centre and you will see the real Cambodia – wooden stilt homes, lack of proper toilets and roads ridden with pot holes.

Now travel back to the heart of Siem Reap and the reality can easily be forgotten. Five-star and luxury boutique hotels, restaurants that cater for any palate with international standards in mind, wine bars and even designer boutiques – but none of these places are patronised by locals. They are established to serve the growing stream of tourists that have been increasing since the tourism boom in 2002.

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Those who stand behind the counter and serve the food and drinks are local Cambodians. They are young people who travel out from the countryside to seek employment in hope for a better life. Alongside this boom, organisations have sought to do more for Cambodia through social responsibility initiatives. You don’t have to look hard and long before you spot another initiative that sounds something like this: “Helping local Cambodians craft a future” or “Alleviating poverty one bag at a time”. While all this is great, I can’t ignore the fact that many organisations have also jumped on the bandwagon for marketing gain. Jarring leaflets and posters stuck on walls, tacky and thick compendiums in hotel rooms and websites claiming that they can save the world. When staff are asked if they know of the hotel’s social commitment, they simply shrug their shoulders and hand me another leaflet.

That’s why when I came across a hotel like Heritage Suites and an organisation like Sala Bai, I’m duly refreshed to learn of their genuine commitment and sustainable efforts in helping people through practical ways. In the sea of copycats, there are genuine organisations that want to help and find a way to make their contribution more meaningful and lasting.

Heritage, Creating A Legacy

The luxury 26 room and suites boutique hotel is tucked away in Slokram Village not too far away from the buzz of Pub Street and the Night Markets, but far enough for a peaceful retreat. During the day, I hear children from the local school laughing and chatting and school bells ringing just behind the hotel’s compound walls and at night, along the street leading to the hotel, I watch families sitting out on their verandah enjoying a meal of rice, soup and vegetables. The hotel in all its luxury and top-notch service is set amongst a local Cambodian commune – the very thing that preserves its sense of place and community charm.

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The facade is that of a French colonial building curtained by palm trees. The hotel’s lobby, restaurant and bar sharing the same space, a lofty open hall with a tall ceilings supported by timbers and grand massive candle lights hanging over top. The arched window panes and large panelled mirrors at the bar facilitate the flow of natural light and magnify the spaciousness of the restaurant.

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The same simplistic grandeur follows through into the suites. My bungalow suite had wall-to-ceiling windows with thick curtains that turn the suite from a bright and airy space into a slumber wonderland. The decor is minimalistic with an emphasis on Cambodian art and modern furnishings. The hallmark of the suite is the private steam room and stand alone oversized stone tub facing the private garden and open air shower.

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Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed my suite, I wanted to understand Heritage’s stand on their community efforts. So I sat down for a chat with Magnus Olovson, the hotel’s general manager, a seasoned hospitality professional who’s been in the industry for years and leading in his game. “I’ve been doing corporate hospitality for so long and when I was given the opportunity to return to old fashion hospitality, I jumped at it”.

“What is old-fashioned hospitality?”, I asked. “It’s where I get to greet every guest by name and learn about their day. It’s like welcoming people into your home”. Just then, he spots a couple behind the thick glass doors alighting from the hotel’s vintage Mercedez. He politely excused himself to greet some guests that have just arrived from the airport. After a few handshakes, some jovial laughs and a warm welcome, he returned and candidly said, “My guests are important to me but my staff are so much more important. Without them, all this would not be possible”.

Magnus continued to explain Heritage’s partnership with Sala Bai, a hospitality vocational school that have trained over 1000 students in the last 13 years and given them job opportunities at world-class hotels in Siem Reap and beyond. “Look around, would you have guessed that they (the staff) come from really poor families? Look at them now, they are thriving and building a future of their own”.

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Dressed in crisp black and white uniforms and a perpetual smile, the staff at Heritage Suites are all hands on deck. During my stay, I was met with prompt attentive service with the genuine warmth of Cambodian hospitality. I have stayed in Cambodia long enough to know that good job opportunities are hard to come by and even harder to keep. Cambodians, especially women have to battle with ongoing issues like human trafficking due to severe poverty and the social stigma that women are better off staying at home instead of working and earning a living. And those who fight through those battles have the chance to emerge as Cambodia’s new middle class.

Hope For Cambodia

Such is the story of Kim Hiv, a sweet, pretty, small statured lady with a big bright smile. At 27 years old, Thy Kim Hiv is the F&B supervisor at Heritage Suites and have hopes to climb the ranks in the future. Just five years ago, Kim Hiv’s story was extremely different. A graduating high schooler with no plans or means to further her studies, she heard from her neighbour about an application into Sala Bai school. She knew nothing about hospitality and her parents were disapproved of her decision to waitress as the job was frown upon and carried negative implications.

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After some persuasion, her parents agreed to her application into Sala Bai and she underwent seven months of intensive hospitality training with an additional four months of practical training. For Kim Hiv, this was the ideal opportunity as her food, lodging and tuition fees were completely paid for by Sala Bai and a job was guaranteed after her training.

“Heritage is my first job and I have been working here for five years. I am very lucky to learn about Sala Bai and when I started working, I help pay for my sister’s school fees”. Her family is one of many families living below the poverty line. They are simple farmers slogging to make ends meet. “Now, I am able to give my parents money too!”, Kim Hiv added with a wide grin. Schools like Sala Bai give hope to people who have little to look forward to. Sala Bai’s efforts are realistic with a clear goal in mind, to raise people from poverty and to create opportunities for a better life.

But the model won’t work without the commitment of hotels like Heritage Suites, the Raffles, Amansara and other trusted hospitality names. Heritage Suites give amateur hoteliers a chance to be further trained on the job and allow them equal opportunity to climb the ranks if they so desire.

As with all NGO organisations, Sala Bai is dependant on donations and have been thriving since with strong donor partnerships across the globe. Heritage saw an opportunity to give back and so every year since 2013, the hotel organises an annual charity gala dinner and auction at their beautiful property. This year in May, the gala titled ‘Changing Lives’ featured a culinary feasts prepared by Thailand’s rising culinary star Chef Thitid ‘Ton’ Tassanakajohn. The dinner was aimed at raising funds to help Sala Bai expand its new campus to accommodate more students. The gala was a glamorous success and Heritage raised a total of $15,000 in funds, which, for a property of its size, is truly remarkable.

Photo credit: Sala Bai

Photo credit: Sala Bai

Social responsibility can be a fad that fades off over time for those who jump on the bandwagon, but genuine organisations are those that go the extra mile because they believe in the cause that would outlast the organisations lifetime.

Claude Colombie, director of Sala Bai explained, “Our model very simple, in a country as poor as Cambodia, we need to find real solutions that help close the gap. We find the poorest of the poor, educate them and give them a job. That’s it! And this model has proven successful over 13 years, families who earn less than $500 a year now have a daughter or a son who earns half or more a month and are able to support their families”.

It’s incredibly remarkable what a door of opportunity can do for one life, one family, one community. At Heritage Suites, there are no garish posters that spell “DONATE” or leaflets in the room’s compendium. Instead, an unassuming bicycle with a simple poster at the entrance explains the hotel’s partnership with Sala Bai. Hotel guests can donate if they wish and donations help pay for school materials and bicycles for the students to get to their place of work. The truest and most sincere testament of Heritage’s commitment to social responsibility is in the people, people like Kim Hiv who live to tell her story.

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Exploring Pokrovka In Moscow

We arrived in Moscow after a 40-hour train ride from Omsk. Two nights on the train with mediocre food and no shower, I was ready to jump off the train…

We arrived in Moscow after a 40-hour train ride from Omsk. Two nights on the train with mediocre food and no shower, I was ready to jump off the train and explore Moscow. Coming from the east, we made stops at Ulan Ude, Irkutsk, Krasnoyarsk and Omsk – each city with its own distinctive charm but it lacked the buzz of a thriving metropolitan like Moscow. We exited the train station and caught a cab to our hotel. The sparkling clean city and her grand architecture stood out amidst the growing morning traffic.

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Moscow boasts the largest number of billionaires in the world according to a Forbes report with New York coming in second. I imagine this city has a lot to offer to satisfy the deep pockets of the rich. It wasn’t too hard to imagine when a group party goers followed from behind, dressed in designer cocktail dresses, to-die-for stilettos, crisp suits and shiny shoes as I entered into the lobby of Mamaison, an all-suites luxury hotel in Pokrovka.

This trendy property with a modern artistic feel is the perfect getaway for savvy executives, artsy hipsters and weekend staycationers. Our suite was bright and lively in a pastel palette of minimalistic and modern furnishing. It had all the mod-cons – a fully equipped kitchen, dining area, lounge and a separate bedroom with a large comfortable king sized bed. While the rooms are more modest in design, the wow factor is definitely in the choice of eclectic furnishings and elaborate chic-looking chandeliers at the hotel’s lobby and restaurant. mamaison1 Mamaisoniphone2

The neighbourhood around Mamaison was a great place to start our exploration around Moscow. Pokrovka Street is filled with dainty cafes, boutiques, upmarket bars and restaurants. When evening falls, the place comes alive and beats a different tune – friends mingling over a bottle of wine on outdoor terraces, live music from a nearby garden bar, families tucking into Japanese bento boxes. Walking the Pokrovka stretch was enough to convince me that Moscow is a melting pot of cultures.

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I later learned that the street itself had a wonderful history to keep. It was the first stone road build in the 17th century and it was the roadway that connected the Kremlin to the Tsars villages. This was an affluent and gilded neighbourhood speckled with large homes and opulent cathedrals. The glitz never wore off, instead it evolved with time. Old buildings and cathedrals have been restored to near perfection, some new buildings have been put up and sandwiched in between high-end restaurants and bars are small groceries shops – a reminder that this was once a residential neighbourhood.

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We cooked a full breakfast the following morning taking advantage of the fully equipped kitchen and fancy cutlery. Having slept in the train for two-nights, waking up to a sprawling living room and bacon sizzling in the kitchen is pure comfort.

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Putting it on the map: Mamaison All-Suites is located 40 minutes walk from the Red Square. That’s also where the Kremlin, Lenin mausoleum, GUM departmental store and the famous St. Basil’s Cathedral is located. It’s a 10 – 15 minutes walk to the closest metro station – Kurskaya Metro Station or 20 minutes walk to Kitay Gorod station.

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Terelj National Park: Explore Mongolia’s Backcountry

Why didn’t we visit Mongolia sooner and why didn’t we stay longer? Almost without fail, everyone we met while in Mongolia had plans to stay here at least two weeks…

Why didn’t we visit Mongolia sooner and why didn’t we stay longer? Almost without fail, everyone we met while in Mongolia had plans to stay here at least two weeks or more – some even up to a month! Initially, I was in disbelief – seriously, a month is a long time for one country, but it later evolved into an apologetic revelation with a regretful, “I wish I had planned a longer stay. I will come back for the Gobi desert, climb the Altai mountain range, bask at Lake Kovsgol, traverse Orkhon Valley”.

Safe to say, our experience at Terelj National Park remain one of the highlights throughout our TransSiberian adventure. Getting out of the city we passed undulating hills, plains flecked with gers and small country homes, and wild horses galloping in the distance with unrestrained freedom.

Trelj NP76We entered the national park after an hour plus on the road. I was looking forward to the seclusion and wilderness that it promised, but entering the park, I realised that this was a favourite holiday destination for locals – there were cars parked everywhere, holiday retreats on the left and right, gers made of brick and tour buses. After Naadam, locals made a beeline here for some rest. So, it’s not exactly off the beaten track. Thankfully, Terelj NP is massive, covering 1.2million acres of land – there is enough room for everyone to have their own open-plains experience.

The park is known for the gigantic Turtle Rock formation, named for its resemblance to a turtle. There are several monasteries within the park and we visited Ariyapala monastery. The climb up to the temple was unforgiving but the view at the top was well worth it. Inside the temple Buddhist monks sat crossed legged chanting almost in silent whispers, colourful flags danced to the gentle breeze and the wind chimes played a beautiful tune.

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Meeting Our Host Family

It was time to meet our host family, our four-wheel drive pulled into a small community of about five gers. Some horses grazing nearby against a mountainous backdrop. We entered into the family ger and felt immediately at home. The domed shape home was well lighted with natural light coming from the opening above, a sofa set, a tv, a few small cupboards and a small portable sink were lined neatly along its side. The centrepiece of the home as its kitchen, a wood-fire iron stove with a long chimney sticking up and out of the ger.

Trelj NP_iphone41Our host, Chan’gkhan (I think that’s how its spelt) was a pretty young woman with plump healthy cheeks and sparkling eyes is the mother to a one-year old boy and a superb multi-tasker. She cooks all meals, milks the horses every to hours, takes care of her son and ailing father and attends to all her guests. Her husband works as a horse herder and brings guests on horse riding trips in the summer. When winter hits and the tourist dry spell arrives, her husband travels to Ulaanbaatar and works in construction.

Trelj NP9During our stay, we were flanked with simple home cooked Mongolian meals. I had the privilege of helping and seeing how the meals were prepared. Fried meat dumplings called huushuur was my favourite. Light pastry with mutton, potato and onion filling deep fried to crunchy perfection. Huushuur is usually served with hot milk tea or a clear vegetable broth. We had man tou, a white flour fluffy steamed bread served with mutton soup.

Mongolia FoodMongolia food2Chan’gkhan offered us some mare’s milk, a sour fermented drink that tasted nothing like milk. I took a sip and politely declined seconds. We also had a steady selection of Mongolian tidbits – aaruul, dehydrated yak curds, hard cake-like biscuits and dried milk chips. It’s an acquired taste, I must say.

Mongolia Mares MilkAfter lunch, we walked to our ger about 100 meters from the family home. There were four single beds inside the ger each covered with pretty linen. Sunlight streamed in from above illuminating the beautiful hand-painted orange beams that held the ger in place. There was a small table in the centre and that was it. I appreciated the simple spaciousness it offered. But there was no electrical plug points, no toilet, sink or shower. It dawn on me that we were in for quite a camping experience.

Trelj NP_iphone6Trelj NP66Trelj NP64Trelj NP_iphone35The toilet was about 150 meters away where the horses grazed. There was a wooden box-like shelter that I thought nothing off, until I realised that that was our only toilet! I neared the wooden box and was already overcome by the strong stench – there was only two wooden planks over a deep pit and the only thing that seemed to be having fun were the flies! I made a mental note to avoid the toilet unless for emergencies.

Trelj NP_iphone33Besides the toilet conundrum, we had a wonderful stay. We went on horse riding trips and laughed when our horses had to stop for a wee and a poop. It wasn’t my first time riding a horse, but it was our first as a family and we enjoyed every moment of it – watching how Seth was completely drawn to every movement of the horse, patting the horse and saying, “You can do it!” and today, he sits on pillows and gallops away. Wonderful memories were made.

Trelj NP32We watched and marvelled at the strength of Chan’gkhan as she carried out her daily task. Every two hours, she would put on knee guards and with a bucket in hand she gets down and milks the mare. She makes grunting and hissing noises to coax the mare to let down while her father steadies the animal.

Trelj NP52Our days in Mongolia’s backcountry could not be a better introduction to the vastness and distinct culture and landscapes this country has to offer. We connected with a local family through our similarities of shared family value, our appreciation for nature and curiosity to learn about each other’s culture. Beautiful Mongolia could do with more marketing on an international stage, but somehow, I selfishly hope that Mongolia will stay a little less known because its rugged edge is what makes her special.     Trelj NP26

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Naadam Festival In Ulaanbaatar

It’s the biggest, most celebrated festival of the year in Mongolia, so of course the nation is going to go all out. The festival takes place over three days from…

It’s the biggest, most celebrated festival of the year in Mongolia, so of course the nation is going to go all out. The festival takes place over three days from 11 – 13th July annually with a grand opening ceremony on the first day. Over 35 thousand wrestlers, 40 thousand horse racers and 1,500 archers compete in Naadam’s competitions.

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital city will be jam packed with cars and shopping malls and streets are filled with people. Locals tell me that the people from the countryside drive into the city to join in the celebration. Hotels are fully booked and the opening ceremony tickets are usually sold out a week prior to the event.

Our hostel would only sell us tickets if we signed up for a full day Naadam tour with them. So we opted out. We decided to walk to the Central Stadium on the morning of the opening ceremony. The streets were eerily empty and we imagined everyone was at the stadium. Nearing the stadium, a carnival mood could already be felt – street vendors parked on the side of the road selling drinks, candy floss, helium balloons, stick-on tattoos, sun glasses, and Mongolian flags. Kebabs sizzling over pit barbecues cast a heavenly scent across the dusty road. It was an upbeat day and our hearts thumped to the music coming from the stadium.

No Tickets For The Opening, Until…

When we got to the stadium’s gate, we asked if we could go in. The gate attendant, a young lady (a volunteer, presumably) asked for our tickets. We told her we didn’t have one. A little disheartened at first, we backed off and tried to peek in. After a few minutes, Terence approached her again, this time he worked his manly charm. He pointed at me, with Seth in the sack – I gave her a weak smile and mouthed, ‘Please’ and a few seconds later, she waved us in. Terence’s ’have-some-pity-on-us’ plea worked! I was grinning from ear-to-ear and I clambered up the steps, gently pushed my way into the standing crowd and found a seat – it’s always good to have a child with you!

Naadam Festival is Mongolia’s very own Olympic Games. The opening ceremony is imposing and grand. We saw a parade of people dressed as ancient warriors, men and women in embroidered robes called ‘del’ and elaborate headdresses, along with burly wrestlers clad in blue and red briefs, soldiers, monks, traditional throat singers, pop dancers and bands. The atmosphere was eclectic. The costume details are unbelievable and for that few hours it felt like I was transported back in time during the Genghis Khan era. Naadam is very significant to Mongolia and in 2010, it was added into the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.

The festival’s local Mongolian name, “eriin gurvan naadam,” is translated as the “three games of men.” That is, archery, horse racing, and wrestling. Whereas horse racing and archery competitions have gradually incorporated women participants over the years, wrestling continues to be a highly male-dominated sport. Today, knuckle bone shooting is also part of the competition.

Here are some photos from the day.

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