My trip was very poorly planned. A lot of the information provided to me about my accommodations, schedule, contacts were incorrect. My final itinerary and the details of my trip were sent to me and i approved and paid, but after the payment, when it was time for the trip, the itinerary that was sent to me along with other documents and also the itineraries that were held by my guides at the location were different than the one i approved. I don't think it's ethical to change things after a client has approved a certain version and paid for it. And no one ever addressed this.
During the planning phase, i have made some requests and had some opinions but was recommended otherwise. I was told another hotel was better instead of the ones i requested etc. But i saw that i was right. The hotel they pushed was nowhere near as good as the one i wanted. The water in the hotel was brown and yellow, (i stayed in 3 different rooms, the water was brown each time) the furniture horribly stained, staff with little to no English. Other accommodations were specified as "smoking permitted" on my itinerary as i asked for smoking rooms. None of those facilities were smoking permitted. They had no smoking rooms and never ever had any so it can't be a misunderstanding. It was just deceptive. One accommodation that was stated as "king room" on my itinerary was just one single bed with no real mattress and no toilet paper in the room. I know luxury is rare in Mongolia but this was the smallest and simplest room in the facility so how could it be a "king room"? It wasn't. It was only a king room in my itinerary. One accommodation stated i was to spend the night in a traditional ger, yet i was given a regular room in a building.
Some of the meals in my itinerary were not provided. My guides were the ones with the most limited English i've seen among all the other tourist groups and guides at the location. Communication was an issue and i almost missed a flight due to this. The driver who was supposed to be "English speaking" according to MY itinerary did not speak a word of English and he was constantly late every single time.
Due to my itinerary and guides not being in accordance, i've had a lot of problems. I would be starving for hours because i thought there was going to be a meal yet the guide thought we were supposed to drive to some place that is hours away etc. Or i was under the impression that i would be checking in to my accommodation before any sightseeing therefore i would not dress for the weather thinking i will just be in the car until i can go into my room and change, so i would be freezing all day. ( I actually got very sick during my trip because of this.)
Also, that thing the company even mentions, "you will never be taken to shops and pressured to spend money" etc was not true. Right after getting off a plane instead of going to my accommodation like planned and hopefully eating something, i was taken to some place hours away just to visit someone's home. The person wasn't even home and i waited for hours. Then he arrived on his horse and posed for me for 30 seconds before he went inside and i was asked to pay him for this. So i traveled on dirt roads for hours on am empty stomach just to tip some guy.
I also don't understand scheduling a whole day of activities in a city i specifically said i was not interested in right after i get off from a 13 hour flight. Really? Is that what people are in the mood for after flying half a day? My itinerary said i would meet my guide in the afternoon after checking in to my hotel yet she was already at the hotel waiting for me the moment i arrived and i had to cancel because i needed rest. And that guide told me that my plane ticket for the next day was with my driver. She told me this at least 4 times during that day and i thought it was weird because why wasn't i given my tickets? Why would a driver hold on to them as if i'm a child? Next day, after no breakfast even though i was told i was going to be given a boxed breakfast by this "wonderful" hotel, the driver took me to the airport. He speaks no English, and i ask him for the tickets and he keeps saying no. He doesn't have them. He calls the guide at 4am and gives me the phone and she tells me that she gave me my tickets! I say no you specifically said the driver had them. She then said its with those papers i gave you when we first met, the sheet with the pink highlights. I check those papers and find a ticket with pink highlights and said okay and hung up. Even though i didn't understand why she told me the driver had them multiple times if she gave them to me the moment we met. Because she knew she didn't. Then the driver left and when it was time to check in, i give the ticket to the airline and they show me that this is a ticket for my later flight and not my flight for that day at all. the guide clearly knew this since claimed the driver had my tickets for a whole day and then changed it to "oh you have it" at the last minute just to get me out of her hair. And they don't speak much English either at the airport so i'm stranded there with no ticket and no phone because the amazing hotel that they chose could not find one single paperclip for me to remove my sim card and insert the Mongolian card. Yes, it was a real struggle to manage all this not miss that flight.
And yes, i said that i wasn't interested in Ulaanbataar yet most of my time was spent in Ulaanbataar.
I never had actual traditional Mongolian food other than when i was in Gobi even though a lot of meals were written down as traditional food.
A part i was really looking forward to, the Gobi was so so horribly planned even the guides were shocked. My guide and driver in Gobi were wonderful and even though the good stuff was not in my itinerary, they took me to the actual scenery. If they didn't and i stuck to the itinerary, i would have gone to the Gobi desert and seen no sand. They very graciously took me to these places to see sand dunes and the actual desert and made up for some of the terrible planning. And strangely, during the planning, the agency took it upon themselves to cancel the Gobi portion of my trip. It was really strange. I got an e-mail saying since the currency rates are not good they're canceling my Gobi trip because it's getting expensive. This is really bizarre, why would that be their problem? I didn't even give a budget, i said "unlimited budget" so why are they finding it expensive on my behalf and trying to cancel it? I stopped them from canceling it but i could tell they just didn't want to arrange the Gobi portion and were trying to get out of it. I can't explain it any other way.
I don't think i was actually even given a driver during the eagle festival. There was a car and a driver but he was not my driver for sure. He was more like a shuttle service that "I" had to respect the hours of. We would go to the festival hours before anything started because i assume he had other people to drive to, and the first day, even though the festivities were held until 9pm, i was told we were going back at 4pm. It's so bizarre to be told "we're going" by people you employ and pay for. He would not be around after dropping me off. He would leave and i assume, do other jobs so if "I" wanted to leave early, like i did the second day, he was not there and i had to wait for him. That's not what a personal driver is. My guide at the festival was a really nice man, but he was not a guide, i don't think. He didn't knew much about the games, did not know how they worked. He was just some man who spoke Turkish, which i never asked for. I would be fine with an English speaking guide.
I have pictures of the brown water in the hotel, the dirty roomi my "king room" and all that. It's really not a pretty sight. I can't believe they actually said that hotel was better than Shangri La and Kempinski. I also have the itinerary i approved and the itinerary that was used and all the differences and the incorrect information. It's all written down and easily proven. All those accommodations told me they never approved these requests and never gave that incorrect information and they actually did their best to help me. The fault very clearly lied with the agency. I don't blame any of the guides, drivers or accommodations for these issues. They were not the ones to plan this.
If there was honesty, i would have been completely fine with all of this. I am no stranger to rough travel. If they have been honest, i would have had the chance to manage my expectations, pack my own snacks, arrange my own meals, bring my nicotine patches and i would not be going through constant disappointment and frustration. The only actual problem for me was the deception. I've actually traveled under much tougher conditions.
Everything was going sour the moment i arrived in Mongolia but i convinced myself to just make the best of it as i knew complaining and arguing with people would only upset me and ruin my trip and probably not change anything at all as it was too late. I did make the best of it, Mongolia is amazing but this was very poorly planned on their part. I will definitely visit Mongolia again. On my own terms.
My guide and driver in Gobi were amazing. They were the best thing about my trip.
I would plan it myself i guess, as all of this would have easily gone better if i planned it.
[TRAVEL COMPANY'S COMMENTS]
This trip went to one of the more remote regions on earth, on the Mongol-Kazakh border for the Golden Eagle hunting festival. Due to the remote location of Ulgii (the small town nearest to the festival) regularly scheduled flights are not available. Special charter flights are arranged for the festival, and as is typical in a developing country, the schedule changes quite a bit, right up to the last moment. Our company delivered the itinerary to the traveler the most current version that existed at that time, by the time of travel it inevitably changed. We could have done a better job of alerting the traveler that the schedule could change and then the annoyance and inconvenience may be lessened.
In Ulaan Baatar, the client was booked at a hotel that is rated by our local Mongolian partner vendor as the best quality for value and location hotel in UB. We recommended it because of its superior convenient location and its floor dedicated to smoking as the traveler requested. Trip Advisor rates this hotel #4 of 65 hotels in Ulaan Baatar. We had received no complaints from prior clients who used the hotel in 2018. The 3 higher rated hotels (Shangri La, Kempinski) are much more expensive and not in as convenient of a location.
The poor English language skills of the guides are surprising as in past Mongolia tours with the current local partner they always assigned guides that had good language skills. As for the itinerary accordance, this was an unacceptable communication breakdown, the traveler should have been briefed on proper clothing for the weather and allowed to eat when she was hungry.
The Gobi Desert of Southern Mongolia is a very special place that requires 3-4 days to see thoroughly. Because of the traveler's tight flight schedule between Istanbul and Ulaan Baatar and the start of the Eagle festival, we only had 36 hours for her to fly to and see the Gobi. This is not nearly enough time for such a huge area. The traveler was warned of this prior to booking yet she still wanted to see it in the time we had. We suggested eliminated the Gobi to focus more on the Eagle Festival and Central Mongolia, but she insisted on keeping the Gobi. We crammed absolutely as much sightseeing as possible into the woefully short time frame. We can understand the traveler was disappointed to only scratch he surface of this exotic place in the limited time she had.
Obviously many aspects of service were not up to standard on this first day of the traveler's trip. We fear this poor service created a negative attitude that persisted for the rest of the crowded and travel-filled tour. Again, we investigated and warned the guides that this type of poor service will not be tolerated in the future.
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