After landing at the airport, you make a beeline for the idling car awaiting you. Exhausted after numerous flights and an unthinkable number of hours, you sink into the leather seat. Though you should be paying attention to your new surroundings, it’s hard to keep your eyes open. Not that there’s much to see en route to Ulaanbaatar anyway. You pass gray walls, shipping containers, and railroad cars. The capital city is pretty dreary. But then the car takes a left, and the prairie starts to open up in front of you. Instead of concrete buildings and traffic, you see sheep, camels, and bright green grass. Welcome to Mongolia.
You’re staying in Songino Khairkhan, west of Mongolia’s capital. Though one of Ulaanbaatar’s nine düüregs (districts), you feel more than an hour away from the bustling city. The verdant grassland, mixed with edelweiss, extends as far as the eye can see. It’s interrupted only by an occasional clear lake or mineral spring. While the snowcapped Songino Khairkhan Uul mountains are in the distance. The HS Khaan Resort Hotel stands in the middle of it all.
The HS Khaan Resort Hotel doesn’t look like a resort. Or even a hotel. Instead of rooms, freestanding gers (yurts) sit on a small hillside. Traditionally, nomadic tribes lived in the portable gers. The fabric structures could be easily transported as the season and the weather changed. Your white ger may look conventional on the outside, but the interior is completely modern. A glass wall covers the front, so you have a view of the great plains, the migrating birds, and, at night, the starry sky. Sheer drapes and pops of red make it look cozy. While a deep tub, set in the center of the ger, ensures your view is never disrupted.
After retiring early to catch up on much-needed sleep, you get out of bed when it’s still dark for the sunrise tour. From a nearby hill, you watch the first golden rays peek above the horizon, while wrapped in thick blankets and sipping coffee. A flock of cranes stretch and begin their long day of flying by the time the sky turns blue.
Despite being in what seems like the middle of nowhere, you have plenty of options for the day. Explore one of the nearby national parks. Khustain Nuruu was once a hunting ground for the last-ruling Khaan of Mongolia. Today, the biosphere reserve protects animals (Mongolian gazelles and lynxes) and birds (golden eagles and great bustards). While Bogd Khan Mountain is home to a monastery, hiking trails, and gorgeous views. Visit a nomadic tribe, who welcome you with suutei tsai (milk tea). Or have an English-style tea picnic on a carpet. Then tour the prairie on horseback. It’s the best way to see such a large area.
Regardless of how you spend your time, each day at the resort ends the same way. First, you sip a Mongolian beer at OD, the little bar. Then you soak in your tub in front of your ger’s huge windows and eat dinner in the antique-filled Tal Kheer restaurant. And you finish the evening at the camp fire, where you watch the wood crackle, sip a glass of wine, and listen to the country’s legends. Shooting stars are the only things lighting up the dark sky.