Part of my tour into the Gobi Desert in Mongolia involved visiting the singing sand dunes of Khongoryn Els.

Khongoryn Els is the name of the southernmost part of the Gobi Desert where there are massive sand dunes. This was the highlight of my Mongolian desert tour. It was incredible to see and experience such ginormous sand dunes.

And like I’ve said before, I am strangely drawn to the desert. For some reason.

Khongoryn Els is the only place on the tour where we spent two nights in the same ger camp. This gave us a full day to explore this interesting little corner of the world.

There were several small ger camps in the area. Our ger camp was small, and my group was the only tourists there. The ger owners were often busy cooking or herding camels.

But when they were free, they would sit outside their ger in the sun, they’re skin becoming darker and leatherier by the day.

When we arrived in the afternoon, we unpacked and settled in our gers. Our wonderful tour guide was quick at work to prepare a delicious meal for us. And the driver was either to be found making friends with the people who lived there or else laying under his car.

I don’t if there was a problem with our van, but it seemed that every time we stopped, he was underneath it fixing something. Or just sleeping.

We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging around the ger camp.

The owners of the ger camp had their own herd of camels. Some of them were roaming near the front of the ger.

It pained me a little bit to see that they had wooden spikes through their nose to lead them around. But who am I to tell these people how to look after their camels.

Read: Mongolian gers and the kindness of a nomadic people

They also had leather and fabric saddles on their backs for riding, and I knew tomorrow one of them would be mine. Mwahaha…

Some other camels were free to roam around the desert. As the day was coming to an end, there was a bit of commotion with our hosts. It turned out that while someone had gone to collect the camels for the day, one of them was missing.

They were worried that it waded too far into the muddy pond (yes, there was a pond in the desert) and was stuck. If that was the case, the poor family might not be able to rescue it and they would be down a camel.

I don’t know if they ever found it.

The next day was the beginning of our full day at Khongoryn Els. We had a lot of adventure planned.

The first fun thing we did was ride camels.

The second fun thing we did was hike up the Khongoryn Els sand dunes.

After riding camels, we walked over to the sand dunes to hike up the largest sand dune and watch the sun set from the top.

Khongoryn Els is a wide range of sand dunes. It is about 12 kilometres wide, 100 kilometres long. I can’t find a definitive answer on the height of the highest point. I suppose it changes all the time because of the wind. Anyway, I have read it can reach 800 metres in some area.

Here are some photos from the place we were. Judge for yourself how high you think they are here.

khongoryn els

sand dunes

I have never hiked up sand before. Let me tell you, it is challenging.

The sand here is loose, and for each step up you take, your foot slides down at least half a step.

I think I am pretty good at powering through difficult hikes, and it took me 45 minutes to reach the top. It was hard. Some areas near the top are steep, and you need to use your hands to help pull yourself up.

Finally, I reached the top. I was tired and sweaty, and my shoes were full of sand.

But, the view was unlike anything I had seen before. We were definitely on the highest dune in this vicinity, but the sand dunes on the other side stretched and waved into the distance.

The sun was sinking too, so the colours were changing from yellow to orange to pink.

Again, I will let these images speak for themselves.

top of sand dunes

big sand dune

The title of this post calls them the “singing dunes.” This is because when the wind hits them the right way, they make a sound.

I wasn’t sure what they would sound like, but a few times I heard a deep hum/vibrating sound. Looking it up online now, the sound is like a plane engine.

So maybe I did hear it after all. Tight.

Some other people were sliding down the sand dunes. They had pieces of cardboard, or else were just sliding on their own butts. It was funny to watch them take a running jump down the hill and then slide for a bit.

sand sliding

Soon the sun was setting though, and it was starting to get cold.

When it was time to leave, it was annoyingly easy to climb down.

While coming up, you lost half a step of ground each time. But going down, each step slid down and counted for about three steps. It only took a few minutes of running/sliding to reach the bottom.

Compare that to the 45 minutes to an hour to reach the top.

At the bottom, my shoes were once again filled with sand.

I had definitely worked up an appetite in the last couple hours. So after we had all reached the bottom of the massive singing sand dunes, we wandered back over to our ger camp for dinner.

By the way, I still have a photo in a photo contest at Indy Guide, a site for tours in Central Asia and Mongolia. My photo is, ahem, not doing so well. It has 19 votes, while the top photo for this month has over 200. At least it is still on the first page though. Anyway, here is the photo if you feel like trying to bump it up. Cute, right? * UPDATE: CONTEST CLOSED

little boy and get in mongolia

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11 Comments

  1. Thanks for visiting my blog and in turn having a chance to see this incredible post! A random guy I met in my university once told me that he travelled around Mongolia on a horse for a month. Now I don’t know how true it is and how he happened to pick this place of all but his description of the desert is exactly what I see in these pictures.

  2. Wauw! This is so awesome! This makes me consider whether an expensive visa is really enough of a reason to postpone my visit to this country. The first time Mongolia got my excitement was after I had seen a documentary of man who wanted to reach manhood in many cultures around the world. To hunt using a tamed eagle.

    • I don’t remember my visa being too expensive. It was a really fun trip though. I didn’t watch the eagle hunting, though I did meet a Kazak guy who had an eagle and a vulture. Mongolia is so interesting, and each part of the country is so different. I hope you will reconsider and take a trip there.

  3. Oh boy yes, I have climbed a sand dune – it is nothing less than a workout on a stairmaster – and then been dragged down it by my impish husband in the deserts. Screaming and running down the dunes is highly recommended 😉 Your post had me at the ‘singing sand’ in the title. Even if one has not been to the dunes, he/she can just imagine the whistle of the wind in the sands. These Mongolian tales of yours are inspiring, Jen x

    • A stairmaster is a good comparison. It does feel like you will never reach the top. I didn’t even know sand dunes made any kind of noise at all, so this trip was filled with learning experiences. Memories.

      • Tell me about it. I love climbing but I think a sand dune kinda throws the gauntlet at you – because you keep slipping and trudging your way up, it does become that much harder. I remember being a bit annoyed with my husband because he insisted on it and it is usually the other way around with us. Memories indeed 🙂 You raked up some of mine! x

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