Travel isn’t about snapping photos of places already immortalized in postcards, it’s about the personal connections forged while experiencing someplace or something new. It’s what drives Buyantmaa, also known as Bugina. She has been a tour guide/expedition leader with Nomadic Expeditions for three years but traveling, and sharing, the world has been in her blood from the very beginning. Born in Ulaanbaatar, Bugina’s father was the trade attache for the Mongolian foreign ministry in Laos, Thailand, and Moscow. “We traveled a lot because of my father’s work, but he loved his birthplace and missed Mongolia,” she says. “He wanted to wake up by the lake.” Bugina got her start in tourism thanks to her father, who created and ran a camp in Irkutsk (in Siberia) after leaving his position with the government. After studying in London, she returned to help run her father’s business. She sought a graduate degree in tourism management in Ulaanbaatar and joined Nomadic Expeditions a short time later, first as general manager at Three Camel Lodge, then as a guide three years ago. She often leads trips to the Gobi, Kharakhorum, and Lake Hovsgol. Bugina recently visited Nomadic’s United States office and we sat down to chat with her.
Question: What do you enjoy about your job as an expedition leader?
Answer: I really like getting to know my clients. I get to understand their personalities and their likes and dislikes.
Question: Do you have any memorable interactions with clients?
Answer: Absolutely! In 2015, I traveled with a wonderful couple – Connie and Ron Fishbach – to the Golden Eagle Festival. There was a terrible windstorm and the conditions were not favorable, but it really brought us together. We became very close because of this and I just visited them in California for a few weeks this year.
Question: What do most first-time travelers to Mongolia remark upon?
Answer: Most of the travelers I meet are amazed by the lifestyle in Mongolia. Here in the United States, life is very organized but in Mongolia, you can’t plan everything. The weather changes often and people are very flexible and there is more of a sense of adventure there. Travelers, especially those from the United States, are particularly amazed by it.
Question: What you do you hope to impress upon your travelers?
Answer: When I studied in London in 2004, I couldn’t find a single map of Mongolia anywhere in the entire city! I was shocked because Mongolia is such an important place with so much history. I want travelers to leave with a sense of that history.
Question: What is your favorite spot to bring travelers to in Mongolia?
Answer: For me, the Gobi’s Flaming Cliffs never cease to amaze travelers. I am constantly amazed and I have been so many times. No matter how many times I have been there, my groups always find fossils and it’s so rewarding to see their faces light up!