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Mongolia

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Ramada Ulaanbaatar Citycenter
Ramada Ulaanbaatar Citycenter - dream vacation

Bayangol District 17th Khoroo, Gandan Peace Avenue 35/1, Ulaanbaatar

Kempinski Hotel Khan Palace
Kempinski Hotel Khan Palace - dream vacation

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Danista nomads tour and hostel
Danista nomads tour and hostel - dream vacation

1-37 Orkhon Street, Bayangol District, Ulaanbaatar

The Blue Sky Hotel And Tower
The Blue Sky Hotel And Tower - dream vacation

Peace Avenue 17, Sukhbaatar district, Ulaanbaatar

Best Western Premier Tuushin Hotel
Best Western Premier Tuushin Hotel - dream vacation

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Zaya Guest House
Zaya Guest House - dream vacation

Tserendorj street, Building 63 Apt 10-12, Ulaanbaatar

Kaiser Hotel Ulaanbaatar
Kaiser Hotel Ulaanbaatar - dream vacation

Peace avenue 10-2B, 1st Khoroo, Ulaanbaatar

Bayangol Hotel
Bayangol Hotel - dream vacation

Chinggis Avenue-5, Ulaanbaatar

Mongolia, known as Mongol uls (Монгол улс) in Mongolian, is a landlocked country located between China and Russia. It's a vast emptiness that links land and sky, and is one of the last few places on the planet where nomadic life is still a living tradition.

Mongolia may have geopolitical, cultural and geographical meanings. Modern day Mongolia consists of what was historically Outer Mongolia (so called when it was part of China). The province of Inner Mongolia is politically separate and is in the northern part of China, sharing common borders with modern-day Mongolia.

Regions

The country can be categorized into five distinct regions based on culture and geography. These regions are further divided into 21 provinces and one special municipality.

Cities

  • Ulaanbaatar - the capital and starting point for most travel in this country.
  • Choibalsan - large industrial city in the East.
  • Erdenet - Mongolia's second largest city and home to one of the world's biggest copper mines and a famous carpet factory
  • Hovd - A historic city at the crossroads of traditional Mongol and Kazakh culture.
  • Karakorum - the ancient capital of the Mongol Empire, established by Genghis' son Ogedei.
  • Mörön - Capital of Hövsgöl province.
  • Ölgii - a town in Mongolia's far western corner - capital of the Kazakh Region, Bayan-Ölgii province.
  • Ondorkhaan- near the birthplace (and possible burial site) of Genghis Khan.
  • Tsetserleg - the capital of Arkhangai province.

Other destinations

  • Khognokhan mountain specially protected territory - A beautiful, and calm area that includes cultural sightseeing places as Kharkhorin, The capital of the Mongolian Empire after Genghis Khan
  • Altai Tavan Bogd National Park has the tallest mountain and largest glacier in Mongolia, with Eagle Hunters living in its shadow and a World Heritage Site: Petroglyphs.
  • Uvs Nuur Lake, Uvs province The largest lake in Mongolia and a World Heritage Site: Uvs Lake.
  • Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve - An ecotourism destination
  • Gorkhi-Terelj National Park - A national park 70km east of Ulaanbaatar
  • Khovsgol Lake - A very large fresh water alpine lake.
  • Darhad Valley - Home to the Reindeer people.
  • Khustain Nuruu National Park - Khustain Nuruu or Hustai National park is home to the Takhi wild horses (also known as Przewalski's Horse). These are true wild horses which have never been domesticated.
  • Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park. Khongor Sand dunes, Yol Canyon, Bayanzag-Red Flamming Cliffs, Khermen Tsav.

Understand

With only 1.7 people per square kilometre, Mongolia has the lowest population density of any independent country, and it is this vast and majestic emptiness that is the country's enduring appeal, bringing the traveller, as it does, into a close communion with nature and its nomadic inhabitants. Mongolia is entirely landlocked, between China and Russia. The country is nicknamed the "Land of Blue Skies," and with good reason. There are said to be about 250 sunny days throughout each year. The weather is bitterly cold during the winter, dropping down to -40°C in some parts. With many types of terrain — from desert to verdant mountains — the weather during the summer varies from region to region, but is generally hot. Outside of the Gobi desert, this time of year is marked with many rains in some areas, and it can become quite cool at night.

For several letters, the ISO 9 standard transliteration of Cyrillic is not widely used and there is no consensus either in Mongolia nor in Wikivoyage. Particularly, the same Cyrillic letter "х" is transliterated "h" or "kh", the letter "ө" is transliterated "ô", "ö", "o" or "u", but Latin "o" is also the transliteration of the Cyrillic "о", and Latin "u" is also the transliteration of Cyrillic "у" and "ү" (the latter should be transliterated "ù" according to ISO 9, but this is rarely done). So, if you can't find a name as you wrote it, try other spellings.

See also: Mongolian phrasebook

History

See also: Chinese Empire, Mongol Empire

The recorded history of ancient Mongolia dates back to the third century BC when the Xiongnu came to power among many other nomadic tribes. Due to illiteracy and nomadic lifestyle, little was recorded by the Xiognu of themselves; they first appear in recorded Chinese history as "Barbarians" against whom the walls were built. Those walls later became known as the Great Wall of China.

Xiognu history is controversial. Different historians attribute them to several quite different ethnic groups. Some claim Xong Nu is cognate to Hun Nu or even that these are basically the same group known as Huns centuries later in Europe, but both claims are contested.

There have been several Empires in Mongolia after the Xiognu. For example, the A Tureg Empire around 650 AD, with its capital approximately 110 km north of Har Horin (Kharkhorum). There was also the Uighur Empire, with its capital Har Bulgas (Khar Bulgas or Xar Bulgas) near Har Horin. The Khitans who controlled North China around 1000 AD as the Liao Dynasty had an administrative centre (Har Bukh) 120 km to the northeast. The Government of Turkey has been promoting some Turkish Empire monuments and there is a museum full of artifacts at the Bilge Khaan site.

The struggle for mere existence and power over other tribes kept going until the time of Genghis Khan. Chinggis Khan, as he is known in Mongolia, came to power and united the warring tribes under the Great Mongol Empire in 1206. He was proclaimed Genghis Khan (Chingis Haan), meaning ruler of all Mongol tribes. The Mongolian Empire was extended all the way to eastern Europe under Genghis Khan. His grandson, Kublai Khan, subsequently conquered much of China, to establish the Yuan Dynasty. Marco Polo travelled through much of the Mongol Empire in Kublai Khan's time. The Mongols were, however, driven back to the steppes by the Chinese Ming Dynasty under Emperor Hongwu. They were later conquered by the Manchurian-Chinese Emperors Kangxi and Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty.

An independent Mongol nation would only emerge again in 1924 but was not recognised by China until 1945, as the Chinese were forced to grant independence to Outer Mongolia by the Soviet Union, in exchange for Soviet assistance in fighting the Japanese invasion. Thus, the historic region of Mongolia was split into two, with Outer Mongolia becoming the independent nation of Mongolia, while Inner Mongolia remained a province of China. Since that time, Mongolia has had a close relationship with the Soviet Union (and Russia after the breakup of the Soviet Union). Mongolia even replaced its traditional script with the Cyrillic alphabet. (The traditional script, however, continues to be used by ethnic Mongols in China). As Inner Mongolia was the more populated area before the partition, to this day the number of ethnic Mongols living in China outnumbers the population of Mongolia.

Following independence, the Soviet Union installed a communist government in Mongolia. Following the fall of communism in Europe, Mongolia enacted democratic reforms, which resulted in the first democratic multiparty elections in 1990. The democratic reforms eventually culminated with the first peaceful transfer of power in 1996, when the incumbent Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party lost the elections, and handed over to the victorious Democratic Union.

The Secret History of the Mongols is one of the great recordings of Mongolian history. Every Mongolian reads the book in the modern Mongolian language. This is one of the oldest books in the Mongolian language. There are vivid similarities with the Bible in literary style, wording and story telling. It is speculated that the author could have been a Christian or at least was very knowledgeable about the Bible. According to Hugh Kemp, Qadag is the most likely candidate for authorship of Secret History of the Mongols. He writes about the history of ancient Mongolia and connects the modern reality with the ancient world. Even though the book is about the history of Christianity in Mongolia, it paints a view of ancient Mongolia from the height of 21st century. The "History of Mongolia" by B. Baabar is a good source for the Modern History of Mongolia.

On the trail of Marco Polo covers some travel through the Mongol Empire in the time of Genghis' grandson, Kublai Khan.

People

Mongolia is more than twice as big as Texas and nearly the same size as Alaska. Its area is 1.6 million square kilometres (603,000 square miles), four times the size of Japan and almost double that of Eastern Europe.

This makes Mongolia the sixth-largest country in Asia and 19th in the world, but the population is only 2,727,966 (as of 9 Nov 2009), which makes Mongolia one of the least densely populated areas in Asia.

If you consider that 40% of the population lives in the capital city of Ulan Bator or Ulaanbaatar ("UB") that leaves lots of room for you to travel in the outback. Of course, Gobi is even less dense.

Almost another 40% of population are scattered all over Mongolia with their 56 million head of sheep, goats, cattle, horses and camels. There are 21 provinces, called aimag. Each aimag has a central city or town and about 15-22 sub-provinces called soum, so you will know which aimag and which soum you are in.

70% of Mongolia is under the age of 35. The gender ratio is close to 1:1. Ethnicity: 84% Khalkha Mongols, 6% Kazakhs and 10% other groups.

More than 50% will say they are Buddhists which is very much mixed with Shamanism, close to 10% will claim to be Christians of all forms and 4% follow Islam, the remainders will say that they are atheists. Almost all the Kazakhs and Muslims live in Bayan-Ölgii province.

Holidays and festivals

The annual Naadam festival (11–13 July) is the biggest day in many Mongols' calendars. It is when Mongolia celebrates its "three manly sports": wrestling, horse racing, and archery by either watching the festivities in Ulaanbaatar or by following them on television or radio.

Many other smaller Naadam festivals also take place in different aimags (provinces) throughout July, and these more intimate festivals may let you get much closer to the action.

The Naadam celebrations are said to have started with the rise of the Great Mongolian Empire. Chinggis (a.k.a. Genghis) Khan used them to keep his warriors strictly fit. After the fall of the empire, the contests were held during religious festivals, and since the communist revolution it was celebrated on its anniversary.

Legend has it that a woman once dressed like man and won the wrestling competition. That is why the long-sleeved wrestling costumes, called "zodog", have open chests - to show that every participant is male. Wrestlers wear short trunks, "shuudag", and Mongolian boots, "gutal". The yellow stripes on tales of wrestlers' hats will indicate the number of times the wrestler became a champion in Naadam.

Only Naadam gives official titles to the wrestlers. Mongolia wrestling tournaments have 9 or 10 rounds depending on the number of 512 or 1024 wrestlers registered for the competition that year. If the wrestler wins 5 rounds, he will be awarded title "Nachin" (bird), 6 rounds - Hartsaga (hawk), 7 rounds - Zaan (elephant), 8 rounds - Garuda (Eagle), 9 rounds - Arslan (lion) and 10 - Avarga (Titan).

In 2006, Zaan (Elephant) Sumyabazar won 9 rounds that made him Garuda but that year 1024 wrestlers had 10 rounds which he won all. This entitled him to Avarga. Or Arslan (Lion) must win 2 in a row to become Avarga (Titan). The titles are for life. If Avarga (Titan) keeps winning at Naadam more and more attributes will be added to his title.

There is no weight categories in Mongolian Wrestling tournaments but there is a time limit of 30 minutes, if the wrestlers can not overthrow each other, referees use lots for better position which often settles the match. One who falls or his body touches the ground loses the match.

Mongolia Wrestling matches are attended by seconds whose role is to assist their wrestlers in all matters and to encourage them to win by spanking on their butts. They also sing praise songs and titles to the leading wrestlers of both wings, west and east, after 5 and 7 rounds. The referees monitor the rules but the people and the fans are the final judges. They will speak and spread the word of mouth about who is who till the next year.

Smaller festivals

  • Tsagaan Sar (White moon) - starts on the Lunar New Year and is a 3 day public holiday. Its not big with tourists for the obvious reason of being during the coldest month of the year. A time when families reunite and have a large meal of sheep's tail, mutton, rice with curds, dairy products, and buuz. It is also typical to drink airag and exchange gifts.
  • Golden Eagle Festival in Ölgii on October 5th and 6th is the largest gathering in the world of eagle hunters. The event typically has 60 to 70 Kazakh eagle hunters displaying their skills. The events include having their golden eagles fly to them on command and catching a fox fur being pulled being a horse from a perch on a nearby mountain. The event also features traditional Kazakh games like Kokpar (tug-of-war over a goat carcass while on horseback), Tiyn Teru (a timed race to pick up a coin on the ground while on horseback), and Kyz Kuar ("girl chase," is a race between a man and woman where the woman whips the man while he tries to hold on). The festival also has a traditional Kazakh concert, camel race, and displays of Kazakh art. A smaller eagle festival is held on Sept 22nd in the nearby village of Sagsai.
  • Nauryz also in Ölgii is the traditional new year's celebration of Kazakhs held on 22 March. There is a parade, concert, and horse races during the several days of celebrating. Though most of the celebration involves visiting friends and relatives to eat Nauryz Koje (soup) and boiled mutton and horse meat.
  • Ice Festival is held on the frozen surface of Lake Hövsgöl outside of Mörön each February. The 2 day festival includes wrestling, reindeer sleighs and riding, ice skating, shaman rituals, folk concert, and cultural events of the Tsagaan reindeer people. You should be warned; It is very cold in Northern Mongolia in February.
  • Yak Festival on July 23rd in between Karakorum and Arvayheer. The festival celebrates the extremely hairy cow thrives in the cold Mongolian winters with a full day of Yak races, a rodeo, and other competitions. There is a market, tourist gers, and a whole temporary village set up in the middle of the steppe.

Public holidays

While most business still takes place on most holidays, it should be noted that Tsagaan Sar and Naadam tend to last much longer than the official 3 days. Work may stop for weeks in the countryside for Tsagaan Sar. Also, election days are always public holidays and dry days. Alcohol is not sold on election days or the 1st of each month nationwide.

  • New Years- January 1
  • Tsagaan Sar- January/February (3 days, depends on Lunar New Year)
  • International Women's Day- March 8
  • Soldiers' Day- March 18 (Not a day off, just lots of parades)
  • Mothers' and Childrens' Day- June 1
  • Naadam Festival- July 11–13
  • Genghis Khan's Birthday- November 14
  • Independence Day- November 26 (No longer a day off, replaced by Genghis' Birthday)

Working hours are almost always posted in 24 hours. Shops are usually open 10:00 to 21:00 or 22:00, and sometimes closed or shortened hours on Sunday or Monday. Banks usually open 08:00 or 09:00 to 17:00, though often closed for an hour for lunch. However, posted times are not always reliable, especially in the countryside. Expect shops to open at maybe 10:15 or 10:30 more often than not. Restaurants typically close around 22:00, while bars stay open until midnight or later. There are a few fast food restaurants in the capital that stay open until 03:00, but no shops open past midnight.

Climate

The ideal Mongolia travel season starts in May and hits its highest peak in July, during the Naadam holiday, and in August when the weather is most favourable for travelling. This is the best time if you like the culture and can bear the crowds of other tourists. It is not a good time if you want to get away from your busy lifestyle because you will experience traffic, busy schedules, waiting in lines, etc.

September is also a very good time to visit, and October is not too late to travel to Mongolia. It is still warm during the days but a bit chilly during the nights. In the autumn, Mongolia is not very crowded, and this is time for late-comers and last-minute, unplanned trips. You will get to sightsee, enjoy the culture, and taste mare's milk, a bitter and at first somewhat unpleasant drink, throughout the country.

For visitors not afraid of cold or fermented mare's milk, travelling to Mongolia from November till the Lunar New Year is still an option. Winter tourism is a developing area of the Mongolian tourism industry.

The most rewarding experience will be visiting the nomads, as this is the time when you will experience their culture first-hand during "Tsagaan Sar" or the traditional (Lunar) New Year celebration.

Travellers will have the opportunity to watch lots of cultural activities: singing, dancing, wrestling, and winter horse racing.

Mongolia is known to have 250-260 sunny days throughout the year, so you will need good UV protection. During winter, protect your eyes, and during summer, protect your skin.

Get in

As Mongolia is a landlocked country that shares a border with 2 other countries, Russia and China, there are only a limited number of ways to get in. You can either fly, or you can get a visa for China or Russia and take the train, a bus, or drive.

Entry requirements

There are four border crossings open to foreigners, three by the Russian border and one near the small town of Erlian on the border with China.

Foreign nationals of the following countries/territories can enter Mongolia visa-free:

Be aware that the temporary visa-excemption scheme for citizens of most European and some additional American countries in 2014-15 has ended, and that if you're not a citizen of the above countries you once again have to get a visa.

For other foreign nationals, the process for obtaining a thirty day visa is relatively painless, requiring a simple form and a small fee at your local Mongolian embassy. Longer visas are available, but require an invitation letter from a Mongolian company. These can sometimes be arranged through tour companies. Also, it is possible to acquire an expedited visa in a matter of hours at the Mongolian consulate in Erlian, though there is a steep USD50 fee for this service. A similar service is available in the Mongolian consulate in the Russian city of Irkutsk. Indian nationals are required to apply for a visa, although the visa fee is waived.

For more than 30 days tourist visa you will need an invitation letter.

The Embassy of Mongolia in the UK website is useful for updates, with the visa page offering information on visa applications at the embassy.

The Embassy of Mongolia in China website hosts the form you will need if you are applying for your Mongolian visa in China, although the consulate does have them. If you're going to stay more than 30 days, you have to get registered at the Mongolia Immigration.

By plane

Thanks to a booming mining sector, Chinggis Khaan International Airport (IATA: ULN) in Ulaanbaatar is now connected to most major airport hubs in Asia and a few in Europe. National air carrier MIAT Mongolian Airlines operates daily flights (during some peak season - twice a day) from Beijing and Seoul, twice a week flights from Hong Kong, Berlin, Moscow and Tokyo (during some peak season - from Narita). During peak summer season it increases flight frequencies and operates flights from Berlin, via Moscow, and Osaka. There are branch offices in Berlin, Moscow, Hong Kong, Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing. Mongolian based Hunnu Air has started flying 3 times a week to Bangkok, in addition to 5 flights a week to Hong Kong and 2 a week to Shanghai.

There are almost daily flights from Seoul on Korean Air as well as other flights through Beijing, and 3 flights a week to Istanbul. It is also possible to fly to Ulaanbaatar through Tokyo's Narita Airport. Don't buy a non-refundable or unchangeable ticket if you are going to Mongolia, because flights don't always actually happen.

There is also 3 flights a week between Choibalsan, Mongolia and Hailar, Inner Mongolia on Eznis Airways .

By train

The Trans-Mongolian Line of the legendary Trans-Siberian Railway links Mongolia's capital Ulaanbaatar with Moscow and Vladivostok, Russia and Beijing, China. With the exception of a short railway in the east linking Choibalsan with Russia, this is the only railroad in Mongolia.

There is a small water boiler at the end of each train car which dispenses free hot water, so it's a good idea to stock up on instant noodles and tea for the trip. Also, don't expect to encounter any English-speaking staff on the train or in the stations.

From Russia

The Trans-Siberian train crosses the Russia/Mongolia border at the town of Naushki, Russia. Trains start from Moscow or Irkutsk going to either Ulaanbaatar or Beijing, with several stops on both sides of the border. Between Irkutsk and the border is Ulan-Ude, Naushki, Dozornoe, and Khoit. Between the Russian border and Ulaanbaatar is Sühbaatar, Darkhan, and Zuunkharaa, with possible stops in Erdenet and Salkhit.

From China

Second class (hard sleeper) costs about USD200 (2011) from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar. The ride takes almost 30 hours, but you are given a berth in a sleeper-car. The train leaves twice per week from Beijing. Tickets cannot be purchased from the Beijing station (2011). Instead you will be directed to the China International Tour Service (CITS) office on the 2nd floor of the Beijing International Hotel (10 min walk north of the station; large, white building).

Beijing to the border

If the Beijing - Ulaanbaatar train is sold out, as seems to be common, or you need a more frequent option, you can make your way from Beijing to the border at Erlian by local train as described below, and then on to Ulaanbaatar by bus and train. As of March 2011, there are morning flights from Beijing to Erlian out of Capital Airport Terminal 1 that only cost ¥160, which is cheaper than the bus.

Trains run daily from Beijing to Jining (Inner Mongolia) or Hohhot. You can change there for a train to the border town of Erlian near the Mongolian-Chinese border. The K89 leaves Beijing in the morning and arrives at Jining in the evening. Jining has many hotels near the train station and has karaoke bars to keep you entertained while you wait. From Jining to Erlian there is a slow train that leaves in the morning, passes the great wall multiple times, and arrives in the early evening. This will take a night longer than getting the sleeper bus as described in "By Bus".

Crossing the border

Be wary of scams at the border where people in uniform will attempt to sell you "required travel insurance." There is no such thing and you can safely ignore them. You should then cross the border from Erlian in China to Zamiin-Uud in Mongolia as described in Erlian to and from Mongolia. Once you have crossed the border, you will need to get from Zamiin-Uud to Ulaanbaatar as described in Zamiin-Uud get in.

By car

Many adventurous people every year decide to drive to Mongolia, usually starting somewhere in Europe. The Mongol Rally and Mongol Charity Rally sponsor many of these people. Driving to Mongolia can be extremely challenging in many respects. Not only are there virtually no roads in the western half of Mongolia, but vehicle registration, import fees and paperwork, visas and everything has to be ready for every country along the way. For those that still wish to make the journey by car, there are 4 land border crossings with Russia and 3 with China. Though it should be noted that it is much more expensive and difficult to drive through, into, or out of China in your own car.

  • See Driving in China for issues for driving to Mongolia from China.

From Russia

The main border is in Altanbulag-Kyakhta (Sühbaatar), nearest to the capital, is open 24 hours a day. In the far west is the Tsagaannuur-Tashanta crossing in Bayan-Olgii, is open 09:00-18:00 except Sun and is the most popular with adventure drivers. Also in the west is Borshoo-Khandgait crossing between Uvs and Tuva Republic, is open 09:00-18:00, except Sat-Sun. In the east is Ereentsav-Solovyovsk crossing near Choibalsan is open everyday 09:00-18:00.

By bus

There is a paved road connecting Ulaanbaatar to the Chinese border, and one between UB and Russia.

From Russia

  • Those interested in saving money can book one way elektrichka (regional train) tickets from Irkutsk or Ulan Ude to Naushki. In Naushki, one can spend the night in the train resting rooms (komnati otdiha) for USD0.50 per hour. From there, it is possible to take a marshrutka to the land border crossing town of Kyakhta, Russia. Walking across the border is prohibited, but travellers have no problems arranging for Mongolia bound cars to take them across the border, either for a small fee or for free. Upon crossing into Mongolia it is relatively easy to hitchhike, taxi, or bus to Sühbaatar or UB, as all southbound traffic is headed towards those cities.
  • From the West, from Russia, it is possible to cross at the land border in Tsagaannuur, Bayan-Olgii. There are daily petrol and wheat-carrying Russian Kamaz trucks headed to Olgii and it is possible to hitchhike to Tsagaannuur or even Olgii. Regular buses and marshrutkas also operate from the border, though service is unpredictable due to the lack of a schedule. There is also a bus every 10 days between either Astana or Almaty, Kazakhstan and Olgii.

From China

From Beijing to Erlian by bus costs 180 Chinese yuan and takes 12 hr. Several buses depart from different bus stations in Beijing bound for Erlian:

  • Liuliqiao long-distance bus station (六里桥客运主枢纽 or lìu lǐ qiáo kè yùn zhǔ shū nǐu), phone +86 10 8383-1716, address: A1, Liuliqiao Nan Li, Fengtai District. Departure at 16:30. These are supposed to run every day, but may not. You can phone at 10:00 on the morning of departure to see if the bus is running and to reserve a place.
  • Muxiyuan long-distance bus station ( 木樨园才华长途汽车站 ), phone +86 10 6726-7149, location: go to Liujiayao Metro Station and get a cab. Departs 17:00.
  • Lizeqiao long-distance bus station ( 丽泽桥长途汽车站 ), phone ( 丽泽桥长途汽车站 ) Address 中国, 北京市丰台区北京市丰台区西三环丽泽桥东 +86 10 6340-3408, address 中国, 北京市丰台区北京市丰台区西三环丽泽桥东. Location is difficult to get to. Departs 17:00.

From Hohhot by bus cost 88 Chinese yuan and takes 6-7 hr. There are several buses each day.

Once you've got to Erlian you should then follow the Crossing the border and From the border to Ulaanbaatar steps above.

Should you be travelling at a busy time (e.g., around Naadam on the 11th/12th July) and want to be sure of getting tickets for the last leg of the trip in Mongolia, you could take one of the packages from the guesthouses in Beijing. These cost around 570 yuan (July 2009). They will include a taxi to the coach station in Beijing, Beijing to Erlian by sleeper coach, a bed in the hotel in the bus station for a few hours, a bus from Erlian to Zamyn-Uud across the border, then soft sleeper overnight from Zamyn-Uud to Ulaanbaatar. Purchased separately the tickets cost about 360 yuan. The Saga guesthouse in Beijing sells these, and although they insist till they're blue in the face that the train is a hard sleeper, it's actually a soft sleeper!

By bicycle

At Zamyn-Uud you have to put you bicycle in a car. You are not allowed to cycle through the 3km wide border area. Prepare to bargain. They will start at 100 dollars and more. You should be able to get them down to 20 or less. If you are lucky and get up early, you might catch a truck. They will take you for free. Usually you have better chances with Mongol drivers, if you want to cross into Mongolia. At Altanbulag you also have to put the bicycle in a car, but prices are reasonable and usually fixed. Enjoy watching your driver smuggle goods in or out of Mongolia.

By thumb or foot

The road stops at the border town of Zamyn-Uud and gives way to an open desert, with tracks going in various directions but generally heading north toward the capital city. Hitchhiking in Mongolia is not easy and a little bit of money for the driver is expected. There is an average of one car every hour heading into the desert. Rules at the border require that you ride a bus or car across the border, no walking across. However, they do not care how you get there or where you go afterwards.

Get around

If you plan to travel around the countryside without a guide, take a GPS and get some maps. The "Mongolia Road Atlas" is available in many book stores, it is over 60 pages and covers the whole country: note there is a Latin character version and Cyrillic character version, in the countryside most people won't understand the Latin version. More detailed maps are available at the Mongolian Government Map Store. These maps are 1:500,000. Also some other special purpose maps and a very good map of downtown Ulaanbaatar. The map store is on Ih Toiruu St. Go west from the State Department store on the main street, called Peace, Peace and Friendship, or Ekhtavan Ave, two blocks to the large intersection with traffic lights, Turn right (North) and the map store is about half way along the block. There is an Elba electronic appliance store set back from the street, a yellow and blue building, the next building is a large Russian style office building 4 floors in height, the map store entrance is on the west side, toward the south end of the building, it lines up with the North wall of the Elba building.

Whichever method of long-distance travel is chosen, keep in mind that everything in Mongolia has a tendency to break down. Don't be shocked if part of the suspension breaks and the driver jimmy-rigs a carved wooden block in the place of a mount. For more serious breakdowns, it can easily take an entire day or longer for somebody to come along and help, so leave plenty of slack in itineraries. Finally, Mongolians are rather notorious for being late. A bus that is scheduled to leave at 08:00 will probably not be out of the city until almost eleven.

By plane

The easiest way to travel long distance is using one of the domestic airlines; AeroMongolia, Eznis, or Hunnu Air. Almost all flights are between Ulaanbaatar and the Aimag centers. Except for mines in the south Govi and Choibalsan, which use B-737s, most flights use turboprop regional planes like the Fokker-50. AeroMongolia uses a two-tier price structure, with the costs for foreigners being significantly higher than for locals, while Eznis and Hunnu have only one price. Other than price, there isn't much difference between the airlines. Air travel agents, guest houses, and hotels can help you to obtain your domestic air ticket in Mongolia.

  • AeroMongolia (1st floor, Monnis tower, Ulaanbaatar), ☎ +976 11 330373 (Ulaanbaatar), e-mail: reservation@aeromongolia.mn. Office Hours: 09:00-18:00, except 10:00-18:00 Sat, Sun closed. It is generally cheaper, but uses older planes. Charges foreigners double the local rate.
  • Eznis Airways (8 Zovkhis, 1st floor, Seoul street, Ulaanbaatar), ☎ +976 11 331111 (Ulaanbaatar), e-mail: feedback@eznis.com. Office Hours: Mon-Fri 09:00-19:00, Sat-Sun 10:00-18:00. Uses newer planes, but more expensive than AeroMongolia.
  • Hunnu Air (Chinggis avenue 10-1, Sukhbaatar district, Ulaanbaatar), ☎ +976 7000 1111 (Ulaanbaatar), e-mail: info@hunnuair.com. Formerly Mongolian Airlines.

By train

There is only one railway company in Mongolia, owned by the Russian and Mongolian governments, "Mongolian Railway". It is probably the best way to experience something of the communist time, even if it has evolved a bit since then. Ulaanbaatar railway agents more often consider the passenger as a potential rule breaker than as a client. The railway network is poor, consisting mainly in the Irkutsk-Ulaanbaatar-Beijing Trans-Mongolian way with a few extensions. Trains are extremely slow. They usually leave on time, and arrive on time or less than 20 min late. Intercity bus routes on the roughly parallel paved roads will get you there much faster.

The local trains stop at many small stations in the countryside. For example, there is the small town of Batsumber, located about 34km north of Ulaanbaatar (as the crow flies) longer on the train. Take your camping gear and hike to the mountains about 10km east of the town. There are two streams flowing west out of the mountains, hike and camp along the streams. There is a small restaurant, and food shops in the town.

Train tickets

It's possible to pay your train ticket by credit card. For online booking of train tickets you can contact to Train To Mongolia. You pay an extra fee if you book in advance, and also an extra fee if you buy it in the train, which is the only possibility left if there are less than 10 min left before the train departure. Your passport is required to buy a ticket, but you can buy several people's tickets with one passport. There are 3 classes: "coupé", "sleeping", "public" (translated into English by "economic" by the company). "Coupé" is the only one with doors. In "public" it's possible you have to spend your night sitting and even with little space on crowded days. The tickets are numbered, but, when the seats are exhausted, the company overbooks public seats with tickets numbered "0", at the same price. The "public" seats tickets are much cheaper (and much slower) than the coach, minivan and taxi competitors. The schedules are on the company website. In a coupé at night, you'll be charged for compulsory additional bed sheets inside the train.

Inside a train

You will be proposed drinks and Mongolian food inside the train, both by official sellers of the company and, at the big stations with long stops, from private people getting in the train for that purpose. There are many conductors. Don't expect them to speak anything else than Mongolian and, possibly, Russian. Be careful of your belongings: thefts are not rare. But there are policemen in each train. On a long trip, your ticket will be checked again and again, and you'll be woken up in the middle of the night for that. Nobody will wake you if you have to get off during the trip, but if you get off at the terminus, you'll be woken up, even more than one hour before arrival, depending on the agent. The train toilets officially close 30 min before the terminus, sometimes even before that.

By bus

Traveling by local bus is also an option, though these buses tend only to connect the provincial capital with UB, and it is quite difficult to find any public transportation linking one provincial capital with another. Lately the Bus situation is much better. Most cities and towns are referred to in two ways, their name or the name of the Aimag (province) or Soum (county). e.g. Dornod or Dornod Aimag or Choybalsan (the actual city name). Most buses have their destination on a card in the front window. If you have either name written down in Mongolian Cyrillic, you can just show to the drivers or helpers and they will get you on the right bus.

There are two types of buses, micro vans and large buses (some large buses are old Russian types and some are modern western type), depending on the road. The large buses run on schedule, but the micro-buses are much more lax. In Ulaanbaatar, there are two bus stations, one on the west near the Dragon Shopping Center and one on the East near the Botanical Gardens. Both stations are on Peace Avenue on either side of the city. Multiple buses run between them. Get local to write directions. For the large buses buy your tickets the day before.

In the Aimag centers, there will be service to Ulaanbaatar and to local soums (small county seats) and usually the next Aimag Center. However, all locations may not be available at one location. Ask for help from the locals. For example, In Ondorkhaan, the capital of Khentii Province, there is bus service between Ondorkhaan and UB from a central bus station, however the through buses going to/from UB to Dornad and Sukhbaatar Aimags (Choybalsan and Baruun-Urt) will stop at a gas station on the North side of the city.

Bus tickets

You purchase your ticket at the station, not in the coach. Don't expect any cashier, driver or conductor to speak anything but Mongolian and, possibly, Russian. It's not possible to pay by credit card. Your passport is required to buy a ticket. If you have a luggage exceeding the standard (written in your ticket) in weight or size, you'll be asked for an extra fee by the conductor. You can negotiate this one.

Inside a bus

On some destinations, the driver and the conductor illegally add extra passengers and get the money for themselves. They might even try to make 3 people sit on 2 seats, for instance: you can protest in such a case. Your ticket gives you the right to a full seat and this is what you get in most coaches. The coach will usually stop for a rather quick lunch or dinner at a local snack or canteen.

By minivan

Public countryside taxis and minivans, often called purgon or mekr, offer more destinations than coaches and many more than train, especially between provinces. They are more dangerous than coaches and trains, and always overloaded. Most drivers don't respect the traffic rules. Countryside taxis and minivans leave when full. They always say they will go "now" ("odo") but it's rarely true and you can wait hours before they really go. See how many people are already sitting inside the vehicle to have an idea of how long you'll wait. Drivers also usually promise to pick up additional passengers and cargo before leaving town.

By chartered jeep

It is also possible to charter a Jeep and driver for private use. Prices are typically negotiated by the kilometer. While far more expensive than sharing a ride with the locals, this means of transport is considerably more convenient and allows you to visit more remote sites. It can also be quite convenient to hire a guide to use during the length of your stay. Doing so can allow you to travel without worrying about taxi drivers wanting to overcharge up to 10X just for being a foreigner.

By car

Road accidents are frequent. The bigger the vehicle is, the safer it is. Outside of the capital, there are few paved roads.

By taxi

In the cities, taxis should charge about ₮700 per km. The drivers will set their trip meter and charge accordingly.

By horse

For local travel, horse-back is a good option. Note, however, that Mongolians ride on wooden saddles, so if you value your buttocks it's probably a good idea to pick up a leather, Russian saddle in UB.

By foot

Another great alternative is to simply walk. Since camping is possible anywhere, resting is never a problem. Wherever there is water there are nomads, and if you stick to the major dirt-roads you will encounter plenty of guanz, who can provide huge cheap meals to keep you going. Adopting the Mongolian style of sleeping outdoors is also an option - wrap yourself in wool blankets and then cover yourself with a Russian raincoat (essentially a tarp in the form of a trench coat), and simply plop yourself down on the ground. One night sleeping this way gives a whole new appreciation for the wonders of sleeping bags and bivvy sacks/tents.

Talk

See also: Mongolian phrasebook

The official language of Mongolia is Mongolian, and with the exception of the westernmost province where Kazakh is spoken, everybody in the country speaks it as their first language. The language is extremely difficult for Westerners to learn and speak, even after multiple months of being immersed in the culture. Westerners typically take a minimum of 9-18 months of full-time Mongolian language study to be conversant. Most locals will appreciate attempts to speak phrases in Mongolian, although the traveller will inevitably pronounce them wrong. Picking up a phrasebook and practising a few phrases will help. The numbering system is regular, and fairly easy to learn.

Due to Mongolia's long history of alliance with the Soviet Union, and Russia after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russian is a compulsory second language in all schools, and is the most widely spoken foreign language in Mongolia. Travellers who speak Russian should not have a problem getting by in urban areas. English is not widely spoken, though it has been becoming more popular among the younger generation, many of whom learn it in school as a third language, and can be seen in signs all over the capital. That said, it is next to impossible to travel outside of Ulaanbaatar without a guide unless you speak Mongolian or Russian.

See

Mongolia is a big country that has been beyond the reach of travelers and the normal trappings of civilization until very recently. Even today it can be difficult to travel between the few places that 'exist'. There is not a whole lot of noteworthy architecture in the country. Except for the short-lived capital of the Mongol Empire at Karakorum, the descendents of Genghis Khan did not leave much evidence of their power inside their native homeland. Genghis Khan, who leveled cities from the Yellow Sea to the Caspian, was said to have only built one permanent building during his life, a warehouse to store his stupendous amount of loot.

Archeology

Though this structure no longer exists, the capital built by his son, Ogedei, does, as does countless artifacts that occupy the National Museum in Ulaanbaatar, and thousands stone monuments and drawings spread throughout the country, some dating back thousands of years. After the gradual disintegration of the Mongol Empire, large number of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries were built, providing the most visible signs of Mongolia's history. Today only a few still stand after Stalinist religious purges. Of particular note is the Amarbaysgalant Monastery in Selenge, the Erdene Zuu Monastery in Karakorum, and Gandan Monastery in Ulaanbaatar, all active religious sites with large number of resident lamas. More recently during the communist era, the Russian helped establish large modern cities and modern industries, which aren't very pretty, but are of some interest, particularly the biggest open-pit copper mine in Asia at Erdenet.

Monasteries

Before the religious purges, Mongolia had around 750 monasteries and was a theocracy. Many were destroyed, while some were turned into museums by the communist to display Mongolian art or the opulence of the former religious leaders. Today the Choijin Lama Monastery and the Bogd Khan Winter Palace are preserved as museums for the art of the Lamas and the toys of the former king. Other ancient monasteries are slowing reopening and recovering like the Amarbaysalant in Selenge Province or the Gandan Monastery in Ulaanbaatar. Most monasteries today are small newly built temples in towns that didn't even exist before the purges.

Museums

Besides the monastery museums, Ulaanbaatar hosts several interesting and noteworthy museums to see before going off to the countryside. The best one by far is the National Museum of Mongolia with large collections of artifacts from the Mongol Empire through the Democratic Revolution of 1990. Several other good art museums and lesser history and nature museums also exist in the city if you will be there for an extended time. Outside of the capital, every provincial center also has a small museum usually built by the communist and mostly not updated since they left. These museums are cheap and do have useful displays on local cultures and history.

Nature

One thing that does look much the same as it always has is the unspoiled nature of Mongolia. Due to its very low population density, the lowest in the world, it is possible to travel days with only seeing the occasional nomadic herder interrupting endless rolling steppes, the vast Gobi desert, or the snow capped Altai Mountains. Up north, Siberian forests surround the 2nd largest freshwater lake in Asia by volume, Hôvsgôl (or "Hövsgöl") lake, in Hövsgöl province, which is very beautiful. The Flaming Cliffs near Dalanzadgad are stunning just to see, but also contain some of the earliest and most important dinosaur discoveries.

People

The most memorable part of any trip to Mongolia, regardless of what drew you here, will certainly be the people. Mongolians are incredibly hospitable to guests. No trip here is complete without having dinner or staying the night with nomadic herders. Around a third of the population still earns a living as semi-nomadic herders living in gers (yurts) on the open steppe. While their diets are not very diverse, consisting of meat, flour, and dairy, they will seek to serve guests a feast of boiled or fried meat and hot milky tea, with traditional entertainments of music, singing, and maybe dance. There is some variation depending on which tribe or region, with Kazakhs near Ölgii being the most different with different language, diet, and dress, including the practice of eagle hunting. While the Tuvans have a beautiful, eerie singing style of Throat singing, and the Tsaatan people live isolated lives herding reindeer near Lake Hövsgöl. Then there are the Lama Monks that are increasingly common in monasteries and elsewhere, and the Shaman priests, who practice the ancient animist religions of worshiping nature and the earth, and are widely respected in Mongolia.

Do

Experience the culture, have a meal or spend the night with a nomadic family. They are an authentic Mongolian experience. Whether you go just outside of the capital or fly to the far corners of the country, this is the most memorable part of any trip. There are some variations on the experience, depending on the tribal group.

The Trans-Siberian Railway passes through the country. Also follow the path of Marco Polo across Europe and Asia into Mongolia to visit the ancient capital of the Mongol Empire in Karakorum.

Mongolia is the least densely populated country in the world and has very little development of any kind outside of the capital and a few small towns. There often isn't even roads connecting these towns. This pristine setting means that Mongolia has wide open spaces for experiencing the outdoors for those who want adventure. Traveling across this vast country is often an adventure in itself with tourists and adventures alike going by car, motorcycle, bike, horse, camel, or foot. Most often this means camping on the shore of a river or with a nomadic family or in small roadside hotels in provincial towns. Along the way or on one of the many wild rivers and nature preserves, there is great fishing, particularly fly fishing during the summer. Climbing the mountains in the west are popular as well as photographing the wildlife, flora, or the multitude of birds living or migrating through Mongolia.

  • Mongolia Canoeing, ☎ +976 99826883. River Tours, Canoe down some of Mongolia's major rivers
  • Visit Reindeer Herders (Tsaatan Community), Tsagaannuup, Khovsgol (West of Khovsgol lake, From Moron drive WNW, Past the Airport, Go to Ylaan Uul and continue north. High water can make the roads difficult.). Reindeer herders living in High Alpine mountains. Must ride horses or reindeer from Tsagaanuur. It can be a long hard ride.
  • Local Bonda Lake Camp in Khatgal village near Lake Khovsgol offers various nature and cultural featuring: fishing, hiking, winter tours, nomad visits, horse back riding, visiting reindeer herders and Darhad valley. Horse riding, you have chance discover Lake Khovsgol and its beautiful waters, meet Tsataan (nomadic reindeer herders) living in yurts in the north of Khovsgol area. This region is incredibly scenic, perched at 1645 m altitude in green mountains, covered with thick pine forests and lush meadows with grazing yaks and horses, and rich with wildlife: the lake has 9 species of fish and its surroundings are full of sheep, goats, elk and more than 430 species of birds. There are 5 different Mongolian tribes nearby: Khalh, Darhad, Buriad, Hotgoid, & Urianhai. The Camp has a hot shower, sauna, internet and a restaurant with Mongolian and European meals.
  • Mountain Climbing, All over Mongolia. Best to climb the highest peaks in July and August. While much of the country is rolling steppe, there are several mountain ranges. The Altai Mountains in the west have several peaks of over 13,000 ft up to 14,201 ft inside Altai Tavan Bogd National Park. The highest mountains have snow-capped peaks, glaciers, and require special equipment and experienced guides. Smaller mountains throughout the country can be hiked in an afternoon, including many surround the capital of Ulaanbaatar.

Winter activities

  • Join Kazakh eagle hunters on a hunt, In Western Mongolia. During the cold winter months, the Kazakhs in western Mongolia use eagles to hunt for foxes and hares, which are easier to see against the snow. Freezing temperatures and long days on Mongolian horses discourage most people from attempting this adventure. For those that do, seeing an eagle released from a man's forearm swoop down and kill a fox a mile away is a truly unforgettable experience.
  • Skiing, Outside Ulaanbaatar and Western Mongolia. Snows from October to early May. There is one ski resort outside of Ulaanbaatar with a ski lift, equipment rentals, instructors, and all the other features of a ski resort. The lift may be slow, and the runs a bit hard, but it does provide good entertainment for those visiting UB during the long, cold winter months. For those more adventurous types, Western Mongolia's several large mountain ranges provide great back-country skiing. Spring months of April and May get the most snow and make the best skiing. Plan on joining a tour or lugging all your own equipment. There aren't any ski shops in the nearby villages.

Buy

Money

The Mongolian currency is the tögrög or tugrik or tôgrôg or tugrug or togrog denoted by the sign "₮" (Mongol: төгрөг) (ISO international currency code: MNT). You may also see the notation "tg" or "T".

Banknote denominations in circulation are ₮1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, 1,000, 5,000, 10,000 and 20,000

Tipping

In Mongolia tipping is rarely ever expected except in tourism related services like tour guides. Waiters, taxis, and hotel attendants do not expect tips. Sometimes taxis will attempt to overcharge you by refusing to give change back, but this has nothing to do with gratuity. Some nicer restaurants and hotels in the capital do often add fees to the bill for service, especially for larger groups.

Shopping

  • Mongolian cashmere is known as the best in the world, so consider buying garments and blankets from one of the many stores that sell cashmere products.
  • Mongolia is famous for its copper mines Erdenet and Oyu Tolgoi. A copper bookmark might make an ideal souvenir and you can easily find this USD1 metal souvenir in Ulaanbaatar souvenir shops.
  • Kazakh Embroideries made in Ölgii using traditional Kazakh designs are sold in many gift shops in Ulaanbaatar.
  • Paintings by local artists are excellent buys in Mongolia.
  • You can find felt poker-work in Erdenet.
  • It is illegal to take antiques out of the country without a special permit.
  • The huge open-air market, Narantuul ("The Black Market") in Ulaanbaatar offers the lowest prices on just about anything you could want. Be very careful of the many pickpockets and even attackers there. This can be a great place to get a good pair of riding boots. You can opt for a variety of Mongolian styles, from fancy to the more practical, or even get a good set of Russian style boots.
  • In Erdenet is an ISO 9 001 certified carpet factory, making and selling also slippers made in carpet.

Eat

The main diet in rural Mongolia is mutton or sheep. Beef might also hit the menu occasionally. Here, about ₮2,000-4,000 will buy you a large platter heaped with fried noodles and slivers of mutton. On the side will be a large bottle of ketchup. A tasty and greasy dish served is khuushuur (huushoor), which is a fried dumpling stuffed with bits of mutton and onion. Three to four make a typical meal. Also, the ubiquitous buuz (booz) can be had at any canteen in town or the countryside. Buuz are similar to khuushuur in that they are big dumplings stuffed with mutton and onion, however they are steemed rather than fried. About 6 buuz cost ₮1,200-2,000, and serves one.

The boodog or goat/marmot barbecue, is particularly worth experiencing. For about ₮15,000-20,000, a nomad will head out with his gun, shoot a marmot, and then cook it for you using hot stones in its skin without a pot. Along the same lines as boodog is khorkhog (made of mutton), which is prepared like so: build a fire; toss stones into fire until red hot; place water, hot stones, onions, potatoes, carrots, and, finally, mutton chops, into a large vacuum-sealed kettle; let the kettle simmer over a fire for 30-60 minutes; open kettle carefully, as the top will inevitably explode, sending hot juices flying everywhere; once the kettle is opened, and all injuries have been tended to, eat contents of kettle, including the salty broth. This cooking method makes mutton taste tender and juicy, like slow-roasted turkey. Ask your guide if he or she can arrange one (but only during summer).

The boodog is also made of other meat, usually goat, and is similar to the khorhog with one major difference: the meat, vegetables, water and stones are cooked inside the skin of the animal. They skin it very carefully, and then tie off the holes at the legs and back side, put the food and hot stones inside, tie off the throat, and let it cook for about 30 minutes.

Drink

The national drink is called Airag. (It is available in for example in traditional Mongolian "ger" tents in Ulan Bator at the main entrance of Gandantegchinlen Monastery, GPS decimal coordinates N47.92069 E106.89467 for ₮1,500 and a the West Market N47.91118 E106.83569 for ₮1000 per bowl as of September 2010) This is a summer seasonal drink made from fermented mare's milk, and is certainly an acquired taste. The alcohol content is less than that of beer, but can have noticeable effects. Be careful, if you aren't accustomed to drinking sour milk products the first time might give you diarrhea as your stomach gets accustomed to it. This should only happen the first time though. Once you've completed the ritual, your digestive system shouldn't complain again. There are numerous ways to describe the taste, from bile-like to a mixture of lemonade and sour cream. The texture can also be offsetting to some people since it can be slightly gritty. It is worth keeping in mind that Airag is milk and a source of nutrients. After a day of riding it can actually be quite refreshing, once acquiring a taste for it.

The first thing you will be served every time you visit a ger will be milk tea, which is essentially a cup of boiled milk and water, sometimes with a couple pieces of tea leaf thrown in for good measure. You might want to build up your tolerance by drinking lots of milk in preparation for your stay because they don't drink much else, except perhaps boiled water if you specially request it during a longer stay. Also, most traditional nomadic foods such as dried yogurt and the like require acclimatization to milk as well. Cold drinks don't actually exist in the countryside (unless you intend to drink straight out of a river, generally not recommended).

If you are in Mongolia especially in the country side try their National Home Made Vodka. It's usually made from distilled yogurt or milk. It doesn't have any weird taste. After you have your first shot of the vodka you won't feel anything, but few minutes later it will get to your head. Most people in Mongolia usually drink this for medical reasons. First you heat up the vodka then put in a little bit of special oil which is also made from milk. Careful don't overheat it, you might get blind. Mongolians call their national vodka nermel areehk ("distilled vodka") or changa yum ("tight stuff"). There are lots of Russian type Vodkas sold all over the country. The best ones are Chinggis Khaan vodka, Soyombo and Golden Chinggis.

In Ulaanbaataar you can find most of Western beers, from Miller to Heineken. They sell Budweiser -- not American Bud but the Czech Budweiser. Local beer, such as Chingiss, Gem Grand, Borgio or Sengur is fine.

Sleep

Some western-style accommodation is available in Ulaanbaatar, but it goes for western prices. There are a few nice guest houses in UB for less than USD10 per night (even as cheap as ₮3,000 if you're willing to share a room), but they are crowded during the tourist season and hard to get into.

Out in the countryside, most of the hotels are rundown leftovers from the Soviet era. A better option is tourist ger, set up by various entrepreneurial locals. Staying at one of these costs about ₮5000 per person per night. They often include breakfast and dinner as well. When staying in one of these guest ger, the usual gift-giving customs can be skipped.

Finally, there are also ger-camps. Set up by tour-companies, they do occasionally rent out space to independent travellers. Unfortunately, they tend to be both expensive (USD35 per person per night with 3 meals) and out of the way. If you would like to stay at ger camp use the online booking portal Mongolian Ger Camps Network

Except for the cities and larger towns, all of the land is publicly owned. This means you can pitch a tent pretty much anywhere. Courtesy dictates that you keep your distance from existing nomad encampments. Common-sense dictates that you don't pitch a tent in the middle of or too close to a road.

In Mongolia, nowadays there are more 300 hotels and these are graded between 1 to 5 stars in the international standards Hotels holding 3 stars or more are for tourist service. 3 – 5 star holders must obtain special permission in order to operate. “Accommodation grading committee” consisting of the Ministry, travel industry associations and tourism researchers categorize an accommodation according to Mongolian standards.

Learn

There are some language schools in the capital. The two most well known ones to foreigners are Bridge School and Friends School. Both schools offer group study classes or individual tutors. Also, the National University of Mongolia offers courses.

It usually takes Westerners about 9 to 18 months before they acquire good conversational abilities in Mongolian. Speakers of Altai-Turkic languages, such as Turks or Kazakhs, tend to pick it up quicker due to the similarities in grammatical structure.

Work

There is a huge demand for "Native" English speakers as English teachers. Anyone who is interested in teaching English will have no trouble getting employment and a work visa through a school or organization. However, the pay is generally low compared to other countries. Though it'll usually be just enough for room and board plus a little extra.

Local English-language media are another source of employment for native English speakers, offering work as editors, proof-readers or photojournalists.

Volunteer work is available teaching English, assisting with charity work and joining archaeological digs. These jobs are easy to find and are very rewarding.

Stay safe

Apart from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia is generally a safe place to travel. However, incidences of pickpocketing and bag slashing have been on the rise in recent years, so always keep your personal belongings in a safe place (money belts are highly recommended), especially in crowded areas or in places where your attention is diverted, such as internet cafes. Notorious places for theft are the Black Market (bazaar), the railway station and crowded bus stops.

Violent crime is uncommon outside the capital city, but still caution is required at night, and dark or deserted alleys and streets, in particular, should be avoided.

Corruption is a huge problem in Mongolia, and locals are convinced that the police are not to be trusted.

There are small bands of Mongolian ultra-nationalist thugs that style themselves as neo-Nazis and have assaulted foreigners including whites, blacks, and particularly Chinese. They are especially provoked by foreigner interaction with Mongolian women. They are mostly found in the capital, especially in the cheaper bars and night clubs.

Lone or female travelers obviously need to exercise a higher degree of awareness of their surroundings as getting groped in the chest or behind regions is not uncommon. Some actions like dancing close to a man will be seen as an open invitation as Mongolians generally don't dance this way.

Dogs in Mongolia can be aggressive and may run in packs. It is a good idea to be wary of them since they are not likely to be as tame as domestic dogs elsewhere. Most fenced yards and gers have a guard dog that is usually all bark and no bite, though it is advised to make it aware of you as to not surprise it, and carry a rock in case it does charge you.

Manhole covers — or more properly, the lack of such covers — is a surprisingly common cause of injuries among foreigners and (especially drunk) tourists. In smaller cities and outlying areas of the capital, there are a large number of missing or poorly placed covers. It is a good idea to avoid stepping on any manhole and always pay attention to where you walk.

Stay healthy

  • Mongolia has the worst air pollution in the world, with an annual average of 279 micrograms of "PM10" particles per cubic metre. If you are an asthma patient, or suffer from any other respiratory diseases, it is best for you not to come. Appropriate medical attention may not be easy to get.
  • Nomads' dogs may have rabies. As a precaution, consider having a rabies shot before coming.
  • Marmots should not be eaten at certain times of the year because they can carry bubonic plague. That said, the disease is carried by the marmot's fleas so the afflicted tend to be fur traders, and marmot is not a mainstream dish even in Mongolia.
  • Hepatitis and tuberculosis are common throughout Mongolia.

Respect

Mongols traditionally live on the steppes, breeding horses, just like their ancestor Chinggis Khan. Not surprisingly, following Western pleasantries will not have the intended effect in Mongolia. That being said, there are still a few rules to follow. Always receive items with the right hand, palm facing up. Drink from the right hand with the palm up as well. It is very rude to refuse a gift. If offered a plate of hospitality munchies, take at least a small nibble from something. You should never point at anyone with your index finger since it implies disrespect.

Whenever you approach a nomadic family, or enter a ger, you will, without knowing, break one or several of the many traditional, religious and superstitious customs. If you do become confused, don't panic, minor indiscretions will be tolerated and forgiven. The following do's and don'ts will help minimize cultural differences.

Do

  • Say hello (sain bainuu) when you arrive (but repeating it again when you see the same person is considered strange to Mongolians)
  • Take at least a sip, or a nibble, of the delicacies offered
  • Pick up everything with an open hand, with your palm facing upwards
  • Hold a cup by the bottom, and not by the top rim
  • If by accident you tap someones foot with yours, immediately shake hands with them (failing to do so will be seen as an insult).

Don't

  • Lean against a support column
  • Whistle inside a ger
  • Stand on, or lean over, the threshold
  • Stamp out a fire, or put water or any rubbish on it (fire is sacred to Mongolians)
  • Walk in front of an older person; or turn your back to the altar, or religious objects (except when leaving)
  • Take food from a communal plate with your left hand
  • Touch other people's hats
  • Have a long conversation in your own language in front of your hosts

Connect

There are plenty of Internet cafés and nicer restaurants with Wi-Fi in the capital. The postal service is slow and most people have a PO Box if they want to get anything. It is possible to buy phone cards that can be used to call abroad very cheaply from domestic phones, but not all phones can do this. (You can ask for MiCom or MobiCom cards). In the countryside, cell phone carriers cover random villages. Between Mobicom, Unitel, and GMobile, all village or Soum Centers are covered. Internet cafés are plentiful in Aimag Centers (Province Capitals) now, with all Aimag Post Offices having one, plus many smaller cafés. There is internet in some Soums (villages), but this is rare, slow, and prone to frequent outages.

To make local calls in Ulaanbaatar use a phone of one of the many entrepreneurs with cellular telephones on the street corners. Expect to pay from ₮150 to₮200 per minute (June 2009 prices).

Go next

To China

From Ulaanbaatar there are several options.

Firstly, the International train. Tickets at the International ticket office located across the street from the train station. The ticket office is on the second floor in the VIP lounge.

The second option is to get on the Hohhot international train and transfer at Erlian or Jining (Inner Mongolia), see the travel agency located on the 1st (ground) floor of the International ticket office for details.

The third option is to take the daily train to Zamiin-Uud, Mongolia at the border and take a bus or jeep to China. You can then go to the bus or train station in Erlian, China.

To Russia

There are buses and trains to Ulan Ude, from where you can explore the region around Lake Baikal or go along the Trans-Siberian Railway in either direction.

Find a hotel that is environmentally friendly, try to bike or walk, eat local — and don’t buy plastic water bottles.

I was among the first Westerners to document the Mongolian Taiga.

What I found was amazing.

 

Text and photographs by Jeff Colhoun

Around this time last year I was approached by a non-profit to film a documentary in northern Mongolia. I had just gotten back a few months prior from Lake Khuvsgul, Mongolia and was not too excited at the premise of spending 5 weeks without running water again. Then they told me where I would be going and what I would be filming. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I spent the next 7 months preparing.

My journey started at the San Francisco International Airport. A quick 11 hours to Seoul and after a snack, a short 5-hour flight to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. I landed around 1 AM. I was picked up by my friend Binderya who brought me to my hotel room and told me I had to be up in 4 hours for the drive to Khuvsgul. I went through all my gear and double-checked if the drones made it safely as I was taking them into the taiga in a few hours. I did not sleep.

I met my traveling companions at the car that morning. Joe, Les, and Peggy. They were scientists brought over from the states to do some work with Park Service while I filmed. Our driver was named Boro. He spoke no English and the scientists spoke no Mongolian. This was their first time in Mongolia. We had a very hard communicating but Boro was fluent in drawing pictures and so were we.

After 7 hours on the road, we stopped in Erdenet for lunch at a Russian restaurant. The menu was all in Russian. One of the scientists named Joe tried drawing a chicken on a napkin to order. I tried a similar tactic. He ended up with chicken and I ended up with what I hope was beef.  

 

We arrived in Khuvsgul after 15 hours on the road. It was great to be back. We were there in time for the Naadam Festival. This consisted of horse races, wrestling, archery competitions and consuming copious amounts of airag (fermented mare’s milk). I was befriended by the local governor the year prior because he liked my drones. He gave me unrestricted access to film everything during the festival including a seat in the VIP booth. A great honor.  

 

First was the horse race. These were children. Mostly 8 years old. The horses were practically wild. Not used as working horses and trained specifically for one purpose: to race.  

 

One of the horses was named Yosemite and had ties to the NGO I was with. I asked the child riding if I could put a GoPro on his helmet. He wasn’t too excited at the idea because he didn’t want to be slowed down but he eventually came around. One of the many items I forgot was my helmet mount. Frankly, it didn’t cross my mind to pack it and the Duct tape I had did the job perfectly.

The race was about 10 kilometers from one point to another. I was there for the start. Once the race began I followed them for a few kilometers with my phantom 4. I ended up retrieving my GoPro a few hours later.

 

From there we viewed the wrestling matches. These men ranged in size from 140 lbs to 250lbs. And these matches went on all day.

After a day at Naadam, we packed up our caravan and headed to our friend Tumursuk’s camp on the other side of lake Khuvsgul. It was a beautiful setting where he had created a sanctuary for marmots and red deer. Both of which are close to being on the endangered species list.

 

The next day we packed up and headed to Ulan-Uul in the Darkhad valley. There was a ranger station there where we would spend a few nights preparing and planning to head into the surrounding parks. It was 7 hours offroad with a stop to eat lunch. Once we arrived we spent the next 3 days planning, preparing, and enjoying the last semblance of civilization we would be see for a while.

 

On our last night we were surprised by a dinner the rangers put on. It was pressure cooked mutton and potatoes with bread. They call it horhog.

Once we left, the plan was constantly changing from hour to hour. Due to fear of weather exposure or lack of communication with rangers in the area. We arrived at Tengis Shishged Park and started to get our camp set up. We were right at the fork of where the two rivers met.

I was down at the river doing my laundry when I saw ripples on the water in the distance. Out of nowhere a wall of wind hit me. Within seconds there was thunder and I was being waved up to the plateau our tents were on. I ran up and found my tent flattened by the wind. I immediately got inside and started throwing all my cameras and electronics in my Pelican cases. I grabbed my raincoat and got out of the tent which went flat again. It was now hailing. We all ran into the ranger station which was a one room log cabin.

 

After a few hours, the storm cleared and I managed to get my equipment and tent back in order with the help of a few of the Mongolians who were with us, including my driver Boro. We later heard about this storm from others we met on the road. It had done some damage to a few gers and the reindeer herders’ tepees a hundred miles away. Nobody had seen weather like that before.

 

We spent the next week kicking around the Darkhad valley. Usually taking Lunches out of our Russian kitchen van.

 

We camped at a natural spring and at a small lake with the sound of wolves in the distance. Never once did the view cease to amaze.

 

Getting stuck during river crossings was the norm. This happened over and over but the Mongolians who were with us had getting stalled vehicles out of a river down to a science.

 

We went back to Ulan-Uul for a shower and to recharge before we headed into the area we had all come to see. The Horidal Saradig. Home of the Siberian Ibex.

We drove up the valley into a river bed. It was the bumpiest part of the trip. Constant river crossings and backtracking to find ways around fallen trees and debris.

 

The mountain pass was the worst part of the ride but the view was insane. I have never felt so small.

 

We arrived at a staging point and had to split up the group. One of the drivers had been convicted of poaching a few years prior and the rangers were not comfortable bringing him. We had to reorganize our bags and only bring the essentials. For me, this was a challenge as I was finally getting to film the subject of the documentary I was on the other side of the world to make. I opted to bring one change of clothes and all of my camera gear. I left the rest of my things at basecamp.

We packed 8 people and all of our gear into one Russian van and headed into the pristine zone.

 

Horidal Saradig: A pristine, unexplored region of Mongolia

 

Text and photographs by Jeff Colhoun

Horidal Saradig, Mongolia. The road was rough: a river bed full of soccer ball-sized rocks and gravel. We traversed back and forth for two hours, backtracking to find crossings. We stopped briefly to find high ground. We needed to contact the rangers we were meeting and all we had was a 2-way radio. For about an hour we waited but finally made contact. We now had our destination and headed that way.

The first ranger who greeted us had a horse, tent, and some basic provisions for himself. He was stationed at a lookout point where you could see argali, a species of endangered mountain sheep here in Mongolia similar to the California Bighorn Sheep.

 

Setting up camp and assembling gear, we took turns getting a glimpse of argali in the distance. At 10 kilometers away, they were very faint in our spotting scope but they were there. As we waited, more rangers started to ride in on their horses. I tried a few times to reach the argali with my Phantom 4. They were 3km out and 600 meters up on a peak. The range wasn’t an issue but the altitude limit was the limiting factor and I didn’t get the shot.  

 

After a night and a day we packed up and headed towards the next location. Two hours further into the protected area on a river wash, a few more rangers greeted us. There we unloaded the van and switched to horses. As I have never been a big equestrian and have also had a bad experience with a Mongolian horse, I opted to put my extra gear on my horse and walk. We had a 4-hour hike all uphill. The trail was non-existent. Permafrost with lichen on top soaked by water. Basically a bog.  

 

After a few miles with my drone trekker, I handed it off to one of the rangers who was on horseback. I was used to hiking trails so this boggy terrain was really taking it out of me. At this point, I started to realize the toll that sleeping in the backcountry for the last few weeks was really taking on me — both physically and mentally — but I knew what I had come to film was just over the mountain.

 

We got to the top and looked down into a lush green valley. We were the first westerners to see it. The lead ranger, Tumursukh, had been coming to this place since he was a child with his father. It was the most likely place we would encounter the Siberian Ibex.

 

As we unpacked the horses and started to set up camp Tumursukh got out his spotting scope. He wasted no time but we didn’t see anything on that day other than a few birds and a bit of rain.

 

Ragchaa began to cook us some meat. This meat had been salted a few days prior and had not been refrigerated. It was cooked on a stick over the fire and was served very rare. We were also surrounded by wild onions which made for a very interesting flavor.

 

I decided to go to bed before the sun went down (around 10 PM) knowing the next morning was likely the big day. I put two phantom batteries inside my sleeping bag with me so they wouldn’t be too cold to fly as soon as I woke up.

 

I was woken up by Simon. He had a cup of coffee for me and told me to get my drone ready — there was an ibex on the other side of the valley. I grabbed my P4 and began my preflight ritual. I could see the faint outline of the ibex through the spotting scope but there was no way to see it otherwise. He was 3 kilometers away across a windy gorge. If the drone went down, the party was over.

 

I took off and pointed the drone at a landmark I could see near where the Ibex was. I didn’t have time to wait for a GPS lock so I was flying in attitude mode (I almost always do). Without the comfort of knowing the drone would fly back if I lost signal, my hands were shaking. Simon kept his eyes on the scope guiding me in. After 3 minutes I was right on him. At first, the ibex didn’t know what to think but they are hunted by giant eagles that drag them off these cliffs so once I got close enough he darted. I followed him up and down the cliff side until my battery was at 30%. I flew back cautiously and once I landed a wave of relief fell over me. I had the footage I had come to get. The first close-up look at the Siberian ibex in its habitat. We spotted a few other groups on the other side of the valley and I got some other shots of them but nothing came close to the first flight and the excitement I felt.

 

We spent another night in the protected area but the next morning it was raining. We made our way out at 10 AM. Traversed the same way we came in and met up with the rest of our team where we left them. It was time to head back to lake Khovsgol before the long drive to Ulaanbaatar and then the flight home.

The entire trip was centered around getting this footage because it would be crucial in the documentary I was making about the men that patrol these lands. Tumursukh and his group of rangers are unlike any people I have worked with. Their drive and passion were inspiring. They do so much with so little and they do it because nobody else will. This is their home.

 

Lonely Planet Mongolia (Travel Guide)

Lonely Planet

Lonely Planet: The world's leading travel guide publisher

Lonely Planet Mongolia is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Watch wrestling, horse racing and archery at a Naadam Festival, explore dinosaur bones in the Gobi Desert, or stay local-style in a ger (traditional felt tent); all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of Mongolia and begin your journey now!

Inside Lonely Planet's Mongolia Travel Guide:

Colour maps and images throughout Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss Cultural insights give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience - culture, history, gers, spiritualism, cuisine, tribal Mongolia, Naadam Festival, wildlife, environment Over 40 maps Covers Ulaanbaatar, Dadal, Olgii, Tov, Ovorkhangai, Arkhangai, Selenge, Khovsgol, Khentii, Dornod, Sukhbaatar, Dundgov, Dornogov, Omnogov, Bayankhongor, Gov-Altai, Bayan-Olgii, Khovd, Uvs, Zavkhan and more

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet Mongolia, our most comprehensive guide to Mongolia, is perfect for both exploring top sights and taking roads less travelled.

Looking for more extensive coverage? Check out Lonely Planet's China guide.

Authors: Written and researched by Lonely Planet, Andrew Osborn, Anna Kaminski and Daniel McCrohan.

About Lonely Planet: Since 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel media company with guidebooks to every destination, an award-winning website, mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveller community. Lonely Planet covers must-see spots but also enables curious travellers to get off beaten paths to understand more of the culture of the places in which they find themselves.

Mongolia - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture

Alan Sanders

Mongolia is landlocked between its neighbors China and Russia in the heart of Asia. For centuries after the disintegration of Genghis Khan’s empire it was ruled by one or the other, but in 1990 the Mongols embraced democracy. Now, after two centuries of Manchu stagnation and seventy years of Soviet communism, they are rebuilding their national heritage. Rarely in the news but making progress toward a market economy, this resource-rich but infrastructure-poor country is a land of pioneers, and its greatest asset is the Mongol people, who are friendly, cooperative, ambitious, and well educated. English is now the first foreign language and the country’s leaders are forging new partnerships with international investors. Travelers from across the world are drawn to the “land of blue sky” by its picturesque mountains and lakes, flower-carpeted steppes and stony deserts, home to the snow leopard, the wild horse and camel, and the Gobi bear. The broad pasturelands, with herds of grazing livestock, and the traditional lifestyle of the nomads contrast with the busy streets of the capital Ulan Bator, a bustling metropolis of over one million people, modern hotels, apartments, and shops, interspersed with Buddhist monasteries and temples, surrounded by crowded suburbs of traditional felt tents. Mongolia’s many attractions range from dinosaur skeletons and the remains of ancient civilizations to relics and reenactments of the Genghis Khan era, and the traditional sports of wrestling, archery, and horse-racing. Culture Smart! Mongolia provides rare insights into contemporary Mongolian society, and offers practical tips on what to expect and how to conduct yourself in order to get the most out of your visit. Despite the undeniable challenges posed by modernity, these warm, tough, adaptable, and hospitable people welcome visitors and are open to the world.

Eagle Dreams: Searching for Legends in Wild Mongolia

Stephen Bodio

Mongolia is a vast country located between Siberia and China, and little-known to outsiders. As Mongolia had long been under Soviet rule, it was inaccessible to Westerners. That was until 1990, when Stephen J. Bodio began planning his trip.As a boy, Bodio was always fascinated with nature. When he saw an image in National Geographic of a Kazakh nomad, dressed in a long coat and wearing a fur hat, holding a huge eagle on his fist, his life was changed from then on. When Mongolia became independent in 1990, Bodio knew that his dream to see the eagle hunters from the picture in National Geographic

Sky Shamans of Mongolia: Meetings with Remarkable Healers

Kevin Turner

Part travelogue, part experiential spiritual memoir, Kevin Turner takes us to visit with authentic shamans in the steppes and urban centers of modern-day Mongolia. Along the way, the author, a practicing shaman himself, tells of spontaneous medical diagnoses, all-night shamanic ceremonies, and miraculous healings, all welling from a rich culture in which divination, soul-retrieval, and spirit depossession are a part of everyday life.   Shamanism, described in the 1950s by Mircea Eliade as "archaic techniques of ecstasy," is alive and well in Mongolia as a means of accessing "nonordinary realities" and the spirit world. After centuries of suppression by Buddhist and then Communist political powers, it is exploding in popularity in Mongolia. Turner gives compelling accounts of healings and rituals he witnesses among Darkhad, Buryat, and Khalkh shamans, and goes on to provide us with his insights into a universal shamanism, principles that lie at the heart of shamanic traditions worldwide. This astounding, inspiring book will appeal to shamans and shamanic therapists, students of Mongolian culture and comparative religion, and fans of off-grid travel memoirs.

Live From Mongolia: From Wall Street Banker to Mongolian News Anchor

Patricia Sexton

In 2006, author Patricia Sexton set out on a journey most of us have only fantasized about. She quit her job to pursue her dream. Thirty years old and a rising star at a Wall Street investment bank, Patricia wanted nothing more than to work as a foreign correspondent. So, that's just what she did, moving to Mongolia after landing an internship at the country's national TV station. Live from Mongolia follows Patricia's unlikely journey from Wall Street to Ulan Bator. Not only does Patricia manage to get promoted to anchor of the Mongolian news, she also meets some unusual people following unusual dreams of their own. There's the Mongolian hip-hop star who worked in London restaurants to make his dream come true or the French corporate exec now tracking endangered horses in the steppe. All this whilePatricia is living with Mongolian Mormons, camping with nomads in the Gobi desert, and even crashing Genghis Khan's 800th anniversary party. But of course Patricia has her fair share of stumbles, including a brief return to Wall Street--even after meeting with the president of CNN. Live from Mongolia is the story of this ongoing journey--from a corporate career to a dream job Patricia hadn't even imagined she would land.

Mongolia: Travels in the Untamed Land (Tauris Parke Paperbacks)

Jasper Becker

For seventy years Mongolia was all but closed to the west - a forbidden country, shrouded in darkness. Jasper Becker had long dreamed of exploring the sweeping land that lay just beyond China’s Great Wall and when communism disintegrated, he finally did. Setting out from Kublai Khan’s capital, Beijing, Becker was one of the first westerners to cross the border. Tracing the course of the Yellow River, he ventured deep into the heart of Mongolia, witnessing the birth of one of the world’s youngest democracies as well as the deep and tragic impact of the rules of Mao and Stalin on the Mongolian people.  

Unravelling the history of Mongolia which had for so long been obscured and distorted, Becker traces the rise and fall of the Mongols who emerged from the steppes to forge one of the greatest and most feared empires of all time under Genghis Khan and his successors; he examines the shattering, divisive years of communist rule and explores present-day Mongolia, where poverty and the encroachments of westernisation cause as much damage. He goes in search of the fragile remnants of Buddhism and shamanism; visits Tuva - the lost world of Central Asia - and searches for the tomb of Genghis Khan which has been guarded and hidden by the same family for generations. Listening to the pulse of Central Asian history, Becker adorns his narrative with the stories of past travellers, tyrannical rulers, nomads, monks, missionaries, Russian officials, Mongolian activists and the memories of everyday people to paint a moving and enlightening portrait of Mongolia, a country that against all the odds has survived since the days of Genghis Khan and continues to beat to its own rhythm.

Lonely Planet Mongolian Phrasebook & Dictionary

Lonely Planet

Lonely Planet: The world's leading travel guide publisher

With Lonely Planet's Mongolian Phrasebook, let no barriers - language or culture - get in your way. Grab this phrasebook and mix with locals during the Naadam Festival, trek on horse for foot through Mongolia's rugged mountains and plains, or spend a night in a ger (Mongolian tent). Our phrasebooks give you a comprehensive mix of practical and social words and phrases in more than 120 languages. Chat with the locals and discover their culture - a guaranteed way to enrich your travel experience.

Order the right meal with our menu decoder Never get stuck for words with our 3500-word two-way dictionary We make language easy with shortcuts, key phrases & common Q&As Feel at ease, with essential tips on culture & manners

Coverage includes: Basic language tools such as pronunciation; phrases for getting out and about, being social, food, safe travel, sustainable travel, and more; and two dictionaries

Authors: Written and researched by Lonely Planet, Alan JK Sanders, J Bat-Ireedui and Tsogt Gombosuren.

About Lonely Planet: Started in 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel guide publisher with guidebooks to every destination on the planet, as well as an award-winning website, a suite of mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveller community. Lonely Planet's mission is to enable curious travellers to experience the world and to truly get to the heart of the places they find themselves in.

TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice Awards 2012 and 2013 winner in Favorite Travel Guide category

'Lonely Planet guides are, quite simply, like no other.' -The New York Times

'Lonely Planet. It's on everyone's bookshelves; it's in every traveller's hands. It's on mobile phones. It's on the Internet. It's everywhere, and it's telling entire generations of people how to travel the world.' -Fairfax Media (Australia)

Mongolia (Bradt Travel Guides)

Jane Blunden

Open to the Western world since 1990, the 'Land of Blue Sky' is one of the few places on earth where travellers can tread on undiscovered ground and explore with a true sense of adventure. Homeland of the greatest conqueror of all time, Genghis Khan, vast tracts can be discovered on horse or camel, or in the comfort of a four-wheel drive. Written by Mongolian expert, Jane Blunden, this updated guide highlights its culture and customs, including the deel, the colourful national dress, herding rules and customs, Mongolian throat singing and Naadam, the annual celebration of wrestling, archery and horse-riding. For visitors keen to sample the unique pleasures of staying with nomads, she also explains how and where to experience the traditional lifestyle of a Mongolian ger. The guide offers tips on riding and biking tours, winter dog sledding and summer yoga camps and provides in-depth information on national parks and conservation. Wildlife tours and visits based around Buddhist temples are still Mongolia's strengths, along with the age old traditional herding culture and Nomadic lifestyle, to be seen throughout this vast country. This amazing lifestyle of nomads with their flocks of camels, sheep and cashmere goats herded on horseback, from the times of Genghis Khan, is disappearing fast as families become more settled. The capital Ulaanbaatar is undergoing major changes and offers visitors a taste of city life in contrast to the wide open spaces. The guide reviews new hotels and restaurants which are popping up as business is booming. Mongolia provides all the information you'll need to arrange an unforgettable stay with Mongolian nomads, enjoying the centuries-old lifestyle of a traditional ger.

Exercise a high degree of caution

The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The purpose of this Travel Advice is to provide up-to-date information to enable you to make well-informed decisions.

Crime

Violent crime occurs, even in daylight and on busy streets. Foreigners are increasingly the target of street crime, especially in Ulaanbaatar and other major cities and in tourist areas. Cases of assault and robbery significantly increase in the weeks leading up to major local holidays in Ulaanbaatar. After dark, stick to well-lighted busy streets and do not walk alone.

Passengers have been robbed, sometimes violently, by taxi drivers or by thieves waiting for them as they step out of a taxi. Use a reliable taxi company in Ulaanbaatar, as regular taxis (private cars without taxi signs) are unsafe. For a list of reliable companies, contact the Embassy of Canada in Ulaanbaatar.

Be particularly cautious in the area surrounding the State Department Store in Ulaanbaatar, where foreigners have been mugged. Beware of pickpockets.

Foreigners have also been robbed by individuals posing as police officers, particularly in the Sukhbaatar Square area. If approached, ask to see police credentials or offer to go to the police station. Exercise caution in crowded areas, including open-air markets, the central post office and the Gandan Monastery, as well as when using public transportation.

Individual travellers have been harassed at border crossings. Thefts occur frequently on trains between Mongolia and Russia.

Foreign companies have received threats of violence.

Demonstrations

Demonstrations occur and have the potential to suddenly turn violent. Avoid all demonstrations and be vigilant in areas where there are large crowds and gatherings.

Transportation

Traffic drives on the right. Road conditions are poor. Driving can be hazardous, especially in rural areas. Drivers have little regard for traffic regulations and do not follow safe driving practices. Accidents occur frequently. Access to rural areas can be hampered by heavy snowfalls during the winter months.

The use of public transportation and regular taxis is considered to be unsafe. Contact the Embassy of Canada for advice on reliable taxi services. Use licensed taxis equipped with meters, regardless of the distance of the journey. Make arrangements for taxi service through your hotel.

Consult our Transportation Safety page in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.

Health

Related Travel Health Notices
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
Vaccines

Routine Vaccines

Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.

Vaccines to Consider

You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread by contaminated food or water. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.

Influenza

Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or through personal contact with unwashed hands. Get the flu shot.

Measles

Measles occurs worldwide but is a common disease in developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Measles is a highly contagious disease. Be sure your vaccination against measles is up-to-date regardless of the travel destination.
 

Rabies

Rabies is a disease that attacks the central nervous system spread to humans through a bite, scratch or lick from a rabid animal. Vaccination should be considered for travellers going to areas where rabies exists and who have a high risk of exposure (i.e., close contact with animals, occupational risk, and children).

Tick-borne encephalitis

Tick-borne encephalitis is a viral disease that can cause swelling of the brain. It is spread to humans by the bite of an infected tick. Vaccination should be considered for those who may be exposed to tick bites (e.g., those spending time outdoors in wooded areas) while travelling in regions with risk of tick-borne encephalitis.

Typhoid

Typhoid is a bacterial infection spread by contaminated food or water. Risk is higher among travellers going to rural areas, visiting friends and relatives, or with weakened immune systems. Travellers visiting regions with typhoid risk, especially those exposed to places with poor sanitation should consider getting vaccinated.

Yellow Fever Vaccination

Yellow fever is a disease caused by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.

* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
Risk
  • There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
  • Proof of vaccination is not required to enter this country.
Recommendation
  • Vaccination is not recommended.
Food/Water

Food and Water-borne Diseases

Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.

In some areas in East Asia, food and water can also carry diseases like cholera, hepatitis A, leptospirosis, schistosomiasis and typhoid. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in East Asia. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!

Travellers' diarrhea
  • Travellers' diarrhea is the most common illness affecting travellers. It is spread from eating or drinking contaminated food or water.
  • Risk of developing travellers’ diarrhea increases when travelling in regions with poor sanitation. Practise safe food and water precautions.
  • The most important treatment for travellers' diarrhea is rehydration (drinking lots of fluids). Carry oral rehydration salts when travelling.

Insects

Insects and Illness

In some areas in Eastern Asia, certain insects carry and spread diseases like chikungunya, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis, leishmaniasis, Lyme disease, malaria, and tick-borne encephalitis.

Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.


Malaria

Malaria

There is no risk of malaria in this country.


Animals

Animals and Illness

Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, monkeys, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats. Some infections found in some areas in Eastern Asia, like avian influenza and rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.


Person-to-Person

Person-to-Person Infections

Crowded conditions can increase your risk of certain illnesses. Remember to wash your hands often and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to avoid colds, the flu and other illnesses.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV are spread through blood and bodily fluids; practise safer sex.

Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is an infection caused by bacteria and usually affects the lungs.

For most travellers the risk of tuberculosis is low.

Travellers who may be at high risk while travelling in regions with risk of tuberculosis should discuss pre- and post-travel options with a health care provider.

High-risk travellers include those visiting or working in prisons, refugee camps, homeless shelters, or hospitals, or travellers visiting friends and relatives.


Medical services and facilities

Medical services and facilities

The standard of medical care is low and local facilities are limited. A few hospitals in Ulaanbaatar cater to foreigners, but they suffer from a shortage of safe medicine and reliable medical staff. Leave immediately for Beijing, China, where high-quality medical treatment can be obtained, if you are suffering from any illness or injury that could be life threatening.

Health tips

Air pollution is acute, especially in heavily industrialized areas. You may also experience altitude sickness. Be aware of the dangers of hypothermia as temperatures can drop to minus 35 to 40 degrees Celsius in winter.

Keep in Mind...

The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.

Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.

You are subject to local laws. Consult our Arrest and Detention page for more information.

Laws

An International Driving Permit is required.

Money

The currency is the tugrug (MNT). U.S. dollars and credit cards are accepted in hotels and some restaurants, mainly in Ulaanbaatar. U.S. dollar traveller's cheques are accepted at some hotels and can be converted at several banks. Carry local currency, especially in rural areas.

Climate

Mongolia is located in an active seismic zone.

There is a short rainy season from mid-July to mid-September. Dust storms occur between May and June.

Mongolia is subject to extreme temperatures (from minus 35 to 40 degrees Celsius in the winter to plus 35 degrees Celsius in the summer).