MONGOLIA

MONGOLIA

My travel tips and recommendations for your travels in Mongolia!

GEOGRAPHY AND DEMOGRAPHICS

Once the World’s largest empire, today Mongolia is an independent republic in East Asia. The country is bounded on the south, east and west by China and to the north by Russia. Mongolia’s average altitude is 1580 meters above sea level, which makes it one of the highest countries in the world. The highest altitude is 4374m, at the Khuiten peak.

Population is around 3 million people only, with a little more than half living in UlaanBaatar alone. A large part of the population still live the nomadic lifestyle.

Timezone in Mongolia GMT +8, except for the Western provinces of Bayan-Ölgii, Uvs and Khovd, where the timezone is GMT +7.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

High season is between June and August, meaning prices will also be higher during these months. For good travel conditions and best fares, consider travelling in May or September, baring in mind temperatures go very low beyond that.

UlaanBaatar is considered one of the coldest capitals in the World, reaching -40ºC in Winter.

AVERAGE COSTS

The official currency is the Mongolian Tugrik (₮), but you’ll often find accommodation and services quoted in USD.

Things however, are not really cheap around here. A coffee (not from a packet) can cost 3USD or more. A night at a hostel costs around 10USD, and a decent hotel starts at 60USD.

City buses in UB are 500₮ flat rate, intercity buses around 10000₮ to 15000₮. If you’d rather take a taxi, fares are usually calculated at 1000₮/km – but be prepared to negotiate, as your foreign look may cost you at least double the price!

Museums go from FREE to 25000₮.

Food ranges from 2000₮ to 20000₮ per dish.

TRANSPORTS

It’s kind of difficult to get public transports in Mongolia.

The buses in UlaanBaatar keep changing their routes. Fares in the city are 500₮, but you must have a travel touch card (costs 3000₮). You can buy the card and top-up at the little shops near the bus stops that say “U Money” on the window.

For the local transports to other cities, ask around. Bigger cities will have a designated bus station, smaller villages will have fewer buses (mini van’s, actually), that run only few days per week, and only once their full – they usually collect you from your address and run based on “calling them”, so ask around for help! In UlaanBaatar most buses to other cities depart from the Dagon Bus Station, western border of the city. You can get to the Dragon Bus Station taking bus 1 from any bus stop on Peace Avenue.
For the trains, get your tickets at the train stations. Trains are usually on time!

ENTRY AND EXIT

Most nationalities must apply for a visa for both entering and exiting the country. Tourist visas are 30 days maximum. Application fees vary, depending where you apply for your visa (each consulate has their own fees), the type of visa needed, and how fast you’ll need it done.

Consulates closer to the Mongolia borders usually provide the best rates (Ulan Ude in Russia and Erlian in China).

Since 2017 you can also get an e-visa, upon arrival, but for that you must get an invitation from an official agency in Mongolia (your travel agency should be able to provide this for you). E-visas cost 45USD, and last for 30 days also.

It’s also easy to get visa extensions once you are already in Mongolia, just make sure to apply for it on time whilst in UlaanBaatar.

TRAVEL TIPS

Budget Travelling

Eat in local food joints rather than international-looking food restaurants. A set of dumplings can come at only 2000₮.

Get a SIM card to be always connected. I use Unitel, it works in most of the country. All you need is your passport on the moment of purchase. I usually pay around 15000₮ for 30 days, for 512Mbs of data per day. If you go over this you still have data, but it runs at a slower speed.

Get a travel card to catch buses in UlaanBaatar, instead of trying to get taxis.

If you are joining organised tours, instead of getting a guide that cooks, stock up on food and cook your own meals.

I’d usually say to try and get the local transports rather than joining organised tours, but Mongolia is not the case. Definitely get an organised tour, at least with a good driver, a reliable car (UAZ russian vans are way better than Jeeps and other fancy 4×4’s!), a planned itinerary and if possible, a guide also. You’ll be saving time, and mostly, enjoying the country better… time is money, you know 🙂

Accommodation

If you are staying in older hostels, don’t be put of by the looks of the buildings or the streets on the outside 🙂 everything looks much better inside!

Couchsurfing is fairly new in Mongolia. Outside of UlaanBaatar, hosts are usually families setting up guesthouse businesses, and they’ll be more eager to sign you up on their “tours”, rather than actually host you.

Addresses in UlaanBaatar usually have the street name, followed by the block / quarter number, and then followed by the apartment number. Each block / quarter may have several buildings, so just check above the door if your apartment number is on that building 😉

Hotels may be 5 stars, but the country is still 2 stars: often there will be no running water, no hot water, you’ll get lots of electric shocks near the plugs, the water may run yellowish, staff not always speak english, mattresses are hard! But hey, this is Mongolia 🙂 Thankfully you’ve travelled to a place that looks like Mongolia in Mongolia 😉

Accommodation in gers is the most basic you can think of, and be really thankful if you ever find lavatories with any kind of walls or doors (any kind of privacy is a BONUS). Ladies, bringing long coats is really good for whenever you’ll need a wee… if you know what I mean 🙄

Food

Meat, dairy and flour. These are the three base ingredients for most Mongolian dish.

Do you follow a vegan diet? It’ll be hard sticking to it (outside UlaanBaatar). Even vegetarian is difficult – mind you this is a country that naturally does not produce any agriculture.

Most popular dishes are buuz (dumplings), noodles and barbecues.

When you visit a nomadic family, they will always invite you for tea and boortsog (mongolian cookies). Another local speciality is the airag (fermented horse milk), a soury drink slighty alcoholic. Some families will also have a homemade distillery to produce their own version of vodka, from yogurt.

Stay Healthy

Most travellers to Russia will need vaccinations for hepatitis A and typhoid fever, as well as medications for travellers‘ diarrhoea. All travellers should be up-to-date on tetanus-diphtheria vaccination. Other immunisations may be necessary depending upon the circumstances of the trip and the medical history of the traveler, as discussed below. All travellers should visit a physician 4-8 weeks before departure.

Vaccinations:

Tetanus-diphtheriaFor all travellers who have not received a tetanus-diphtheria immunization within the last 10 years.
Hepatitis ARecommended for all travellers
PolioOne-time booster recommended for any adult traveler who completed the childhood series but never had polio vaccine as an adult
TyphoidFor travellers who may eat or drink outside major restaurants and hotels
Japanese encephalitisFor long-term (>1 month) travellers to rural areas in the far eastern maritime areas south of Khabarovsk.
Hepatitis BRecommended for all travellers
RabiesFor travellers spending a lot of time outdoors, or at high risk for animal bites, or involved in any activities that might bring them into direct contact with bats
Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR)Two doses recommended for all travellers born after 1956, if not previously given
InfluenzaRecommended for all travellers from November through April

Important Gear

Well, in Mongolia you never know! In October I got -30ºC to 27ºC, and in May I got -15ºC to 34ºC. So, be prepared!

A sleeping bag is mandatory. Many gers will not provide you with bed linen, and it may get cold at night. It’s also often to camp out, so, be prepared.

Comfortable rugged shoes for long walks and treks.

Some decent trousers to protect your legs if you plan on horseback riding.

A scarf or balaclava, especially if travelling in April / May / June – the windy season!

A good waterproof jacket, especially in the rainy season – July / August

Decent winter clothes if you are travelling to the North or the West.

Books and Films

  • Genghis BluesPaul Pena

TOP 5 EXPERIENCES IN MONGOLIA

Why You Shoudn’t Miss It:

The nomadic lifestyle might be the number 1 reason people travel to Mongolia. Staying in a familiar ger, below the million stars, amongst the incredible landscapes of Mongolia, is definitely an experience of a lifetime.

General Info:

All travel agencies that travel in Mongolia will help you organise this. I myself have my Wild Mongolia tour, where we spend nights in both familiar gers and ger camps

Why You Shoudn’t Miss It:

Throat singing is a very special singing form, that is mostly predominant in this region (Mongolia, Tuva, Buryatia, etc).

General Info:

The best way to catch a good performance is to go to the Tumen Ehk Ensemble performance in UlaanBaatar. Tickets sell from 25000₮. Performances during high season are usually every day, at 6pm.

Why You Shoudn’t Miss It:

The Hustai National Park Trust NGO was set up in 1993, and it’s main purpose was to reintroduce the extinct Przewalski horse – the only horse breed in the World that is completely wild. They’ve been doing an amazing work ever since. You can come on a day trip form UlaanBaatar, or stay overnight. There are around 300 horses in the reserve, and it’s easier to see them in the early or later hours of the day, when they come down to the rivers drink some water. Besides Wild Horses, you can also see deers, eagles, marmots, and many other animals out in the wild.

General Info:

Hustai National Park is 95kms west from UlaanBaatar. Find a driver or a tour that takes you there. Entrance fees are from 22000₮ per person.

Why You Shoudn’t Miss It:

The largest sweet water lake in Mongolia, Khovsgul lake actually parts apart in small rivers, and most of them lead to Baikal lake, a few kms north, in Siberia – Russia. Around this area you’ll find a colder climate, a greener and more mountainous landscape, cedar forests and lots of shamanism too.

General Info:

Get to Khovsgul on a private tour, or take a bus to Mörön (32600₮ from UlaanBaatar), and then get another bus or driver to Khuvsgul (around 20000₮)

Why You Shoudn’t Miss It:

Gobi Desert is probably the most popular region in Mongolia. The amazing strip of sand dunes, snowed in the Winter time, are an amazing sight and a great experience. Near the Khongoryn Els (the big sand dunes) you should also go to Dugany Am, a gorge in Gurvan Saikhan National Park packed in ice.

General Info:

All tour agents in Mongolia will help and organise a trip to the Gobi Desert. You can also catch a bus to Dalanzadgad, and there get a driver to the Gobi. They shall find you a nomadic family you can spend the night with.

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