Mongolia in East Asia is a rugged adventure destination bordering China and Russia. Here you can experience extensive untouched landscapes and the Mongolian rare nomadic culture. Mongolia is the country of cobalt blue sky, wide open spaces, forests and crystal clear lakes and rivers. You won’t find many permanent dwellings and the land is owned by people, just like a vast national park.
Mongolia is a young democracy with a promising economy based on tourism, agriculture and mining. It also has a unique history that goes back to the Genghis Khan’s Mongol Empire. All-in-all Mongolia is a beautiful land of nomads, adventure and blue sky, a place you should definitely plan a trip to. Hopefully our Mongolia travel guide will inspire you to do just that!
Mongolia Travel Info
Language: Roughly 95% of the population of Mongolia speaks Mongolian which is also the official language. Several dialects of Buryat and Oirat are spoken in the country along with Mongolic Khamnigan. In west Mongolia, both Turkish languages, Tuvan and Kazak are spoken.
Currency: Mongolian tögrög.
Visa: Getting a tourist visa for Mongolia is quite straight forward. Usually visas are issued between seven to fourteen days within applying and with an express fee you can acquire a visa within 24 hours. The standard visa is issued for 30 days and you must enter the country within three months from the date of issue. If you want to stay for more than 30 days you can get your tourist visa extended in Ulaanbaatar the capital city of Mongolia.
Electricity: Power sockets in Mongolia are of type C and E. Standard voltage is 220V with a standard frequency of 50 Hz. Socket type C is called Euro plug and works well with plug E and F. Socket type E is of French origin and works well with plug C and F if there is an additional pinhole in it. I recommend bringing a Universal Travel Adapter so you don’t need to keep buying new adapters for each country you visit.
Mongolia Festivals & Celebrations
Tsagaan Sar (Mongolian New Year): The Mongolian New Year is celebrated between the end of January and the end of February. The traditional feast comprises of dairy products, mutton, horse meat, dumplings or buzz, rice with curd, airag (fermented mare’s milk) and lots and lots of cookies. Families pay visit to each other and eat lots of dumplings too. The warm hospitality of the Mongolian nomads is considered by travelers to the region as legendary. If you’re in Mongolia during this time, do join a family and experience their hospitality and customs for yourself.
Nadaam festival: Most towns and villages all across Mongolia celebrate Nadaam each summer however the local celebrations of Nadaam are often more fun than the main festival held in Ulaanbaatar. A fun-filled atmosphere, traditional dresses and colorful spectators make for the perfect back drop of the festival. Three main sports take place: wrestling, archery and horse riding. As a tradition, only men participate in wrestling, men and women both can take part in archery and for horse races up to 35 kilometers, children as young as 5 years old take part.
Khovsgol Ice Festival: During the month of March, a unique festival takes place at Lake Khovsgol. During this time of the year, Mongolia experiences one of the coldest winters on earth with temperature dropping below -35°C. The festival is for brave hearts only with horse sled races, wrestling, ice rally-driving and tug of war games all taking place on the frozen lake.
Safety In Mongolia
Safety is a concern for most people traveling to Mongolia however the usual bag-snatching, pick-pocketing and other scams that are common in some places in East Asia are not so common here. Some areas of Mongolia are more open and happy to receive tourists than others so always do your own research before you go. Based on many years of solo travel around east Asia I wouldn’t leave home without travel insurance. I recommend checking out the travel insurance plan that World Nomads can offer you a few weeks before your Mongolia trip. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!
Top 10 Amazing Things To Do In Mongolia
If you are flying into Mongolia or entering via Trans Mongolian train, chances are that you will arrive at Ulaanbaatar. This city is a great place to begin your journey into the country. Here you will find a number of museums, monasteries and several places well worth visiting. I suggest staying a few nights in a reputable hotel here to become acclimatized and acquainted with this great city and it’s culture before moving onwards to the countryside.
Visit Genghis Khan’s Statue Complex
When you visit Mongolia, you can’t leave without visiting this iconic landmark. The statue is 40 meters high and is made up of stainless steel that makes it glisten like silver. It was constructed in 2008 with the use of private funds. Genghis Khan’s statue is extremely dramatic and has an elevator rising up it’s tail. It was constructed at this spot because according to the legend, this was the place where Genghis Khan found the golden whip.
Stay in a Ger
Yurts or Ger are the traditional nomadic houses that are still preferred by plenty of Mongolians. You can find several Ger districts on the borders of Ulaanbaatar. Staying in a Ger is one experience you would certainly not want to miss if you ever do travel to Mongolia. In the countryside, a number of families open their homes to tourists but if you are not comfortable with this you can find tourist Ger camps that provide you with the classic Ger experience combined with a regular hotel stay.
Camel ride in The Gobi desert
If you are travelling towards the countryside, do not miss going to the Gobi desert. Traveling to the desert might take some time but it is definitely worth the effort. Nothing in the world can compete with the peaceful expanse of no-man’s land. Apart from the very famous camel ride, the desert has other tourist attractions as well which include the flaming cliffs of Bayanzag and the dunes in Khongriin Els.
Visit Khustain National Park
Khustain National Park is situated at around 100 kilometers towards the south of Ulaanbaatar. This park has a huge population of takhi, a Mongolian wild horse that was once believed to be extinct. Other than takhi, the park also has maral, the Asiatic red deer, deer, boar, steppe gazelle, wolves, Pallas’s cats, lynx and a number of birds. Dusk and dawn are the best time for wildlife watching and hence, plan at least one night stay at the park to see a takhi and other animals.
Go Fly Fishing for Hucho Taimen
Every angler dreams of catching a big taimen. Mongolia is one of the most important destinations in the world where you can catch a taimen using a fly rod. Although Huchen has a huge population the increasing number of fishing expeditions means the species is in continual decline. If you get the opportunity to catch a taimen, just lift it out of water gently, take some pictures and put it back. Do not by any means keep it out of water for more than a few seconds.
Visit the Flaming Cliffs
Situated in the Gobi desert, the Flaming cliffs glow with a fiery red light in the evening. They can be best seen from below but no matter what time to visit or where you stand, you cannot ignore the raw beauty and the spectacular enormity of the cliffs. This place in the desert is among the most significant places for dinosaur fossil hunters. In 1920s, dinosaur eggs were discovered for the first time here and a number of important fossils have also been excavated.
Enjoy a Tumen Ekh Song and Dance Ensemble
Tumen Ekh Song and Dance Ensemble is the most famous cultural show in Ulaanbaatar that features traditional dancers, singers and contortionists. It takes place in the State Youth and Children’s Theatre and you can get to see some beautiful costumes and hear khoomii or throat singing. This hour long show takes place every day except during the winter months.
Soak in the Waterfall
Hidden in the mountains in the north of Uureg Nur is a waterfall that flows over black rocks. It is a 10 kilometer stretch from the shore of the lake to the beginning of the river valley. After that you need to go through a 4 kilometer hike to reach the waterfall. On your way, you will come across ‘love street’ which is the place where snow leopards mate.
Airag is a local brew made from fermented Mare’s milk and something that you would not find anywhere else in the world. Airag has a unique taste that ranges between that of alcohol and the taste that you might develop in your mouth if you stand near a horse for the entire day. Drink it just for the experience of trying something new but don’t expect to like it and beware because it has a very high alcohol content.
Other than these top things to do in Mongolia, there is so more to see and experience in this amazing country. Plan ahead so that you can take your time exploring and be prepared to be flexible because sometimes travelers you meet along the way will have the best suggestions for undiscovered gems.
What To Eat In Mongolia
The cuisine in Mongolia is influenced by the region’s climate and by Chinese and Russian culture. The staple food is dairy and meat with very limited intake of vegetables.
Aarul or Dried Cheese Biscuits: These biscuits are made up of drained sour milk or yogurt and then sun dried until they become flaky. It’s served in different shapes like strips, balls, chunks, although the circular flattened ones are mostly preferred by the locals. It is a form of desert and can be found on most Mongolian restaurant menus.
Khorkhog: The Mongolian Barbecue: This includes lamb cooked in a pot on an open fire along with onions, carrots and potatoes. In order to improve the cooking process, smooth stones are put in the vessel. The dish tastes great with the smoky flavors of the meat balancing the bland taste of the vegetables.
Mutton Dumplings or Buuz: Buuz is believed to be the national dish of Mongolia and is sold as street food all over the place here, although you won’t find them on the menu in most restaurants. These humble steamed dumplings are filled with mutton, garlic, onions and caraway and they’re usually served alongside broth or soup.
Tsuivan or noodle stew: Tsuivan includes noodles that are cooked with beef, pork or mutton with a dash of onions, cabbage and carrots served on the side. The flavors are unique and the meatiness of the stew goes well with the fresh flavors of the vegetables.
Budaatai Khuurga: This is an authentic Mongolian rice meal that can be eaten both as lunch and dinner. Rice is cooked with shredded beef or lamb along with onions, bell pepper, cabbage and carrots. The food is filling and extremely flavorful with lots of spice to it.
Where To Stay In Mongolia
Finding great accommodation in Mongolia is usually really easy because there’s a wide variety of options to choose from no matter what the size of your budget. Hostels cost around $14-$25 a night making travel to Mongolia very affordable for backpackers and travelers on a tight budget.
If you’re visiting Mongolia during peak season or would prefer to stay in a luxury hotel then it’s wise to book your accommodation in advance. Don’t wait until you arrive to see what’s available or you may be disappointed to find that all the best places to stay have already been snapped up.
Jetset Bunny recommends using Booking.com for the best accommodation deals in Mongolia.
If you’re backpacking in Mongolia or traveling on a tight budget then Hostel World is another great option. Staying in hostels makes travel in Asia very affordable and is also a great way to meet new travel buddies.
Mongolia Trip Planner
Best Time to Visit Mongolia
Temperatures in Mongolia can drop to as low as minus 40°C (-40°F) during winter so it’s best to go during the summer in June, July and August. Summer time in Mongolia is peak season though so if you wish to avoid the higher prices perhaps consider visiting in May, September or October when it’s a bit quieter too.
Mongolia Travel Budget
Mongolia is an affordable destination for travelers on all budgets, high and low. The cost of your trip to Mongolia depends on the comfort level you want while here. If you’re backpacking and planning on staying in hostels and basic food then budget between $20 and $35 a day. If you’re looking to stay in private rooms and eat in mid-range restaurants you could spend anywhere between $35 to $100 per day.
- Budget: $12-25
- Mid-range: $25-$100
- Splurge: $100+
Meal For One
- Budget: $5.00-$10.00
- Mid-range: $10-$20
- Splurge: $20-$60
Mongolia Packing Guide
Packing for a trip to Mongolia, like most other places in east Asia, is a breeze if you think ahead and know what kind of weather to expect. East Asia climates, depending on the time of year can go from being scorching hot to freezing cold. Mongolia can hit minus 40°C in winter so avoid a visit during this time at all costs.
Other essential items to pack for a trip to Mongolia include, most importantly, a good quality travel backpack. Choose the brand carefully and make sure you find the right size backpack for your torso. Believe me, doing this will make all the difference and prevent major backache. Smaller items to pack include a padlock for any valuables particularly if you’re staying in hostels or dormitories and a money belt to keep important documents close to you while on the go.
For the full list of everything you need to pack for a trip to Mongolia check out the Jetset Bunny Ultimate Southeast Asia Packing List.