Mongolia is a rugged adventure destination bordering China and Russia in East Asia. A young democracy with a promising economy based on tourism, agriculture and mining. Mongolia has a unique and fascinating history that goes back to the Genghis Khan’s Mongol Empire. You won’t find many permanent dwellings and the land is owned by people, just like a vast national park. All-in-all Mongolia is a beautiful land of nomads, wide open spaces, cobalt blue sky and crystal clear lakes.
MONGOLIA TOP 5 THINGS TO DO
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.
Stay in a Ger
Yurts or Ger are the traditional nomadic houses that are still the accommodation of choice for many 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 when visiting Mongolia. In the countryside, a number of families open their homes to tourists however there’s also lots of 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 traveling towards the countryside, you must visit the Gobi desert. Traveling to the desert might take some time but it is definitely worth the effort. Nothing in the world can compare with the peaceful expanse of no-man’s land. Apart from the famous camel rides, the desert has other tourist attractions such as the flaming cliffs of Bayanzag and the dunes in Khongriin Els.
Enjoy a Tumen Ekh Song and Dance
A 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 aka throat singing. This spectacular hour long show takes place every day except during the winter months.
Airag is a local Mongolian brew made from fermented Mare’s milk. The drink has a unique taste, expect to not like it! Drink Airag just for the experience of trying something new but beware… it has a very high alcohol content.
Read more: Top 10 Things To Do In Mongolia
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MONGOLIA TOP 3 FESTIVALS
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 visits to eachother and 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.
Most towns and villages all across Mongolia celebrate Nadaam each summer and the local’s 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 to 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, expect to see children as young as 5 years old participating.
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.
Language: Around 95% of the Mongolian population 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 also spoken.
Currency: Mongolian tögrög.
Visa: Getting a tourist visa for Mongolia is a straight forward process. Usually visas are issued between seven to fourteen days of applying but 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. Use these free online visa checker and calculator tools so you know if a visa for Mongolia is required (which depends on the country you’re from) and if so, how long it will take to process your visa and the cost.
Electricity: Power sockets in Mongolia are of type C and E. Standard voltage is 220V with a standard frequency of 50 Hz. I recommend bringing a Universal Travel Adapter so you don’t need to keep buying new adapters for each new country you visit.
Lonely Planet Mongolia: Check price on Amazon
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 considered the national dish of Mongolia and is sold as street food everywhere, although you won’t find Buuz 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
Mongolia is a reasonably affordable place to visit. Finding excellent accommodation in Mongolia is super easy because there’s so many options whatever your budget.
Hostels and dormitories make travel to Mongolia affordable for backpackers and any travelers on a shoe-string budget.
Whether you’re a backpacker, flash-packer or a luxury vacationer, Mongolia will not disappoint you. A basic hotel room in Mongolia can cost less than $30 dollars. If you’re looking for accommodation that includes western amenities and comforts then there will be more options to choose from in the big cities and popular tourist hotspots like Ulaanbaatar. If you’re traveling to Mongolia during peak season or wish 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. However, if you are backpacking in Mongolia or traveling on a tight budget then Hostel World is another great option. Staying in hostels makes travel in East Asia very affordable and is also a great way to meet new travel buddies.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
BEST TIME TO VISIT MONGOLIA
Temperatures in Mongolia can drop to as low as -40°C 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 generally an affordable destination for travelers on all budgets. The cost of your trip to Mongolia really depends on the level of comfort you will expect while here. If you are backpacking and planning on staying in dormitories, hostels and eating street food then budget between $30 to $50 a day. If you prefer to stay in 3-4 star hotel rooms and eat in mid-range restaurants you could spend anywhere between $50 to $100 per day. If you want to enjoy luxury 4-5 star accommodation and gourmet restaurants then budget about $100 to $200 plus a day.
IS MONGOLIA SAFE FOR FEMALE TRAVELERS?
Safety is a concern for most people traveling to Mongolia. Pick-pocketing, bag-snatching and other scams to take advantage of tourists are common. Female travelers should take care to dress appropriately and be extra careful when walking alone or at night. Some parts of Mongolia are dangerous so do your research before you go and avoid these places. Based on many years of solo travel in East Asia I would never leave home without travel insurance and recommend checking out the travel insurance plan that World Nomads can offer you a few weeks before your Mongolia trip.
MONGOLIA VISA CHECKER
MONGOLIA FLIGHT DEALS
MONGOLIA TOURS & ACTIVITIES
MONGOLIA PACKING TIPS
Packing for a trip to Mongolia, like most other places in East Asia, is a breeze. You really don’t need as much travel gear as you may think for a trip to Mongolia and it’s always best to travel light whenever possible.
That said, the gear you do bring on your trip should be the very best option available for you and that doesn’t always mean the most expensive. Jetset Bunnies around the globe are always discovering the latest and the greatest in travel gear for women and this is where we share our fabulous finds with you.
It’s so easy to travel light in hotter climates just remember to pack lightweight and breathable lose-fitting clothing. In Mongolia be prepared for extremely cold weather depending on the month you visit and pack a warm sweater, waterproof and windproof coat, gloves and hat.
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. Read our related blog post with advice on how to choose the best backpacks for women travelers. Smaller items to pack include a padlock, sleep sheet and a money belt to keep important documents close to you.