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Mongolia Travel Guide

 

On this page we have summarized the most important travel tips for your trip through Mongolia to come up with a comprehensive travel guide for you. These pieces of information should be a first start for you, you can find corresponding links if we offer more in-depth details on our blog. Now enjoy planning your first trip to Mongolia!

Your trip to Mongolia

Your travel and vacation opportunities in Mongolia are as diverse as the Mongolian landscapes. From off-road trips for self-drivers, to trips with booked drivers, to horseback riding and fishing - from a visit to the Naadam celebrations, to visiting Buddhist monasteries or the Gobi desert - in this rough overview you will find all the information that make your trip to Mongolia easier!

Weather / climate of Mongolia

There is a strong continental climate in Mongolia with long, very cold and dry winters and a little wetter, sometimes hot summers. Spring and autumn, on the other hand, are very short.

The temperatures are characterized by extreme fluctuations, on the one hand the differences between day and night temperatures can be up to 30 degree at the same spot.

On the other hand, Mongolia is divided into different climatic zones from north to south, so that also geographically the temperatures sometimes differ extremely.

The Gobi desert is a landscape of the extremes: in winter temperature falls to -40 degrees Celsius, in summer temperatures can reach up to 45 degrees.

It is quite windy all year round in Mongolia, the humidity is very low. However there is a lot of sun shine. Precipitation is high in July and August, over the year the precipitation is manageable: in the north it is about 400mm (2018 it was 590mm in Germany), in the south only 100mm.

Best Time to Visit Mongolia

Overall, the time between May and mid-October is ideal for a trip through Mongolia. While April is still mostly cold, the weather in May is more bearable. At the end of October, winter begins. Absolute high season ranges from June to September, the weather is warm and mostly dry and there are only occasional thunderstorms.

April and May as well as September and October are recommended for a visit to the Gobi Desert, during this time of the year temperatures are moderate.

Visa for Mongolia

Visa regulations for Mongolia depend on your country of origin. While for many countries short trips to Mongolia (less than 30 days / vacation) may be visa free, make sure to check with the regulations for your home country.

For longer stays and travel purposes other than visits and business trips, a visa may also be required, which can be applied for at your local Mongolian embassy.

Vaccinations for your trip to Mongolia

Your standard vaccinations should be up to date. It is best to discuss these with your doctor.

Vaccinations against hepatitis A and rabies are recommended, for longer stays or special exposure you can also get vaccinations against hepatitis B, typhoid, meningitis (A / CW / Y) and TBE.

The best thing to do, however, is to find out about the current health information at your Federal Foreign Office.

Traveling to Mongolia - by airplane or train

The easiest way to get to Mongolia is by plane, you will land at Ulan Bator International Airport. It is worth booking early because many flights in summer months are often fully booked from spring onwards.

Ulan Bator International Airport is around 15 km from the city center, which can be reached by bus in 30 minutes and by taxi in 20 minutes.

A delightful railway connection runs from Beijing to Ulaan Bataar, the journey takes two days and runs through a very charming environment.

The Trans-Siberian Railway goes from Moscow to Ulan Ude, from there the Trans-Mongolian Railway connects to Ulan Bataar. The trip is a real highlight for railway fans, even if the somewhat shorter trip from Beijing is more appealing. The trip from Moscow takes about four days (with sleeping and dining cars). Alternatively, flights go to Irkutsk and from there you can take the train to Ulan Bataar, whereas Russian language skills sure help a lot.

Entry to Mongolia by car is only possible for tourists with a special permit.

How long should a trip to Mongolia be?

For a sensible round trip to all the important sights of Mongolia by car, you should definitely plan three to four weeks as   Mongolia is about five times the size of Germany. For smaller tours to individual parts of the country, two weeks make sense. A week-long tour to a certain destination may also make sense, but you should always assess whether this is worth an intercontinental flight.

Traveling around Mongolia / Means of Transportation

Mongolei Mietwagen Camping Flaming Cliffs

It makes most sense to move through Mongolia with rental car. However, you should never rent from a private person, but from a reliable provider. Like this you are on the safe side in terms of insurance and good service and you are also well taken care of in an emergency.

You can either drive yourself or hire a driver. With a driver, however, you have to consider his hourly limit per day and you also have to consider his daily rates and meals.

With the well-known car-rentals you have the choice between SIXT and Avis. SIXT has many rental stations and a comprehensive breakdown emergency service. You can get one-way rentals and return the vehicle to any airport or Trans-Siberian railway station.

There are also exciting rental packages, for example from Followthetracks or LIQUI MOLY.

You can find out more about this, but also about the right vehicle choice for your Mongolia trip on our blog: https://www.escapetomongolia.com/blog/Selfdrive-Guide-Mongolia-Tours-Offroad

The most important sights of Mongolia

Mongolia is large and accordingly has many exciting and very different sights to offer. Be it natural monuments like the Khongoryn Els dunes, cultural sites like Karakorum and the Buddhist Amarbayasgalant monastery or the different national parks - hardly any other country offers such a wide variety of impressive places. Here are the most important ones - you can find many more on our blog:

https://www.escapetomongolia.com/blog

Khuvsgul Lake: the second largest lake in the country, surrounded by an impressive mountain backdrop in the north of the country.

Amarbayasgalant Monastery: One of the three largest Buddhist monasteries in the country, close to the Selenga River. Today there are still 28 of the original 40 temples, designed in Chinese style with Mongolian and Tibetan influences.

Orkhon Valley: Located west of Ulan Bataar, this valley is the historical center of the Mongolian nomadic way of life. Here you can find the historic capital Karakorum and the famous Ulaan Tsutgalan waterfall.

Gorkhi-Terelj National Park: The famous national park can be found northeast of Ulan Bataar and is therefore easily accessible by car. Here you will find impressive landscapes, rock formations, the lake Khagiin Khar and the hot springs of Yestii.

Khustain Nuruu National Park: This park offers impressive mountain-steppe landscapes and the Mongolian wild horses, the Takhi. Here you will also find the Tuur River and therefore great opportunities for horse riding and fishing trips.

Elsen Tasarkhai dunes: Located west of Ulan Bataar, these well-known sand dunes extend for around 80 kilometers and are surrounded by a very varied and, above all, green environment. Very unique!

Bayanzag cliffs ("Flaming Cliffs"): The cliffs are located in the middle of the Gobi Desert and are known mainly for their fossil finds. The red cliffs bear the name because of their impressive play of colors at sunrise.

Tsagaan Suvarga White Stupa

Tsagaan Suvarga: South of Ulaan Bataar you can find this famous rock formation that resembles the ruins of an old city. Nearby is the famous Khevtee Bosoo Agui caves with their bronze age paintings.

Khongoryn Els: The singing sand dunes can be found at the foot of the Altai Mountains, they are up to 80 meters high. When the wind blows, the sand makes unique noises, hence the name of the dunes.

Burdene Bulag: The famous Burdene Bulag oasis can be found in southeastern Mongolia. The area also has the highest sand dunes in the Gobi Desert, the Gobi nomads and da Khamariin Khiid monastery.

Gobi Desert

GobiThe best-known landscape in Mongolia is probably Gobi Desert, after all it is the third largest desert in the world and at the same time the largest desert of Asia. It extends over parts of Mongolia and China and about six times the area of ​​Germany.

It is the epitome of desert landscapes, even if it mainly consists of dry gravel plains and barren pastures. On the other hand, in the Gobi you can find the Khongoryn sand dunes with a height of up to 300 meters. In addition, there are large mineral resources in the Gobi and surprisingly a total population of more than 30 million people, thanks to some modern cities.

There is a pronounced continental climate in the Gobi and a cold steppe climate in the Mongolian Gobi. It is not the driest desert in the world, but the one with the greatest temperature differences. In winter the temperatures drop down to -30 degrees Celsius, in summer there may be 35 degrees in the shade. The nights are always quite cold, overall the Gobi is the coldest desert in the world.

The desert has its name from the Mongols, which called it "Govi" or "Kébé", which means "waterless place".

Altai

Altai Mountains are some of the most famous mountains in Asia. The Altai extends over the border regions of Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and China. The Altai is roughly divided into Russian, Mongolian and Gobi Altai. In Mongolia, the Altai can be found in the far west of the country, bordering to China. In the north and east, the Mongolian Altai falls into the Mongolian highlands. In the south and east direction it merges into the Gobi-Altai and the Gobi Desert. The Gobi-Altai is located exclusively in the territory of Mongolia.

At 4,506 meters, the Belucha is the highest mountain in the Altai massif, it is located in the Russian part of the Altai Mountains. The second highest mountain is the Chüiten summit at 4,374 meters, it is also the highest point of Mongolia. The other highest peaks can also be found in the Mongolian Altai.

The Altai is primarily known for its flora and fauna, but also for the eagle hunters based there and the picturesque beauty of its landscapes. Therefore it is an important attraction for mountaineers and hikers.

You can find out more about the Altai in our Travel Guide to the Altai: https://www.escapetomongolia.com/blog/altai-mountains-mongolia-travel-guide

Inner Mongolia

Inner Mongolia is an autonomous region in the People's Republic of China. It borders Mongolia in the south and southeast. The capital of Inner Mongolia is Hohhot. The Autonomous Region occupies about 12% of the area of ​​China and has about 25.2 million inhabitants, with less than 20% ethnic Mongols living in Inner Mongolia. With raw materials such as coal, natural gas and rare sorts of earth, the region is one of the richest provinces in China.

The term "Inner Mongolia" is formulated from a Chinese perspective, with the term "outer Mongolia" correspondingly describing actual Mongolia. Mongolians, on the other hand, call Inner Mongolia "front" Mongolia and Mongolia proper as "rear" Mongolia.

The division between Mongolia and China dates back to the time of the Chinese Quing Dynasty, when all of Mongolia was under Chinese rule. After the death of the Mongol ruler Ligdan Khan, the southeast of the Mongolian area came under Manchurian influence. After the end of the Quing dynasty, outer Mongolia separated from China.

The current status of the autonomous region is more symbolic in nature: the government of the autonomous region is subject to the provisions of the Communist Party of China.

Language spoken in Mongolia

Mongolian is spoken by just over five million people today, with about half of them settled in what is now Mongolia and the other half in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in China. Smaller groups can be found in the area of ​​the Russian Federation. Mongolian is the official language in both Mongolia and Inner Mongolia.

Mongolian belongs to the Altaic language family, which are mainly used today in countries in Southeast Europe, the Middle East, South Siberia and Northern China. These include Turkic languages ​​such as Bulgarian, Kazakh, Uzbek, Azerbaijani, Turkish and the Mongolian language. In Mongolia, the Chalcha dialect is predominant today and is the basis of the two Mongolian standard languages ​​(Mongolia and China). Speakers of these two variants can therefore easily communicate.

Written language in Mongolia

Genghis Khan had recognized early on the importance of writing for the Mongolian administration of his great empire. In 1204 he hired a Uyghur named Tatatunga to adapt the Uyghur script to the Mongolian language: this is how the Mongolian script came about. Due to the huge expansion of the Mongol Empire, Mongolian was the most widely used script in Asia.

The script is still current with a few adjustments and is used to write Mongolian and Evenk. It is used in Mongolia but mainly in Inner Mongolia (China).

What is special about the Mongolian script is the writing direction: it runs from top to bottom and in columns from left to right. In this respect, the Uighur writing direction (from right to left and from top to bottom) was rotated by 90 degrees to make it more similar to the Chinese spelling.

Today, however, the Mongolian language in Mongolia is written using a slightly expanded Cyrillic alphabet. After the end of communist rule, the Mongolian script was reintroduced, but it has been rarely implemented. In Inner Mongolia, for example, traditional Mongolian writing is in use today.

Holidays and tradition in Mongolia / Naadam festivities

There is a rather small number of public holidays in Mongolia:

As in the West, New Year is celebrated on January 1st. But more important is the Buddhist / Mongolian New Year's festival Tsagaan Sar, which takes place depending on the lunar calendar. It is celebrated one month after the first new moon that follows the winter solstice, i.e. in February or late January. The celebrations last three days. Candles are lit on altars, relatives are visited and traditional Mongolian clothing is worn.

March 8th: International Women's Day

June 1st: Mother's and Children's Day

Naadam Festival Wrestling Mongolia

A highlight of the year is the Naadam Festival (July 11-13), the full name is Eriin Gurwan Naadam, which means "the three male games". Accordingly, the Naadam Festival is a sporting event, the origins of which date back to the Kuriltai clan meetings of the Middle Ages. Today Mongolians compete in archery, wrestling and horse racing, and there are also side events in the Mongolian game of skill which is played with sheep's ankles (Schagai).

Except for wrestling, female athletes also take part in the games. The biggest Naadam celebration takes place in Ulaanbaatar, but there is also a small festivals in other cities. You can find out more about the Naadfam Fest on our blog: https://www.escapetomongolia.com/blog/naadam-festival-mongolia

In November the Mongolian Pride Day / Genghis Khan's birthday is celebrated, it always coincides with the calendar beginning of winter.

November 26: Day of the Proclamation of the Republic. On this day, the foundation of the Mongolian Republic and thus independence from China in the year 1924 is celebrated.

Religion in Mongolia / Shamanism

The traditional Mongolian “popular religion” is that of shamanism. It is an animistic religion, the main message of which is that everything is animated in nature - be it a pebble, a horse, a flower or a person. The central motive of Mongolian shamanism is respect for nature, more precisely for sky, earth and water. This is crucial for the balance of the world.

The original Mongolian shamanism, which draws its influence from Siberian shamanism, dates back to the 7th century AD. In the following centuries, the shamans developed fixed religious and social functions: they established contact with the ancestors, nature and the local deities, which usually happens in impressive ritual practices. In addition, they often act as healers, make sacrifices, predict the future, and are spiritual advisers. Tenger (heaven, god of heaven) is worshiped as the highest deity, next to him there are a large number of subordinate deities.

The great ruler Genghis Khan is worshiped in Mongolian shamanism according to ancient traditions as the embodiment of one of the highest deities. It is interesting that Genghis Khan and his successors, in particular, displayed great religious tolerance. They are therefore responsible for the most widespread religion in Mongolia being Buddhism today.

Today's Mongolian Buddhism is a branch of the Tibetan Buddhism schools Gelug and Kagyu, but has some individual forms. The roots of Buddhism in Mongolia go back to the third century, under Genghis Khan it gained importance: Genghis Khan is said to have sought the advice of important Buddhist representatives out of concern for his mortality, laying the foundations for Mongolian Buddhism. In 1570, Altan Khan finally made Buddhism the state religion. After the end of the Soviet rule in 1990 Buddhism experienced a further blossoming; today the majority of the Mongols are Buddhists, there are 134 Buddhist monasteries in the country and over 200 temples.

But shamanism is also regaining relevance: in times of climate change and the rural exodus of former nomads and the associated lack of orientation, many Mongolians seek salvation by practicing old rites and in close relation to nature. Accordingly, there are many practicing shamans again today, but there are likely to be many dubious figures among them. Visiting well-known and trustworthy shamans is a real experience.

You can find out more about Buddhism and shamanism on our blog: https://www.escapetomongolia.com/blog/mongolia-shamanism

Mongolian Music

One of the most famous Mongolian musical instruments in the Mongolian horse-head fiddle (morin khuur), which is almost considered a national symbol. The instrument has two strings, at the end of the neck of the instrument sits the eponymous carved horse head. This horse's head could give indications that the instrument was originally used in shamanic rituals, since such heads can also be found on shamanic wands. There is also a lot of other Mongolian instruments such as yaga (a plucked instrument for women), shudraga (a three-string lute) and bombor (a drum).

Typical forms of music in Mongolia are the larynx singing and the long song:

When singing the larynx, the voice basically imitates an instrument. Various breathing techniques are used, which then produce a humming bass sound but also whistling, high sounds. The best known larynx singers today include Gereltsogt and Sundui.

In the long songs, the word syllable is extremely elongated, so that there are songs that only consist of ten words, but extend over four minutes. Accordingly, these songs are very slow and have no fixed rhythm. The songs are typically about philosophical, religious or romantic topics. The horse head fiddle is also used quite often there.

Mongolian Food / Mongolian Cuisine / Airag

Mongolian cuisine is really unique, as unique as the conditions in Mongolia are. For centuries, nomads have relied on a diet that is adapted to the harsh climate and their lifestyle: accordingly, they need a lot of nutrients and these come mainly from the animal products of their livestock farming. Accordingly, Mongolian dishes mostly consist of meat, animal fats, dough, root vegetables and dairy products. However, recipes based on Russian and Chinese cuisine were introduced, and rice, unusual spices and vegetables have only recently played a role in the Mongolian diet.

When it comes to meat, beef, horse meat, mutton, goat meat and game meat are mainly consumed, which are grilled, boiled, steamed, fried or dried.

In addition, various milk products are an important part of Mongolian cuisine: these include dried curd cheese, cheese, yoghurt, cream, butter and various desserts.

Airag is a popular, typical Mongolian drink made from fermented mare's milk. The Mongolian national drink is slightly alcoholic, lactic acid bacteria and yeast are used to ferment the milk. It tastes sour, tingling with an almond-like aftertaste, others describe the taste as a mixture of yogurt and beer. It is rich in vitamins and minerals and is a good alternative for fresh fruit and vegetables for the nomads.

Boortsog is a traditional Mongolian pastry that resembles savory donuts without icing. You can find more typical Mongolian dishes on our blog:

https://www.escapetomongolia.com/blog/mongolian-food-the-less-is-good

Mongolian barbecue is known in most Western countries, although it is actually not typically Mongolian. Rather, it was invented by a Taiwanese restaurant owner in the 1950s and quickly became popular internationally.

The culinary range in Ulaanbaatar is very large: there are many good restaurants with international cuisine but also for Mongolian specialties. Ayanchin Downtown is worth a visit, very good Mongolian cuisine is served there.

Animals of Mongolia

Of course, Mongolia's wildlife is adapted to the prevailing extreme climate and the strong regional differences. Therefore, many animal species can only be found in certain areas of Mongolia. In addition to wolf, bear and yak, there are also some other wild exotic species in Mongolia: for example the Przewalski horses, also known as Takhi, a special wild horse species. Not to mention the white gazelle and the Khavtgai wild camel, which is perfectly adapted to its desert habitat and can even consume salty water. Or the snow leopard and the Gobi bear, which is an extremely rare and shy animal and mainly feeds on vegetation and hardly meat.

Also very impressive: Mongolian steppe eagles, which traditional eagle hunters use to hunt their food in the vast landscapes of Mongolia. There are also various types of buzzard and a whole range of non-predatory bird species and water birds.

Among the fish in Mongolia the mighty Taimen clearly stands out: a large predatory fish that is found mainly in the rivers of the north. There are also numerous carp-like fish, pike, perch, the Ottoman, Lenok, various grayling and burbot. You can find out more about the fish of Mongolia in our blog post on fishing in Mongolia:

https://www.escapetomongolia.com/blog/the-ultimate-fishing-guide-to-mongolia

The nomads of Mongolia mainly keep sheep, goats, cattle, horses and camels, as well as reindeer in the northern regions.

Takhi

Mongolian horsemen have been world-famous since the time of Genghis Khan, and even today most people associate Mongolia with the loyal four-legged friends. As a traditional form of transportation, traveling by horse has not lost its fascination and offers the opportunity to get to know this country steeped in history from a traditional perspective.

There are numerous providers of horse trips through Mongolia who often offer their all-round carefree packages including horse rental, equipment, guides and luggage transport. In any case, this is the much simpler, albeit more expensive variant in contrast to a self-organized tour. For this you need some experience and ideally you already know the right contact person.

Scenic horseback riding tours are available in the regions of Changai, Tarwagatai, the Khorgo National Park, the Khuvsgul Lake or the mountains around the rivers Orchon and Selenga. Horse trips in the dry regions of Mongolia are not possible because the horses naturally need enough water.

Self drive tour / off road driving in Mongolia

Mongolia Offroad

For a trip to Mongolia that is as individual as possible, a tour with an off-road vehicle / jeep is recommended, because you are simply the most flexible here and can get to know the country as authentically as possible. In addition, the roads in Mongolia are often simple gravel roads and sometimes there is no way around the drive through the open country. But do not worry, we have published a helpful guide for you to help you choose the right vehicle and show you how to behave correctly on and off road:

Camping in Mongolia

Camping in Mongolia

As a self-driver, wild camping in the open is of course the most exciting way to experience your trip through Mongolia. In no other way do you get to know the country and its people as authentically and at the same time you are as flexible and independent as possible. Since there are a few important things to consider here, we have put together a guide for you: https://www.escapetomongolia.com/blog/camping-in-mongolia

Renting a Mongolian Tipi / Ger / Yurt

Mongolian Ger Yurt

In Mongolia there are opportunities to spend the night in the traditional yurts of the nomads (also called Ger). There are tourist ger camps where you can book an overnight stay. There you usually find simple accommodations, but also real luxury camps exist. Alternatively, you can stay in a Ger Buudal, and you will live with a Mongolian family under very authentic circumstances - which also means a correspondingly lower standard. Definitely one of the most exciting ways to spend the night in Mongolia.

Accommodation / hotels in Mongolia

The easiest, most flexible and most authentic way to travel through Mongolia is an off-road trip with a (roof) tent and wild camping in nature. This is easily allowed in Mongolia. If you want more comfort in between, you can simply book a night at the Ger Camps. You do not need to register in advance or book long in advance, the easiest way is to simply drop in there.

Alternatively, you can also stay in a Ger Buudal, i.e. directly with a Mongolian nomad family, the standard here is of course somewhat low. Anyways, a unique experience!

If you want a higher standard, you can book one of the numerous lodges, these are of course more expensive, but offer high to luxury standards, most of the time in great surroundings. But you should definitely book lodges in advance.

When it comes to overnight stays in hotels, a distinction has to be made. Hotels in larger cities such as Ulan Bataar, Darkhan or Erdenet have a standard based on western standards. You can rent rooms here from simple to luxurious standards. The situation is different in small towns, the hotels here only have a very low standard, which also often comes with shared bathrooms. Howevere, you can also ask for a luxury room, which will have a private bathroom and warm water.

In Ulan Bataar there are also guest houses that, besides private rooms, also offer dormitory beds. Often these guest houses are regular living quarters that have been adapted to their new task. A cheap alternative for the capital if you are just looking for a roof over your head.

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