Getting Around Mongolia
Driving, Currency, Taxi, Shopping, Eating, Safety
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Ideally, Mongolia is a heaven for scenic driving with an excellent map & GPS. Mongolia is pretty much easy destination to rent your own car and drive around the country or hire own driver and drive through the wide-open landscape.
You can have short term and long-term car rental for travel and tour activities, with VIP pick-up/drop-off service. Like European countries, Mongolia drive on the right side of the road and drivers sits on the left -hand side of the car. However, you will see as many right-hand drive cars as left-hand drive cars because of the cheap second-hand car imported from Japan.
Road condition in Mongolia is rudimentary; out of a total of 50,000 km roads in Mongolia only about 5000 km are paved roads, mostly heading out of Ulaanbaatar. Luckily, all province centers are connected to the capital city with paved roads. Fuel in Mongolia mostly comes from Russia and fuel stations are evenly distributed around the sum centers, villages and local towns, costing MNT 1750 per liter. If you are travelling to the remote places, it is always better to bring 2 extra cans for fuel storages and 2 spare wheels at least.
The other option to travel around the country is to have your own driver with a tailor-made tour organized by local tour operators, or rent a car from the likes of SIXT Mongolia. You can read more about renting and driving independently on SIXT website.
Many local travel operators also offer all inclusive, package price tours including special interest elements of hunting, fishing and trekking. Besides sightseeing, tours offer brief horse, camel and yak cart treks and visits with nomadic families. Another thrilling adventure you do not want to miss is motorcycling; open steppes with supreme freedom, excitement make Mongolia one of the best motorcycling destination in the world. You can motorcycle by your own or rent it from the local operators and enjoy the land of eternal blue sky.
Mongolia’s currency is called tugrug (also spelled tugriks, togrog) and in June 2017 was worth MNT 2350 to US$1. Tugrug has no coins, only bank notes in 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, 1000, 5000, 10000 and 20000. You should stock up your wallet with tugrugs upon arrival to Mongolia. Most vendors specially in the countryside, do not accept credit cards. Foreign currency can be exchanged at commercial banks, major hotels, airports and train stations. The commercial banks in the capital as well as in the provincial centers offer practically all services that can be expected, including money exchange. Plus, there are many exchange shops around the city with good exchange rates. Mongolia is very cash-based society and US dollar is the most loved currency and even small notes are accepted in local shops in the popular tourist destinations. Credit cards such as Master, Visa, Amex are accepted at major hotels, restaurants, tourist shops in Ulaanbaatar. There are many ATMs in Ulaanbaatar at Golomt Bank, Khan Bank, TDBank, State Bank, Khas Bank and many more. Khan Bank has its branches in every provincial center and sums, offers various kinds of banking service and changing currencies. Traveler’s cheques are not favorable by all tourist service providers.
Getting around in Ulaanbaatar by taxi is a great local experience. The capital city has two kinds of taxis sometimes called official taxi or unofficial taxi. There are several taxi companies that offer reliable service with labeled cars with standard meters. The unofficial taxi is a just any car you take from the street. Taxi driving is a very common business for Ulaanbaatar residents or nomadic herdsmen who have recently moved into the city. The standard rate for all taxi is MNT 800 per km. Taxi is the most safe and reliable transport in Ulaanbaatar after 10PM. It is very simple to catch a taxi from the street, you just stand by the side of the main road and hold your arm out with your fingers up. However, when there is a heavy traffic congestion, it would be faster to walk anywhere in the city. There is a very good limousine service from airport to city center for MNT 40,000. If you need any assistance in organizing your airport transfer, please contact us for booking.
Ulaanbaatar residents, along with the visitors that come to the city each day, appreciate and enjoy the convenience of having a wide range of shopping and dining options available to them throughout the community. There are hundreds of restaurants, cafes and diners in Ulaanbaatar providing a wider range of fine and casual dining options. Ulaanbaatar boasts an impressive selection of restaurants offering ethnic cuisines such as Mongolians, Korean, Japanese, Turkish, Indian, Sri Lankan, French, Uzbek, Czech, Thai, Vietnamese, American and more. As a guest, you will find most of downtown’s delicious eateries on Baga toiruu and Seoul streets. The Bull restaurant on Seoul street is famous for its lively décor and Asian style hotpot, make your own soup complete with the freshest ingredients. Both local and foreigners enjoy getting creative and crafting their own soup on the fly. Modern Nomads on Baga toiruu offers authentic taste of delicious nomadic meals, and Café Park restaurant in Shangri-la mall has the best buffet in town. The chic & trendy Choijin Temple restaurant is fully booked in a rush hours almost every day.
One of the must-go destinations in Ulaanbaatar is the State Department Store which occupies an entire 6 story block in the city center. It has everything that any store can offer including hats, t-shirts, leather bags, cashmere goods, jewelery, felt jackets and slippers, traditional instruments, souvenir shops, shoes, clothes, kitchen appliances, camping gears and big supermarkets in the first floor. The top floor has fine selections of fast foods, cafes and nice book store for all kinds of readers. Mongolia is famous for its fine cashmere production. There are many cashmere brands such as Gobi, Goyo, Altai cashmere, Evseg and more. Gobi factory store has the largest and the most fashionable selection of cashmere products with range of prices. The factory store is located in the Khan Uul industrial district with very nice contemporary architect and interior design. It offers large variety of luxurious cashmere and wool products for women, men, youth and children with large parking space. One of the unique shopping market is Narantuul, or the old “black market”, is an outdoor bazaar and popular tourist destination. Vendors sell everything under the sun from Chinese goods to authentic Mongolian traditional costumes, saddles, leather jackets and hats, riding boots and antiques, all for reasonably cheap prices.
With wide selections of luxurious to budget priced accommodation, Ulaanbaatar is a great place to overnight. The city has many international luxury hotels: Kempinski Khan Palace, Best Western, Shangri-la, Ramada, and more affordable midrange hotels are easier to find: Ulaanbaatar, Bayangol and Chinggis Khaan. All hotels offer elegant accommodation enhanced by friendly and efficient service with an ideal base for both business and leisure travelers. Kempinski Hotel Khan Palace has all 99 rooms and suites are designed to accommodate every need of a modern business traveler. Spacious and cozy rooms and suites offer a quiet place to relax. There is no doubt that business travelers at the hotel will appreciate the extra-large working desk and ergonomic desk chair. Blue Sky hotel is a sail-shaped building that is located 5 min walk from the Sukhbaatar square; another delight of the city. Ulaanbaatar and Bayangol hotels are the oldest hotels with Soviet style architectures and famous for their best locations. City taxes and service charges are usually included in the room rates and offers free parking space and breakfast for the guests.
Mongolian traditional dwelling ger is the must-stay accommodation for all visitors who come to Mongolia. The ger has remained at the heart of Mongolian life, with about half of the population still live in these traditional gers. Staying in ger will offer great opportunity to experience traditional way of nomadic life and incredible natural landscapes of Mongolia. Visitors who travel outside of Ulaanbaatar, generally stay in tourist ger camps; up to 30 gers can be clustered together around a larger central ger restaurant for meals and entertainment. Lodging facilities are simple however all camps are equipped with a toilet and public showers and electricity. Individual gers are simple but always cozy and comfortable and heated by central wood-burning stove, excellent for the cold days. Long evenings at the ger with nomadic atmosphere, playing ankle bone games with local guides, or sharing stories with fellow travelers are most memorable part of your experiences.
Mongolia is generally healthy country to travel in. Dry, cold climate and sparse population prevent the spread of various types of infectious disease. However, visitors to Mongolia should be in good health and prepared to engage in a reasonable amount of physical activity. Bring your prescribed medicine and anti-diarrheal antacid and antibiotics. This is a land of blue sky with 260 sunny days on average annually; make sure you bring sunscreen lotions, lip balms and rehydration sachets. Diarrhea and altitude sickness are the most common cases. Medical care, emergency facilities are adequate in Ulaanbaatar but very limited in the countryside. Bottled water and packed ice are advisable. All visitors advised to have up to date Tetanus, Diphtheria and Hepatitis A vaccination. Make sure that you arrange a good travel insurance which include repatriation in an emergency situation. Travel insurance, including medical evacuation is covered by Bodi Insurance. This insurance company is partnered with SOS International and offers emergency evacuation as part of its inbound travel insurance policy.
Comparatively, Mongolia is very safe country to travel for all type of travelers. Even woman traveling alone is usually treated with respect and friendship. The majority of Mongolian men behave in a friendly and respectful manner, except some occasional drunks in the Ulaanbaatar street. The most common crimes against foreigners are pickpocketing, bag snatching, mobile phones and other valuables. Specially around Naadam festival in July, muggers are after wandering tourists around central stadium and Sukhbaatar square. When you are traveling do not tempt thieves by leaving valuable out in the open. In the countryside, be careful on your gear and do not leave your valuables lying around your campsite, lock your gers during nights for safety reasons.