Mongolia is a unique travel destination that offers you the modern, lively, culturally-rich city of Ulaanbaatar and its surrounding 1.5 million square kilometers of country where our millennia old nomadic lifestyle co-exists with rapidly changing development throughout the country.
Mongolia’s big sky, vast fenceless landscapes will overwhelm you and make you forget your city hectic days, and bring forth your inner spirit of adventure. A democratic and free country with people famous for their big smiles and straightforward character, Mongolia truly opens one’s inner spirit or as the locals call it your hiimori (“wind horse”).
But because the land is vast, and the reaching the places and events that inspire you might require time and long drives, it is better to design your trip with the help of tour agencies for the most efficient and satisfying experience.
As with travel anywhere, the more you know beforehand, the better your experience. Augment what you learn here with further research. There are several good travel books on Mongolia. Read about Mongolia’s history and culture, our 1990 democracy revolution and our vibrant, literate, forward-looking populace; our blend of Asian and European cultures; our traditional nomadic way of live (still over a third of the population are nomadic herders); our Shamanistic and Tibetan Buddhist religious heritage; and our wild and beautiful places. Mongolia has the lowest population density in the world and has been known since the time of Chinggis Khaan (Genghis Khan) for our religious tolerance.
New paved roads are opening up the country. Off the main roads, however, a good four-wheel drive vehicle is helpful. In Mongolia, because of lack of reliable car and jeep services alongside the long roads, tourists are not encouraged to drive or rent a car without a driver. Car rental services are often available as the car-plus-driver service. The best drivers who know the local road conditions and the climate, and who are able to both drive and take care of the car’s mechanical problems are hired or contracted by tourism companies.
If you decide to utilize a tour company, destinations routes and accommodations will be decided by you and your tour team and pre-arranged. You should know that outside the larger cities like Ulaanbaatar and downtowns of province centers, the lifestyle and sanitation services are more basic. So be prepared. Nowadays, however, more and more ger camps have installed modern and green sanitation services. In the wilds, scoop a bucket of water from a lake or river bank, walk well away from the water and rinse off that way. Remember, you are on an adventure!
Mongolia has one of the highest numbers of sunny days per year anywhere in the world. However, it does occasionally rain in summer and snow in the winter. Winter days are usually dry, sunny and cold – but windless. Summer rains dry out quickly and the humidity year-around is low.
Your spirit of adventure will serve you well in the countryside and the stories and pictures you bring home will entertain and inspire your family and friends. Mongolians are also spiritually adventurous people and they might offer something that is not in your travel schedule. We advise you to be prepared for some portion of spontaneity, and make most out of your spontaneous adventures in Mongolia. Sometimes nature itself, sometimes just hospitable people occur on your road and little changes in your schedule happens. Most experienced tour companies are the best in keeping on their schedule if one prefers no distraction in his/her holiday plans.
Geographical orientation in Mongolia is a very special matter. Always have a map with you and follow the steppe-land’s golden rule: “Ask, ask, ask anyone passing by”. Without people-to-people communication, nomadic society couldn’t manage its own freedom on this fenceless, often sign-less land. So, leave your “know-it-all” manly pride and the strict street signs at home, and experience nomadic orientation skills if you are not sure about your route. Of course, the best way not to get lost in Mongolia is to have a tour company [WHO CAN HELP YOU] and a guide as your host.
Nearly every major world cuisine can be found in Ulaanbaatar. However, herders in the countryside eat what they produce or pick. Expect plenty of mutton and beef, more rarely, goat, horse, and yak. Meats are usually boiled or steamed. From June to October wild berries are harvested and preserved. Potatoes and carrots are the most common vegetables. Milk products (cheeses, aaruuls, etc.) are also quite common and varied. Milk-tea is tasty and the most common drink of choice. Airag, a fermented milk product, is strong but tasty. Chopped meat wrapped in dough is also quite common. Lapsha, a home-made noodle soup is frequently served, as well. Wild berries are buried in the permafrost or otherwise preserved to augment the meat-milk rich herder diet during winter. Fowl are not hunted. They are considered to be heavenly. As a result, migratory birds flock to Mongolia. Therefore, Mongolia is one of the best places to watch over 430 types of birds, and many rare birds are found here. Fish, too, are rarely eaten – hence the high number of trout and other game fish in Mongolian rivers and lakes.
Be prepared to dress in layers. Mongolia’s whole territory is quite elevated. Its altitude ranges from 700 meters (about 2,200 feet) to a high of 4,374 meters (about 14,350 feet). The capital city Ulaanbaatar lies at an elevation of about 1,310 meters (4,300 feet) in a valley along the Tuul River. At such altitudes temperatures cool down noticeably after sunset. Although new highways are being constructed, Mongolia is a big country. Getting from A to B can take a while – especially when driving on unpaved roads, but that is part of the adventure. Along with your warm clothing and extra food and water, bringing along a qualified guide is always a good idea. And the locals are invariably helpful. Of course, many cities in Mongolia are served by local airlines. And tour operators can arrange to have you met at the airport.
There’re plenty of banks and ATM services in Mongolia. Visa and Mastercards are accepted in most of the hotels, restaurants and department stores. Travelers’ checks are exchangeable at the Trade and Development Bank of Mongolia. Mongolian national currency is called Tugrik, and the Tugrik rates vary. So, please check the exchange rate when you plan your trip. In most of Mongolia’s towns and cities, internet and cell phone services are available. Most tourism camps have those services.
There are number of mobile phone operators including Unitel, Mobicom, Skytel and G-Mobile that introduced GSM and CDMA/EVDO mobile communication networks in areas from Western to Eastern, Northern to Southern Mongolia. Don't be surprised to see herders roaming the countryside with satellites so they can get the latest news and play games on their smart phones when they're not tending to the herd.