Discovering Mongolia

Where do you want to travel?

Your journey will lead you to famous domestic and foreign beauty spots.

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Discovering Mongolia

Getting to Know 

Open to the western world since 1990, the ‘Land of Blue Sky’ is one of the few places on earth where travelers can walk on undiscovered ground and explore with a sense of adventure. Home to one of the greatest conqueror of all times, Genghis Khan. Located between Russia and China, Mongolia is roughly the same size as Alaska and is completely landlocked. The vast landscape can be discovered on horses or camel-back, or in the comfort of a four-wheel drive.

For adventurers with a limited amount of time, a visit to the Southern Gobi Desert is a must and provides the typical vision of Mongolia complete with open steppe and gers galore (the Mongolian word for yurt). Aside from photography, full of excitement such as riding camels on the steppe, adventuring through the sand dunes, visiting dinosaur digs, interacting with local families, and setting  up camps for the evening.

Naadam Festival is Mongolian major holiday and a wonderful time to experience the culture and people of this amazing land.

Best Time to Travel

The best time of year to visit is June to August as the Naadam Festival is a highlight in July, with the weather being warm and mostly dry. Those who wish to see the Golden Eagle Festival should travel in October. Low season lasts from October to April. Most ger camps close when the weather gets cold. July sees the celebrated Naadam Festival, when Mongolia’s three national sports (wrestling, riding and archery) are showcased; the procession to the special Naadam stadium, south of the city, starts outside UB’s main Sukhbaatar Square.

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How to Get There

There are no direct flights to Mongolia from the USA, so either take the scenic route (five days on the Trans-Mongolian Railway from Moscow, or a day-and-a-half from Beijing), or fly using local airline MIAT Mongolian Airlines from Russia or China.

I took train #06 at 8:14 AM from Irkutsk and arrived Ulan Bator the next day at 8:00 AM. Since my travel plan was relatively tight no flexibility and wanted to have peace of mind considering that was an international route, so did not find any other option but to go through a travel agency in Moscow. I paid US$ 195 for a second-class sleeper (including a bunk, blankets and meals).

Krugozor Travel Bureau, Attn: Ines Abalova, 27/1 Lubyansky Proezd, Moscow. email: incoming@esco-k.com

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From Beijing, a single train ticket would cost much cheaper than coming from Irkutsk, and it’s a better option if you don’t have any intention to take the Trans-Mongolian trip towards Moscow/St. Petersburg. You can buy tickets from the China International Travel Service in Beijing (tel: 010 6515 0232) at the International Hotel.

Visa Requirement

Holders of US passports, who travel to Mongolia for official, private business or tourism for up to 90 days are exempted from visa requirements.

Visit the Mongolian Embassy website for more details

Top Things To Do In 

Terelj National Park

The Gorkhil-Terelj National Park is connected to Ulan Bator by a motorway. If you love walking and hiking, you will love Terelj National Park. Here you can wander for hours, hike to a Monastery and horse ride through the forests and rocky hilltops. Make sure you check out ‘Turtle Rock’ too. You may think it looks like something else from a certain angle!

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The Gandantegchinlen Monastery

The Gandantegchinlen Monastery is a Tibetan-style Buddhist monastery in the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator. The Tibetan name translates to the “Great Place of Complete Joy”. It is home to a huge golden Buddha surrounded by thousands of smaller statues perched in the glass cases which line the walls of the main hall.

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Choijin Lama Temple

The Choijin Lama Temple is a Buddhist monastery in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. The complex consists of four temples originally occupied by the brother of the ruler Bogd Khan.

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Chinggis Square

Grand Chinggis Khaan Square, and previously known as Sukhbaatar Square, is the central square of Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar.

In July 1921, in the center of Ulaanbaatar, the ‘hero of the revolution’, Damdin Sukhbaatar, declared Mongolia’s final independence from the Chinese. This is the center of the City and occasionally used for rallies, ceremonies and even rock concerts.

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The Genghis Khan Complex

The Genghis Khan Statue, part of the Genghis Khan Complex is a 40 meter (131 ft) tall statue of Genghis Khan on horseback. It’s is located 54 km (33 miles) from UB by the Tuul River.

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On our way from Genghis Khan complex to Gorkhi-Terelj National Park we enjoyed a beautiful view by the the Tuul River

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Zairean Hill

The Zaisan Memorial is a memorial in the southern area of the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar that honors Soviet soldiers killed in World War II. From the top of the hill you will be able to enjoy a nice panoramic view of Ulaanbator.

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Experience the Gobi Desert

Gobi Desert is definitely a place that must be experienced. Ideally it’s about a 7 – 8 day package tour from Ulan Bator. 8 days is perfect because that gives you enough flexibility and freedom to stop anywhere you like. You will need a reliable 4×4 jeep, most of the tour operators use the cool looking van UAZ (Russian made van).

During this tour you will experience the national forest, wild horses, camels, and be able to trek through the incredible sand dunes called Khongoryn Els Sand Dunes which is one of the largest and most spectacular sand dunes in Mongolia. You can Also experience the gorgeous view of Tsagaan Suvarga Canyon on a dark night when no one around, hike at the Gobi Desert National Park, then get to witness the place where the first dinosaur egg was discovered in Mongolia.

Mongolians believe that there are 33 different areas in the Gobi , where sandy desert occupies only 3 percent of the total territory. South Gobi is located 553 km from Ulaanbaatar, average altitude of 1406 meters above sea level. In reality, most parts of the Gobi Desert are lands of steppes and home to camel breeders rich with wildlife and vegetation. Khongor- Mongolian is the largest sand dune reaching a height of 800-meter in some of the highest areas.

One of the most exciting things about this trip is to experience the daily life of traditional nomadic families. Sleeping overnight in a gar, waking up to the noise of house-hold animals like goats, sheep, camels and of course yaks and trying out traditional Nomadic food prepared by the hosting family is something you will never forget.

If you are staying in Golden Gobi Guesthouse in Ulan Bator they offer a Golden Gobi Desert Tour. I have seen many recommendations for their good and reliable service.

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Gobi Desert in Mongolia

How To Get Around?

Ulan Bator is a small city so a brisk walk from the station into town takes 20 minutes. But the best thing about the capital is the taxi system. Nowhere else in the world can you hail a passing BMW or Mercedes-Benz  and have it take you a couple of miles for less than a dollar. Nearly every car will stop for you, and there is a standard rate of 250 tugriks (US$ 1 = 2150 Tugriks) per kilometre. The only difficulty is making yourself understood to the driver.

Even though there are plenty of buses you should never take the chance, not only to avoid pickpocketing but also considering language issues. Mongolia is a vast landscape and getting from one place to another requires much driving. Roads are rough and most of the road systems are not paved sometimes one hour drives may often feel closer to three. So the best way to travel throughout the country is to work with a ground operator for all of your transportation logistics. As many recommended if you are going out of town trips just hire a 4×4 Jeep plus guide.

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Ulan Bator City Map – easily walkable to most of the attractions in the city

My Favorite Local Food and Restaurants

Modern Normads at the corner of Baga Toiruu and Lawyers Street, Ulan Bator

This is a chain restaurant serving authentic Mongolian food, but it’s little expensive if you compare it with other local restaurants in town. I have visited Modern Normads restaurant # 5 and it was only a 2 minute walk from my hotel.

tsuivan, mongolian, noodle, beef dish,

Tsuivan (Mongolian Noodle With Beef and Vegetables

City Restaurant & Bar, Chinggis Ave across the National Academic Drama Theatre, UlaanBaator

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Lamb BBQ one of my favorites

Broadway Obsidian & Grill Restaurant, Sukbaatar Square St 16, Ulan Bator

Right side of Sukhbaatar Square, behind of Khangarid tower, Sukhbaatar district. High end restaurant but excellent food. Most of the entrees are not less than 14000 Tugrik ( 1 US$ = 2200 Tugrik)

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Pan Fried Lamb garnished with vegetables and rice

Street Food in Ulan Bator

Khuushuur – One of the famous among locals and a delicious street item made with lamb or beef, less than a dollar (2000 Tugrik)

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Lamb Khuushuur at a street corner of Ulan Bator

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Lamb soup, yes lamb is everywhere in Mongolia

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This one goes with the soup, unbelievably delicious

Where To Stay In

Ulaanbaatar is usually the jumping off point for everyone’s trip in Mongolia. As a result, there are quite a few hostels to choose from. Do your research online, read the reviews and decide how long you want to stay in UB for, then be prepared to completely change all your plans once you arrive.

Hostels in UB can be nice and most are centrally located, however in the summer time, they are often over capacity. So be prepared to throw your expectations out the window. Chances are you could be camping out on the common room floor at night or sharing space with the owner’s family. Yes, this goes against everything you know about hostels, but think of it this way: instead of turning you away and making you spend a day looking for cheap accommodation -and probably failing- they’re going to do whatever they can to make room for you. It’s like one big backpacker sleepover. Relax and find a way to have fun with it.

**Hostel rooms in UB cost around $6 – 10 USD/ night. Some only take dollars, so carry some USD on you while in Mongolia.

Where did I stay?

Zaluuchuud Hotel Ulaanbaatar, Baga Touruu 43, Sukhbaatar, Ulaanbaatar

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A view of Zaluuchuud Hotel from the street.

Prices and Expenses

Accommodation:

  • Hostel dorm bed: $8 – $10 USD per night
  • Mid-range hotel or guest house: $35 – $75 USD per night
  • High end: Everything over $100 and way over

Food:

  • Street food: 1500 – 2500 Tugrik ( US $ .68 – 1.13)
  • Local restaurant: 3000 – 5000 Tugrik ( US $ 1.36 – 2.25)
  • Upscale restaurant: 14000 – 20000 Tugrik (US $ 6:40 – 9:10)
  • Local Beer: 1500 – 2010 Tugrik ( US $ .68 – .92)
  • Bottle of water: 1000 – 1500 Tugrik (US $ .45 – .68)

Overall money budget:

  • Budget: $30 – $40 USD per person per day
  • Mid-range: $40 – $60 USD per person per day
  • High end: $60 – $200 per person per day

This is not an exact guide, but just meant to give you an idea of the kind of prices you can expect to pay when you visit Mongolia.

My Opinion and Tips

Have you been to Mongolia? Any additional tips to share?

Please leave a comment below! I’d love to hear from you to improve my knowledge. 

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