The Mongol hordes might at one time have overrun half of the world spreading death as they galloped out of the vast steppe lands, they are now quietly and peacefully herding their flocks, sitting by the ger, sipping Suutei tsai (Mongolian tea). Genghis Khan’s descendants no longer inspire the fear they once did. Instead Mongolia advertises itself as an outdoor destination full of pristine nature, endless vistas, empty spaces, green rolling hills, lakes, and the Gobi Desert. And rightly so. It is all that. And more. Because Mongolia is not just natural wonders, it is also hospitable people, and ancient traditions.
Distances are huge in this landlocked nation, and so is everything else. You can drive days on end without meeting anybody. Hike around the Altai Mountains in the far west, watch the shifting sand dunes of the Gobi Desert, stay in a ger, be amazed at the skills of the eagle hunters at the annual Eagle Festival, horse ride through Terelj National Park, or go dancing in modern Ulaanbaatar.
Whatever you do, be sure you have enough time to do it, a flying visit is nigh impossible if you want to get to know this country even a tiny bit. Because tiny doesn’t exist here. Big, big, big is what it is about and transport can be slow, slow, slow!
So wind down, switch off your smartphone, stow away some good books, and put on a pair of sturdy hiking boots and start your Mongolian adventure.
Highlights from Mongolia
- Start your ride in modern Ulaanbaatar, the capital, with its modern skyscrapers and age old monasteries and palaces. With its young hipsters and horse riding nomads, its markets and nightlife
- Hike around Terelj National Park
- Visit Erdene Zuu Khiid, Mongolia’s oldest monastery
- Watch the two-humped camels of the Gobi Desert, or listen to the singing dunes of Khongoryn Els
- Fish or boat around on Khövsgöl Nuur lake
- Climb the five sacred peaks in Altai Tavan Bogd National Park
- Go to Orkhon Valley an UNESCO World Heritage site
- Stay in a ger with the nomads
- Look at the eagle hunters at the Eagle festival in Ölgii
- Take in the sunset at Tsagaan Suwarga (White Stupa)
- Ride a horse through Khustain Nuruu National Park (aka Hustai National Park)
Hints and Tips for Mongolia
- Mongolia is big, and sparsely populated, and roads are few and long, so getting anywhere can take a long time. Consider taking internal flights to save time.
- A fun way to get to Mongolia is to take the Trans-Mongolian Express, one the three Trans-Siberian lines, which goes via Moscow to Beijing and stops in Ulaanbaatar.
- It’s best to bring a Mongolian phrasebook, as outside of Ulaanbaatar nobody will speak English. If you know Russian, you will get along a lot better though. Signage is in Cyrillic.
- The food out on the countryside can get a bit wearisome, as it consists mainly of mutton, and mutton, and more mutton.
- Visa requirements vary from country to country, check out the Mongolian embassy website in your country to find out if you need one and if so, what is required.