If you are looking for exotic places to visit around the world, then Mongolia should definitely be on your list. This country offers so much in terms of beautiful landscapes and otherworldliness. The capital city, Ulaanbaatar, is rich in an amalgamation of the East and West.
There is a lot of culture and variety among the city and people alike, traditional restaurants right beside Western ones, people adorned in jeans along with people in their traditional dress wear. In such a massive country (19th largest in the world) it can be quite a task to plan your trip effectively to see the best spot, but not to worry, our quick top 10 things to do in Mongolia guide will help you out!
1. Stay at Ulaanbaatar
It is highly likely that you’ll land in Ulaanbaatar via an airplane or if you’re coming from the Trans-Mongolian train. Ulaanbaatar is without a doubt, a wonderful place to begin your journey. You can explore many monasteries, museums and many other fascinating places. I advise you to stay at a well-known hotel or hostel for a few nights, so you can plan your adventure ahead and also familiarize with this city’s culture and norms before going forward towards the countryside.
Tourism is still budding in this country, so it might be a challenge getting in touch with guides or acquiring train tickets or any other modes of transportation before arriving in Mongolia. Prior booking will cost you a lot of money. However, this doesn’t mean you should be concerned; people working at the hotel you’re staying at, will guide you about whatever you need to know.
2. Ride a Camel in the Gobi Desert
While you’re at the Gobi Desert, there is one thing that should surely not be missed, riding a camel. There is nothing like taking in the serene view of immense expanses of land owned by nobody while sitting on top of a camel. I would however recommend you to stay in Dalanzagad city because of the easy access to main tourist attractions in Gobi, which are dunes in Khongriin Els and flaming cliffs in Bayanzag. Not only this, there are plenty more places to discover.
Gobi Desert is also a good place to visit in winter. As far as the rest of the country is concerned, temperature doesn’t become that low in the desert. However, it’s still cold but not as cold as the rest of the country. You can see camels adorned in coats strolling around in the snow. To be on the safe side, consult a tour company so you can cover as much places as you like. In winters, a lot of these companies are not functional, so the rate of tourism drops substantially.
3. Learn About the Rich History
At first when I came to Mongolia to teach, I only knew a total of four things besides where it was located on the map: nomads, Genghis Khan, horses and the coldest capital city in the entire world, Ulaanbaatar. However, this little information was quite insufficient for my proud students, gradually with time I got to know more about their language, traditions, culture and history and believe me I was fascinated by all of it.
So first things first, you need to begin your trip by visiting the National Museum of Mongolia, located just downtown in Ulaanbaatar. This is the largest museum in Mongolia, and it provides a memorable experience by taking you through the history of ancient era and concluding at the present time.
4. Spend a Night in a Ger
You might be wondering, what exactly is a ger. Ger is a nomadic style house, it is also known as yurts and many people are still residing in it currently. Even at the outskirts of Ulaanbataar, you’ll witness ger districts that are for the people who want the best of both worlds, residing in a classy style but still taking full advantage of what the city has to offer. This one of a kind experience should definitely not be missed.
If you plan to travel towards the countryside, you will be welcomed by families with open arms as they are extremely hospitable. If you’re not sold about the idea of staying with a family, there are an abundance of tourist ger camps available so you can experience the thrill of staying at a classic yurt rather than a normal hotel room. For people visiting Ulaanbaatar, I would advise you to go have a look at ger camps adjacent to Terelj National Park. If not then you can move forwards towards Gobi Desert and spending a night at Three Camel Lodge, at that time if you’re craving a bit of adventure then you stay at the ger camps present on the sands, truly an authentic ger experience.
5. Relax at Khovsgol Lake
Khovsgol Lake is fully enjoyed by the locals on weekends in summer, because it’s their favorite countryside spot to beat the heat.
If you love to swim, it’s the ideal place for you, but if you don’t, than you can indulge yourself in other activities like hiking, fishing and kayaking. This lake is present alongside Mörön city, and you can take a bus from Ulaanbaatar or travel on an airplane to reach there. I am more in favor of travelling via bus, that way you can see the impeccable countryside from your window seat. It’s also an interesting place to visit in the winter when the entire lake is frozen over!
6. Stay in a Monastery
Majority of Mongolians identify themselves as atheists, but Buddhism is still biggest religion. You’ll get to see plenty of monks roaming around the streets of Ulaanbaatar and many other major cities. You must be thinking of why you should stay in monastery? The reason is it’s a once in a lifetime experience. Well you can hike up to Manjusri Monastery, discover many fascinating ruins, and at night you can relax, contemplate and appreciate the peaceful surroundings. Then you can wake up, hike out and proceed towards the next adventure.
7. Attend a Festival
A trip becomes way more enjoyable if you get to know about a country’s cultures, norms and tradition, and this can be done best by going to a festival. Naadaam is the biggest festival that happens on 11 to 13 July every year. The most popular events are wrestling, archery, traditional dances and horseback riding. Bayan-Ölgii Eagle Festival is another festival that occurs at the last dates of September or on the first dates of October. The most fascinating thing about it is the falconers that are originally from Kazakhstan; they came decades ago and since then have been residing in Mongolia. If you’re lucky enough you might get to take a picture with the mighty golden eagles that you can boast about to your friends and family once you reach back home.
8. Try Your Hand at Horseback Riding
Mongolians are renowned for their horses, and riding horses on the vast breathtaking countryside is indeed a delight, and one of the most popular things to do in Mongolia. You can also spend a number of days over there just with your fellow travellers and nobody else.
If you’re finding this venture interesting, then hiring a guide is a much smarter option. Normally tourists buy a horse and then sell it afterwards, because it’s less expensive than renting a horse. Guides can also arrange a place for you to stay at night, especially if you want to stay in a ger. With that said you can also bring your own tent and set it up because permits aren’t required to camp in Mongolia.
9. Drink Airag
It’s always a good option to try local drinks, wherever you’re travelling. There is a certain excitement in having flavorful drinks that you can’t have back home. Mongolia is famous for Airag, fermented milk of a mare. Just try it, the taste is a mix between and alcohol and what your mouth feels like when you stand beside a horse for an entire day. It’s also considered bad manners to refuse it while you’re staying with a local family in a ger, that are very excited for you to take a sip of their local drink.
If airag is not the drink for you then are many other options to explore as well. However, most Mongolians prefer to drink lager beers like Altai Gobi and Borgio. Khar Khorum, is a much stronger beer, which I personally prefer. If you want something strong but a tad less than airag, then good quality vodka is easily available and is very cheap. One interesting fact; you can’t purchase alcohol on the first day of every starting month.
10. Ski in the Altai Mountains
Mongolia might not be the world most famous ski destination but it has a small ski resort situated in splendid mountain range of Altai. You will have to take help from a local guide, that can arrange transportation for you and lets you know about other important logistic details. You can also tag along some friends with you, so this experience becomes budget friendly.
Although Mongolia’s tourism industry is gradually developing, it is still a marvelous place to visit having a bunch of unique activities, which will make your visit worthwhile.