Official Name: Mongolia
Location: East Asia – Has land borders with China and Russia
Population of Mongolia: ~ 3.3 million
Capital of Mongolia: Ulaanbataar
Mongolian Money: Mongolian Togrog (MNT)
Mongolia Timezone: Two timezones – UTC +7/+8 (In summer UTC +8/+9)
Visa Requirements for Mongolia: Many nationalities need a visa to enter Mongolia. But several countries don’t require one at all, for example, US, Canadian, German, Japanese, and Chinese citizens. If you need one, you must get it from an embassy. From our experience, it was a pain to get in China in 2010, so you might want to try it in your home country if you have one there. Check your eligibility and the latest requirements for entry HERE. And if you need a visa, follow the links to find the location of Mongolian embassies worldwide.
Things to Do and See in Mongolia
Our Experiences in Mongolia
Mongolia is one of the last frontiers for travel, in our opinion. It’s a wild place that experiences major temperature extremes and has very little public transport infrastructure. But it has incredible natural beauty and unique culture to experience and explore.
We spent almost a month there in September 2010. We took the trans-Siberian express from Beijing, which was an interesting experience in itself with the train staff smuggling all sorts over the border, some of which they stashed in our cabin!!!!
In Ulaanbaatar, we stayed at the UB Guesthouse and Hostel and hooked up with other backpackers to share the costs of multi-day trips to the Gobi desert and the White Lake area (Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur.) One of the owners, Bobbi, picked us up off the train so we didn’t have to be worried trying to negotiate transport there. Their website isn’t working now, and Google keeps redirecting me to Booking.com. Probably a result of COVID, but check if they are still working before paying for your stay.
The tours’ transport, accommodation, and food were extremely basic, but they were both exceptional experiences that produced some fabulous pictures. On both trips, we had excellent English-speaking guides. Unfortunately, I didn’t write up the blogs at the time, so those journal items are safely stored back in Australia, where, no doubt, I’ll dig them out and publish them one day.
Highlights of the Gobi trip include staying with Mongolian Nomads in their Yurt, the incredible night skies, climbing huge sand dunes for sunset and riding camels through the desert.
White Lake delivered exceptional mountain, lake, and forest scenery and a horse ride through the season’s first snow.
Note that winter ends late and starts early in this part of the world, so plan your trip accordingly because many places aren’t reachable once it snows and the nomads move to warmer pastures.
It wasn’t a highlight, but my managing to deftly fend off two muggers trying to steal Tim’s backpack and camera on the main street (Peace Avenue.) is one of my most enduring memories during our stay in Ulaanbataar. It can be a pretty dodgy place, especially if you don’t know which parts of the city to avoid.
Also, note that a quick look at Booking.com shows many more accommodation offers available these days with excellent comfort levels. And you don’t have to stay at the hostels to book their tours. If you want more booking options, head over to our accommodations resources page.
While I don’t have the stories, you can check out some of our favorite pictures HERE. We’ve tried adding some commentary to give you an idea of what was going on.
Guided Tours of Mongolia
Mongolia is quite a difficult country to get around independently. So you can either get to Ulaanbaatar and book tours from there as we did or book a tour before you arrive. Be aware that the tours booked from the hostels are usually fixed prices. That means it will be quite expensive if there is only one of you. But if you can get more people to join, as we did, they are very reasonable. So the bottom line is if you have plenty of money or the time to wait around, booking in-country is a viable option. Otherwise, take a look at some of what’s on offer below and book before you get there.
Short Tours (1-2 days)
Intrepid Travel has 4 tours that visit Mongolia. Three are part of a long trip on the Trans-Siberian Express. The 4th does quite a good job of visiting most of the best destinations in the country. From the looks of them, you’ll have a much higher standard of accommodation, transport, and food than we did. You can check them all out HERE
GAdventures has a similar selection too. You can check their tours out HERE
Tour Radar – Has almost 80 adventures that explore the different parts of Mongolia in different ways, including horseback rides, mountain hikes, and visits to the annual Naadam festival, which would be SO cool!
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