Are you thinking of visiting Mongolia? Check out an Introduction to Mongolia written by Christopher Meharg, a science teacher, coach, world traveler, anime fan and travel blogger.
Mongolia, is known as the land of the big blue sky and is certainly off the beaten track of the usual vacation spots. Mongolia, the land of Chingis Khan (the correct way to say Genghis Khan), may not be one of the most developed or well-traveled countries of the world, but it still has much to offer to the intrepid traveler, with most of the tourists I see coming from Russia and Europe (Germans are everywhere). Now, I would not recommend Mongolia to the faint hearted who enjoys high end hotels, and easy access to tourist destinations. However if you don’t mind roughing it a bit, and enjoy the great outdoors, then Mongolia is the place for you.
A vacation to Mongolia is going to take more time, and be a little more involved than a typical Asian getaway and I recommend blocking off at least 10 days for your trip. This is a necessity as very few airlines, (MIAT (Air Mongolia), Air China, Turkish Airlines and Korean Air) offer flights to Mongolia from only a few locations. Thus, it can take up to two days simply to travel to Ulaanbaatar (Capital of Mongolia), depending on your starting location. The airport was recently upgraded, but still a little small, and it won’t take you too long to navigate through customs and the baggage claim. A word of advice, try to arrange the taxi to your hotel before you arrive, because while it will be easy to get a taxi at the airport you will more than likely be over charged a bit. Chin is a guide I have used twice in the past (once for a countryside tour, and once for a city tour) and I have found him to be very knowledgeable and his English is excellent. I recommend him to anyone looking to explore Mongolia. You can contact him directly on chintushig_b[at]yahoo[dot]com
Since you have taken the time to come all the way to Mongolia, I would take the time to see the sights around Ulaanbaatar. There are not that many, so I would not allocate more than a day for this.
Sukhbaatar Square- The heart of the city and the location of the Mongolian Parliament building. There is a changing of the guard ceremony on the weekends at noon.
Winter Palace of Bogd Khan- This was the palace of the final king of Mongolia, and also its first museum. A little run down, but it does have a nice selection of artifacts. It can be found on the way to Zaisan from Sukhbaatar Square.
Zaisan Monument- It is a bit of a climb to get to the top, but it is worth it for the view. I also recommend having lunch or dinner at Sultana located at the bottom of the hill. I know it’s not Mongolian cuisine, but its good Turkish food for an excellent price.
Half way up
Gandantegchinlen Monastery– It was the only Buddhist monastery allowed to remain after the purges by the Soviets and communist government of Mongolia in the 1930s.
National Museum of Mongolia- The museum’s exhibits are arranged in such a way to give you a step by step run down of Mongolian history from its prehistoric past to the present day.
Now the real reason you came to Mongolia is to see the countryside. Any traveler who makes his or her way to Mongolia and does not explore the countryside is simply wasting their time and money. The easiest way to explore the countryside is to hire a driver or join a group tour that is heading to the countryside. While it is possible to rent a car, it is much easier and cheaper to hire a car and driver. Not to mention with the state of the roads in Mongolia, it’s next to impossible to figure out where you are going sometimes.
Um where am I going again? – It is worth it even if just for the fantastic views of the night sky with no clouds and zero light pollution.
Terelj National Park is a short 90 minute drive from Ulaanbaatar, and offers all of the outdoor activities you can ask for, hiking, biking, camping, and even horseback riding.
Chingis Khan Statue- It is located near Terelj National Park, and several tourist companies offer horseback riding tours from the statue to the park. The statue has a small but well run museum located in the base with a variety of artifacts. Yes the horses are tiny, but they are quite powerful, and well behaved. It was more than up to the task of dragging the big American around the countryside.
Ghobi desert- A highlight of Mongolia for sure but it is not located close to Ulaanbaatar so an in-country flight, an overnight train or a multiday car ride is needed to reach it.
There are a number of companies offering a wide variety of countryside tours, and here is one that I have used in the past.
I was on their Tsagaan Sar (Lunar Moon) holiday trip and found it to be very well run, and feel comfortable recommending any of their tours.
I used this company for a 3-day train trip to see the Ghobi and the energy center as Sainhand. This include an old monastery and it’s a nice enough trip, but bring extra food as there is not always food on the train.
I have yet to take a trip with them, but the company comes highly recommended by expats and Mongolians.
PS- Google translate doesn’t work on Mongolian so here are a few words (spelled phonetically)
Sen ben no- Formal hello
Sen no- Informal hello
Bi cla- thank you
Air rag- fermented mare’s milk (not recommended)
Thank you again Christopher for the great blog.