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Mongolia

Ooaj Travel Guide, tourism, hotel reservation, residence, plane, cheap pension for you holidays in mongolia

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Asia : East Asia : Mongolia
Flag
Image:mg-flag.png
Quick Facts
CapitalUlaanbaatar
GovernmentParliamentary Democracy
Currencytogrog/tugrik (MNT)
Areatotal: 1.565 million sq km
water: 9,600 sq km
land: 1,555,400 sq km
Population2,694,432 (July 2002 est.)
LanguageKhalkha Mongol 90%, Turkic, Russian (1999)
ReligionTibetan Buddhist (Vajrayana) 96%, Muslim (primarily in the southwest), Shamanism, and Christian 4% (1998)

What makes Mongolia special is that there is nothing to see. There are only one or two classic-tourist sites to head off to. The real majesty of this country lies in its vast emptiness, bringing the traveller into a close communion with nature and its nomadic inhabitants. This East Asian country is entirely landlocked, nestled between China and Russia. The weather is bitterly cold during the winter, dropping down to -40 celsius in parts. With many types of terrain--from desert to verdant mountains--the weather during the summer varies from region to region. Generally, however, this time of year is marked with many rains, and it can become quite cool at night.

Map of MongoliaMap of Mongolia
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Map of Mongolia

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mongolia Travel Guide :

Mongolia

Regions

The country is divided into 21 provinces, each with its own regional capital and government. Note that the English spellings of these regions are a bit out-dated, but it doesn't matter too much since its all a romanization of the original, Cyrillic names.

  • ArkhangaiArkhangai -- great hiking and relatively accessible from Ulaanbaatar
  • BayankhongorBayankhongor -- mountainous steppe, but pretty deserty. the people there are very nomadic and not very well-off.
  • Bayan-UlgiiBayan-Ulgii -- the far western province, home to the Kazakh people
  • BulganBulgan
  • Darkhan-UulDarkhan-Uul
  • DornodDornod
  • DornogobiDornogobi -- desert
  • DundgobiDundgobi -- desert
  • ZavkhanZavkhan
  • Gobi-AltaiGobi-Altai -- the re-introduction of wild Takhi horses is going on here
  • GovisumberGovisumber
  • HentiiHentii -- Land of high grasses and mountains that look a lot like the Appalachians. The northern part is populated by the Buriyat people, many of whom live in cabins. In the southern part, people live in gers and move more frequently. The aimag center is underhaan, which is a small town.
  • HovdHovd
  • Huvsgul -- Freezing cold just about all the time, with very changeable weather. Also reportedly one of the most beautiful places in the world. It is inhabited by the reindeer people, who live in teepees, ride reindeer, and live from their reindeer herds.
  • UmnugobiUmnugobi
  • OrkhonOrkhon
  • UvurkhangaiUvurkhangai
  • SelengeSelenge
  • SukhbaatarSukhbaatar
  • TuvTuv
  • Ulaanbaatar -- The architecturally-uninspired capital
  • UvsUvs -- Also in Western Mongolia
Mongolia

Cities

  • Ulaanbaatar, the capital and starting point for most travel in this country.
  • ErdenetErdenet, second or third-largest city (depending on who you ask) and home to one of the world's biggest copper mines and a famous carpet factory
Mongolia

Understand

Mongolia was the second country in the world to become Communist. It had its own local equivalent to Stalin, a 'cheerful' fellow named Choibalsan who ruthlessly purged thousands of monks and intellectuals, but is still regarded as a national hero for defending Mongolian independence. During Communist times, the country was forced into an alliance with the Soviet Union in order to protect itself from China. The effects of this are still evident today in the alcoholism - problems caused by vodka, the population boom encouraged by the Communists and the appalling architecture. A relatively bloodless shift to democracy occurred in the early and mid 1990s. Interestingly, Mongolia is the only former Communist country to have re-elected the former Communist party back to power in an open and entirely democratic election; the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP) is currently in office.

Today, nearly half the country lives a nomadic lifestyle, herding animals and residing in circular white tents called ger, or in Turkic yurt. The current government, particularly President Bagabandi and Prime Minister Enkhbayar, wish to see the country rapidly urbanised.

CIA Factbook

They just had an election, May 2005 - Enkhbayar, of MPRP, is the new President. The whole national election process is one more piece of evidence for the observation that Mongolia is a big small town.

Mongolia

Get In

There are two border crossings open to foreigners, one by the Russian border and one near the small town of ErlianErlian on the border with China. To stay in the country a visa is required. The process for getting a thirty day visa is relatively painless, requiring a simple form and a small fee at your local Mongolian embassy. Longer visas are available, but require an invitation letter from a Mongolian company. These can sometimes be arranged through tour companies. Also, it is possible to acquire an exped visa in a matter of hours at the Mongolian consulate in Erlian, though there is a steep $40 US fee for this service. A similar service is available in the Mongolian consulate in the Russian city of Irkutsk. As of April 2004, a visa is required for everyone not a citizen of the following countries:

  • USA, Kazakhstan, Poland -no need a visa for a visit not exceeding three months
  • Malaysia, Israel - no need a visa for a visit not exceeding one month
  • Philippines - no need a visa for a visit not exceeding three weeks
  • Singapore - no need a visa for a visit not exceeding two weeks
  • People's Republic of China, Vietnam, Bulgaria, Thailand and Romania - for those in possession of diplomatic or service passport - no need for visa
  • Russia, Laos, Yugoslavia, Czech, Slovak, Mexico - for those in possession of diplomatic or service passport - no need for visa for a visit not exceeding three months
  • Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Turkey and Republic of Korea - for those in possession of diplomatic or service passport - no need for visa for a visit not exceeding one month
  • India - requirement of Mongolian visa without visa fee
  • Hong Kong - no need for visa for a visit not exceeding 14 days (ID cards are accepted to indicate residence in Hong Kong)
  • Cuba - no need for visa for a visit not exceeding one month

The Embassy of Mongolia website (http://www.embassyofmongolia.co.uk/) is useful for updates.

Mongolia

By Plane

There are a few places which fly into the capital. From Europe, there is irregular and infrequent service from Berlin, Frankfurt and Moscow. Check with your local Mongolian Embassy too. There are almost daily flights from Seoul on Korean Air as well as other flights through Beijing. Don't buy a non-refundable, non-changeable ticket if you are going to Mongolia. Because flights don't always actually happen, and you might miss your connection...

Mongolia

By Train

2nd class costs about $70 US from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar; The ride takes almost 36 hours, but you are given a berth in a sleeper-car. There is a small water-boiler at the end of each train car which dispenses free hot water, so it's a good idea to stock up on instant noodles and tea for the trip. Also, don't expect to encounter any English-speaking staff on the train or in the stations.


Mongolia

By Bus

From Beijing to Ernhot by bus costs 130RMB for 12hrs. The border check point is visible from the town, 2km away you will see the a big decorative rainbow. At the Chinese border checkpoint you can pay a taxi driver 50RMB to drive you 500m to the Mongolian border. You are not allowed to walk the 500m according to the Chinese taxi drivers, but in reality there is nothing to stop you. At the mongolian check point you are also told the you must get a taxi to take you 3km to the train station. Trains cost 12,000 tugrik, about US$10, to Ulaan Bataar. The train leaves once a day at 5:20pm, and arrives at about 10:00 the next morning.

Mongolia

Get Around

Outside of the capital, there are few paved roads. The easiest way to travel long distance is using the national airline MIAT. Air travel in Mongolia involves a two-tier price structure, with the costs for foreigners being significantly higher than for locals.

For the budget conscious, Russian Jeeps and 4wd Mini-buses act as a public transport system. About 15,000 tugrik will pay for the all-day trip from Ulan Bator to Tsetserleg (the regional capital of Arkhangai). Note that this involves being crammed into a Jeep with about nine other locals and spending the entire day racing over dirt trails--a very bumpy ride.

It is also possible to charter a Jeep and driver for private use. Prices are typically negotiated at a per KM rate. While far more expensive than sharing a ride with the locals, it is considerably more convenient, and allows you to visit more remote sites.

Whichever method of long-distance travel is chosen, keep in mind that everything in Mongolia has a tendency of breaking down. Don't be shocked if part of the suspension breaks and the driver jimmy-rigs a carved wooden block in the place of a mount. For more serious breakdowns, it can easily take an entire day or longer for somebody to come along and help, so leave plenty of slack in itineraries. Finally, Mongolians are rather notorious for being late. A bus that leaves at 8AM will probably not be out of the city till almost 11AM.

For local travel, horse-back is probably the way to go. Note that Mongolians ride on wooden saddles, so if you value your buttocks it's probably a good idea to pick up a leather, Russian saddle in Ulan Bator.

Another great alternative is simply walking. Since you can camp anywhere, resting is never a problem. You will find nomads anywhere there is water, and if you stick to the major dirt-roads you will run across plenty of guanz, providing huge cheap meals to keep you going. One interesting thing to try is to camp Mongolian style. When sleeping away from their ger, nomads will wrap themselves up in wool blankets, cover themselves with their Russian raincoats (essentially a tarp in the form of a trenchcoat), and simply plop themselves down on the ground. One night sleeping this way gives a whole new appreciation for the wonders of sleeping bags and bivvy sacks/tents.

Mongolia

Language

With the exception of the Western-most province, everybody in the country speaks Mongolian. The language is extremely difficult for Westerners to learn and speak, even after multiple months of being immersed in the culture. Most locals will appreciate attempts to speak phrases in Mongolian, although the traveller will inevitably pronounce them wrong (be careful when ordering water in a restaurant - the word for water is indistinguishable for that of "hair" to the English ear! Makes for a good laugh over and over ...). Picking up a phrase book and practising a few phrases will help, such as "hello" ("Sain bano"), "good-bye" ("Bayer-ta"), "thank you" ("Bayer-la"), "yes" ("teem"), and "no" (uguu). The numbering system is regular, and fairly easy to learn.

Mongolia

Buy

The Mongolian currency is the tugrik (??????), also spelled tugrug or togrog. There are 1223 tugrik in US$1 (as of 13 Jan 2006).

There really isn't much worth buying. Note that it is illegal to take antiques out of the country without a special permit.

However, if you want the experience of a huge open-air market, Narantuul ("The Black Market") is a great place to go in Ulaanbaatar, and also has the cheapest prices around on just about everything you could want.

Mongolia

Eat

Outside the cities, the staple of the Mongolian diet is mutton. After a month in the countryside, you'll either never want to see a sheep again or you might find that you get used to meat as tough as leather and with large lumps of fat surprisingly quickly. Yak might also hit the menu occasionally. The countryside is littered with cafeteria tents called guanz. Here, about 800 to 1200 tugrik will buy you a large platter heaped with fried noodles and slivers of mutton. On the side will be a large bottle of ketchup. Closer to large towns there may even be chunks of potato or vegetables added in.

The marmot barbecue is particularly worth experiencing. For about 2000 tugrik, a nomad will head out with his rifle, shoot a marmot, and then cook it for you using hot stones.

In Ulaanbaatar, there are restaurants of many different ethnicities, including traditional Mongolian, Chinese, German, Indian, and "California-style" restaurants.

Mongolia

Drink

The national drink is called airig. Made from fermented mare's milk, it is quite refreshing and about as alcoholic as beer. Be careful though, if you aren't accustomed to drinking sour milk products, the first time might give you quite a diarrhea, as your stomach gets accustomed to it. This happens only the first time, though, and once you've completed the ritual once, your digestory system shouldn't complain again.

The first thing you will be served every time you visit a ger, will be milk tea, which is essentially a cup of boiled milk and water, sometimes with a couple pieces of tea leaf thrown in for good measure. You might want to build up your tolerance by drinking lots of milk in preparation for your stay because they don't drink much else, except perhaps boiled water if you specially request it during a longer stay. Also, most traditional nomadic foods such as dried yogurt and the like require a good accustomization to milk as well. Cold drinks don't actually exist in the countryside (unless you intend to drink straight out of a river, generally not recommended), and it's generally recommended that you don't drink anything cold after eating mutton, as it can cause the fat to congeal in your stomach and make you ill.

Mongolia

Sleep

Some western-style accommodations are available in the capital, but they go for western prices. The Chinggis Khan Hotel looks the fanciest, but I've heard the other hotels in the city are better.

There are a few nice guest houses in UB for less than ten bucks a night (even as cheap as 3,000 tugrik if you're willing to share a room), but they are crowded during the tourist season and hard to get into.

Out in the countryside, most of the hotels are rundown leftovers from the Soviet era.

Various entrepreneurial locals set up ger just for tourists. Staying at one of these costs about 2500 tugrik per person per night. They often include breakfast and dinner as well. When staying in one of these guest ger, the usual gift-giving customs can be skipped.

Finally, there are also ger-camps. Set up by tour-companies, they do occasional rent out space to independent travellers. Unfortunately, they tend to be both expensive and out of the way.

Except for the cities and larger towns, all of the land is publicly owned. This means you can pitch a tent pretty much anywhere. Courtesy dictates that you keep your distance from existing nomad encampments. Common-sense dictates that you don't pitch a tent in the middle of a road.

Mongolia

Learn

There are some language schools in the capital.

Mongolia

Work

Don't expect to get a job in this country unless you work for a non-governmental organization. generally there are laws against proselytizing, too.

Mongolia

Stay Safe

The country is very safe to travel in. Naturally, the usual advice for lone or female travellers applies here.

Mongolia

Stay Healthy

The nomads' dogs may have rabies. The marmots should not be eaten certain times of the year because they can carry Bubonic Plague.

It's a good idea to get your rabies shots before you come. I think the marmot season is something like mid-August to mid-October, though there are some new restrictions on hunting them this year, I think.

Mongolia

Respect

Also receive items with the right hand, palm facing up. Drink from the right hand with the palm up as well. It is very rude to refuse a gift. If offered a plate of hospitality munchies, take at least a small nibble from something.

Mongolia

Contact

There are plenty of internet cafes in the capital. The postal service is slow and most people have a PO box if they want to get anything. It is possible to buy phone cards that can be used to call abroad very cheaply from domestic phones, but not all phones can do this. (e.g. BodiCom will give about an hour calling to Britain on a $3 card.) In the countryside, don't expect to be staying in contact with anyone.

To make local calls in Ulaanbaatar use a phone of one of the many entrepreneurs with cellular telephones on the street corners. A 5 min call costs about T250 (Oct 2004 prices).

Mongolia

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