1. Go with the right people!
Anyone can fly into Ulaanbaatar and see the city sights like Gandan, Zaison and the Natural History Museum, but if you are coming to Mongolia it’s the countryside you should be spending more time in. Mongolia is a country the same size as Western and Central Europe but with only 1% of its roads. Heading into the countryside is something better done as part of a group. It is this shared group experience that makes traveling through Mongolia such a memorable and life-changing journey, especially if you all have the same Mongolia travel dream. Make sure to come to Mongolia with those like-minded people; if you are not, then be sure to ask your tour agency about the other travelers in your group, or use an app such as ‘travello’ to source out like minded travelers.
- Ask about other travelers
- Use an app such as ‘travello’
2. Hold your breath in the toilet!
Outside of Ulaanbaatar, modern toilet facilities are few and far between. You will have the pleasure of making a deposit in a traditional latrine; a small wooden hut inside of which you will be presented with a deep, deep hole. Depending on the season, said hut may contain many pesky flies, or slippery ice but any season is certain to come with a stench. Hold your breath and don’t forget to take your toilet roll.
- Hold your breath
- Take your toilet roll
3. Prepare your dietary requirements.
Ulaanbaatar, like any city, is well set up to host tourists of any taste or dietary requirement, with restaurants ranging from vegan, vegetarian, Indian and Thai to Chinese, Korean, sushi and burger bars, along with a host of coffee shops patisseries and of course the famous Mongolian barbeque. However, head out of Ulaanbaatar and food options become more limited, although still extremely delicious. If you are picky or have certain requirements be sure to address this before you set out into the countryside. Outside of Ulaanbaatar meals are likely to be meat and dairy heavy but most tour agencies and nomadic hosts will be able to cater for your needs if they have enough forewarning.
- Bring what you need
- Tell your tour agent/ guide
- Take a trip to the state department store
4. Make sure to enjoy the culture!
Mongolia is home to one of the few remaining truly nomadic people in the world. The cultural heritage in this remarkable country is not something to be bypassed. Ulaanbaatar city hosts many cultural performances. Some of the best that can be seen include khoomei (throat singing), traditional Moorin Khuur (horse head fiddle) and a cultural presentation at the Mongolian Grand Theatre of National Art.
Heading into the countryside, make sure you spend at least one night being hosted by an authentic herder family, avoid tour agencies that host you in tourist camps for the entire duration.
- Watch a khoomei or moorin khuur performance
- Stay with a herder family.
5. Do your homework!
Saying “I want to go to Mongolia” begs many questions; Where in Mongolia do you want to go? What do you want to experience in Mongolia? What do you most want to see? Are you more interested in culture or nature?
Mongolia is a hugely diverse country in many respects. Geographically there are the lakes to the north, mountains to the west, desert to the south and grassland steppe in the middle. Culturally, there are the Tsataan reindeer people to the north, Kazak eagle hunters in the west and traditional herders in central Mongolia. There are historical sites such as the ancient city of Karakorum and the bronze age rock paintings of Tsagaan Salaa. There are natural wonders such as the flaming cliffs in the Gobi and Khuvsgal lake, a lake over two million years old!
The old saying goes that you can’t really understand a country unless you have lived there for over a year; with that said, make sure you know exactly why you want to go to Mongolia in order to get the most out of it.
- Ask yourself ‘why?’
6. Purchase travel insurance!
A trip to Mongolia is like nothing you have done before; bear in mind that you are travelling to one of the least densely populated countries in the world and with that one with poor infrastructure. Unfortunately, accidents do happen from time to time. Better to buy a travel insurance plan and have peace of mind.
- Ask your tour agency for a recommended plan if you are unsure.