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Holidays in Mongolia

Understanding Mongolia

With only 17 people per square kilometre, Mongolia has the lowest population density of any independent country, and it is this vast and majestic emptiness that is the country's enduring appeal, bringing the traveler, as it does, into a close communion with nature and its nomadic inhabitants Mongolia is entirely landlocked, sandwiched between China and Russia The country is nicknamed the "Land of Blue Skies," and with good reason There is said to be about 250 sunny days throughout each year The weather is bitterly cold during the winter, dropping down to -40º Celsius -40º F in some parts With many types of terrain--from desert to verdant mountains--the weather during the summer varies from region to region, but is generally hot Outside of the Gobi desert, this time of year is marked with many rains in some areas, and it can become quite cool at night
For several letters, the ISO 9 standard transliteration of Cyrillic is not widely used and there is no consensus either in Mongolia nor in Wikitravel Specially, the same Cyrillic letter "х" is transliterated "h" or "kh", the letter "ө" is transliterated "ô", "ö", "o" or "u", but Latin "o" is also the transliteration of the Cyrillic "о", and Latin "u" is also the transliteration of Cyrillic "у" and "ү" the latter should be transliterated "ù" according to ISO 9, but this is rarely done So, if you can't find a name as you wrote it, try other spellings


Recorded history of Ancient Mongolia dates back to third century BC when the Huns Xiongnu came to power among many other nomadic tribes

Due to illiteracy and nomadic lifestyle, little was recorded by Huns of themselves except they first appear in Chinese history as Barbarians against whom the walls were built which later became known as Great Wall of China

There have been several Empires in Mongolia after the Hun Nu For example: A Turkish Empire around 650AD with its capital approximately 110km north of Har Horin Kharkhorum Also the Uighur Empire with its capital Har Bulgas Khar Bulgas or Xar Bulgas also near Har Horin The Khitans who controlled North China around 1000AD as the Liao Dynasty had an administrative center Har Bukh 120km to the northeast The Government of Turkey has been promoting some Turkish Empire monuments and there is a museum full of artifacts at the Bilge Khaan site

The struggle for mere existence and power over other tribes kept going till the time of Genghis Khan, or Chinggis Khan as he is known in Mongolia When he came to power and united these warring tribes under the Great Mongol Empire in 1206, he was proclaimed as Genghis Khan Chingis Haan of all Mongol tribes

If you are really into the history, try The Secret History of the Mongols by Professor Onon Every Mongolian reads the book in the modern Mongolian language This is probably the oldest book in Mongolian There are vivid similarities with the Bible in literary style, wording and story telling It is speculated that the author could have been a Christian or at least was very knowledgeable about the Bible According to Hugh Kemp, Qadag pp 85-90, Steppe by Step is the most likely candidate for authorship of Secret History of the Mongols He writes about the history of ancient Mongolia and connects the modern reality with the ancient world Even though his book is about the history of Christianity in Mongolia, he covers much more in a very interesting way His book will help you to see the picture of ancient Mongolia from the height of 21st century The "History of Mongolia" by B Baabar is a good source for the Modern History of Mongolia

On the trail of Marco Polo covers some travel through the Mongol Empire in the time of Genghis' grandson, Kublai Khan


Mongolia is more than twice as big as Texas and even bigger than Alaska Its area is 16 million square kilometers 618,000 square miles, four times the size of Japan and almost double that of Eastern Europe

This makes Mongolia the sixth-largest country in Asia and 18th in the world, but the population is only 2727966 as of 09November2009, which makes Mongolia one of the least densely populated areas in Asia

If you consider that 40% of the population lives in the capital city of Ulan Bator or Ulaanbaatar that leaves lots of room for you to travel in the outback Of course, Gobi is even less dense

Almost another 40% of population are scattered all over Mongolia with their 56 million head of sheep, goats, cattle, horses and camels There are 21 provinces, called aimag Each aimag has a central city or town and about 15-22 sub-provinces called soum, so you will know which aimag and which soum you are in

70% of Mongolia is under the age of 35 The gender ratio is close to 1:1 Ethnicity: 84% Khalkha Mongols, 6% Kazakhs and 10% other groups

More than 50% will say they are Buddhists which is very much mixed with Shamanism, close to 10% will claim to be Christians of all forms and 4% follow Islam, the remainders will say that they are atheists

Holidays and festivals

Mongolia is home to the "three manly sports": wrestling, horse racing, and archery, and these are same three sporting events that take place every year at the Naadam festival

Naadam is the National Holiday of Mongolia celebrated on July 11-13 During these days all of Mongolia watch or listen to the whole event which takes place in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar through Mongolia's National Television and Radio Many other smaller Naadam festivals take place in different aimags provinces around the country throughout the month of July, and it is at these Naadam festivals that you are able to get a much closer look at the action

It is believed that Naadam celebrations started with the rise of the Great Mongolian Empire as Chinggis aka Genghis Khan's strategy to keep his warriors strictly fit After the fall of the empire, the contests were held during religious festivals, and since the communist revolution it was celebrated on its anniversary

The legend says that in old times a woman dressed like man won wrestling competition once That is why open chest and long sleeve wrestling costumes, called "zodog", meant to show that every participant is male Wrestlers wear short trunks, "shuudag", and Mongolian boots, "gutal" The yellow stripes on tales of wrestlers' hats will indicate the number of times the wrestler became a champion in Naadam

Only Naadam gives official titles to the wrestlers Mongolia wrestling tournaments have 9 or 10 rounds depending on the number of 512 or 1024 wrestlers registered for the competition that year If the wrestler wins 5 rounds, he will be awarded title "Nachin" bird, 6 rounds - Hartsaga hawk, 7 rounds - Zaan elephant, 8 rounds - Garuda Eagle, 9 rounds - Arslan lion and 10 - Avarga Titan

In 2006, Zaan Elephant Sumyabazar won 9 rounds that made him Garuda but that year 1024 wrestlers had 10 rounds which he won all This entitled him to Avarga Or Arslan Lion must win 2 in a row to become Avarga Titan The titles are for life If Avarga Titan keeps winning at Naadam more and more attributes will be added to his title

There is no weight categories in Mongolian Wrestling tournaments but there is a time limit of 30 minutes, if the wrestlers can not overthrow each other, referees use lots for better position which often settles the match One who falls or his body touches the ground loses the match

Mongolia Wrestling matches are attended by seconds whose role is to assist their wrestlers in all matters and to encourage them to win by spanking on their butts They also sing praise songs and titles to the leading wrestlers of both wings, west and east, after 5 and 7 rounds The referees monitor the rules but the people and the fans are the final judges They will speak and spread the word of mouth about who is who till the next year


The ideal Mongolia travel season starts in May and hits its highest peak in July, during the Naadam holiday, and in August when the weather is most favorable for traveling This is the best time if you like the culture and can bear the crowds of other tourists It is not a good time if you want to get away from your busy lifestyle because you will experience traffic, busy schedules, waiting in lines, etc

September is also a very good time to visit, and October is not too late to travel to Mongolia It is still warm during the days but a bit chilly during the nights In the fall Mongolia is not very crowded, and this is time for late-comers and last-minute, unplanned trips You will get to sightsee, enjoy the culture, and taste mare's milk, a bitter and at first somewhat unpleasant drink, throughout the country

For visitors not afraid of cold or fermented mare's milk, traveling to Mongolia from November till the Lunar New Year is still an option Winter tourism is a developing area of the Mongolian tourism industry

The most rewarding experience will be visiting the nomads, as this is the time when you will experience their culture first-hand during "Tsagaan Sar" or the traditional Lunar New Year celebration

Travellers will have the opportunity to watch lots of cultural activities: singing, dancing, wrestling, and winter horse racing

Mongolia is known to have 250-260 sunny days throughout the year, so you will need good UV protection During winter, protect your eyes, and during summer, protect your skin

Talking in Mongolia

See also: Mongolian phrasebook

With the exception of the westernmost province where Kazakh is spoken, 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 Westerners typically take a minimum of 9-18 months of full time Mongolian language study to be conversant 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 pronounced "oos" is indistinguishable for that of "hair" to the English ear! Makes for a good laugh over and over Picking up a phrasebook and practising a few phrases will help The numbering system is regular, and fairly easy to learn

If you can speak Russian you are at an advantage It has been widely taught for most of its history and you shouldn't have much trouble getting by, especially in the capital English is not widely spoken, although it's been getting more popular lately

What to see in Mongolia

Mongolia is a big country with bad transportation means, so trying to see too many provinces you would spend your holidays inside vehicles Hôvsgôl or "Hövsgöl" lake, in Hövsgöl province, is very beautiful There is not much architecture in Mongolia, but Amarbaysgalant monastery, Selenge province, in the middle of nowhere, is worth seeing Interested by the economical aspect? See Erdenet's open copper mine, the biggest copper mine in Asia, in Orhon province

What to do in Mongolia

The Trans-Siberian Railway passes through the country

Buying stuff in Mongolia

The Mongolian currency is the tôgrôg төгрөг, also spelled tugrik, tugrug or togrog, Unicode and local symbol: "₮", ISO symbol: "MNT" There are 1,377 tugrik in US$1 or 1,682 tugrik in €1

  • Mongolian cashmere is known as the best in the world Garments and blankets made of cashmere You can find lots of stores that sells cashmere products
  • Paintings by local artists are excellent buys in Mongolia
  • You can find felt poker-work in Erdenet
  • Note that it is illegal to take antiques out of the country without a special permit
  • The huge open-air market, Narantuul "The Black Market" in Ulaanbaatar offers the lowest prices on just about anything you could want Be very careful of the many pickpockets and even attackers there This can be a great place to get a good pair of riding boots You can opt for a variety of Mongolian styles, from fancy to the more practical, or even get a good set of Russian style boots
  • In Erdenet is a ISO 9 001 certified carpet factory, making and selling also slippers made in carpet

Food and eating in Mongolia

The main diet in rural Mongolia is mutton or sheep Yak might also hit the menu occasionally 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 A tasty and greasy dish served is khurshuur hushoor, which is a fried pancake stuffed with bits of mutton and onion Three to four make a typical meal Also, the ubiquitous buuz boots can be had at any canteen in town or the countryside Buuz are similar to khurshuur in that they are dumplings stuffed with mutton and onion, however they are boiled rather than fried About 6 buuz should cost 500 tg, or 60 cents USD, and serves one

The boodog, or marmot barbecue, is particularly worth experiencing For about 10,000 tugrik, a nomad will head out with his rifle, shoot a marmot, and then cook it for you using hot stones Along the same lines as boodog is khorhog, which is prepared like so: build a fire; toss stones into fire until red hot; place water, hot stones, onions, potatoes, carrots, and, finally, mutton chops, into a large vacuum-sealed kettle; let the kettle simmer over a fire for 30-60 minutes; open kettle carefully, as the top will inevitably explode, sending hot juices flying everywhere; once the kettle is opened, and all injuries have been tended to, eat contents of kettle, including the salty broth This cooking method makes mutton taste tender and juicy, like slow-roasted turkey Ask your guide if he or she can arrange one but only during summer

The boodog is also made of other meat, usually goat, and is similar to the khorhog with one major difference: the meat, vegetables, water and stones are cooked inside the skin of the animal They skin it very carefully, and then tie off the holes at the legs and anus, put the food and hot stones inside, tie off the throat, and let it cook for about 30 minutes

Drinking in Mongolia

The national drink is called Airag This is a summer seasonal drink made from fermented mare's milk, and is certainly an acquired taste The alcohol content is less than that of beer, but can have noticeable effects Be careful, if you aren't accustomed to drinking sour milk products the first time might give you diarrhea as your stomach gets accustomed to it This should only happen the first time though Once you've completed the ritual, your digestive system shouldn't complain again There are numerous ways to describe the taste, from bile-like to a mixture of lemonade and sour cream The texture can also be offsetting to some people since it can be slightly gritty It is worth keeping in mind that Airag is milk and a source of nutrients After a day of riding it can actually be quite refreshing, once acquiring a taste for it

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 acclimatization 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

If you are in Mongolia especially in the country side try their National Home Made Vodka It's usually made from distilled yogurt or milk It doesn't have any weird taste After you have your first shot of the vodka you won't feel anything, but few minutes later it will get to your head Most people in Mongolia usually drink this for medical reasons First you heat up the vodka then put in a little bit of special oil which is also made from milk Careful don't overheat it, you might get blind Mongolians call their national vodka nermel areehk "distilled vodka" or changa yum "tight stuff" There are lots of Russian type Vodkas sold all over the country The best ones are Chinggis Khaan vodka, Soyombo and Golden Chinggis

In Ulaanbaataar you can find most of Western beers, from Miller to Heineken They sell Budweiser -- not American Bud but the Czech Budweiser Local beer, such as Chingiss, Gem Grand, Borgio or Sengur is fine

Accommodation in Mongolia

Some western-style accommodations are available in Ulaanbaatar, but they go for western prices There are a few nice guest houses in UB for less than $US10 per 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 A better option is tourist ger, set up by various entrepreneurial locals Staying at one of these costs about 5000 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 35 US$ per person per night 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 or too close to a road

Working in Mongolia

There is a huge demand for "Native" English speakers as English teachers Anyone who is interested in teaching English will have no trouble getting employment and a work visa through a school or organization However, the pay is generally low compared to other countries Though it'll usually be just enough for room and board plus a little extra

Local English-language media are another source of employment for native English speakers, offering work as editors, proof-reader or photojournalist

Volunteer work is available teaching English, assisting with charity work and joining archaeological digs These jobs are easy to find and are very rewarding

Cities in Mongolia

baruun-urt  bulgan  darhan  erdenet  hovd  mandalgovi  moron  ondorhaan  suhbaatar  ulaanbaatar  ulaangom  

What do you think about Mongolia?

How expensive is Mongolia?
Meal in inexpensive restaurant2.92 USD
3-course meal in restaurant (for 2)21.8 USD
McDonalds meal6.65 USD
Local beer (0.5 draft)2.04 USD
Foreign beer (0.33 bottle) 2.44 USD
Cappuccino2.65 USD
Pepsi/Coke (0.33 bottle)1.01 USD
Water (0.33 bottle)0.61 USD
Milk (1l)0.96 USD
Fresh bread (500g)0.81 USD
White Rice (1kg)1.34 USD
Eggs (12) 2.6 USD
Local Cheese (1kg) 8.84 USD
Chicken Breast (1kg) 4.4 USD
Apples (1kg) 2.76 USD
Oranges (1kg) 4 USD
Tomato (1kg) 3.43 USD
Potato (1kg) 0.73 USD
Lettuce (1 head) 1.13 USD
Water (1.5l)0.59 USD
Bottle of Wine (Mid-Range) 9.17 USD
Domestic Beer (0.5 bottle)0.96 USD
Foreign beer (0.33 bottle) 1.18 USD
Cigarettes1.72 USD
One way local bus ticket0.29 USD
Monthly pass for bus16.64 USD
Taxi start0.53 USD
Taxi 1km0.51 USD
Taxi 1hour waiting3.96 USD
Gasoline (1 liter) 0.84 USD
Utilities for a "normal" apartment60.27 USD
Tennis Court Rent (1 Hour on Weekend) 14.43 USD
Apartment (1 bedroom) in City Centre 634.45 USD
Apartment (1 bedroom) Outside of Centre 354.4 USD
Apartment (3 bedrooms) Outside of Centre 821.82 USD, your travel companion

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