Noble Journeys' Mongolia Travel Tips - What To Expect in Mongolia
- Population: approximately 3,150,000, one of the last nomadic cultures in the world
- Capital: Ulaanbaatar
- Government: President, Parliament, Prime Minister
- Language: Khalkha Mongol, Kazadh, Russian
- Religion: Buddhist Lamaist 50%, Shamanist & Christian 6%, Muslim 4%, None 40%
- Major industries: Mining (gold, copper, coal, rare earth minerals), cashmere, agriculture
The enormous emptiness of the landscape, along with huge distances, gave birth to this unique horse-based culture. Mongolians have a deep reverence to the land; the idea of degrading nature creates deep conflicts with their beliefs.
The nomadic nature of the country is based on availability of grass to feed the livestock, key to a nomadic family, which may move two or more times a year. Livestock herding is central to the economy; meat is for domestic use, while skins, wool and cashmere are exported to Russia and China.
Warm and generous hospitality developed over the millennia, due to the necessity of long distance travel over endless terrain. Travelers have always been welcomed into a ger (a round, felt-lined Mongolian tent with a wooden structure) in the countryside, where they have been offered food, a place to sleep and a hand in any needed repairs; the traveler was thus able to travel long distances without having to carry much food, fuel, etc. The modern day traveler will experience this same welcoming experience in a remote ger, the unique, round, one room felt tent, which can be erected—and dismantled—in as little as 1.5 hours, which is perfect for the nomadic way of life.
In the countryside, gers are quite isolated, a nuclear family living alone or with an extended family camp of no more than four gers, as it would be a burden on the grazing lands. Inside, there is a central stove, beds around the walls, a small space allocated to cooking, and even DVD players and TVs, with a satellite dish on the roof. Colorful designs are painted on furniture and woven into wall hangings. The family all sleep in the same room, eliminating privacy but encouraging and strengthening close relationships. Nearby are the animal enclosures for the sheep, goats, camels or yaks belonging to the family.
Should you visit a ger, you will be offered fermented mare's milk (it's quite tasty), cheese, and cheese curds (small round very hard balls of cheese dried on the ger roof), often along with vodka. If you empty your bowl, it means you want more, so if you are full, or don't want any more of whatever is being offered, leave something in the bottom of the bowl. But to be polite, do taste everything offered.
Almost half of all Mongolians live in a ger, the other half live in gray, Russian style cement block apartment buildings in the cities. Western style homes began to be built 20 years ago outside Ulaanbaatar.
In the capital, there are hotels to suit every budget, from guesthouses aimed at backpackers to low, medium and high end properties which may include breakfast. Service is not up to western standards, so be patient. Be sure to ask if taxes are included.
Heavily meat and milk products: cheese, yogurt, cream, airag (fermented mare's milk), potatoes and rice. Restaurant meals in the capital of Ulaanbaatar usually consist of buuz, steamed mutton dumplings, khuushuur fried mutton pancakes, potatoes and talkh (bread); in the capital, western food is also available in many cafes and restaurants owned by French, Italian and English expats. Tea is believed to aid in digestion and is almost always drunk before a meal.
Local currency is called togrog. Banks and change offices in Ulaanbaatar can change money and give cash advances against debit and credit cards. There are a few ATMs in the capital. Credit cards, Visa and Mastercard, are now more widely used in upmarket hotels and some shops and restaurants in Ulaanbaatar. Cash is always the best; be sure to take an ample supply when going into the countryside.
Consult your embassy for recommendations in Ulaanbaatar. SOS Medica is reliable, run by western doctors on call 24/7. Medical facilities are nonexistent in the countryside. Be sure to purchase travel insurance to include medical and emergency evacuation. Check with the CDC to see if any inoculations are recommended or required.
Wool, cashmere and wood products are popular. Silver jewelry, carpets, wallhangings and antiques are also sought-after items. No dinosaur bones or eggs—totally illegal.
Noble Journeys would be pleased to assist you in planning your trip to this marvelous and unique country.
Joan Noble, Director