Distant and unique, Mongolia is among the less discovered corners of our planet. It’s probably not the first destination that pops in your mind when thinking about travel abroad, yet this rare and off-the-beaten-track Asian country with one-of-a-kind heritage, centuries-old history, still kept traditions, and nomadic culture is certainly worth a visit. In this piece, we’ll introduce you to enigmatic Mongolia travel and share why this destination is definitely worth exploring.
If you feel like setting off on an adventure to a destination that is out of the ordinary, put down Mongolia on your wishlist. It is indeed a country like no other, and, for this reason, many tourists choose to add on time in Mongolia as an extension to the classic Trans-Siberian rail tour. Usually, in this case, travelers pass Lake Baikal in Russian Siberia and then shift to the Trans-Mongolian railway to make their way to the capital of Mongolia, Ulan Bator.
Facts about Mongolia
In case you’re wondering where is Mongolia, the answer is in eastern Asia, bordering China and Russia. The area of the country is a whole 1566000 sq km (about 605000 sq mi) and has a population of only about 3 million people, making it one of the least densely populated countries in the world.
Much of the territory is covered by steppes, grasslands, and mountain ranges, including the Altai and Khangai Mountains. And when speaking about the diversity of the country’s nature, its southern part is occupied by a Mongolian desert. The Gobi Desert Mongolia is the biggest one in entire Asia and is sometimes chosen for adventurous day trips by travelers.
If you look at the Mongolia map, the capital city Ulan Bator (often called Ulaanbaatar Mongolia) is located in the northeastern part of the country in
proximity to the borders of Russia and not far from China. Thus this precise place is the best one to begin your discovery from.
Interestingly, the Mongolian climate is extreme continental, meaning that there are really short summers whereas the winters are long, harsh, and chilly. There are over 250 sunny days in a year here, whereas the average temperature in July is around 18°C (64°F) and in winter months like January the thermometer marks drop to –23°C (about –9°F) and may even reach –45°C (approximately –43°F)!
What is more, Ulan Bator is officially the world's coldest capital. And that is, taking into mind that this city is located not somewhere in the north close to the Arctic, such as some chilly Scandinavian cities, but actually it’s almost on the same “range” as Vienna and Paris, imagine that!
Mongolian culture and religion
You’ve probably heard about the Mongols and how vast and powerful once was the Mongol Empire in the 13-14th centuries. And all of that former glory is closely connected with the name of the mighty Genghis Khan, who united the people of Mongolia. The legacy of the hordes (horseman armies) led by Genghis Khan echoes with their incredible conquers.
It took them only 25 years to get control over lands of a part of today’s China, Russia’s Siberia, much of Central Asia, Caucasus, as well as the Middle East, resulting in the expanded Mongol Empire, which was the largest land empire in history.
Of course, the thirst for conquest is a completely irrelevant description of the Mongolian people of today, yet they’ve managed to preserve and develop many interesting customs over the centuries.
As such, the art of Mongolian eagle hunting is something that can’t be found practically anywhere else in the world.
This ancient practice is closely connected with the historic way of life of many locals who have ridden horses and tamed golden eagles to help hunt for food.
The major religion in Mongolia is Buddhism and there are many temples dotting the country. One of the most interesting places which you can visit and should definitely put down in your travel plans is the Tibetan monastery, Gandan Monastery. It is about 200 years old and has several gorgeous temples and monuments.
When in Mongolia, you may come across interesting piles of rocks, decorated with colorful ribbons, mainly in blue as this color is considered sacred in Mongolia, symbolizing the sky.
These rock piles are called ovoo, are also sacred, ceremonial and of shamanistic origin, they are actually a place to leave a tribute to spirits and gods.
As a rule, ovoos are placed near mountains, and it is believed that if you walk around one three times clockwise, leave a coin and tie a ribbon as a gratitude, and make a wish, it’ll come true.
Things to do in Mongolia
The acquaintance with Mongolia usually begins in Ulan Bator, which translates from Mongolian as “Red Hero”.
The city has numerous museums, memorials and statues, especially those of Genghis Khan, whose figure is very respected by locals, and many places, streets, and squares, are named in his honor.
To top it off, Mongolia’s 40-meter high (131 ft) horseman statue of Genghis Khan is the biggest of its kind on the planet and is set in the outskirts of the city. It is actually an entire complex with a museum and an observation platform, opening great panoramas.
Apart from exploring the capital, a must-visit place is the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park. This incredible region not far from Ulan Bator boats outstanding nature and is home to interesting rock formations, including the famous Turtle Rock, mountains, lakes, springs, rivers, as well as vast territories and valleys with roaming sheep, horses, and other animals.
An interesting part of this park is that there are many ger camps, including those with traditional Mongolian yurts (circular tents, fitted with beds and chimney heating). Most of our Mongolia tours actually include staying overnight in a yurt to get a taste of the authentic local life.
In addition, to get a real insider experience, most of our Mongolia itineraries include time meeting a nomad family, where you can communicate with the locals, taste local dishes and drinks, such as airag made of milk, and step inside real yurts, which serve as homes for local people, and learn more about their daily life.
All in all, Mongolia is an unparalleled destination to be visited at least once in your life! And in our next article, “Why Mongolia Should Be on Your Bucket List | Part 2”, we’ll share handy information to help you plan a perfect trip to Mongolia, as well as tips on what to taste, which souvenirs to bring back home, what to pack, and on Mongolian visas, so stay tuned!