"I don't think words can quite explain just how great Mongolia is…it is the most beautiful place I have ever seen."
"Out of the twenty-one days we spend on tour, nineteen are in the wilderness, and often you won't see more than a handful of other travellers the whole time. The country is just so vast and harsh, and the local people are the toughest that you will ever meet. Nomadic in the true sense, they spend their lives herding their live stock across the wide open plains. Everyday you are faced with different jaw dropping landscapes and amazing camp sites which guarantee to blow you away! Although drives can be long and bumpy it is worth every minute to see landscapes like the giant sand dunes of the desolate Gobi desert, the Yolyn Am glacier which stays frozen year round, the famous rolling grasslands of the steppe and Lake Khovsgol, in the north, surrounded by forest with water so clear and pure you can drink it or swim if you don’t mind a cold bath! This country really has to be seen to be believed - at any moment you expect to see Genghis Khan and his army riding across the nearest mountain."
Michael Thomson, Tour Leader – The Imaginative Traveller
Capital: Ulaan Baatar
Official Language: Mongolian. Others: Other dialects and Russian
Religions: Religion was outlawed during the communist years but Lamaist (Tibetan) Buddhism is now making a strong comeback. There is a significant Muslim minority in the West. Shamanistic beliefs are still widespread.
Voltage: 220 Volts. Sockets take the round, two pin European style plugs. Outside Ulaan Baatar however there will be very little opportunity for using electrical appliances..
Visas are required by most nationalities. Notable exceptions include Hong Kong and Israel. A tourist visa is usually valid for entry within three months of the date of issue and allows a stay of 30 days from the date of entry. The visa fee is normally US$25, (this fee is doubled for an urgent application). US and Indian nationals are exempt from this fee but may be charged an administration fee. Visa extensions, for up to 30 days, can be obtained in country for approximately US$2 per day.
Regulations and costs do change frequently. For the latest information on your specific visa requirements you should contact your nearest Mongolian Embassy or Consulate or check the consular information at: Mongolia Travel Information
It is your responsibility to ensure that you are in possession of the correct visas for your holiday and onward travel. The Imaginative Traveller cannot accept responsibility for anyone who is refused entry to a country because they lack the correct documentation.
The monetary unit in Mongolia is the "Togrog", indicated by the letter ‘T’ (occasionally ‘Tg’). Approximate exchange rates (as at May 2008) are as follows:
At present there are no restrictions on the amount of foreign currency that a visitor may bring into Mongolia.
XE.com is a useful site for currency conversion.
It is nearly impossible to change money outside Ulaan Baatar so it is important to change sufficient for your stay before you leave the capital. Your Tour Leader will advise you on how much to change. Money exchange is straightforward in the banks and moneychangers of Ulaan Baatar, but there are major limitations on the type of transactions possible. For example it is usually impossible to change traveller's cheques in any currency other than US dollars.
Cash in most major currencies can be exchanged, but US dollars, Chinese Yuan and Russian roubles are the most widely accepted (please note Scottish pound notes are not recognised outside of the UK). Things are changing in Mongolia but it is currently nearly impossible to get cash out on a credit card and there are only a few ATMs in Ulaan Baatar so DO NOT rely on credit cards or ATMs as a source of funds.
The Imaginative Traveller Recommends: Bring a combination of cash and traveller's cheques in US dollars. Notes should be blemish free. Higher denomination notes receive a better exchange rate. It is possible to change back excess Togrog before departure but the rates for this tend to be poor.
The Pre-Departure Booklet that you will receive once you have booked your tour contains general information about organising your spending money. Your Tour Leader will be able to advise you on local facilities.
The Pre-Departure Information contains general information about the things you will need to consider when budgeting for your holiday. Below are some specific notes relevant to our tours in Mongolia.
Our Adventurer trips do not include any entrance fees to allow you the freedom to choose what to visit. Entrance fees are charged for tourist attractions and for National Parks. On average museums and monasteries in Ulaan Baatar cost US$1-5. The very enjoyable Cultural Show costs US$5.
All of our itineraries include some free time, the amount of which usually depends on the style of tour you are travelling on (Adventurer trips generally have more than Traveller). If you wish to take optional excursions your Tour Leader will be able to advise you of the possibilities in each area.
Horse riding and camel trekking in the Gobi desert can usually be arranged for approximately US$2 per hour.
Meals are not included on our tours in Mongolia. Whilst camping, the group prepares most meals. Other meals may be taken at small restaurants or be cooked by locals. These meals are paid for from a food kitty which is collected by the Tour Leader at the beginning of the tour (details of how much to allow for the food kitty can be found in your Trip Dossier).
Approximate costs for meals and snacks in Ulaan Baatar are shown below:
For a guide to the type of food you will find in Mongolia see the Local Food & Drink section of this dossier.
Generally drinks (i.e. bottled water, soft drinks) are at your own expense. Mineral water is not often available outside the capital however whilst camping we fill up jerry cans from the many springs en route to ensure a fresh water supply. Other drinks may be provided from the food kitty.
The local tap water in Ulaan Baatar is considered safe. However, bottled water, carbonated soft drinks and fruit juices are widely available throughout the city and most visitors prefer these. Approximate costs for drinks bought in a shop in the street are shown below:
Many sites within Ulaan Baatar are within walking distance of our guesthouse though taxis are useful to make best use of the time available. Many locals supplement their income by offering lifts for the same charge, so you should not have too long to wait. Taxi fares (per taxi) start at around US$0.3 per kilometre but you should establish the total fare in advance.
Local buses can be useful for crossing the city centre and are very cheap. Your Tour Leader will be able to advise on useful routes.
The Pre Departure Booklet that you will receive once you have booked your tour contains a comprehensive list of items that you should consider bringing with you. In Mongolia a warm sleeping bag is essential for camping, as are biodegradable soaps. Please note that you DO NOT need to bring a mosquito net on any of our tours in Mongolia. Check your Trip Dossier for any other special requirements.
The Imaginative Traveller Recommends: Don’t fill your luggage up with too many gadgets! A medium backpack and a daypack should be plenty big enough – extra space in the vans is best used for camping equipment, food and your comfort.
As a general guideline, clothing should be lightweight, loose fitting, hard-wearing and easily washed. You may want to bring more older clothes as camping can be tough on them. It is also a good idea to bring some warm clothing whatever time of year you travel as early morning starts and evenings can be cool even in summer. You will generally find it better to pack several thin layers rather than one thick layer. A fleece can be invaluable and double as a pillow.
Most Mongolians dress informally but tend not to wear anything revealing even in the hot summer months. Therefore it is best not to wear 'short' shorts and revealing vests as you will look out of place. Women, and also to a certain extent men, will find that the way they dress will often determine the degree of respect they receive from both men and women.
The Imaginative Traveller Recommends
On camping trips the only water for washing is from streams. Swimwear is ideal for modesty during a body wash and, when clean, you can jump in for a refreshing dip.
Whilst our tours are not physically demanding, you will find all activities more enjoyable if you are reasonably fit and active. Please note: Driving is almost entirely off road and you should be prepared for long, rough journeys. When we say wilderness, we mean it!
When toilets are not available please burn your toilet paper – do not bury it. Better still, take it back to the camp where it can be placed in the rubbish bin and disposed of appropriately.
Whenever you use a western or squat style toilet please place your toilet paper in the rubbish bin provided – DO NOT flush it down the toilet as this may block the sewerage system.
The Imaginative Traveller Recommends: You may find it useful to take along a supply of antiseptic gel (waterless soap) and plastic bags to put your toilet paper in if it cannot be burnt/placed in a bin. You should also carry your own supply or toilet paper at ALL times.
Water supplies are drawn from local streams. Please do not wash yourself, your clothes or cooking utensils directly in or near streams and water courses. It is important that you use the bowls provided and wash yourself/utensils at least 20 metres away from the water source. Please limit the use of soaps and detergents as much as possible and make sure that those you do use are biodegradable/eco-friendly.
It is very important to take all rubbish and non-biodegradable items with you when you leave camp sites. Rubbish bags will be provided which, when full, will be deposited with local or National Park facilities for proper disposal.
Mongolian tradition requires great hospitality towards all visitors. This is deeply ingrained and hosts derive much pleasure from entertaining foreigners. To ensure this hospitality is correctly received your Tour Leader will brief the group about suitable behaviour and ger customs and arrange an appropriate gift.
Although your Tour Leader will brief you accordingly on Mongolia's many customs and traditions there are a few points which are worth remembering. When entering a temple or ger make sure your remove your hat/cap if you are wearing one. You should also remember to be confident when visiting a ger – don't show any nervousness, just try to feel at home and relax! Finally, you should always try not to refuse anything which is offered to you. If you really don't like the 'delicacy' you have been given take a very small sip or bite.
Prices in Mongolia are generally not negotiable, however if no price is displayed you may be able to bargain. If you do try to bargain, it should always be relaxed and fun and remember that if you agree a price then you are expected to follow through with the purchase.
Upon arrival at Ulaan Baatar airport, please look for our representative who will be holding a sign with your name or The Imaginative Traveller. He should be waiting for you in the Arrivals Hall (i.e. after exiting the Immigration and Customs area).
Ulaan Baatar Railway Station
If you are arriving by train and have booked an arrival transfer, please follow other passengers off the train, and look for our representative who will be holding a sign with your name or The Imaginative Traveller on it.
The Meeting Point for your tour should be clearly marked on your travel vouchers.
It is a relatively simple matter to make your own way to the meeting point. Please take a taxi from the airport or station direct to the hotel. All taxis are metered but you should check that the driver turns the meter on. A taxi should cost approximately US$8-10 from the airport and US$3-4 from the railway station.
Most people find that Mongolia is a very friendly and hospitable country and feel quite comfortable wandering around alone during the day. However, as with any country you are not familiar with, it is recommended that you exercise more caution at night, especially in Ulaan Baatar. Much crime is alcohol related. Pickpockets and other opportunists operate around some tourist sites and, notoriously, inside the Black (Central) Market.
Availability of helmets
Protective helmets of a reliable standard are not available locally. If you intend to take part in activities such as bike, horse or camel rides, you should consider bringing a suitable helmet from home.
If you have any safety concerns you should mention these to your tour leader immediately.
Your Tour Leader's role is to ensure all aspects of the trip run smoothly. He/she will share their local knowledge, advise on how to fill your free time and co-ordinate the day to day running of the tour – although occasionally he/she may need your understanding if things do not go according to plan. If you have any problems on the tour, please let your Tour Leader know so that steps can be taken to put it right. Tour Leaders are supported by our regionally based office staff and, in most cases, a locally based manager. In Mongolia each vehicle has an experienced local driver and we also use the services of a translator.
Please note that some styles of trip, such as Imaginative Escapes or Imaginative Honeymoons, do not have a Tour Leader. However, there will be representatives on hand who will be able to assist you in arranging any excursions that you wish you take.
Our main criterion for choosing hotels is cleanliness. On Adventurer tours hotels are simple, but comfortable. Bathroom facilities may sometimes be shared and rooms may sometimes be multi share rather than twin. Hotels on Traveller tours almost always have private bathrooms, air conditioning and bar / restaurant facilities. Please bear in mind that hotels can sometimes suffer from minor problems and technical difficulties.
At each hotel your Tour Leader will try to organise the rooming arrangements to suit everyone's requirements. If you are travelling alone you will be allocated a room with another group member of the same sex (unless you have paid a single supplement). If you are travelling as a couple please note that we cannot guarantee the availability of double beds.
We use two-person tents when camping, with mattresses. If you are travelling alone you will be allocated a tent with another group member of the same sex. Your Tour Leader will demonstrate how to erect the tent properly. Sometimes the opportunity arises for all or some of the group to stay with a local family in their traditional 'ger' (round felt tent). Here we generally sleep on available floor space using camping mats for comfort, although occasionally family beds may be offered. Considering these tents are easily dismantled and moved on, they are surprisingly spacious and homely inside.
Note: Single supplements are only applicable to single travellers who wish to have their own room. Single supplements are also only available on Traveller tours and are not applicable on overnight boats, trains and while camping.
A laundry service is only available in Ulaan Baatar. Whilst camping you may wash clothes by hand, bearing in mind the need to protect water supplies. Please use the bowls provided well away from the water source.
It has to be said that Mongolian cuisine is not one of the worlds finest. Most foreigners’ experience of Mongolian food is confined to ‘Mongolian Barbecue’ restaurants, however, this is a concept that does not actually exist in Mongolia and must have been dreamed up outside the country!
The vast majority of Mongolians eat boiled mutton or beef, with either rice or noodles, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This is supplemented by milk tea and limited fresh dairy products. The environment is such that it is near impossible to grow fruit and vegetables and as a result these barely feature in the diet. That said, Ulaan Baatar has several vibrant markets with a wide choice of local and imported foods. Your Tour Leader will use the food kitty to purchase sufficient supplies to last for the camping section of your trip. These supplies will then be supplemented in aimags (provincial towns) though rarely by more than bread, meat and other staples.
In Ulaan Baatar, Chinese, Western and Russian food is widely available alongside snack foods such as crisps (potato chips), spreads and biscuits.
Mongolians are great tea drinkers and will usually have a flask at hand throughout the day. The tea is usually very milky and slightly salty and can be very hard to get used to! In Ulaan Baatar and the ger camps and aimags, fizzy soft drinks are available.
In Ulaan Baatar, beer is widely available and usually reasonably good. Outside the capital, the principle alcoholic drinks are vodka and airag (fermented mare’s milk). Both are very cheap although often not of high quality.
Vegetarians will find Mongolia a difficult place to travel given that the diet is primarily meat based. It is possible to arrange meat free meals but it is important to note that most dishes derive their flavour from meat so vegetarian dishes may not be as tasty. Dishes will also be limited by the lack of fresh vegetables. It is advisable for vegetarians to bring a few ‘ready meals’ which can be prepared by the addition of hot water. Nothing too bulky though please!
If you have food allergies or preferences, please make them known to your Tour Leader who will do their best to ensure that your requirements are met.
Please note: Unfortunately we can give no guarantee that special requirements can always be met.
Internet cafes are abundant in Ulaan Baatar and almost non-existent elsewhere. Charges are about US$1-3 per hour.
The Mongolian phone system is reliable, though outside of Ulaan Baatar, telephones exist only in aimags and some of the larger ger camps. A 3-minute call (to the UK) will cost approx. US$12 from a hotel and approx. US$8 from a post office.
The outgoing postal service is reliable but slow. Stamps are available in post offices. Letters may be posted at these or hotel reception desks. An overseas stamp will cost approx. US$0.6.
Availability of Film
Camera film can generally only be found in Ulaan Baatar. Fast film (ASA 200+) and slide film are harder to find and it is best to bring plenty of rolls (as well as batteries) from home.
Mongolia experiences very extreme weather conditions as it is so far inland that no sea tempers the climate. It is extremely dry, with little humidity. There is very little cloud cover with an average of 260 sunny days a year. However, the winters are long and bitterly cold, with temperatures plunging to minus 40-50 degrees and many of the great lakes are still covered in ice in May. Summers, in contrast, can be extremely hot and in the Gobi, the temperature can reach 40 degrees. There is a rainy period from mid-July to September, but the showers are usually brief and not severe.
Due to the high altitude evenings can be cool even in summer and it is windy throughout the year. When the wind blows from the north temperatures can fall sharply, and then rise just as quickly when the wind drops. So much so that you may need a T-shirt one day and a thick fleece the next!
Please note: as the weather changes very rapidly it is important to be prepared for a wide variety of weather conditions.
The following shows average daytime temperatures (in degrees celsius):
|City / Temp||Jan||Feb||Mar||Apr||May||Jun||Jul||Aug||Sep||Oct||Nov||Dec|
|Hatgal (nr Lake Khovsgol)||-16||-12||-4||4||13||17||18||17||12||3||-7||-14|
Secular public holidays, when banks and government offices are closed, are few and many shops remain open even on these days.
Festivals & Events
(*This is better known as the Naadam Festival. There are major festivities throughout the country featuring wrestling, horse racing and archery)
Mongolian belongs to the Ural-Altaic family of languages, which also includes Finnish, Turkish and Korean. It uses the Cyrillic alphabet but has two more letters than the Russian alphabet. Many Mongolians speak Russian but English is not widely spoken.