Mongolia

Visiting Mongolia is a journey back in time where nomadic lifestyles are perfectly in tune with the natural rhythms of the landscape, and the people are renowned for their warmth and hospitality.

Many have a mental picture of Mongolia as a vast, empty grass-covered wilderness with a few yaks wandering the plains and not much else but there’s an awful lot more to it – Mongolia is not all grassland steppes as one might imagine. For a start, there’s the lively capital Ulaanbataar. To the west of the country is the imposing Altai mountain range where Kazakh tribesmen hunt on horseback with hooded eagles on their arms. In the south is the expansive Gobi desert and northwards offers fast-flowing rivers, soaring mountains and the tranquil Lake Khovsgol.

There are lots of extremes. This landlocked country is further from the sea than any other country on earth and its population one of the least dense in the world. Mongolia is a real adventure destination where you can experience unique nomadic culture, enjoy an invigorating capital city and explore some ruggedly beautiful landscapes.

Mongolia has flourished after the Soviet era having built on its centuries-old agricultural and mining economy and, more recently, welcoming travellers looking for something different. There’s a new international airport near the capital, Ulaanbaatar, but the travel infrastructure through the country as a whole can be challenging; this is a place where nomadic herders still trek the steppes using the same methods as their ancestors did for centuries past. The most common form of transport is still the horse, though you’ll see two-humped Bactrian camels used in some parts of the country. A refreshing change in some ways, but there aren’t many roads even today which means that you need to plan well in advance to be able to make the most of your trip.

Ulaanbaatar is a vibrant modern city which contrasts sharply with the rural wilderness beyond. This is big, industrialised city packed to the rafters with decadent nightclubs, bohemian hangouts and exciting dining spots. It’s throbbing with commerce and the inevitable traffic jams which accompany this. There’s some top people watching to be done here, with steppes tribespeople visiting the city for the first time, brightly-clad monks going about their holy business and suited and booted businessmen climbing into limos. Navigating the city can be challenging, but here in Ulaanbataar you can see theatre done the traditional way, eat cuisine both native and international, party until the early hours and visit some unique museums.

Outside Ulaanbataar one of the best experiences is to spend some time immersing yourself if Mongolia’s nomadic culture. You can stay with a tribe for a few days sleeping in a yurt made from yak-felt, ride horses over the steppe and help round up sheep from their grazing plains. You’ll find your hosts happy to welcome you into their world of tradition and make you feel that you’re one of them if only for a short time. It’s an unforgettable experience.

Outside of the capital, Ulaanbaatar, where over half the population lives, visitors encounter a land blissfully unaffected by the modern world.

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