Mongolia really is one of my favourites, and one of the most amazing places on earth, with a history which includes of course Genghis Khan. Let me give you just a taste of what it offers.
When to visit
From mid May to early September is the best time to visit. The days are quite pleasant, and in July and August quite hot, especially in the Gobi Desert in the south. During the winter, temperatures can fall to -40 C so not a good time. May and June are good, and early September so that you avoid the school summer holiday period.
Getting to Mongolia
Flights. Korean Air flies in daily to Ulaanbaatar from Seoul. Air China and Mongolian Airlines have daily flight to/from Beijing and Aeroflot and Turkish Airlines fly in from Europe as does Mongolian Airlines. Ulaanbaatar airport is very close to the city and even in peak traffic is just 30 minutes from the centre.
Trains. There are two trains a week to/from Beijing and three in the summer months. There are daily trains to/from Irkutsk/Ulan Ude in Russia. China and Mongolia have differing rail gauges with the Chinese being 85mm narrower.
These means that the bogies (wheels and support mechanism) have to be changed on the border on each carriage for every train which travels between the two countries. As trains normally number between 12 to 14 carriages, this is a big operation which takes place in huge purpose-built sheds on the border. Passengers normally remain on board (see the faces at the windows) as each carriage is lifted by huge jacks, and the bogies replaced . The process takes 2 to 3 hours, often at night.
Travelling north to Mongolia, you cross the border about 1 am and awake to see the stretches of desert, ger camps, the rolling countryside, and finally busy Ulaanbaatar station. You have arrived.
Getting around Mongolia
Travel within the capital is by air-conditioned car, mainly Toyota or Hyundai. But once you go beyond Ulaanbaatar, travel must be by 4 wheel drive as the roads vary from poor to appalling, and sometimes non-existent. Under no circumstances should you attempt to drive yourself.
At Eastern Europe Travel/Russian Travel Centre we use a long established, very well respected local ground operator, with modern Toyota air-conditioned off road vehicles. Our accompanying guides are professional, and many are teachers or university lecturers with perfect English. There are many companies operating tours in Mongolia, but only a very few that I would consider using. Once you venture into the wilds you need someone who knows what they are doing!
There are scheduled flights to provincial towns, and if your time is limited and for instance you want to visit the Gobi Desert, then there are daily flights to an airport in that region.
The top places to visit and things to do
Mongolia is enjoyed by many as a stopover on the Trans-Mongolian/Siberian rail journey between Beijing and Moscow. An ideal time to stopover is 7 to 10 days, but if you don’t have too much time then make sure that you have a couple of nights in Ulaanbaatar, and at least one night in a ger in the Terelj National Park. Those with more time should venture west and south as far as the Gobi to enjoy some of the sights that we list below. See Russian Travel Centre’ s Mongolia brochure page here.
Ulaanbaatar. Don’t miss The Gandan Monastery ( Buddhist), National History Museum (Genghis Khan to today) , Natural History Museum (Dinosaurs), State Department Store ( amazing souvenirs) and Sukhbaatar Square (and the parliament) now known as Chingghis Square named after Genghis Khan.
Dinosaur Exhibition Building – Chingghis Square 2013.
Nadaam Festival. In July each year this event celebrates the 3 great national sports – horse racing, archery and wrestling. And Nadaam is about families and enjoying the days.
The winner of the horse race – just rode 30km bareback beating 100 other boys – 9 years of age!
Terelj National Park. 70 km east of UB is this wonderful park with abundant wildlife and amazing countryside. Stay overnight in a ger camp with all meals included, and try out archery, horse riding and camel riding. Visit a Mongolian family in their ger and see how they milk horses. And we guarantee that you’ll see a yak.
Ger camp in the Terlj
Ghenghis Khan Monument and Museum. 40km east of UB this 40m high stainless steel statue, standing on top a 10m museum takes your breath away. An elevator takes you up to his horse’s head!
Gobi Desert. There is so much here – the Khongor Els amazing sand dunes, Valley of the Eagles where ice can still be found in May, and the Flaming Cliffs at Bayanzag where in the 1920s extensive dinosaur bones and eggs were discovered. And that is just part of it.
Valley of the Eagles – Gobi Desert with ice!
The Flaming Red Cliffs
Kazakh Eagle Hunters. The Kazakhs come from the far west of Mongolia. In the summer you will find them near UB with their eagles where you pay a couple of dollars to be able to have a photo with one on your arm!
But after that they go home to hunt with their friendly eagles, and also take part in the Eagle Festival each October when they compete against one another in various competitions.
There is excellent accommodation in Ulaanbaatar whether you want homestay or 3, 4 or 5-star hotels. I have personally inspected all that we offer, and rejected that which does not meet my rigid standards. Similarly if you are staying in a ger camp you will be very satisfied with what we offer. Go to Russian Travel Centre to see just a selection of what we offer.
So what are you waiting for. Call us on 1300 668 844 and talk to one of our helpful staff.
Yes, unlike most of my blogs there has been a “plug” for Eastern Europe Travel/Russian Travel Centre, but I will do that here now and again. I have lots more that I could have told you about Mongolia but another time perhaps.