Travel Practicalities - Travelling in Mongolia
|Climate and weather in Mongolia
When to go to Mongolia
How to get there
Visas and travel documents
Health & safety
What to bring on a tour
Climate & weather
Mongolia is one of the highest countries in the world with capital Ulan Bator located as high as 1300 m above sea level. It is a landlocked country sandwiched between Russia and China and so far inland that no sea can moderate its climate.
Mongolian climate is classed as extreme continental with scorching summers and long sub-arctic winters. The country has four very distinct seasons: winter from November to February, spring from March to mid-May, summer from mid-May until late August, and autumn during September and October.
Most of the country is blistering hot in the summer and extremely cold in the winter, with January averages dropping as low as -30 °C (-22 °F). The cold season runs from November to February.
The country is often called the "Land of Blue Skies," and with good reason. There is said to be about 250 sunny days throughout each year.
Mongolia experiences extremes of weather, even in summer, because of the altitude, evenings can be cold and weather conditions can change without warning.
When to go
Influenced by the climatic conditions, the main travel season is from May to October although there are plenty of exciting opportunities for winter holidays as well coinciding with famous events like the eagle and camel festivals, the ice marathon and celebrations of the lunar new year.
Most travellers come in July for famous Nadaam festival, but bear in mind that services are at premium then and the main tourist sites are more crowded. June is normally very hot and August cooler. September and October are considered fine months especially for visiting the Gobi desert. Early spring (March – beginning of April) might be very unpleasant and is considered by even Mongolians as the worst time of year.
How to get there
Most travellers arrive to Mongolia by air or rail.
Besides Mongolia’s national airline MIAT there are a few international companies operating regular flights from / to Ulan Bator, including Aeroflot, Air China, Korean airlines, Turkish airlines and some others. Flights are limited in wintertime with extra flights operating in summer season.
Mongolia is conveniently located on the Trans-Mongolian branch on the famous Trans-Siberian railway. Mongolia has good train connections with China (Beijing) and Russia (Moscow, Irkutsk, Ulan Ude).
Visas and travel documents
No visas are currently required for citizens of the EU, Switzerland and USA and some other nationalities visiting Mongolia as tourists for up to 30 days. However, you must possess a passport valid for at least six months from the date of arrival into the country. Read more about visa to Mongolia.
There are plenty of hotel accommodation options in the capital ranging from basic 2* to luxurious 5* properties. For our tours we use 4* or 5* hotels that have received positive customer reviews.
In the countryside your accommodation will be in a typical ger camp located in scenic areas. Each couple, or single traveller, will be allocated a private ger. The gers offer basic accommodation. They feature single beds, electric lighting, a small table with stools and a warm wood-fired stove. Western style shower and toilet facilities with running hot water are located in a separate building. There are also restaurants and bars in a separate larger ger or a concrete building. The gers we use on our tours are well-maintained and clean. Staying in a typical, authentic ger is a unique and special experience.
Long distance journeys are done by 4 x 4 jeeps and sometimes cover rough terrain. In a country the size of Mongolia, you should be prepared for long distances: 150 – 300 km, the views will more than make up for the travel time though. All vehicles we use on our tours have air-conditioning.
In Ulan Bator you will be able to find great variety of quality local and international food (European, Indian, Latin American, etc.). In the countryside the food will be simple and nomadic in style.
The extreme climate and nomadic way of life has influenced the national diet. Mongolian cuisine primarily consists of dairy products, meat, and animal fats. Use of vegetables and spices is limited. Due to geographic proximity and deep historic ties with China and Russia, some elements from these national cuisines can be recognised also.
Meat forms the basis of the Mongolian diet, primarily mutton, with goat, horse, camel and yak meat dishes also on offer. Rice, flour, potatoes and onions are other main ingredients while greens – like beans or spinach- are rarely encountered outside the capital.
The national dish is ‘buuz’ – which is a healthy steamed dumpling filled with mutton. These are eaten in great quantities during the Tsaagan Sar (New Year) festival.
Huushuur - a deep fried mutton pancake - is another popular dish, particularly during the summer Naadam festivities.
The most unusual cooking method is only used on special occasions. Meat (often together with vegetables) is cooked with stones that have been preheated in a fire. Horhog consists of chopped goat, potatoes and onions slowly steamed/cooked. Scalding hot rocks are placed inside the container to create the steam and once extracted it is customary to pass the stones from hand to hand.
The most prominent national beverage is airag, fermented mare's milk. The alcohol content is less than that of beer, but can have noticeable effects. Be careful, if you aren't accustomed to drinking sour milk products your stomach can be easily upset.
Mongolians tend to drink a lot of tea, but this is often very milky and it will have been diluted with water and few tea leaves. Russian vodka and Mongolian vodka are widely available.
The Mongolian unit of currency is the togrog, which comes in notes of T20,000, 10,000, 5,000, 1,000, 500, 100, 50, 20, 10, 5 and 1. Currently the lowest denomination in regular use is the 10-togrog note. It is abbreviated as MNT. Approximate rates: £1 = 3,000 togrog, $1 = 1,800 togrog, EUR1 = 2,300 togrog. View current togrog rates.
Mongolia is a cash-based society. Outside of Ulan Bator there are few banks, so it may be difficult to withdraw cash or use your credit card if you are going outside the capital especially in the countryside. Find an ATM online.
US dollars or euros are often easier to exchange than British pounds sterling. US dollar travellers' cheques are not very popular in Mongolia.
You can also negotiate with local private vendors paying with USD, euro, British pounds or Russian roubles although the exchange rate will likely be unfavourable.
You can use credit cards in some hotels, shops and restaurants in Ulan Bator, but not all. Credit cards are accepted by main commercial banks, large hotels and a few shops and restaurants in Ulan Bator. ATMs are available in Ulan Bator and most regional capitals. Both Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted. Don’t rely on these in rural areas.
The official language of Mongolia is Khalkha Mongolian. This is spoken by the majority of the population. A variety of different dialects, namely Oirat and Buryat, are spoken too. In the west of the country, Kazakh and Tuvan, both Turkic languages, are also spoken.
Mongols use the Cyrillic alphabet, although in the past it was written using the Mongolian script. The traditional alphabet is being slowly reintroduced through schools.
Russian is advantageous as it is the most frequently spoken foreign language in Mongolia, followed by English. Over the years, English has gradually replaced Russian as the second language.
Standard voltage in Mongolia is 230 V which is compatible with Europe, Australia and most Asian and African countries where the standard voltage is between 220V - 240V. For travellers from the US, Canada or South America where standard voltage is in the range of 100V - 127V a power converter will be required.
If a label on your appliance reads “INPUT: 100-240V, 50/60 Hz”, it can be used all over the world (eg. chargers for tablets, laptops, cameras, phones).
The plugs used in Mongolia are C or E, i.e. a 2 pin European adaptor will be required.
Health & safety
Mongolia is considered one of the safest travel destinations in the world. However, muggings and attacks may occur from time to time. As usual the best advice is to have common sense while travelling. Avoid going out alone on foot at night. Instead use the taxis to return to your hotel.
Petty crime is common in Ulan Bator, particularly in markets or other crowded public places. Watch out for pickpockets, or drunks. Keep your passports, money and other valuables well secured.
Seek medical advice before travelling to Mongolia and ensure that all appropriate vaccinations are up-to-date. No vaccinations are compulsory for Mongolia, but please make sure that your polio, diphtheria and tetanus are up to date. The World Health Organization (www.who.int) recommends that all travellers be covered for diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella and polio, regardless of their destination. You should start as early as 6 weeks before your trip start date as most vaccines don’t produce immunity until at least two weeks after they’re given.
For further information on vaccination requirements, health outbreaks and general disease protection and prevention please contact your doctor.
As with most developing countries, don’t drink the tap water. Water used for drinking, brushing teeth or making ice should have first been boiled or otherwise sterilised. Bottled water is available in Ulan Bator and some provincial centres.
Please also read travel advice for Mongolia compiled by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office - https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/mongolia
Please note the information in this section is given only as guidance. Always seek your doctor’s advice. We accept no responsibility for any errors or omissions.
What to bring on a tour
Any travel in Mongolia involves spending considerable time outdoors. Even if travelling in summer be prepared for a sudden change of temperature. Nights can be cold with the temperature in the steppe dropping as low as zero degrees, so you should be ready for all seasons.
The key to clothing is the layering system. Layers can be added or discarded with temperature fluctuations. The first layer is a form of synthetic underwear that draws moisture away from the skin and dries quickly. This is followed by two or more insulating layers, also preferably of synthetic pile and a windproof outer layer. This system applies not only to the torso but also to extremities.
Following items are highly recommended on a tour to Mongolia:
- Hiking boots and sandals
- Warm socks: at least few pairs of each
- Lightweight long underwear, top and bottom
- Fleece jacket
- Windbreaker, waterproof / breathable
- Rain jacket / poncho
- Balaclava or something to cover the face like a neck warmer or even a scarf
- Backpack, day pack
- Water bottles
- Headlamp & spare batteries
- Sunscreen and lip balm
- Insect repellent
- Sunhat and sunglasses (100% UV)
- Personal toiletries (including shampoo & toothpaste)
- Personal medications
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