Rugged Mongolia is an adventure destination where travelers can see the traditions of the past, still practiced today by hardy nomads dwelling on the country's vast steppes and deserts.
Mongolians are fully aware of the unique beauty of their country. Ask locals and they will probably start gushing about the spectacular countryside, vast steppes, rugged mountains, clear lakes and abundant wildlife and livestock. It is this true wilderness experience that many people find so appealing.
There are few countries in the world with such a stark difference between the rural and urban populations. While nomadic Mongols live the simple life, their cousins in Ulaanbaatar are lurching headlong into the future. Urban hipster or nomadic shepherd, however, both share a love of democracy.
Get isolated at THREE CAMEL LODGE:
Travel to Three Camel Lodge in Mongolia, a country whose name is a byword for notions of the faraway, and you have already made a significant mental leap. You are certainly not in Kansas anymore here – the nearest wifi is hundreds of miles away in the capital, Ulaanbaatar. The lodge lets you sample the nomadic lifestyle, except with all the hard bits removed and felt slippers thrown in.
For a more rugged experience, head to GOBI DESERT
Travelers who bemoan the lack of unexplored destinations have not been to Mongolia's Gobi desert. This vast expanse of desert counts among its "locals" soaring peaks, broad steppe lands, snow leopards, and Gobi bears.
The site of prehistoric inland seas, it was once a land of dinosaurs, as revealed through a treasure trove of fossilized bones and eggs.
Mongolia-based tour operator, Nomadic Expeditions, lets you scratch the surface of the mighty Gobi desert and meet some of its extraordinary locals.
A 14-day trek, on foot and camel, through this mysterious landscape will bring you to the desert's hidden mountain springs –to Kharakhorum, the 13th century capital of the Mongol Empire, and the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, where ibex roam among prehistoric rock painting.
Grab the rare opportunity to experience traditional nomadic hospitality: Witnessing firsthand the nomad's tenacity and personal warmth, take milk tea and cheese with a Mongolian family.
LIVE WITH NOMADS
A hundred or so goats head off bleating their complaints in one direction, while a herd of cows tramps off in another. A boy, of perhaps ten years, rides by on his horse, with no saddle. All around smoke rises from the fifteen or so gers spread across this high plain, surrounded by a ring of forested hills.
Here, in the Terelj National Park, fewer than 100km from the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar, the only signs of industrialization are the occasional solar panel or motorbike.
A typical day, on a trip with Ger to Ger –a non-profit organization that promotes grassroots tourism development– starts with a journey on horse or oxcart from the ger where you spent the night onto your next resting post.
The rest of the day is spent doing what your new hosts do. That could mean helping them collect the sheep at dusk, milking horses (the local tipple is Airag, fermented mare’s milk, only slightly less alcoholic than vodka) or being taught how to use a bow and arrow.
It is highly rewarding but can be pretty exhausting. With no translator you have to communicate with a Mongolian phrasebook and any props such as family photographs you might have with you. But for anyone keen to get a taste of what travel was like, before everyone spoke English and booked online, a few days riding across Mongolia should suffice.
Touring the country by motorcycle would one of the best motorbike touring in the world because of its open steppes, freedom and a culture of hospitality.
TIP: Arrange buy-sell back agreements with motorbike sellers of Chinese motorbikes, at motorbike markets like the Black Market, that will often end up being cheaper than renting, when planning on biking for two weeks or more. Plus, ride a brand new bike, as opposed to the often quite run-down rental bikes.
New Chinese Mustang bikes sell for 725 USD and can be sold back for about 2/3 the original price, depending on your negotiating skills. Registration of the motorbike is a must and must be done by a Mongolian or a person holding a visa of 90 days or longer.
If Mongolia’s yin is its pristine countryside, then Ulaanbaatar (UB) conforms nicely to its yang. An enormous city of pulsating commerce, wild traffic, sinful nightlife and bohemian counter-culture, the Mongolian capital elicits as much shock as it does excitement.
One minute you’re dodging the path of a Hummer H2 and the next you’re mystified by groaning Buddhist monks at Gandan Khiid. Watch traditional theatre, sample international cuisine and party till three in the morning. This ever-changing city may be the biggest surprise of your Mongolian adventure.
Mongolian cashmere is known as the best in the world. Garments and blankets made of CASHMERE. You can find lots of stores that sells cashmere products.
Mongolia is famous for its copper mines Erdenet and Oyu Tolgoi. COPPER BOOKMARK is one of the ideal souvenirs and you can easily find this USD1 metal souvenir in Ulaanbaatar souvenir shops.
You can find FELT POKER-WORK in Erdenet. (NOTE: It is illegal to take ANTIQUES out of the country without a special permit.)
The huge open-air market, NARANTUUL ("The Black Market"), in Ulaanbaatar, offers the lowest prices on just about anything you could want, besides being a great place to get a good pair of RIDING BOOTS. You can opt for a variety of Mongolian styles, from fancy to the more practical, or even get a good set of Russian style boots.
IN THE KNOW
Travel to the Atlai Mountains in western Mongolia, in October, to experience the Eagle Festival in Bayan-Olgiy, an annual event where Kazakh hunters, from across Mongolia, demonstrate the dramatic traditions of hunting small prey on horse-back with eagles. The trained Eagles swoop down from the peak of a 1,000 foot-high (305m) mountain to land on the arms of the galloping hunters or on fox skins dragged behind the hunters' horses.
While these displays are the highlight of the event, there are also horse races, archery, music, dance, a parade, and a play in honor of the hunters and their eagles.