Today is the last blog from Mongolia, so I wanted to share a photo of the monastery in Karakorum as my “photo of the day”. If you go back to Sunday’s…
Mongolia Travel Guide
Mongolia is the most sparsely populated country in the world and 30% of the roughly 3 million people still lead a nomadic life and identify as a horse culture. It is landlocked between Russia and China and is sometimes referred to as Outer Mongolia, while Inner Mongolia is still part of China (the Great Wall was built between Inner Mongolia and China). In fact, to this day there are more ethnic Mongol people in China than in the country of Mongolia.
For most of history the people of Mongolia consisted of small, independent, nomadic tribes, but every now and then the tribes would be united and the Mongol people would strike out past the current boarders. The two most know people to unite the tribes was Attila the Hun, who terrorized the Roman Empire in the mid-5th century AD, and Genghis Khan, who in the 13th century helped form the largest land empire the world has ever seen. Although it lasted less than 150 years when the tables were turned and Mongolia was conquered by China, who held it until 1924. Of course, the Chinese government did not recognize Mongolia’s independence until 1945 when they were forced to in order to obtain Soviet support against the Japanese invasion. Mongolia followed Russia’s example of communism until the breakup of the Soviet Union.
Over half the people are Buddhist and follow the Tibetan Lamas and are known as the Yellow Hat sect.
I spent six days in Mongolia with my father in September 2016. While it is possible to travel independently in Mongolia, the lack of public transportation (and to not be too blunt, the lack of actual roads) makes this a difficult proposition unless you want to devote a significant amount of time in the country.
For this reason, I chose to hire a guide and driver from Golden Gobi. This was the best choice because Alma (our guide) and Sanka (our driver) helped us see more of Mongolia than my dad and I would have seen by ourselves even if we had double the time. Golden Gobi even teamed us up with Steve (the Brit), which saved us some money and added a new friend to our lives.
We stayed in gers (Mongolian for yurt) each night and explored monasteries and the country side during the day. Our itinerary looked like this:
- Day 1 – arrived at 7am on the Trans-Siberian train (see Russia for this adventure), got cleaned up and ready to go, and drove north from the capital, Ulaanbaatar (also known as Ulan Bator or UB). We arrived at Amarbaysgalant Monastery in the late afternoon.
- Day 2 – we explored the monastery in the morning and drove west to the middle of nowhere, before we stopped for the night and asked a random local family if we could stay with them in their ger. This was an interesting situation and you can read the blog about it below.
- Day 3 – we drove southwest to the Hujirt Hot Spring and ger camp.
- Day 4 – found us traveling east to explore Genghis Khan’s ancient capital of Karakorum, This included the Erdene Zuu Monastery, local museum, Turtle Rock, and more.
- Day 5 – we continued east and spent the night in a small desert area called Elsen Tasarkhai, where we rode camels (these are two hump camels, where the Middle East has one hum camels).
- Day 6 – we visited the Hustai National Park to see the only wild horses in the world before heading back to Golden Gobi to shower and catch an evening train back to Russia.
Likes, Dislikes, and Recommendations
My favorite thing about Mongolia was the wide-open space. Did you know the country is over twice the size of Texas? This gave plenty of space to see the vast herds of sheep, goats, cattle, horses, ect and learn a little bit about what it was like to lead a nomadic life on the steppe.
The thing that got tiresome after a while is all the driving in the wide-open space. It seems like there are only four highways in Mongolia and they extend in the four directions from the capital. The further you get out the more potholes you will find. Then the pavement stops and you are on a dirt road which gives way to one of many dirt tracks all running across the endless steppe.
My recommendation is to contact Golden Gobi and have them set up a tour for you. They will take you to spots you did not know about and get there in ways you could only imagine. Due to their heritage, the Mongolian people are very good at wandering and finding their way across the steppe, so take advantage of it!
Soon you can get even more helpful hints by watching the travel video I am making for Mongolia OR you can support my Patreon page and get a one month sneak peek when it is made. Also, you can read what all I did during my time in Mongolia in my blog posts below.