Travel in Mongolia

General Information

Trips vary greatly depending on the objective. Some trips are designed to cover a lot of ground - if you like off-road adventures and want to see the most of Mongolia that you can in a short time, these are for you. Other trips focus on specific interests, such as trekking, wildlife watching, or participating in cultural events and nomadic life. These trips move at a slower pace and you have more time to explore, experience your surroundings, and get to know local people. On every trip there is a chance that your guide may have to change plans. Mother nature doesn’t always cooperate with our itineraries, and part of the quirky charm that is travelling in a place like Mongolia is that your vehicle, or even your aeroplane may get stuck in mud, the local lams may consult the moon and decide to move a festival date by a couple days, or you may happen upon an unexpected celebration in a village that just can’t be missed. Don’t worry, our field and office staff are always in contact via satellite phone or other mysterious means, and we will make adjustments accordingly in order to assure your safety and enjoyment.

The following information should give you a good idea of how Mongolian Ways trips are run. For more detailed information about a particular trip, we encourage you to contact us.

How are the trips run?

Our fixed departures are carefully researched trips, designed to maximize your time for leisure, outdoor activities, sightseeing, and … having an adventure! If you request a custom tour from us, we do our best to design an itinerary that will suit your needs and interests, based on the information you provide us and our extensive experience traveling in Mongolia. Some days may look very long, with a lot of driving, while others may seem sparse on activities. Mongolia is a very large country with very little infrastructure, so we may have to make many kilometers in one day in order to reach our camp or to show you the most spectacular sights. Be assured that the days are organized so that overall you will be able to make the most of your time in Mongolia and have a once in a life time experience. Adventure travel is always a bit unpredictable due to the nature of the terrain and the experiences we seek. Sometimes, the forces of nature or a change in the dates of a festival will require some changes in the plan. Flight schedules may change at a moments notice, or muddy ground may make a route impassable. All of our staff, at the office and in the field, are there for you, and we will make our best effort to handle any situation so that you will have an enjoyable and safe trip. In rare cases it may be necessary to change some of the places we will visit, the order of days in the trip, the route taken, or the mode of transportation. Flexibility and a resilient sense of humor will guarantee that you have a great experience in Mongolia. › top

Where will I stay the nights?

In Mongolia you will find many different modes of accommodation:

  • Hotels: In Ulaanbaatar there is a wide range of hotels ranging from 5* luxury hotels to very simple guesthouses. As a general rule, in the city we use 4* hotels which offer comfort and value. If you are designing a custom trip with us, we will ask you what your accommodation preference is.
  • Ger camps: Out of the city, ger camps are the most commonly available full service facilities. Ger camps use the traditional home of steppe nomads, the felt covered ger, as guest rooms. Each ger normally has between 2 and 4 single beds in it, along with a traditional stove, a simple table, and sometimes cupboards and wash stands. There will generally be a central building that houses hot water showers, sinks, and western style toilets. This building will be some distance from your ger. In a separate building there will be a restaurant or dining room, and sometimes a bar or a recreation room. Many camps have outdoor recreation facilities such as a volleyball or badminton net. Ger camps usually run a generator or provide lighting from solar charged batteries for some part of the night, allowing you to have light for using the washroom facilities, reading, charging your camera gear, or playing a game of cards in the evening.
  • Camping: Mongolia offers fantastic camping possibilities in beautiful landscapes, and often the places we visit will have no ger camps or local hotels. On all of our camping trips we provide our guests with high quality tents and mattresses. On most vehicle supported trips, your camp will be set up safari-style with a toilet tent for privacy and a shower tent with warm water showers. On treks or kayaking trips, where equipment must be carried by pack animals or in the boats, the camps will be expedition style. No formal toilet or shower facilities will be available. You will use a field toilet and we will provide you with water for washing up.
  • Nomadic Family Stays: Most likely, if you have selected on of our fixed departures, you will be staying at least one night with a nomadic family. This gives you a chance to get closely acquainted with the way of life and culture of the Mongolian people. If the group is small, we may stay in the family’s gers, using our mattresses and sleeping bags. If our group is larger, we will set up our tents next to the family’s ger so we have more room to spread out. Most nomadic families do not have formal toilets in their summer camps, so the most you can expect to find is a designated toilet trench that may be screened on three sides. No showering facilities will be available. Nomads wash in basins their gers, or in a nearby river in warm weather.
  • Local hotels: A local hotel might appear in your program. We use them only when there is no other option. You shouldn’t expect anything better than a cheap, often ill-maintained motel. Rarely will you find any running hot water there, if indeed there is running water. However, local hotels offer secure shelters in towns where camping is not practical, and a place to lie down and sleep.

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What will I eat?

It really depends on the kind of trip you are taking. Check your itinerary to see what kinds of accommodation you will be in. In Ulaanbaatar, you can expect a good variety of quality restaurants with international foods. In ger camps, we generally eat breakfast and dinner in camp and take a packed lunch for the day. Your packed lunch will be carried in appropriate containers to prevent spillage or spoiling. Ger camps serve both Mongolian and international foods, and there will usually be a choice of main dish. On camping days, what you eat is up to you and the accompanying staff. Because the shared costs of en expedition cook is higher in smaller groups, groups of less than 8 travelers may not be accompanied by a cook. In this case, the guides and drivers will be cooking for you (by jeffrey driedger). All our guides have had basic cooks training, but not all of them are great chefs, so if you feel like, they will be happy to let you assist them. On expeditions where there is no vehicle support, there will be dried and canned foods available, but fresh fruits and vegetables often cannot be transported beyond the first couple days. For groups of more than 7 travelers, we usually send a cook, which in this case you shouldn’t worry - the food will be just great! Please let us know if you have any food preferences or restrictions, or if you are following a special diet. We will do what ever we can to meet your preferences and needs with advance notice. › top

Which cars will we use?

In Mongolia there are approximately 1200 kilometers (745 miles) of asphalt sealed roads. The majority of roads are no more than dirt tracks, some of them sandy, others rocky. 4WD vehicles are a necessity. By default, we will be providing Japanese made Mitsubishi Delica vans for most of our trips. These are rather modern, well equipped all-wheel-drive vehicles. Due to the very short travel season in Mongolia, the possibility of keeping a new, top of the line fleet, is literally non-existent, and is common to everybody operating in the field of tourism here in Mongolia. These Mitsubishi Delica are very often being purchased as a second-hand cars (mostly from Japan), and on top of it, are subject to constant off-road trip, usually several thousand kilometers each summer. Thus, their mechanical condition is not always at its peak. We are making every possible effort to check each of these vehicles prior to each trip, make sure that the vehicle is properly maintained, and that all system are working properly. However, some mechanical problems might occur while on the trip. Some of these problems could be solved locally, by the drivers, while some would require replacing a broken car. It might take anything from few hours to 48 hours until we can bring an alternative vehicle. Based on our past experience, we had never had to stop a trip because of a nonoperable vehicle, though this possibility should also be taken into account. On some of our trips, especially those destined for remote and less accessible areas, Russian made UAZ vans would be provided. Though at first sight they look a bit rough, these vehicles have great off-road abilities, and more importantly they are very simple to repair. As the chances of finding a garage or spare parts out of Ulaanbaatar are slim, and road conditions are rough, it is very important to have a vehicle which is easy to fix with whatever is at hand. The average vehicle used in countryside travel in Mongolia travels every 10 days the same number of off-road kilometers as the average SUV in Western countries would travel in a year or two! And, these vehicles do it again and again, throughout the year, in snow, sand, mud, and on ice. You will see luxurious vehicles on the roads outside of Ulaanbaatar, and you might ask yourself “why couldn't we be riding in one of those?” We use Russian vans on all our out-of-the-way trips so you won’t spend your time on holiday waiting for spare parts to be sent to your group, or worse yet, continuing in the back of an open truck while your vehicle is towed back to the capital. Russian vans are equipped with bench seats, and the ride can be somewhat bumpy, so if you experience car sickness please come prepared with appropriate medications. › top

What documents do I need?

  • Passport - You should have with you a passport which is valid for at least 6 months.
  • Visa - There are different requirements depending on which passport you hold. Most travelers need a tourist visa to enter Mongolia. At the time this document was compiled, US and Israeli citizens do not need a visa to visit Mongolia for less than 30 days. You should check with the Mongolian embassy or consulate serving your area. For further information, you are welcome to contact us.
  • Immigrations Declaration - Upon arrival, you will have to fill out a form that you present to border officials with your passport when you enter Mongolia. You should put down in the address field the name of the hotel in Ulaanbaatar that is listed on your trip confirmation or itinerary. Medical record and release of liability – Everyone traveling with Mongolian Ways must complete and sign a trip application which includes these two documents.
  • Travel Insurance - Everyone traveling with Mongolian Ways is required to carry travel insurance which includes medical evacuation and which is valid for the duration of the trip.
  • Vaccinations – At the time this document was compiled, no vaccinations are required. Please check with your local health authorities or your doctor for updated information prior to your departure.

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Can I drink the water?

We will provide you with bottled or purified drinking water throughout your trip.› top

What about photos and video?

Mongolians really like to pose for the camera, but always make sure you ask their permission before you shoot. They will be extremely happy if you send them copies of the photos, so bringing big, white, blank stickers on which they can write their addresses might be good idea. If you are shooting on film, bring sufficient rolls with you as not all types are available in Mongolia. A polarizing filter is also very useful, along with spare batteries. There is a lot of light in Mongolia, so 100 – 200 ASA films should be fine. If you will be using a video camera or a digital camera, you can recharge your batteries in most ger camps. On our photo expeditions we provide transformers so you can charge most equipment in the vehicles. Please be aware that chargers should be 220v compatible, and you will need a plug adapter with two round pins. › top

What is the electricity supply like?

The current in Mongolia is 220V, the same as the EU standard. The sockets are mostly two thick or sometimes thin rounded pins. As there is not any strict standard in Mongolia, you might find different sockets, so bringing a multi-pin adapter is a good idea. › top

What is the local currency?

The local currency called Tugruk. As of March 2007 the exchange rate floats between 1160 and 1170 Tugruk to the USD. The preferred foreign currency for exchange purposes is US $ or Euro, but Pounds Sterling, Russian Rubles and Chinese RMB can also be exchanged in many places in Ulaanbaatar. If you bring US $, make sure the notes were printed after 1995 (the big heads rather than the small ones). 50$ and 100$ notes will get a better exchange rate than smaller notes. Exchange places are open 24/7. › top

Can I connect to the internet?

In Ulaanbaatar- no problem, there are plenty of internet cafes, and most hotels are equipped with business centers that have internet facilities. Out of the city, you will be able to connect only in the provincial capitals. Unless you are going on a remote expedition style trip, you will visit a provincial capital once every three to four days on average. › top

Will my cell phone (handy) work in Mongolia?

If you do use GSM phone, it will work in Mongolia if you have international roaming covering the region or if you buy a local SIM/chip, but you will only be able to get a signal in Ulaanbaatar, its surroundings, the provincial capitals, and a very small number of towns (soum centers). › top

Luggage on flights?

On your international flight you will generally be restricted to 25 kg. Excess baggage charges are calculated per kilo of overweight, not per piece of luggage, and charges in and out of Mongolia are generally quite high. On domestic flights in Mongolia, you are allowed only 15 kg (including hand luggage). The excess baggage charge for domestic flights is about $2 per kg. › top

What is the airport like?

Chinggis Khan International Airport is a small airport, there is only one terminal and one departure gate for international flights. When you land, you will go through immigrations, presenting your immigration declaration, then collect your baggage at the belt. Baggage often takes a long time to unload. Then you will pass through customs, where you may be requested to pass one or more of your bags through an x-ray machine. Your guide will meet you in the arrivals hall. If you have not arranged travel services with Mongolian Ways, you can catch a taxi to Ulaanbaatar at the exit doors, and there will sometimes be a public bus there. Negotiate your payment before you get in the taxi, a ride to town should cost you no more than 6000 Tugruk (March 2007). When you leave Ulaanbaatar, it is highly recommended that you arrive at the airport 2 hours prior to departure, and an hour and a half before domestic flights. As of 2007 there is no airport tax. › top

Is it safe?

Mongolia is probably one of the safest places on earth. Even during the collapse of the communist regime, Mongolia’s revolution was a peaceful one. In the city, when you go out at night, we recommend you take a taxi unless you are staying in the central part of town, due to increase in public drunkenness. In very crowded areas, including the Black Market and the Naadam festivities, there is a lot of pick pocketing, so it is better not to carry any non-essential valuables and to put your cash in a money belt or pouch inside the waistband of your trousers or a zipped inside pocket. Violence is rare except in and around inexpensive bars, where you should not venture unless you are in the company of Mongolians who know the establishment well. › top

Is there any good shopping?

Most goods are imported to Mongolia, and therefore quite expensive. However, Mongolian cashmere, handicrafts, and artwork in the form of paintings, embroideries, and felt crafts can be an excellent value. The law prohibits the export of antiquities, and your baggage will be x-rayed at the airport prior to departure. When purchasing anything which appears to be an antique, ask the sales person to provide you with a stamped paper (usually matched to a photo of the item in question) which shows where the item was purchased from and that is not illegal for export. › top

How do I call home?

International calls from a hotel are generally quite expensive. The cheapest way to call is using a calling card which can be purchased in many locations around town, including the post offices. Another option is to call from the main post office itself, which is open 24 hours a day. There are 4 different companies which offer international direct dialing, so you can compare the prices to your destination, and use the alternate international dialing codes: 00, 001, 002, 003 as appropriate before entering the country code. When using a calling card, the code is generally 00 + country code etc. › top

Local food, can I eat it?

The local diet is based on meat during the winter time and milk products during summer. Mongolians also eat a lot of dishes made with rice, noodles, or dough of some sort. Meat is almost always well cooked, Most of the milk is pasteurized during the production process, but if you have doubts, consult with your guide. Local food tends to be greasy or fatty, and although root vegetables are common you will encounter few greens or fruits. The most commonly experienced stomach disorder is slight constipation, rather than diarrhea. If you regularly eat lots of fiber, we recommend you bring a powdered fiber drink or similar with you as a supplement. › top

What advice do you have for women travelers?

Mongolians, both men and women, are a relatively modest people, and most people outside of the capital do not wear very revealing clothing, although they are now used to seeing foreigners in shorts at many of the more visited places in the countryside. However, you will want to wear pants or a skirt covering at least your knees to avoid being stared at in some rural areas, particularly in Western Mongolia, and also to enter monasteries. That said, shorts are perfectly acceptable while hiking or trekking and you should bring a bathing suit for swimming in the summer. Mongolia has a limited range of feminine hygiene products, particularly in the countryside, so it is best to bring your own. Mongolia is a very egalitarian society and women are treated with respect, courtesy, and friendliness. › top

It’s my first camping adventure… what to expect?

Many people on their first extended wilderness trip are uncertain about where they will be able to wash, use the bathroom, etc. and whether or not they will be able to handle ‘roughing it’ in the great outdoors. Rest assured, many first time campers have been on extended wilderness trips in Mongolia and found it easy to adjust to, if not outright liberating. Your guide will let you know at each stop what the arrangements are for washing up, using the toilet, etc. Please visit Mongolian Ways website at www.mongolian-ways.com and go to the section on “Tips for First Time Adventurers” under the FAQS section, which will help you to learn the ropes. › top

Is travel in Mongolia very difficult?

Yes, travel in Mongolia is demanding, and infrastructure and services can be poor. We prefer to prepare you for the worst possible conditions and have you be pleasantly surprised than to downplay the difficulties of travel. Some of our trips offer a greater degree of comfort and better facilities than others. If you have any doubts about whether or not you will enjoy the conditions of travel, or the quality of service provided in accommodations, restaurants, and during transportation, you should consult with us to see if our trips are right for you. We cannot make a general recommendation, as we have had clients of under 10 years of age and over 80 years of age join many of our challenging trips and they have expressed their utter enjoyment of the experience, while very fit people in their 20s and 30s may find themselves frustrated by delays, annoyed by poor service in camps, airports, or restaurants, or shocked at the absence of flushing toilets. If you have patience, a sense of humor, are eager for new and unusual experiences, and are reasonably fit, then almost any of our adventures will be a great experience for you, no matter what your age. If you have already traveled to less developed parts of the world, you will know some of what to expect. Most importantly, you should contact us with any concerns prior to booking your trip, as we will assist you to make a well informed and realistic assessment of whether or not a trip is suitable for you. We would rather have a potential client decline to travel with us than have an unhappy client on a trip! › top

Are your trips suitable for travelers over 55?

We find that many of our travelers over 55 are more fit and prepared for adventure travel than some of our younger travelers! If you are reasonably active and have regular exercise, it is likely you can participate on any of regular trips. Some of our trips are designed around cultural experiences and are less physically demanding, if you or a travel companion have doubts about taking a more challenging trip. Please ask us to work with you on planning a trip if you are unsure. › top

Are the trips safe?

Adventure travel, by its very nature, always involves a degree of risk taking. Travel to remote areas involves risks and dangers including the forces of nature, poorly maintained roads, trails, hotels, and vehicles which are not operated or maintained at high standards. Tracks and trails are unmarked. Extreme weather changes may occur. You may have an accident or illness where rapid evacuation may not be possible, and where medical facilities or medications may be of poor quality or inaccessible. You may over-exert yourself or find conditions for which you are not prepared. Participating in adventure travel takes us to remote places of great beauty, unique cultures, and little discovered natural, historical, and archeological wonders. The enjoyment and excitement we seek in adventure travel takes us far from the safety and comforts of the organized, regulated, accident-proofed developed world. Mongolian Ways strives to make adventure travel as safe as is practically possible. All of our guides and staff complete Red Cross recognized First Aid training programs, and all guides and trip leaders have completed an essential guiding skills program focused on safety and client care. All of our drivers are experienced countryside drivers and have annual refresher courses in safe driving skills and accident prevention. In trips to remote areas, our guides are equipped with satellite phones and GPS units to assist us in locating your group and providing assistance or evacuation in case of an emergency. We maintain regular contacts with emergency evacuation services including helicopter and small plane charter companies and emergency medical service providers in Ulaanbaatar. Safety is the first concern we have in the planning and preparation of each and every trip, and we have contingency plans for bad weather, vehicle breakdowns, and other unexpected events. Senior office staff have many years of experience in leading expeditions to remote places, and have traveled independently throughout Mongolia in all weather conditions. At all times, our Ulaanbaatar based staff is available to resolve problems and assist in emergency situations, and will work with your guide or trip leader to ensure all efforts are made to provide timely, adequate assistance. › top