Genghis Khan, an obscure Mongol chieftain, and some of his able descendents were able to establish the world’s largest empire that only the British could surpass seven centuries later. But Mongolia, the country of origin of mighty Mongols, has remained pretty blurry in the eyes of potential travelers who love to travel for pleasure and adventure.
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This distant and exotic land is one of the most isolated and mysterious countries on earth. It’s slowly coming out its shell. Hordes of travelers now come to this amazing country where they can enjoy an unforgettable holiday experience.
Mongolia allures travelers with the stunning diversity of its attractions. Lovers of pristine and wild nature will adore the magnificence and divergence of its natural beauty as evident in its deserts and dunes, its arid plains and verdant steppes. Discover the wildlife in high mountain ranges and rolling hills covered with forests and rare flowers. Go for rafting in the whitewater rivers. Marvel at the ancient rock carvings and rock paintings on the sandstone cliffs along the Milk River.
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Visit the ancient Mongolian capital, Karakorum, where Genghis Khan had moved his headquarters and used it as the base for invading China. There is an old Buddhist monastery here. Spend a few days in the capital city of Ulan Bator and see the palaces and monasteries. This country also attracts travelers for its incredible history, exotic nomadic culture, hospitable people, magnificent horse and two-humped Bactrian camel.
The attractions in Mongolia are so vast and diverse that it’s really very difficult to decide where to start. Seeing them all would take a lifetime. So select what you want to see during your limited holiday.
Things to do
You will need at least a fortnight to explore some of the country’s exotic traditional culture and eerie natural beauty. Prepare a workable travel itinerary by combining such tours that enables you to do the things according to your wishes.
Beginning of tour
Begin your tour in Ulan Bator, the country’s capital, where the Genghis Khan International Airport is located.
Western-style hotels are available here. The Kempinski is the only international hotel chain that operates here. Kempinski Khan Place Hotel offers comfortable environment and excellent world-class services. The rates start around US$160 for two per night. Genghis Khan is another 5-star hotel offering similar comfortable accommodation and cost about the same. Mid-range hotels are available between US$50 and 100 with double occupancy per night.
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Spend two days in the capital visiting monasteries, palaces and museums. Also try to get accustomed to Mongolian cuisine and an introduction to the country’s unique customs.
Then drive to the Hustain Nuruu National Reserve where the last remaining species of wild horse, the Takhi, are struggling hard to survive. Take a flight to Muron and stay there for a couple of days in one of those comfortable tents on the banks of the Hovsgol Lake. These large white tents, called gers, are made of animal hide that is available in abundance. Most nomads still live in these because they are easy to mount and dismantle. These comfortable and easily portable shelters are seen all over Mongolia and are the country’s most identifiable symbol.
While in Muron, visit nearby nomadic communities. They will gladly give you a lesson how to their magnificent horses and – if you dare – milk their livestock.
You have to return to Ulan Bator for your journey to the famous Gobi. You will be pleasantly surprised to find that it isn’t like a conventional desert at all. It’s actually teeming with life. Mountain goats roam its lush green valleys and eagles fly under the blue sky. Many plants manage to survive the summer heat and bitter cold in winter.
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Millions of years ago giant dinosaurs used to rule the earth including what is now the Gobi. See paleontology sites where these giant animals’ bones and eggs have been preserved.
Return again to Ulan Bator for your next trip by road to Hogno Han and then on to Kharakhorum, the ancient capital of the mighty Mongol Empire. It’s 360 km from the present national capital and takes a full day to cover the distance.
Stay in Kharakhorum for two nights and watch the magnificent ceremonies of the Naadam Festival. Visit the nearby Erdene Zuu Buddhist monastery that was built in 1585. There are only a few historic sites in Mongolia because nomadic cities don’t leave much behind. What remains in the ancient Kharakhorum is only a huge tortoise made of stone!
Drive back to Ulan Bator, spend a final night in the city and then catch your flight back home or to your next holiday destination. That’s all you can do during your holiday for a fortnight.
During your Mongolian holiday the only place that you are likely to get fairly familiar with is this national capital. Explore the city as much as you can. Walk as much as possible or take a taxi which charges roughly one US dollar for two kilometers.
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Shopping: There are some good antique and souvenir shops in the city, selling landscape paintings, warm garments, camel-wool blankets, boots, jewelry, carpets and handicrafts.
The State Department Store on Ikh Delguur has the largest selection of souvenirs and gift items. Juulchin is lined with antique shops. Make sure you get a certificate of sale that you will be required to show at the customs while leaving the country.
On the city’s outskirts is the notorious Naran Market. It’s a crowded flea market selling a wide variety of goods. Beware of skilled pickpockets here. You wouldn’t know that you have lost your wallet until you reach your hotel.
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The city abounds with bars, restaurants and discos. The River Sounds on Choidog Street and Grand Khaan Irish Pub on Seoul Street are good places to hear popular live music.
Lessons from Mongolian travel
The most frequently spoken foreign language is Russian, followed by English. But indications are that English will gradually become the top second language.
Most travelers arriving in Mongolia dream of riding a horse across the steppes.
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You will definitely enjoy it provided you buy a leather saddle in Ulan Bator. Mongolians use wooden saddle which you will literally find a pain in the arse.
Popular nomadic drink
Apart from giving the pleasure of riding, this equine species give the nomads their favorite drink, airag, which is fermented and slightly alcoholic mare’s milk. You may also try it because Mongolians of all ages drink it in plenty without any apparent adverse effect on their health.
A holiday to remember
Come to Mongolia and have an exciting holiday that you will remember all your life.