Making the most of Outer Mongolia

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Reading through my last couple of posts, I’m not sure I gave Mongolia its dues as a place to visit. Although it is hard to find many people who have travelled here, the handful that have seem to have spent months in Mongolia and found many things to keep them occupied. Plus, a the ride on the Trans Mongolian railway and seeing a sunrise over the Gobi Desert is an experience in itself.

It’s easy to forget that the country is less than 50 years old in its current guise and in the short time since the collapse of communism at the end of the Soviet Union, its newly acquired democratic status has given Mongolia a new found freedom. In such a short time the city of Ulanbaatar has adapted itself to tourism and provides a western welcome that I was not expecting…The people are so kind and friendly, with a great sense of humour, extending hospitality even amidst their very meager means.

Bright neon signs in English boast a number of clubs and bars with live entertainment, including the distinctive sound of Mongolian throat singing and excellent Mongolian BBQs can be found throughout the city. Several hotels cater for tourists on varying budgets and, if you are up to braving the buses, then you can get around (very cheaply) to see the viewing tower (up a frightening amount of steps); the giant gold waving Buddha; visit the Museum of History (which has a very interesting – if not slightly propgandaesque exhibition of how the country came into being); and the Natural History Museum, to check out the dinosaur fossils.  

Away from the capital city, for those with an adventurous spirit and a love of the outdoors there are a plethora of things to do from camel riding (just randomly by the roadside for as little as £3), camping in the countryside and horse-riding across the magnificent Mongolian Steppes,  following in the footsteps of the great Ghengis Khaan. You can even test out your archery skills or while away an evening shooting anklebones (apparently the sheep’s ankle bones when polished look like four different animals. It takes some imagination and Chinggis Vodka helps but it is an interesting insight into how Mongolians entertain themselves during the bitter winters!)

It is useful to have a guide for some or even all of your trip. A car and a driver/guide can be hired at reasonable prices for a trip of several days, but be prepared to bargain. The only risk is that you get to see what they want to show you rather than what you would like to see yourself…one of ours was particularly worried about unleashing us and letting us roam on our own (a bit confused between the roles of “tour guide” and “man servant” and “body guard”).

As with many developing countries,western tourists are often considered to be walking wallets, so travel safe and beware of “Pocket stealer rush hour” or to those of us who can now interpret “Monglish”, look after your valuables as pick pockets are very common particularly on public transport and in the evenings!

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