Being in a remote area of the world little is known about Mongolia, and even less is known about traveling here. It is not unusual for travelers to have many questions before they embark on their trip. Please remember that no question is a stupid question and it is very important to ask them so that you have the least possible number of potentially unpleasant surprises. Here are the answers to the most frequently asked questions, but if you have any more, no matter how bizarre or mundane, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
It is important to keep luggage to the barest minimum when on a trek, as this will ease the burden of the drivers, vehicles, and horses. Baggage should be of the round squashy type rather than hard expensive suitcases that are difficult to fit into jeeps and on the backs of camels or horses. Try to use something that is both lockable and water proof, as luggage can often end up sitting on the roof of the vehicle or on the back of a pack horse.It is a good idea to bring another smaller bag so that unwanted clothes can be kept in it at the hotel when you go on a trek. This also helps to keep city clothes clean and free of dust. You should also bring a small day pack that can be carried while hiking or riding or can be readily accessible when you are on long drives. It should be noted that the luggage weight limit per person on MIAT internal flights is 10 kg per person. For every kilogram over 10 kg, it is US$1 to the Gobi and Central Provinces and US$2 to the west.
If you have any particular medical problem, please consult with your doctor before you come to Mongolia. We can provide you with a suggested list for your personal first aid kit, but the basic first-aid kit we provide for the trip will not contain any prescription drugs. There are limited medical supplies in Mongolia and they are mostly found in the capital. You will not be able to purchase them in the. Also, most supplies will be Russian and therefore very unfamiliar to western travelers.
There are western doctors in Ulaanbaatar who provide medical services to travelers. These professionals can be contacted in the case of an emergency or for a general enquiry. Mongolia is remote, however and infrastructure is poor. If there is an emergency situation in the countryside, professional medical help is a long way away. Emergency evacuation can and has been arranged in extreme situations, but it may be up to 24 hours wait.
On camping trips, all equipment will be provided except for a 4- season sleeping bag. You do not need to provide any other camping gear, only personal belongings. We can provide you with a rough guide of things that you will need to pack for your trip to Mongolia.This list may not suit everyone’s needs, but it can be adapted to personal requirements or the type of trip that you are planning to take. Please ask us if you have any questions.
All groups will be provided with an English speaking Mongolian guide who is trained and experienced in leading trips in Mongolia. They provide the group with a unique and fascinating insight into their own land and often become lifelong friends with the travelers. The interaction with staff is often the highlight of the trips, and the guide will be there to translate for you with horsemen and drivers. It is a great way to get to know the real Mongolia.
The short answer is yes - if you have a reasonable level of fitness, are keen to try new things, and is generally an active person. Some trips are more challenging than others, so please check before booking.
Riding treks are supported by local grooms who are responsible for saddling the horses and helping clients with adjusting tack. Do not be afraid to ask if there are any problems. We can also give some information about riding in Mongolia and the Mongolian horse before you go. Please ask us! We will provide saddles which are either English or Western; we also use Russian saddles. Unless clients specifically request them, we do not provide clients with Mongolian saddles.
We generally use Russian or German jeeps and trucks because they are most suitable to the terrain and the drivers are most familiar with these vehicles in the case of a break down. For larger groups, we use 4WD buses in the countryside rather than jeeps because we feel it is not only more economical. These buses allow both staff and clients to be all in the same vehicle, which is more comfortable for them and also easier on the environment than taking many smaller vehicles. We also have 4WD trucks that have been converted into kitchens and luggage carrying vehicles.
Many of our drivers are full-time working staff and have been trained not only in tourism but also in the routes we take, the camp set up, and, of course, vehicle maintenance. Other drivers, especially on the smaller treks, are contract drivers, who work part-time for the company. These drivers are always experienced, reliable, and very capable in the countryside conditions.
Mongolian roads are often very bad, constantly changing, or nonexistent due to bad weather. Bridges in remote areas are rare. There are no road signs, and the only way drivers are able to ascertain the current road condition is to stop and ask the locals. There are some paved roads in the countryside, but due to the large potholes, it is often more comfortable to drive on a dirt road.
Accommodation is in the traditional Mongolian dwelling, a ger, or in lightweight three-man tents and will be specified in the itinerary. The ger camps provide basic but quite comfortable accommodation. There are basic showers and washing facilities available and hot water is supplied to all gers. The ger camps provide all bedding, and
clients will not be expected to bring their own sleeping bags if they are staying in ger camps.
The tents are either 2 or 3 person tents. We will try to provide clients traveling alone with their own tent. A sleeping mat will be provided to each person staying in a tent, but clients are asked to bring their own sleeping bags.
The food on camping trips is from the best produce available, and the menus are possibly the most varied you will find in Mongolia. Mongolia is mostly a non-vegetarian country, but we can cater to vegetarians upon request. However, we require as much early notice as possible.
Our cooks are all Mongolian and they have a wealth of experience in catering for the western traveler. You will also eat some Mongolian food on trips. We try to buy as much produce as possible from local people, though there is not a lot of variety. Alcohol is not provided on the treks, but clients are free to bring their own.
On trips staying in ger camps, food is provided by the camp. Again, the cooks are Mongolian but the food tends to be a little less varied with a strong emphasis on meat, rice, pasta, and potatoes. Vegetarians can be accommodated but will probably end up eating a lot of eggs.
The hotels used in Ulaanbaatar for group trips are either the Ulaanbaatar Hotel or Bayangol Hotel. Both provide a very similar level of service. They are clean, comfortable, and provide the best valuable service in Ulaanbaatar. Both are also centrally located. They do not provide high class European service, however, and clients should be patient in difficult situations, such as no hot water or the receptionist not understanding English. These kinds of challenges are common and all part of the travel experience. Accommodations in cheaper hotels can also be arranged.
The number and variety of restaurants are vast, including French, Korean, and Indian. Most of the older restaurants serve typical Russian style food, but the variety is widening and many other influences are appearing on menus.
Many travelers would like to dine at real Mongolian restaurants. However, the best Mongolian food can be found in someone’s home! Our cooks on trek will provide clients with some Mongolian style food, or you can order off the menu at the hotel restaurant.
The official and spoken language of the country is Mongolian. Many people speak Russian as their second language, and an increasing number of people now also speak English and German.
It is appreciated by locals if travelers learn some basic Mongolian before their trip. A few words are surprisingly easy to master and will help tremendously in communicating with local people. Spend a few dollars and minutes before you go and purchase a copy of the
Lonely Planet Mongolian phrase book.
Internet cafes are everywhere in Ulaanbaatar, and there are about 4-5 in the central area of the city. There is a central post office in Ulaanbaatar where you can buy stamps, envelopes, and postcards. The post is reasonably reliable, although it may take some time to reach its destination. Telecommunications outside Ulaanbaatar are very limited, but both the Bayangol Hotel and the Ulaanbaatar Hotel have international fax and telephone services.
The official currency of Mongolia is the tugrig. As of June 1, 2006, US$1 was worth approximately 1175 tugrigs. Bring only USD in currency; it is better not to bring travelers cheques, although they can be changed at the bank. Please ask your bank to provide dollar currency dated 1996 or later, as currency dated earlier may be rejected by currency exchange places. Most hotels, restaurants, and tourist shops now accept international credit cards. Local shops and markets accept only tugrigs. Most hotel gift shops and tourist shops still accept US dollars.
US dollars can be changed at the airport on arrival, U the hotel reception desk, or at the bank.
The State Department Store is the main shop in town for everything from food to clothes to Mongolian souvenirs. There are also many smaller shops and local markets. The three main hotels, the Bayangol, the Ulaanbaatar, and the ChinggisKhaan all sell a range of food stuffs, gifts, and souvenirs.
Interesting art and gifts can be bought at the Art and Craft Shops near the Ulaanbaatar Hotel. Visits can also be made to the two main cashmere factories. Be careful when buying antiques that you receive a stamped certificate from the seller in case you are asked to prove your purchase at the airport. Sometimes in the countryside you will be offered goods from local countryside people for sale. It is alright to bargain with people. However, do not assume that you can purchase things out of people’s gers in the countryside — they are someone’s home.
There is a great variety of night time entertainment in Ulaanbaatar. There are a number of concerts and cultural performances, from opera to traditional Mongolian throat singing performances that can be seen at the Opera Theater or the Drama Theater.
Recently, several new bars, some with outdoor seating, have opened in the center of town. For night club fans, a number of new venues have opened recently playing a mixture of Western and Mongolian modern music. Dining out is becoming a good option with a variety of international restaurants offered.
Tipping is not a local custom in Mongolia; it is common only amongst tourists and expatriates who live in the country. Giving monetary gifts to friends or relatives is common, however, both in the city and in the countryside. As tourism is growing in the country, locals who work in the tourism industry are getting used to the notion of tipping and sometimes even expect a tip from clients. Some locals still feel embarrassed to receive large tips from foreigners. We suggest that you do tip in moderation and give with a spirit of gratitude.
Tips will vary depending on the length and complexity of the trip, the number of staff members involved, and the number of clients on the trip. Groups generally like to meet together before the end of the trek to discuss how much they would like to tip each staff member based on their individual trek experience.
Generally, everyone entering Mongolian territory must have a visa. However, because of bilateral agreements made with some countries, this is not always the case. All types of visas can be obtained from the Visa and Passport Division of the Ministry of External Relations, in Ulaanbaatar, and also Mongolian Embassies, Consulates, Honorary Consulates, Trade and Permanent Missions abroad. Please note that the visa regulations have recently changed. It is now NOT possible to buy visas at Mongolian borders or at the airport upon arrival. Visas must be obtained in advance. For all types of visa application, you will need your passport, a completed application form, and at least one passport-size photograph.
Passports should be valid for at least 6 months after expected departure from the country. The standard charge for a tourist visa is US$25 and US$15 for a transit visa if you obtain them in advance. If you require the visa urgently or if you obtain your visa at the border points, you will need to pay US$50 or US$30, respectively. There have also been changes recently to Police Registration procedures. You are advised to find out up-to-date details from your Embassy or Consulate in advance.
Travel in Mongolia on a standard trip is really for anyone who is of a reasonable level of fitness. We have had 82 year old people participating in some of our more arduous trips, so this will give you an indication. Should a particular trip involve some specific activity such as riding or hiking, please just ask about the level of fitness required. It is advisable that you exercise regularly for a period of time before the departure of any trip, especially if you lead a sedentary life. On riding or hiking trips, usually 4-6 hours a day are spent outdoors on the trek. Some riding trips are more arduous than others, so again please don't be afraid to ask. Days spent driving may be longer, up to 9-10 hours. This is possible in the summer with the long daylight hours. It should be mentioned though that these days are quite tiring due to bad roads and rough tracks.
When visiting local nomadic people, you will generally be offered a cup of tea. This is the salty milk tea. Sometimes, especially in the summer or if they have become very fond of you, you will also be offered Mongolian vodka or the local drink ‘airag’ (fermented mares
milk). There will also be visitors to camp offering ‘aaraf which is dried curd and is very, very hard.
It is advisable to drink the tea when in someone’s ger. It is offered in the spirit of friendship and hospitality, so it would be rude to refuse. It is not that tasty at first, but you get used to it and some people end up liking it. Vodka and airagshould be enjoyed with caution, especially airag in large doses, as it can do very strange things to your stomach.
• let a post or fence come between you if you are walking with Mongolians
• whistle inside a ger or house belonging to a Mongolian
• let your feet point in the direction of the altar (which will be on the north side, opposite the door) when sitting in a ger
• let people walk over your outstretched legs
• tread on the threshold of the ger when you walk over it
• lean against a support column, furniture, or wall of a ger
• stamp out a fire or put water or any rubbish on it; fire is sacred
• walk in front of an older person
• turn your back to the altar and religious objects at the back of the ger
• touch other people’s hats
• have long conversations in your own language in front of hosts who don’t understand
• keep your hat on when entering a ger, if you are wearing one, but lift it as a sign of greeting
• receive things with the right hand or both hands and ensure that your sleeves are rolled down
• ensure you remove your gloves when shaking hands, if you are wearing them
• walk inside the ger in a clockwise direction
• receive food, a gift, or anything similar from a Mongolian with both hands or with the right hand supported at the wrist or elbow
• take at least a sip or nibble of the delicacies offered
• pick up things with an open hand, with your palm facing upwards
• grab the hand of a Mongolian if you have accidentally kicked their fe
The character and taming ways of Mongolian horses are totally
different than from horses of other countries, and following things should be kept in special attentions.
1. Before riding a horse, make sure the saddle is firmly placed on the horse. If the girth is loose, check it beforehand.
If you can not check, ask for help. Even when in the countryside ride, check the girth of the saddle every time you ride.
2. Coming close to the horse, riding, coming down, and other actions should be completed only from right side of horse.
3. While climbing a hill, horse movement must be slowed down by holding the string folded in hands and climb in short time as fast as you can.
4. Do not touch or whip the nose of the horse. On sunny days, horses get distracted by mosquitoes and move their heads wildly, which could hit you.
5. The horse might get frightened by shiny items, iron needle, paper garbage, hiding rabbits, and marmots and could suddenly run wildly. The string should be folded in hand in short at all times.
6. Do not change clothes, take off clothes, or let things hang off the horse while riding. Also, do not wear clothes that make sounds.
7. While coming down a mountain, it is better to get off the horse. Ride the horse on low grounds only
8. Keep in mind that the horse could slide on rainy, snowy, and wet days.
9. It is better if your shoes fit the stirrup of the saddle.
10. Do not wrap any rope around your hand or legs while riding — it can cause injury in the event of a fall.
11. Do not leave the horse loose in the country side. If necessary, tighten the horse by string or hobble.
12. After your trip, make sure to hand the horse over to the jockey.
This advice is solely for your health and safety