Mongolia has been one of the most amazing destinations I have been throughout the past 10 years. The country is incredibly unique. After spending 10 days in Mongolia and having spoken to many different people about this magical land I came to the conclusion that all you travellers need to go now! And this is why.
Everybody needs to travel to Mongolia just to see what it is to be a human again.
1. Mongolian and Central Asian’s History
Chinngis Khan founded the largest imperium in square metres in the world ever. Mongolia’s tumultuous warrior is widely known for his fearless urge to conquer the world. Whether you like it or not, he has been a significant factor in the world’s history and Central Asia specifically. To get a better understanding of Mongolia and its nation, it was inevitable for me to dive into the history of Chinggis Khan’s and the Mongolian empire that stretched from Far East Asia to Venice.
Nowadays, Chinggis Khan is everyday business: hotels are named after the imperialist, cigars, vodka, bars, beer and more! Close to UB Chinggis has his very own 60 metres high giant silver statue. The statue is impressively huge. The whole entourage, the visitor centre and the statue with all its grandeur is so opposite of what we experienced while travelling in the country. And this is exactly the bizarreness that makes Mongolia so unique.
2. Mongolian Nomads
The Mongolian authentic way of life is the nomadic way of life. Ulaanbaatar is home to half of the Mongolian population, the Mongolian land is home to the other half. Although many city inhabitants still have family in the countryside, their daily lives are contrasting. Nomadic life is not easy. We visited Mongolia in October and it was already incredibly cold. For me at least, coming from the Netherlands. Surviving Mongolian winters with temperatures of -50 ℃ is serious business. A growing number of Mongolian nomads decide to leave their nomadic lifestyle, reduce their number of livestock and move to the city.
Staying at nomad families during my trip in Mongolia was an uncommon and memorable experience. I am not talking tourist camps with showers and luxurious yurts. I refer to families opening their yurt door for you, no knocking required. It felt a little uncomfortable at first. Nevertheless, it is common that the family sleeps in their extra (most of them have at least one extra) yurt and let visitors sleep in theirs. My best nights of sleep where in a yurt on a thin mattress. The way of life is so far away of what we – in the Western world – are used to. It makes a trip to Mongolia a true nomadic adventure.
3. Mongolian Animals
I love animals and Mongolians love their animals. Not in the same way though but it didn’t matter. As a non-meat-eater it’s not the most convenient destination to travel. If you love animals and accept that livestock is the only way of survival for nomads, it changes your perspective. The deep unfathomable green – in October white and yellow – fields are where the Mongolian animals graze. Herds of sheep, horses, yaks, cow, thousands of goats. Vultures eating carcases, dogs protecting the yurt, camels waiting for their tourist ride. Wolves killing sheep to fill their belly. Mongolian land is home to millions of animals.
4. Space and Serenity
One of the aspects of travelling I love is the experience of being the only one there. Serenity, no noise, no other travellers. Just nothing. It freaks other people out, it relaxes me completely. I sensed this calmness in Mongolia, where we drove for hours without seeing anyone. The population density is the lowest in the world: 1,9 inhabitants live on 1 km2. Yes, that’s right, just 1,9. You can imagine that in a country of 1.566.000 km², there is a lot of space. The middle of nowhere is literally everywhere in Mongolia.
Unlimited wilderness. The diversity in nature is unique. Mongolia is known for its endless valleys and grasslands but did you know Mongolia has volcanos, awesome rock formations and many stunning lakes? And even a desert called ‘Gobi’. Gobi means ‘huge and dry’ and the desert is the number 4 largest desert is the world. Not bad right? And it gets better: you can see prehistoric dinosaur eggs. Mongolian landscape changes in minutes or doesn’t change for hours. One thing is for sure: Mongolian nature is magical.
6. Roads in Mongolia: The Worst Roads in the World
Part of a Mongolian travel adventure is driving in a 4WD and conquer the worst roads in the world. Although it is not a high priority of the current government, it is expected that sooner or later road quality will improve and more roads will be built. Sitting in the back seat of a car driving on the bumpiest roads ever, I often wondered ‘why are these roads this bad’? Which our guide replied with: ‘This is Mongolia’. It was part of the adventure. We did many river crossings and I loved it – apart from that time where it snowed and we slipped back into the water. Our Mongolian road trip was awesome, driving in no man’s land is fantastic. Yet another reason to go now and experience a Mongolian road trip the way you should!
The habitat outside of Ulaanbaatar is far from what city life is about. Where a motorbike or horse is your transport, where a yurt is your home and where thousands of livestock are your pride. No electricity, no running water, nothing that we would define as luxury. But luxury is different for everyone in the world. For you, it could be 5* hotel, for someone else it could be freedom. For Mongolian nomads is could be their 3.000 goats. In the capital are many shops, coffee cafes, most of the Mongolians have smart-phones. The city is covered in smog, traffic jams are substantial and skyscrapers embellish the horizon. It may surprise you but I have seen more posh SUV’s in Ulaanbaatar then I see on an average day in Amsterdam. Mongolia is a country of contradictions. Contradictions prevail in many areas and made my trip a fascinating experience.
8. Lack of Tourism
Although most travellers opt for Russia or China, tourism will take over somehow someday in Mongolia. It’s just a matter of time. Inland there are few facilities for travellers, at least when we were there at the end of October. I read that until the end of September it is easier to travel and there are more facilities available. It surprised me though that in the region of Ulaanbaatar tourism is exploding already. Tourist camps in Terelj and near the Chinggis Khan statue come fast and furious out of nowhere. While travelling by car in Central Mongolia at the end October, I have seen only one small group of other travellers on the first day of our trip. And a few at Erdenezuu Monastery. That won’t happen barely anywhere else in Asia I guess.
For travellers on the Trans-Siberian Railway Ulaanbaatar is a popular stop. Although we did not meet a lot of fellow travellers who were planning to stay more than 3 days, we decided to take our time to discover Mongolia. And you should too.
If you are looking for a great tour guide, contact Nomadic Discovery Mongolia. We choose Nomadic Discovery for a private 8 day tour and I loved it!
You surely convinced me, Mongolia is on my list now… places with less crowd is always an added bonus for me to travel. Nice post!
Thanks Priya! Mongolia will definitely steal your heart ♡
This could not come at a better time 😉
Really great article, very informative and beautiful photos too! Mongolia looks stunningly wonderful!
Keep on travelling! Cheers!
Thank you so much Rosy, much appreciated!
This looks great! You really convinced me to travel to Mongolia once! Even the bad roads look like an adventure!
Thank you Daphne! The roads are a true adventure, it’s part of the Mongolian package 🙂
“The middle of nowhere is literally everywhere in Mongolia.” You captured Mongolia so beautifully in that statement. This past summer we became friends with someone from inner Mongolia. Her photos are much like yours. Stunning barren landscapes, intriguing livestock, etc. Thanks for sharing this beautiful part of the world!
Thanks Eulanda! Mongolia is so unique ♡
This takes me back! I spent two weeks in the country almost 10 years ago, and it was by far my favorite country until recently. There’s something intoxicating about its vast emptiness and blue skies that I have yet to find anywhere else, and your photos do it justice 🙂 Can’t wait to go back one day!
Oh wow Alex, 10 years ago! Do you think the country changed a lot over the past years? I completely agree with you, Mongolia is magical with its characteristic landscapes and culture!
I admit I am one of those people that never really thought of Mongolia as a place to visit, but recently I have been reading more and more about it. It seems like such an incredbile place. I totally relate to your loving the serenity of being in the middle of no where, with no ones around. That sounds pretty fantastic to me ha!
It was one of the stops on our Trans-Siberian Railway journey and before that, I never thought about going either. But it is pretty fantastic indeed 🙂
The photos are awesome! Mongolia is one of my dream destinations, would love to go around with a rented 4WD, self drive. And maybe even as an end stop on the Transmongolian railway 😉 I just love its barren open spaces.. Nice post, will pin it 😉
Thank you, Kat! You will need some serious navigation and 4WD experience to conquer the Mongolian roads but I don’t think it is undoable though! We went with a driver/guide and was very glad we did 🙂 I can definitely recommend it as (end) stop on the Trans-Mongolian Railway. UB/Mongolia was our 2nd stop on our way to Beijing!
Mongolia looks EPIC. My husband is dying to go there, it’s on his top 10 places to get to in 2017. Well looks like I just added another 8 reasons to visit Mongolia/
It absolutely is Hannah! Hihi looks like you are going there 🙂
WOW! I really to do to Mongolia! Every time I see pictures of Mongolia, I’m in love! Will have to plan a trip! 🙂
You won’t regret it girl, you will fall in love again when you get there!
Love how detailed this post about Mongolia. It made me wanna go there soon as possible. It is my dream to be on this country and it will be happening soon. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks Ferna, you will love Mongolia!
I love the photos! Nice article =)
Many thanks Alina 🙂
Such an experience! Makes me want to go and stay in the yurts just because it’s so different!
Sleeping in a yurt is a wonderful experience!
Beautiful and very inspiring pictures! There has always been something mysterious about Mongolia for me. I remember one year I saw in the news that it was such a cold winter that even the animals died. I cannot remember how cold it was but I was amazed how any human could live under these circumstances. Its impressive! Hugs, Nana
Thanks so much Nana! It indeed is a country full of mystery. Temperatures can go down to even -40 °C – which is not exceptional – so some animals do indeed die. We were there in October and I think it was about -15 °C on coldest days. The animals were getting fat for wintertime and most of them had thick fur. But -40 °C is serious and the weakest ones won’t always survive.
Interesting thing is that, Zud or blizzard seasons every once in a while kill large portion of the herd. So most nomads just sell their flocks before the blizzards.
It also gets really hot around here too, when I was in Gobi we saw a crashed car which tires were exploded because of the heat & friction.
It´s not a destination I´d ever thought of visiting before. Great to read about it and see these fabulous photos. I´m pleased I have learnt about this place now The animals and outdoors there look amazing.
Thank you Molly, great to read that you like the post 🙂
Wow your photos are so amazing! I reeeeally want to go to Mongolia. Whenever I fly over it when flying home I always think that it would be awesome to go – you’ve definitely helped to put it firmly on the list!
Happy to help you with your list Jasmin! Mongolia is awesome, in many ways!
First up: I love your photos. Truly magical 🙂
I am a sole traveler (on a budget). So I was wondering how you organized your tour. Did you spontaneously book in Ulan Bator? Or did you book ahead? Can you give any advice?
Thank you & continued happy travels!
Thanks so much Carola! I travelled with my dad and we had a private driver/guide. He comes highly recommended but it’s not for travellers on a budget, although ‘budget’ is relative of course. I was in Mongolia in October (low season) and contacted our guide a few days before arrival. I know many guesthouses and hostels also have organised tours so that is would be the best low budget option. I do recommend to book in advance if you go in high-season and if you have limited time. Feel free to reach out if you have more questions 🙂
How did you find your guide/guides? Did you do something organized or on your own? Also did you have a lot of information going into the trip? I think Mongolia definitely has something special and I’d love to plan a little in right timing to miss the coldest parts of the year there because I don’t cope too well with the Cold. But that solitude, that peace looks AMAZING.
Hi Ariana, I found our guide on Tripadvisor. I can definitely recommend his company Nomadic Discovery Mongolia Travel. We met with him in UB and discussed our options. For me, the most important was a true nomadic Mongolian experience with flexibility and freedom. If you can’t cope with the cold very well, it’s best to skip Mongolian winters because temperatures seriously can go down to -40 °C. I was in Mongolia in October and I think we hit -15 °C. You may want to go to the Gobi desert, temperatures get tropical in summertime 🙂
I absolutely LOVE these pictures! Mongolia is the top of my list and this makes me want to go even more than before (which was A LOT!) Anyways, I love it!
Many thanks Megan! You will love Mongolia 🙂
Sleeping in a yurt in Mongolia is a bucket list dream of mine. Loved your photos and story. How long did you spend there?
Thanks so much Sally! More than enough yurts in Mongolia to choose from. We were there for 10 days.
I’m dying to visit Mongolia and this just made me want to go even more! I have this thing for stark scenery, plains and deserts stretching as far as the eye can see, rural life, undiscovered places… I think it’s time to start looking into plane flights. 😉 Thank you for the inspiration to go!
You are welcome Marissa! I think you will love Mongolia, it’s so serene and fascinating 🙂
This is such a fantastic post! I never thought about visiting Mongolia, but after reading your post, I really want to go now!
Thank you Nancy! It’s not Thailand or China, not many people think of going to Mongolia. Which is a good thing though 🙂
I’ve always wanted to visit Mongolia but I’ve been told the food takes some getting used to which is why my cousins skipped it on their backpacking trip across Asia. Did you find that to be true?
Hi Christa, it depends on how you look at it and what ‘getting used to the food’ means. In UB there are quite a few Western restaurant options, in the country of course food is more authentic. I don’t eat meat and meat is exactly what Mongolians love. As I mention in my post, Mongolia is not the most convenient country to for non-meat-eaters. I knew this when I travelled there and always believe here is a solution for everything. And there was 🙂
Love your authentic accommodation experience- something artificial would have been very different. Interesting to see the contradictions of this enormous nation too- a crazy bridging of the traditional and modern.
Thanks Danni. The contrasts make Mongolia unique and fascinating!
Your pictures looks so amazing!!! I’d love to stay in traditional accommodation too. It sounds like a great experience!
Thank you Sonja!
Mongolia is my dream! It’s so nice to read all about it in your post =) The winter weather sounds out of reach to me though, I tend to fall sick in winter =( Amazing experience you had! How did you acquaint the Mongolian nomads? How did they open up their doors to let you sleep overnight? It’s awesome to hear about their hospitality!
Glad that you like my post Kristine! Winters are pretty cold but temperatures get much nicer in spring and summer. Our guide helped us with translating and took care of arranging overnight stays with the families. It surprised me how easy it actually is to communicate with each other – especially with kids! – without speaking each other’s language. Wodka also helps 🙂
I spent 2 weeks there..7 days on horseback staying with locall families…NOT tourist yurts. It was an amazing experience. .. not for the fainthearted but worth it. Beautiful landscapes, humble and very happy people… go for it
Yes Debbie, it for those who love adventure and don’t mind skipping the shower for a week or tow 🙂 I am so happy we didn’t go to the tourist yurts and stayed at local families, it’s really part of a true nomadic experience!
Thank You sooooo much for this Beautiful
Praise of Mongolia, People, Land, Animals,
This is my year to Experience, Mongolia
has Always called to My Heart… as well as Nepal, Ladakh(spelling?)Tibet…
Thank You… Happy Trails…
You are very welcome Gail! I am really glad you like my article. I truly loved travelling in Mongolia – the people, the land and of course the animals – it’s sensational! Are you planning to go this year? You will love it!!
I love how detailed this article is. It makes me feel like I have been there. Mongolia is now on my list bucket list!
Thank you Caitlin! I thought it would be good to summarise my thoughts on why we should go there. Not all of course 🙂
Incredible. I am a big fan of remote and off the path destinations, so Mongolia has been on my bucket list for so long. Once, I was told that you can’t even travel independently in there, as there are no road signs and Google Maps isn’t accurate at all in some parts of Mongolia. Don’t know if it’s true or not… Did you feel the same?
Yeah, I would not rely on Google maps honestly. We used MAPS.ME – it’s a great app. Our guide knew the directions by heart and did go offroad making his own tracks. We also had a satellite and mobile phones with different providers with us. There are a few road signs near the cities/towns but that’s it. Additionally, Mongolians use mountains, rivers, the sun and the wind to bring them to their destination. I would only travel independently if you are well prepared. It also helps to learn some Mongolian words and get to know their culture. I am working on a post with all ‘Things I learned in Mongolia’ with some fascinating facts about Mongolian culture and daily lives, including some do’s and don’ts when staying with a local family.
Mongolia is on my list for years now and how come I still have not visited the country. I am glad I get the chance to browse and read this post, my motivation is getting on. Thanks for this, bookmarking for my reference.