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Traveling Tips in Mongolia

The country of Mongolia is one of the least densely populated countries in the world with 1,566,000 square kilometers of land and 2.8 million inhabitants, and about 1.2 million live in the only city there, called Ulaanbaatar or Ulan Bator. There are few towns besides that, and very few paved roads, as most Mongolians are nomadic herders. It is known for its wide-open spaces, lush forests, expansive deserts, and crystal clear lakes, and in the past the main Mongol deity was their marvelously vast sky. As a result, Mongolia is the perfect destination for those travelers who want to experience true wilderness.

The best time to travel to Mongolia is between the months of May and October for all types of tourism, with the exception of visiting the Gobi Desert. During these months, the weather is more comfortable and the risk of dust storms is reduced. The months of July and August are considered the rainy months, so those hoping to spend a great amount of time outdoors may want to avoid traveling during that time. If one wishes to visit the Gobi Desert, the months of June and September are thought to be the most desirable months to travel due to the lower temperatures, although they can still be up to thirty degrees celsius.

Photo Credit | Cameco.comEvery person who visits Mongolia, unless they come from over the Russian or Chinese borders, will begin in Ulaanbaatar. Ulaanbaatar is one of the very few areas in Mongolian with Western-style hotels, and restaurants serving food from various nations. Ulaanbaatar is also the home of all the Mongolian banks, and any travelers wishing to convert their currency to Mongolian tögrög (also known as tugrik) should do so before leaving Ulaanbaatar. Speaking of Mongolian words, most people speak some basic English and Russian in Ulaanbaatar, but outside the city it is rare to speak anything other than Mongolian. Before you go you can go to online school to learn some basic phrases, as pronunciation guides in many guidebooks prove unhelpful. Ger to Ger, a popular tour company, has a very useful podcast to this effect.Once out of Ulaanbaatar, accommodations and dining opportunities are more in line with traditional Mongolian culture. Restaurants outside of Ulaanbaatar will typically serve Mongolian-style cuisine, which tends to be high in both protein and fats. Meat and dairy products are the focal point of traditional Mongolian meals, as the culture focused more on herding than agriculture. While touring the countryside, travelers will likely stay in tent camps constructed specifically for tourists. These camps feature Mongolian ger (pronounced like air), which are the traditional round felt houses that are used by the nomads. The more familiar term for these homes are yurts, but Mongols can get offended by that term so be careful using it. Separate facilities in the campground are available for toileting, washing, and eating, but they may be as basic as holes in the ground with three walls for privacy. Tourists are also welcome to set up camp in most areas of the country, with the exception of settlements and government protected areas.

If you read the official tourism website of Mongolia , you'll note that options for traveling within the country to various tourist destinations can be rather limited due to the nation’s sparse population and poor transportation infrastructure. While in the city of Ulaanbaatar, tourists will have access to a fleet of approximately 3,000 taxis and public bus services. However, outside of the city, there are very few options for transportation outside of a private driver or tour guide. There are buses that go in each of the four directions, but they are hard to get tickets to or even ride on without speaking Mongolian, so it is best to book those through a tour. There are some domestic flights and rail services available to specific destinations. If one wishes to visit more remote areas, or areas outside of the typical tourist destinations such as the old Mongol capitol made famous by Marco Polo, it is recommended that the traveler book a tour guide who is able to coordinate safe and reliable transportation services. More adventurous travelers can request special-interest forms of transportation, including camels and horses. These forms of transportation are common in the very rural areas of Mongolia, including the Gobi Desert. As a warning though, Mongolian horses are somewhat smaller than horses in the West, but a Mongol will take great offense if you dare call their horse a pony. They are a very proud people, and their love of horses is legendary.

Now, most tourists worry about theft and other crime, but for all the West thinks of their barbarism in centuries past Mongolia is one of the safest countries in the world to visit,.The highest rate of crime in Mongolia is in Ulaanbaatar due to the high tourism rate and increased population density. Violent crimes and crimes against tourists are relatively rare occurrences. However, the US Department of State warns visitors that United States citizens have been the victims of petty thefts and pickpocketing in Mongolia, so keep up normal precautions as you would traveling anywhere. The Department of State also warns that inter-racial couples are often targeted; this is mainly because Mongolian men think that foreign men aren't good enough for their women, but there are other instances of aggression against single tourists of other Asian descents as well. Mainly, male tourists should avoid carousing in bars as that is where most fights will happen, although everyone should try the Mongolian mare's milk alcohol, airag. Outside of the city, the risk of crime decreases drastically in large part due to the fact that population is very sparse.

When in the more rural areas of Mongolia, it is best to pack light and only carry what you use on a daily basis. Unlike hotel accommodations, ger are not designed to store large quantities of luggage. In addition, the typical Mongolian tourist will be engaging in frequent hiking trips, so if you've got a compact tent it is good to bring along. It is advised that tourists wear hiking boots and dress in layers in order to be comfortable in the natural terrain and frequently changing weather. Travelers should be sure to pack mosquito repellent, sunblock, sunglasses, a flashlight, and a personal first aid kit, as travel supplies and medications are difficult to find in rural areas if not impossible.

Mongolia has a fascinating culture and lifestyle, hardly changed from that of the Mongol conquerors centuries ago. Visitors to Mongolia should be have a sense of adventure, and be prepared to go places without Western-style transportation and accommodations. From the wide open steppes and trackless wastes to lush forests and snowy fields, a trip to Mongolia can be a incredibly unique and absolutely unforgettable experience!

Elaine Hirsch is kind of a jack-of-all-interests, from education and history to medicine and videogames. This makes it difficult to choose just one life path, so she is currently working as a writer for various education-related sites and writing about all these things instead.

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