Are you planning your holiday in Mongolia? And want to keep the costs low? Here are five hints:
1. Going there. The national airline of Mongolia is MIAT. They fly directly from Berlin, Moscow, Beijing and 2 other cities. Booking a flight is much cheaper if you only fly with them and book the flight on their website (20% off). Another cheap option is Aeroflot, a Russian airline. You will pass Moscow then.
2. Traveling. There are several ways to travel in Mongolia. A lot of people arrive by train (the Trans-Siberian railway stops in Ulaanbaatar (UB)), however, continuing transport by train in Mongolia is not a good option. The easiest is booking a complete trip with one of the travel agencies. However, this is expensive as well. Another option is arranging a car (make sure it is a 4WD, you’ll be grateful you didn’t hire a ‘nice old Russian jeep/van’ once you are here). This will cost around 50 USD a day and you will have to pay the expenses of the driver (say 15-2o USD a day). Mongolians can arrange it for you on beforehand or once you are in Mongolia it is easy to arrange if you ask around. If you want to go really low-budget, you can take the public transport. Once in UB, you can buy tickets (often you need to go to the bus station one day in advance to be sure to have a seat) for long distance busses. They are quite comfortable and drive quickly to the place you want to visit (mainly provincial capitals). Once there, you can get microbuses (8-13 persons, often more..) to different destinations. It’s cheap, for example: the bus to Arvaikheer (Ovorkhangai province) is 15.000 Tugrik (about 12,5 USD) for 400 km! Last, but not least: if you arrive in one of the more ‘touristic places’ (still only few foreign visitors coming there anyway), you can hire horses and visit places you cannot reach by car. If you want, you can make a multiple day tour with them.
3. Sleeping. High budget hotels are easy to find on websites (the link is to the Continental Hotel, which is the best deal in the high budget area, in my opinion). Lower budget can be found in the Lonely Planet or other travel guides. One good option if you are with two or more persons is Lotus Guesthouse. Still unexplored by most travelers, they have English speaking ladies taking care of you, free breakfast (toasted bread with butter and jam) and unlimited tea, free wireless internet (though only one computer) and all the profit goes to an orphanage in UB. They sell souvenirs as well. Prices are around 10 USD per night (even for a 2-person room). Once in the countryside you can find cheap hotels if you ask around and if you are lucky (and speak a little Mongolian) people will invite you to their houses/gers to stay over. Be polite, there are several do’s and don’ts. If you have a higher budget and stay in the ‘tourist areas’, tourist camps are available. If you really want to go low budget: take a tent and go camping. You can drop your tent everywhere. By the way: you can stay at some places (including mine if I am home) by couchsurfing. If you bring chocolates, I am happy. 😉
4. Food. If you like mutton and noodles: this is the perfect place to be!! If not, then take some food with you on your trip. In UB you can find most types of food (hint: try a Korean restaurant and/or the Turkish restaurant near Lotus Guesthouse). In the countryside you will mainly find mutton and noodles/rice. Don’t forget to bring vitamins from you home country 🙂 If you ask around, you will find some restaurants in the villages/provincial capitals. Lucky again: you get invited by the local people for a dish. Don’t offend them by eating nothing or not drinking ‘soete the’. Only a drop or a small bite is polite enough if you’re not hungry enough to eat all of it. It is nice to bring something for the host (chocolates and wodka are always ok, however, with that last option you will have to drink with them). Water from the tap is NOT drinkable without boiling and a filter…
5. Places to be. During summer, a lot of activities are going on in the capital Ulaanbaatar. Going to the centrally located theatre is nice; ask your embassy for the program of the month you visit. Every last Sunday of the month, the Swan Lake ballet is performed. It will cost you not more than 5 USD! At the 11th of July Naadam festival is celebrated. This is a good time to be in Mongolia. In the countryside during the days around the 11th of July festivities will be organized as well. In Arvaikheer, there will be a big festivity around the last week of July, as the province celebrate it’s 80th birthday. Once in the countyside, Kharkhorin (Kharakorum in some travel guides) is interesting for it’s old monastery. However if you are around that place, visit Bat Ulzii as well, which has the Tovkhon temple that has been reconstructed exactly as it used to be and has great views. The road from Khujirt to Bat Ulzii is very beautiful, so it is worth travelling from Kharkhorin to Khujirt to Bat Ulzii (not more than 1 day). You can see yaks and birds on the way there, can see the Orkhon waterfall and ride a horse if you have arrived. On the 23rd of July there will be a yak festival in Bat Ulzii, if you are interested. The Gobi desert is always a place tourists like to visit. It takes some time going there, but is very beautiful. Sorry to say, but I cannot give you hints where to go to as I only visited a few places there. If you don’t want to travel a long day from UB to the Gobi; take a break in Arvaikheer. There are petroglyphs to visit if you have time left! The last place you have to visit is Terelj. Several tourist camps are available. If you want something different: visit the Dutch guy Bert and enjoy his cooking!
Hope you are (more) enthusiastic now to visit this beautiful country! If you need a good travel guide, visit this website. For more information about the culture, you can visit this blog. Yes; I have mainly linked to people and organizations I know, but I know they can make your stay even better!