The travel season is from May to early October, though
Ulaanbaatar can be visited any time of year if you can tolerate the
cold. From mid-October to mid-May, sudden snowstorms and extreme cold can ground nights, block roads and cause the transport system to break down completely.
June and September are both very pleasant times to visit. Early July gives you the best weather for the northern part of the country. July and August are the rainiest months, which can make jeep travel on dirt roads difficult. July is also the time to see the Naadam Festival. Unfortunately, this is the peak tourist season, when
Ulaanbaatar's inadequate accommodation and creaky transport is stretched to breaking point.
The best time to see the Gobi is September and October. May isn't a bad time though there can be wind storms during this time and weather can be unpredictable.
|What Kind of Trip?
This depends on your flexibility and intrepidity, available time and money. An organized tour gives you more comfort and less
Traveling by public transport will limit your travel unless you are prepared to do some hitching also - but you will still need to hire a jeep to see most attractions.
Around middle of February
July 11, 12
New Year's Day
New Year Festival -
Women and Children's Day
Mongolian National Holiday - Naadam.
Passports and visa are required by all tourists. Passport validity should be 6 month
minimum. Also, be sure that it has at least a few blank pages for visas and entry and exit stamps. Losing your passport in Mongolia is very bad news indeed, so try not to do it. If your country has an embassy in
Ulaanbaatar, it's a good idea to register there in case of an accident or lost passport.
Tourist visas can be obtained at any Mongolian embassy with a letter of invitation from a tourist company or Mongolian friends. No vaccination certificates are required.
In a nutshell, take US dollar travelers cheques for security; have some US dollars (or major Asian and European currencies) to change for better rates in
Ulaanbaatar; use Mongolian currency in the country almost exclusively; and take a credit card for
emergency cash advances in Ulaanbaatar, or for top-end hotels and any flights Ulaanbaatar.
The currency of Mongolia is called the tugrik (it is normally written as T). Banknotes are issued in denominations of 1,3, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, 1000, 5000 and 10,000 - all marked with the faces of either the ubiquitous Chinggis Khaan or Damdin
1 US $ = 1.100 Tugrik, dollars accepted in the most places and shops. Note that moneychangers will give you slightly better rates for new
(i.e. post-1996) US dollar bills and for higher denominations
(US$50 and US$100). US dollar bills dated pre-1988 are difficult to exchange anywhere.
The employees of our company will suggest you where better to exchange currency.
Mongolian law states that all transactions must be made in tugrik and not in US dollars. Excepted are companies and individuals with special permits, such as airlines and travel agencies. All hotels have to accept tugrik, but most tourist ger camps continue to accept US dollars.
Postal Rates. Postal rates are often relatively expensive, especially for parcels, for which there is only an 'air mail' rate - yet they often arrive months later (probably by sea).
Normal sized letters cost T550 and postcards cost T400 to all countries. A 1kg airmail parcel costs anywhere from “ 13,000 to “ 17,000 to most countries.
The postal service is reliable but can often be very slow. Allow at least a couple of weeks for letters and postcards to arrive from Mongolia. You won't find letter boxes on the streets. In most cases, you will have to post your
letters from the post office.
The poste restante at the Central Post Office in Ulaanbaatar seems to work quite well; bring along your passport as proof of identification.
Telephone. In Ulaanbaatar it is easy to make international or domestic calls. Outside of
Ulaanbaatar, making calls is difficult: no-one will understand you unless you speak reasonable Mongolian or Russian, and the telephones
may not work anyway.
Mobile Phone. The mobile phone network is GSM. If you bring a GSM you can get a new SIM card installed in Mongolia.
Fax. Business centers in major hotels in Ulaanbaatar
charge about T5000 to T6000 to send a one-page fax abroad and around T800 per page to receive one. The
Central Post Office is less convenient but cheaper at T3000 per page. Outside Ulaanbaatar, forget it.
Email & Internet Access. For travelers, email is easily the most reliable, cheapest and quickest way of communicating with the outside world.
There are dozens of Internet cafes in Ulaanbaatar that charge around T1200 to T1500 per hour but this rate is always fluctuating (and generally falling). Outside of the capital, Internet access is rare, though larger towns have email facilities at the post/telecom office (so you can send an email but not access Internet-based accounts).
If you want to open an account in Ulaanbaatar there are three Internet service providers in the country. They charge around USS$50 a month.
Film & Equipment. Mongolia is a very photogenic country. Major brands of print and even Polaroid film are available in shops in
Ulaanbaatar (but nowhere in the countryside), though prices tend to be high, and you should always check the expiry date.
Several places around Sukhbaatar Square will process print film cheaply, but the quality may not be great; it's best to wait until you get home.
Technical Tips. If you do a jeep trip on an unsurfaced road, you can expect plenty of dust, so keep the camera well sealed in a plastic bag. Keep your film out of the Gobi's summer sun and Mongolia's winter freeze, when your automatic cameras and batteries may not work properly. Bring a spare camera battery, as these can stop working because of the cold, even in summer.
Restrictions. Photography is prohibited inside monasteries and temples, although you may photograph the exterior building and the monastery grounds. Also you can sometimes obtain special permission to take photographs in exchange for an extra fee. In most museums it is the best to
have a look first before you decide whether to fork out the extra tugrik for photographs.
Remember that monks and nomads are not photographic models, so if they do not want to be photographed, their wishes should be respected. Always ask before taking a photograph.
Be careful about photographing potentially sensitive areas, especially border crossings and military establishments.
Photographing People. Mongolians are not especially enthusiastic about having their photos taken. The days of state surveillance are a recent memory, and some Mongolians are ashamed of the shabbiness they and the whole country have been reduced to. Many westerners don't seem to care what the locals think, and poke camera lenses into the face of whoever looks interesting. This has led to arguments and even fist fights.
On the other hand, people in the country-side are often happy to pose for photographs if you ask first. If you have promised to send them a copy, please do it, but explain that it may take several months to reach them - some nomads believe that all cameras are (instant)
Polaroids. If you promise
to send them pictures please fulfill this promise and don't disillusion the nomads.
Ask them to write their address in Mongolian on a piece of paper. You can then glue the address on an envelope, and add the word 'Mongolia'
in the roman alphabet to ensure that it gets to the right place.
Mongolia is divided into two time zones: the three western aimags of Bayan-Olgii, Uvs and Khovd are one hour behind
Ulaanbaatar, while the rest of the country follows Ulaanbaatar's time. The standard time in
Ulaanbaatar is UTC/GMT plus eight hours.
Electric power is 220V, 50Hz. Thanks to Russian influence, the sockets are designed to accommodate two round prongs in the European style.
Mongolia follows the international metric system. As in the USA, the ground floor is called the 1st floor - as opposed to the UK system, where the next floor above ground level is the 1st floor.
Vaccinations against yellow fever (Hepatitis), polio, cholera, tyhoid fever are advised. Travellers should bring their own medical supplies for any personal needs and a basic medical kit. You
should think that there is no perfect medical care in the countryside.
While the potential dangers can seem quite frightening, in reality few travelers to Mongolia experience anything more than an upset stomach.
There are no special dress codes, though you should avoid wearing revealing clothes in the countryside, even on hot
summer days. In Ulaanbaatar on the other hand, Mongolian women dress in
contemporary Western style fashions, so you may dress quite freely whilst there.
Warm clothes will be needed for any time of the year: even summer evenings can be chilly. If you are only
traveling in the height of summer you don't need a down jacket - a rain shell will do. A long-sleeved shirt is useful against the sun and bugs. A good wide-brimmed hat to protect you from the sun is essential.
From September to June (inclusive) you'll also need a down coat and a fleece or jumper (sweater) - it's surprising how cold it gets when the sun goes down and the wind picks up. A woolen or fleece hat takes up little space and makes a considerable
difference, as most heat loss occurs through your head.
In winter bring the warmest clothes you have, including thermal underwear, ski mask, mittens, scarf and thermal boots.
|Do's and Don'ts
Whenever you approach a nomadic family, or enter a ger, you will, without knowing, break one or several of the many traditional, religious and superstitious customs. If you do
become confused, don't panic, minor indiscretions will be tolerated and forgiven. The following do's and don'ts will help minimize cultural differences.
- Say hello (sain bainuul) when you arrive (but repeating it again when you
see the same person is considered strange to Mongolians)
- Take at least a sip, or a nibble, of the delicacies offered
- Keep your sleeves rolled down, if you have any (or pretend to, if you have
short sleeves); try not to expose your wrists
- Accept food and drink with your right hand (or with both if the dish or cup is
heavy), with the left hand supporting the right elbow
- Pick up everything with an open hand, with your palm facing upwards
- Hold a cup by the bottom, and not by the top rim
- Sleep with your feet pointing towards the door
- Leave weapons outside
- Lean against a support column
- Whistle inside a ger
- Stand on, or lean over, the threshold
- Stamp out a fire, or put water or any rubbish on it (fire is sacred to
- Walk in front of an older person; or turn your back to the altar, or religious
objects (except when leaving)
- Take food from a communal plate with your left hand
- Touch other people's hats
- Have a long conversation in your own language in front of your hosts
- Don't write anything in red pen
- Don't point a knife in any way at anyone; pass a knife handle first; use the
knife to cut towards you, not away
- Don't spill any milk
- When offered some vodka, dip your ring finger of your right hand into the
glass, and lightly flick a drop (not too much - vodka is also sacred!) once
towards the sky, once in
the air 'to the wind', and once to ground. If you
don't want any vodka, go through the customs anyway, put the same finger
to your forehead, say thanks, and return the glass to the table.
- Don't point your feet at the hearth, the altar or at another person
- Don't walk over an uurga, a lasso on a pole. If you have stepped on
anyone, or kicked their feet, immediately
shake their hand.