When you hear Mongolia you imagine the Gobi desert, animals roaming in the wilderness, nomads living in yurts (or gers), traditional throat singing, eagle hunting and hot milk tea.
This is a true depiction of Mongolia. Mongolia is one of those countries that you can manage to see the entire country in just three weeks. But if you are time constraint like me and only have a week to 10 days, then you can create a short itinerary that still allows you to experience just the highlights of Mongolia. Here is what you are able to achieve in a week time in Mongolia.
- Stay in a hostel like Idre Tour & hostel in the center of Ulan Bator and have the staff recommend and arrange tours that fits your schedule.
- Spend a couple of days with a Mongolian nomadic family in a Ger. See how they live. Eat cheese and drink tea made from goat.
- Take a horse ride in Bayanzag area and be awe inspired by the flaming cliffs that surrounds you.
- Star gaze in the middle of a – no light pollution- desert and witness the length and breath of the milky way galaxy.
- Go for a camel ride in Khongor sand dunes.
- Visit the ancient capital of Mongolia in Kharakorum (now it is called Kharkorin) and check out the UNESCO listed Erdene Zuu monastery.
- Listen to a performance of a typical throat singing and bowed string instruments when you are in Kharakorum.
- Finally spend a day in the capital city, Ulan bataar to check out the Bogd Khan national monument and the live performance at the National Academic Drama theater.
- As a bonus if you still have time left in your itinerary and assuming you like nature I highly recommend taking a day trip in Bogd Khan National park and Chinggis Khan statue complex. It is about an hour car ride from Ulan Bataar.
Mongolia is still unscathed by economic modernism. You can witness this when you take a road trip from the capital city Ulan Bator to the south of Mongolia There are places in the country where you can still witness yaks grazing grass, horses galloping the fields, wild dogs chasing motorbikes, camels waiting to take tourists, eagle hunters preparing for festivals.
Staying in a Ger allows you to see how the nomadic tribes – that dates all the way back to the great Mongol king (Genghis khan and his decedents) – once lived in a harsh environment where there were limited access to resources. All they had was horses, sheeps, and some basic hunting tools. They had to constantly move to search for water and grass for their herds. This was the main the reason why they left their nomadic land and went on conquering rest of Asia and Eastern Europe.
Even today, an estimated 40% of the population live as nomadic herders. But when I spoke to a few locals during my time in Mongolia I was told many of them are leaving their homes and moving to the capital city Ulaan Bataar to search for jobs. In fact the host family of my Ger sent their oldest daughter to a school in the capital city. It seemed they don’t want the same lifestyle for their children. Most of them never return after graduation and stay in the big city and find employment in the services sector or leave Mongolia. If this trend continues to grow I predict that the nomadic lifestyle will become a distant memory in a decade or so.
The statue of Bogd Khan in the center of the museum building in the center of Ulaan Bataar is to recognize the important role Bogd Khan played in Mongolian history. He was the first monarch of Mongolia after it gained independence from the Qing dynasty in China in 1911. If you have time I recommend you to visit the museum to learn about the history of Mongolia. The area surrounding the museum is beautiful at night time.
Another way to learn the history is to attend a traditional singing and dance performance at the National academic Drama theater in the center of Ulaan Bataar.
Mongolian tour packages start anywhere from $200 for a 3 day tour (Private tour) to $1000 for a 1 month (group tour) depending on your schedule. The tours typically include food, accommodation and transportation. I did the 4 day private tour where I stayed 3 nights with a nomad family in the middle of Bayanzag area and 1 night in Kharkorin (or formerly Kharakhorum). The whole journey was filled with adventure and new experiences. Don’t expect your Mongolian hosts to speak any English so the only option is to rely on sign language.
Kharkorin was once the capital of Mongolia until the great king of Kublai khan resettled the capital to Beijing (during the expansion of Mongol empire eastwards and beyond). Today there is not much to see in the city except this nice monastery Erdene Zuu situated just outside the center.