Mongolia Overview / Travel Information
Once the heartland of an empire stretching to Europe under Genghis Khan, Mongolia has a historical and cultural ancestry as colourful, rich and varied as the landscapes within it.
A country fiercely proud of its heritage and traditions, Mongolia is renowned for its nomadic culture, pastoral lifestyle, warm hospitality, and magnificent countryside. Inaccessibility and political isolation contributed to it’s status as a mythical far off land, but in recent years the transition to democracy has opened the country to the outside world, and discovery of untapped natural mineral resources has seen the country’s economy prosper. Mongolia today is a dichotomy of ancient and modern -and time will tell if the country can retain and nurture the positive qualities of both these attributes. In the meantime, it is our privilege to share the best of both with all our guests.
Getting to Mongolia
The number of flights and routes to Mongolia has increased significantly in recent years. The following cities have direct flights to Mongolia, and all are major international transit hubs providing connections to many countries. The flight frequency listed is based on summer schedule during June-Sep (winter schedules are often subject to reduced frequency).
Berlin - MIAT fly direct 3-4 times per week
Beijing - MIAT and Air China both fly direct daily
Hong Kong - MIAT & Mongolian Airlines both fly direct 3-4 times per week
Istanbul - Turkish Airlines fly 'direct' 3 times per week (refuelling en route!)
Moscow - Aeroflot fly direct daily; MIAT fly direct 3 times per week
Seoul - MIAT and Korean Airlines both fly direct daily
Shanghai - Mongolian Airlines fly direct 3 times per week
Tokyo - MIAT fly direct 3-4 times per week
One of the Trans-Siberian Railway routes runs from Moscow through to Beijing, passing through Mongolia. Trains No. 4 & 6 from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar depart on Tuesday and Wednesday at 21:35, arriving the following Monday and Tuesday at 06:30. 1st Class berth c.£540/$860; 2nd class berth c.£325/$520. Lower prices available in other direction. Stopovers en route also possible - Irkutsk (for Lake Baikal) is highly recommended, and there are daily onward trains from here to Ulaanbaatar.
The journey from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar takes just 30hrs. Train No.24 departs on Tuesday (switching to Saturday during the winter) at 07:40, arriving the following day at 13:20. 1st Class berth c.£280/$450; 2nd class berth c.£195/$310. Lower prices available in other direction. An extra train per week runs during the summer - Saturday or Monday - but the timetable is often not confirmed until May (ask us for details). Also, the Moscow-bound train No. 3 departs on Wednesday but it is almost impossible to get tickets just to Ulaanbaatar as they prioritise long-haul bookings.
Mongolia has recently relaxed its visa rules (as of June 25th 2014), exempting passport holders of a further 42 countries from visa requirements - albeit on a temporary basis. Passport holders of the below listed countries in italics may travel to Mongolia for tourist and/or business purposes without visa and stay up to 30 days, from 25 June 2014 to 31 December 2015. Any countries listed in bold are not bound by the timeline of this temporary visa waiver, as they have the visa waiver in place indefinitely (but these countries do have rules and regulations associated with length of visit etc., so please check before travel):
Andorra, Argentina, Austria, Bahamas, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Georgia, Gibraltar, Greece, Grenada, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macau, Malaysia, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Panama, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Singapore , Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, UK, Uruguay, USA.
For passport holders of countries not mentioned above, you must obtain a visa in advance of travel, except in exceptional circumstances where it may be possible to pre-arrange a visa on arrival. A Mongolian tourist visa is usually valid for a stay of up to 30 days within six months from the date of issue. It is your responsibility to ensure you have a valid visa to travel to Mongolia, if required, according to your nationality. This must be applied for in advance - usually at any country's Mongolian Embassy or Consulate (you can apply at any of them, whether you are a citizen or resident of the country in which you are applying or not).
The vast majority of Mongolia's official road network, some 40,000 km, are simple cross-country tracks. Around 5,000km are graded, gravel-covered or otherwise improved, but only c.3,500km are paved - although these latter two figures are increasing as the government is investing heavily increating better road links between the main provincial centres and the capital. In many ways, the network of pot-holed roads, gravel trails and dirt tracks are an integral part of what make the country so appealing for travellers. Driving here is not a sanitised asphalt chore indistinguishable from your daily lives back home, but a predominately off-road overland adventure through diverse landscapes rich with wildlife and nomadic culture.
Our vehicle of choice is the UAZ. Fun, functional & practical, most of our guests fall in love with these indomitable vehicles and our fantastic team of drivers. With a high wheel base, large surround windows, ample luggage space, the flexible sociable layout comfortably seats 4-5 guests plus guide and driver. Quite simply, these beasts of the east were born for the wilds of Mongolia.
If your priority is comfort & air-con, and are prepared to pay a bit extra, then the Landcruiser is an alternative option. These vehicles are ideal if you're travelling as a couple or as a smaller group looking for 2 or more cars to provide flexibility and privacy.
At Goyo Travel we recognise the need to balance the time it takes to drive anywhere with the time that you have available in Mongolia, and the need to experience, do and see. Unlike many companies, we do not advocate rattling along in a vehicle for 7 hours every day just to tick off points on the map from behind a car window. On our journeys, any necessary long drives are offset by photo stops, picnic lunches, roadside pitstops, tea/coffee breaks, and of course seeing points of interest, leg-stretching walks, dropping in on nomadic families, popping into villages and markets.
Consecutive days of long drives are rare - we prefer to stagger trips so that guests can enjoy and explore special areas where you really benefit from staying 2 or more nights, especially if you're staying at one of our favourite ger camps, homestays or camping spots.
The vast majority of the country is not served by any railway system. The main line carves a path from the Russian border at Sukhbaatar in the North to the Chinese border at Zamyn Ud in the south - a length of 1110 km. This is used for domestic and international freight and passenger transport, with an additional spur to the country's 3rd city of Erdenet.
Although slow and of limited use for tourism purposes, a ride on the soviet-style railway is a characterful and enjoyable experience. We recommend and arrange tickets for the route from Irkutsk or Beijing to Ulaanbaatar, and also forays within the country - from Ulaanbaatar to Erdenet, for example.
There are 3 companies who operate domestic flights in Mongolia. Our preferred airlines are EZNIS and Mongolian Airlines.
Domestic flights are operated using Fokker 50, Saab 340, Airbus 319, Avro RJ85 and Bombardier Q400 aircraft. The flights carry between 25-120pax depending on the type of aircraft and route flown.
There are twice or thrice daily flights to the most popular provincial destinations of Dalanzadgad (for Gobi Desert) and Muron (for Lake Khovsgol).
Khalkh Mongolian is the official language and is spoken by 90 percent of the population. Minor languages include Kazakh, Russian, and Chinese. Khalkh Mongolian is part of the diverse Uralic-Altaic language family, which spread with the ancient Mongol Empire and also contains Korean, Manchu, Turkish, Finnish, and Hungarian.
Each of these languages features a highly inflected grammar. Khalkha Mongolian may be written in traditional Uighur (vertical) or Cyrillic script.
From the warmth of countryside hospitality, and the novelty of sleeping in a traditional ger, to the laid-back character of the capital's service culture, the accommodation Mongolia has to offer is diverse. Enjoy the relative luxury of lodge-style countryside retreats and Ulaanbaatar's modern hotels, plus homely and endearing rural ger camps, and other more rustic options - including homestays and camping.
Outside of the capital, you will spend some - or pehaps all - of your nights at ger camps. These are locally-run enterprises set in rural locations near areas of cultural, historical or geographical interest. A ger camp typically comprises 20-30 gers, each with 2-4 beds and a traditional wood-burning stove. Separate male & female bathroom blocks with western-style facilities are located a short distance away, as well as a communal larger dining ger or lodge where meals are served. Gers provide an authentic and memorable taste of Mongolian culture and allow you to visit areas that otherwise lack traveler accommodations. Most visitors find their stays at ger camps to be among their most enjoyable experiences in Mongolia.
Further details on accommodation specific to a particular trip can be found on our detailed itineraries, and information about facilities at ger camps etc. is in our Mongolia Travel Advice document, which is provided to prospective guests in advance of their trip.
Food & Drink
Approximately 25 million head of livestock supply the staples of the Mongolian diet - meat and dairy products. Mongolian cooking is generally very simple and does not use many spices, flavorings or sauces. Common dishes include steamed meat–filled dumplings (buuz), stir-fried noodles with meat (tsuivan), mutton soup with noodles (guriltai shul) and fried meat pasties (huushuur). Mongolians drink copious quantities of milk tea (suutei tsai), which frequently contains salt and sometimes butter.
Visitors to Mongolia can expect a wide variety of food to be available during their stay - Ulaanbaatar has many good local and international restaurants. In the countryside, local delicacies can be sampled when visiting local nomadic families or at roadside cafes, whilst at ger camps Mongolian, Russian and Chinese dishes are served often with western influences and less fat to suit most foreign palates. Fruit and fresh vegetables are also much more widely available nowadays, and provided on all countryside trips.