Mongolia

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Introduction to Mongolia

The name 'Mongolia' has always stirred up visions of the untamed - Genghis Khan, camels wandering the Gobi Desert and wild horses galloping across the steppes. Even today, outside of Ulaan Baatar you may get the feeling you've stepped into another century rather than another country.

Mongolia, the 'Land of Blue Sky', is a remarkable country of spectacular light and traditional culture. It is an invigorating and exhilarating place to visit, and remains one of the last unspoiled travel destinations in Asia.

Mongolia occupies a special place in the minds of many dreamers. The vast landscapes, nomadic horsemen and the evocative legends of the Mongol horde have enticed wayfarers here for the past 800 years. After several decades of isolation, the fall of communism, a vigorous new democracy and a healthy free-market economy have paved the way for intrepid travellers to follow in the steps of famed dinosaur hunter Roy Chapman Andrews, who visited in the 1920s.

Full country name: Mongolia

Area: 1.56 million sq km

Population: 2.6 million

People: Khalkh Mongols (86%), Kazaks (2%), Chinese (2%), Russian (2%), about a dozen other ethnic groups

Language: Mongolian, Russian, Chinese

Religion: Tibetan Buddhism, Muslim, Shamanism

Government: parliamentary

GDP: US$1 billion

GDP per capita: US$390

Annual Growth: 3.5%

Inflation: 44%

Major Industries: Copper, livestock, cashmere, wool

Major Trading Partners: Russia, China, Japan, US

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Traveler Facts

Visas: Entry and exit visas are required of all nationalities, as is a valid passport. No visa is required for Americans visiting for fewer than 90 days. Visitors planning to stay in Mongolia for more than 30 days are required to register with the Immigration, Naturalization and Foreign Citizens Agency in Ulaanbaatar during their first week of arrival. Visitors who fail to register and who stay longer than 30 days may be stopped at departure, denied exit, and fined. Entry and exit visas may be obtained at the airport at a cost of around 50.00 and must be accompanied by an invitation or sponsorship from a Mongolian company, a resident foreigner, or an organised tour company. Some consulates and embassies interpret the regulations more liberally than others, but all visitors must be registered after arrival and checked out of the registry upon departure.To check current regulations, try the web site of the Ministry of External Relations at www.extmin.mn.

Health risks: cholera, meningococcal meningitis

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +8, GMT/UTC +7 (in the western provinces of Bayan-Ölgii, Uvs and Khovd)

Dialling Code: 976

Electricity: 230V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric



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Events

The biggest event of the year is the Naadam Festival, known as the eriyn gurvan naadam, after the three 'manly sports' of wrestling, archery and horse racing. The festival is held all over the country, normally between 11 and 13 July, the anniversary of the 1921 Mongolian Revolution. The major events take place during the first two days. Tsagaan Sar (White Month) is the start of the lunar new year in January or February. After months of enduring a bitter winter, Mongolians celebrate over three days with a lot of food, liquor and singing.

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Best time to Visit

The travel season is typically from May to early October, though Ulaan Baatar can be visited any time of year if you can tolerate the bitter cold. Early July has the best weather for the northern part of the country and is also the time to celebrate Mongolia's Naadam Festival. Be aware, though, that this is also when Ulaan Baatar's inadequate accommodation and creaky transport is stretched to the breaking point. June and September are both pleasant times to visit, and attract fewer visitors. The best months to visit the Gobi Desert and not get toasted are September and October. Be aware that between mid-October and mid-May sudden snowstorms and extreme cold can ground flights, block roads and cause the country's transport system to stall.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Tugrik

Meals

Budget: Tug3500-6000

Mid-range: Tug6000-12,000

High: Tug12,000-24,000

Deluxe: Tug24,000+

Lodging

Budget: 6000-12,000

Mid-range: 12,000-24,000

High: 24,000-100,000

Deluxe: 100,000+

If you're travelling on an organised tour you'll probably spend about US$100 a day. You can travel independently, see the same sights and stay in the same places for about US$80 a day - a lot less if you share the cost of a private jeep and camp rather than stay in pricier gers (tents). Accommodation and food will cost at least US$10 a day in Ulaan Baatar, but you're better off budgeting closer to double that. In the countryside, allow about US$15 per day if you're using public transport and staying in hotels; if you take a tent and camp, you'll spend closer to US$7 per day.

Bring US dollar travellers' cheques and have some US dollars in cash. Credit cards are handy at some hotels and at airline offices in Ulaan Baatar, but you won't be able to buy anything on credit outside the capital. For some unknown reason, US dollars dated before 1988 are unacceptable.

There's supposedly a mandatory 10% 'government' tax levied in Ulaan Baatar's posher restaurants and hotels, but most places either don't bother adding it onto the bill or haven't heard of the tax. Tipping is appreciated in upmarket restaurants. Bargaining is catching on in the public markets, but be prepared to pay more than Mongolians.

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Attractions

Ulaan Baatar

Often called UB, Mongolia's sleepy capital has the look and feel of a neglected 1950s European city. The old Soviet cars are slowly being replaced by newer Japanese versions, but cows still wander the roads, and the traditionally dressed mingle on the streets with Mongolia's nouveaux riche.

Built along the Tuul river and surrounded by lovely mountains, Ulaan Baatar is dominated by communist style highrise apartment buildings, but many locals also live in the extended outer suburbs. The centre of the city is Sükhbaatar Square.

Four Holy Peaks

Considered holy, the four peaks surrounding Ulaan Bataar are the Tsetseegum, Chingeltei, Songino Khairkhan and Bayansurkh mountains and they correspond roughly to the 4 points on the compass. These peaks are popular for their hiking, forests, grasslands and stunning bird and animal life.

Tsetseegum Uul is easily the most magnificent. At 2260m (7400ft), it's the highest point in the Bogdkhan Uul range. The trip is only sensible from the beginning of June to the end of September and a permit is required, which you can get at the entrance gate to the Bogdkhan National Park.

Kharkhorin (Karakorum)

In 1220 Genghis Khan decided to build the capital city of his vast Mongolian empire at Karakorum. Building was completed by his son, Ogedai Khan, after Genghis' death, but Karakorum served as the capital for only 40 years before Kublai Khan moved it to what is now Beijing.

Following the move, and the subsequent collapse of the Mongolian empire, Karakorum was abandoned and later destroyed by hordes of Manchurian soldiers. Whatever was left was used to help build the Erdene Zuu monastery in the 16th century, which itself was badly destroyed during the Stalinist purges.

Khustain Nuruu Nature Reserve

The Khustain Nuruu Nature Reserve was established in 1993 to preserve Mongolia's wild takhi horses and the steppe environment in which they live. The takhi is probably the most recognised and successful symbol of Mongolia's diverse and unique wildlife.

Also known as Przewalski's horse (named after the Pole who first took an interest in them), the takhi used to roam the countryside in great herds. In the 1960s they almost became extinct because poachers killed them for meat, and because development and livestock overgrazing reduced their fodder.

Khövsgöl Nuur

Try to imagine a 2760 sq km (1080 sq mi) alpine lake, with water so pure you can drink it. Then add dozens of 2000m (6560ft) mountains, thick pine forests and lush meadows with grazing yaks and horses, and you have a vague impression of Khövsgöl Nuur, Mongolia's scenic heartstopper.

This is the deepest lake in Central Asia. Situated along the border with Russia, the lake is sacred to local Mongolians, who refer to it as 'mother'. It's full of fish and the area is home to sheep, ibex, bear and moose, as well as over 200 species of birds.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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