Within a month of our travel between July 20 and August 16, 2018, we visited just a small portion of Mongolia. Mainly central part with trips to the north (Lake Khövsgöl) and south (Gobi Desert). But it still means an incredible amount of hours and days spent in buses, vans, and trains.
Mongolia itself is an amazing country that will take your heart. You could barely find any other with so diverse countryside counting from sky-high mountains, vast green plains, and endless desert. There are so few people, so many horses, and no fences.
Where we’ve been:
You don’t need an image editor for your fancy pictures since the reality is truly picture perfect (but we used one 🙂 ). Green is super green, blue is super blue and a horse, yak or camel are always close by, waiting to smile into the camera. Needless to write details here, you can check our articles.
Still, this country belongs to everyone. Apart from villages and cities, you won’t see any fence. It’s possible to walk, ride and sleep practically anywhere. You’ll feel free like nowhere else.
Natural beauty cost nothing, usually. There are certain exceptions with a booth at the entrance to natural park if you access it by road. However many times the booth was empty and the charge is symbolic anyway. Temples, museums, etc. charge reasonable entrance fees.
It is difficult to describe Mongolian people. They can be very reserved and hardly smiling back to foreigners or even each other. Similar to people in Russia or even Eastern Europe (where we are from). Is that Communist era heritage? On the other hand, they will always help you if you need it (advice, share some food, give you a lift). And important is that they will not try to cheat you, charge special tourist rates etc. But use common sense and avoid taxi drivers at a bus or a train station in UB. Truly experience is to stay or visit a nomadic family or at least a family still living in a ger in the countryside. People are also proud of their country and nature and really take care of it. You will hardly see any trash in the countryside. Even villages and cities that sometimes looks run down and have no paved roads are clean and mostly trash-free.
There is a different perspective for a time. It does not have the same value as we are used to. Take it as an advantage and try to relax. Otherwise, you may get crazy 🙂
Roads are bad (in case there is a road) but luckily big buses and trains are usually comfortable. Regarding vans and taxis, you get what you pay for. Vans and small buses go once they are full, which may take even hours. Main buses and trains leave (somehow) on time. If you have your own car or taking a tour to tourist sites, count with no proper roads at all and few kilometers can easily take an hour(s). Multiply the time in a bad weather. Many places may not be accessible at all due to rain or snow.
Local cuisine is European or Russian style. In theory, there should not be any problem with that despite the fact that variety is low. The problem is called mutton. This kind of meat you can find in practically every Mongolian dish. Sometimes it makes the meal almost uneatable. A purely vegetable dish is rare to be found. Definitely not a foodie destination.
You’ll find three categories of toilets. In cities, there are European style ones that are usually clean and works well. In villages and camps, they have usually pit toilets with Asian style seating. Public ones can be truly in bad condition (I’m trying to be polite). The third category can be found in the countryside and also by roads and means no toilets at all. You can’t hide behind anything when doing your need, a significant part of the county is just flat plain with no trees. The bus sometimes stops in the middle of nowhere. Ladies, take a blanket to cover yourself.
Mongolian people are usually shy and not open at the beginning. So be cautious if it’s vice versa. Our experience is that those people may be drunk. It rarely means a danger. On the other hand, drunk people may be at least annoying and is better to be prepared. We have encountered an incident in a public transport in UB with one obviously drunk guy who verbally insulted us but one lady told him to shut up.
It is like everywhere where English is not common and the language is too far from any European origin language. We have some Russian basics but surprisingly not many people understand Russian. At least they don’t use original Mongolian characters but changed to Cyrillic alphabet which makes it readable for us (e.g. cities names, food). Mobile app translator is a great help.
Our costs for a month in Mongolia
The biggest part of costs in Mongolia is to get there. To minimize it we flew to Beijing and then took a train to UB.
Chinese visa: 72 USD pp
Mongolian visa: 72 USD pp
One way air ticket to Beijing: 360 USD pp
Train from Beijing to UB: 65 USD pp
Staying in Mongolia is not expensive at all, especially food and transport are cheap.
Long-distance bus (From UB to Moron, Dalanzadgad etc): around 30,000 MNT = 12 USD pp
Double room in hostel or hotel: 40,000 MNT = 16 USD per night = 8 USD pp
Bed in a ger (tent): 15,000 MNT = 6 USD pp including breakfast
Cheap meal in a bistro: 5,000 – 8,000 MNT = 2 – 3 USD pp
Meal in ordinary restaurant: 10,000 – 20,000 MNT = 4 – 8 USD pp
Entrance fees (Chinggis Khan memorial, temples in UB etc): 4,000 – 8,000 MNT = 2 – 4 USD pp
However, taking a tour to the main sightseeing points can be expensive. You can check the details in our article from Gobi desert but here is a high-level number what you can expect. A way to minimize the cost is to get more people and find a car with a driver (we heard it could be even below 100 USD, including driver and petrol, excluding food and accommodation).
Cheap tour: 40 – 60 USD per person per day (including car, gasoline, meal, and accommodation)
In total, without flight tickets, visas, insurance etc. we spent 700 USD per person for 28 days which is 25 USD per day. It sounds fair.