Things to see and do
I'd say the one attraction of Mongolia is Mongolia itself. Just to visit the vast, undeveloped landscape. We just visited a small part of Mongolia, but most if it looked quite similar. The towns were nearly indistinguishable from each other, apart from the presence or absence of certain basic services such as electricity or water. So just find a spot and spend some time there. Hike, camp out, and enjoy the outdoors.
My first choice would be Lake Khovsgol. It's a beautiful lake, with mountains all around it, and lots of ger camps to choose from. From the north end of the ger camps you could hike further north and enjoy some nice solitude. Second choice would be a larger town such as Tsetserleg. You could easily find a spot not too far from town where you could set up camp. From there, you could hike in to town for food supplies every few days. Camping is pretty much permissible everywhere - although be careful about setting up in a pasture that will be overrun with goats and sheep.
My next recommendation would be to avoid an organized tour. Sure it's simpler. But you're going to get dragged around for days on end, bouncing along across the rugged terrain of Mongolia. Which is fine for a couple of days. But it soon gets tiring. If you have the money, fly. If you don't have the money, hop on a bus and bear the agony. But not spend too much time traveling from place to place. The best times we had were spent in staying in one place, not riding around the countryside (as nice as it looks).
And finally, don't forget to take in the night sky. When the moon is down you can see millions and millions of stars. And it doesn't take much looking to spot a falling star or two.
Pack like you would for a camping trip. Light, light, light. Especially if you plan on doing some hiking or camping. There's a lot of walking to be done in Mongolia, and you don't want to be over loaded. And with the dry heat, your clothes won't stink too bad - or at least they'll dry out quickly after a quick hand wash. Bring a flashlight as well. Gers rarely have electricity, and even some towns don't seem to have any current passing through their wires. If you forget a flashlight, the lighters they sell include a small pen light. Sunscreen, insect repellent, first aid supplies, moisturizing cream (it is very dry there) and things like that will come in handy as well.
Also, pack some warm clothes. In the middle of August we were regularly wearing our light jackets and were still chilly at times.
A sleeping bag is a must, as it can get quite chilly at night. The gers usually have a wood burning stove in them, but the fire will eventually die out. And most hotels don't seem to be equipped with heat. Or at least they're not apt to turn it on in the "summer."
A light tent would also be a good idea, if you're inclined to camping. There are a lot of ger camps, but there's also a lot of wide open landscape to explore. Being able to throw down a tent would be useful.
I have listed most prices in Tugrik (T). At the time we went the Tugrik was 1150 to the US dollar. Here, I'll give the run down in dollars.
For three weeks, our expenses were between $40-45 per person per day. That includes everything from arrival to departure. Accommodations usually ran between $5-$10 per person a night. Transportation accounted for some big expenditures, sometimes $15-20 per day. Meals in Mongolian restaurants usually cost around $2. Food in Ulaan Bataar was considerably more expensive. We were going to the top of the line restaurants in town and paying $10-15 a meal. The rest was for snacks, water, beer, and souvenirs. Cut out some of the traveling, the expensive food and drink, and you could probably get by on $20-25 a day. Traveling solo will be a bit more expensive though.
One important thing to remember is negotiation. Almost all prices are negotiable. Taxi and van drivers will try to over charge you, so ask around what the local price is first. Hotel rooms can also be negotiated at times. In Ulaan Bataar we were able to get a $40 a night room down to 30,000T a night.
They speak Mongolian, of course. Most signs, especially outside of Ulaan Bataar, are written in Cyrillic. It would be very useful to learn some Cyrillic before you go. At the very lest, you'll want to be able to recognize certain words and read the destination signs on buses and vans. Be careful with some of the pronunciations though. For example X is usually romanized as 'kh' when in fact it is more of a guttural 'h' sound. Which is why places like Khovsgol are often written as Hovsgol.
A few examples of place names:
Улаанбаатар = Ulan Bator, or Ulaanbaatar
Хөвсгөл нуур = Lake Khövsgöl or Lake Hovsgol
Хатгал = Khatgal or Hatgal
Хархорин = Kharkhorin or sometimes Karakorum, which is the nearby ancient capital
If you bring a notebook and a marker you can ask people to write the town names in large letters. This comes in handy when trying to find a ride.
Sunday, August 31, 2008
Things to see and do