Mongolia

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Mongolia, known as Mongol uls (Монгол улс) in Mongolian, is a landlocked country located between China and Russia. It's a vast emptiness that links land and sky, and is one of the last few places on the planet where nomadic life is still a living tradition. Mongolia may have geopolitical, cultural and geographical meanings. Modern day Mongolia consists of what was historically Outer Mongolia (the province of Inner Mongolia is politically separate and is located in the northern part of China, sharing common borders with modern day Mongolia. (less...) (more...)

Population: 3,226,516 people
Area: 1,564,116 km2
Highest point: 4,374 m
Coastline: 0 km
Life expectancy: 68.95 years
GDP per capita: $5,500
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About Mongolia

History

The recorded history of ancient Mongolia dates back to the third century BC when the Xiongnu came to power among many other nomadic tribes.

Due to illiteracy and nomadic lifestyle, little was recorded by the Huns of themselves. They first appear in recorded Chinese history as "Barbarians" against whom the walls were built. Those walls later became known as the Great Wall of China.

There have been several Empires in Mongolia after the Hun Nu. For example, the A Tureg Empire around 650 AD, with its capital approximately 110 km north of Har Horin (Kharkhorum). There was also the Uighur Empire, with its capital Har Bulgas (Khar Bulgas or Xar Bulgas) near Har Horin. The Khitans who controlled North China around 1000 AD as the Liao Dynasty had an administrative centre (Har Bukh) 120 km to the northeast. The Government of Turkey has been promoting some Turkish Empire monuments and there is a museum full of artifacts at the Bilge Khaan site.

The struggle for mere existence and power over other tribes kept going until the time of Genghis Khan. Chinggis Khan, as he is known in Mongolia, came to power and united the warring tribes under the Great Mongol Empire in 1206. He was proclaimed Genghis Khan (Chingis Haan), meaning ruler of all Mongol tribes. The Mongolian Empire was extended all the way to eastern Europe under Genghis Khan. His grandson, Kublai Khan, subsequently conquered much of China, to establish the Yuan Dynasty. Marco Polo travelled through much of the Mongol Empire in Kublai Khan's time. The Mongols were, however, driven back to the steppes by the Chinese Ming Dynasty under Emperor Hongwu. They were later conquered by the Manchurian-Chinese Emperors Kangxi and Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty.

An independent Mongol nation would only emerge again in 1924 but was not recognised by China until 1945, as the Chinese were forced to grant independence to Outer Mongolia by the Soviet Union, in exchange for Soviet assistance in fighting the Japanese invasion. Thus, the historic region of Mongolia was split into two, with Outer Mongolia becoming the independent nation of Mongolia, while Inner Mongolia remained a province of China. Since that time, Mongolia has had a close relationship with the Soviet Union (and Russia after the breakup of the Soviet Union). Mongolia even replaced its traditional script with the Cyrillic alphabet. (The traditional script, however, continues to be used by ethnic Mongols in China). As Inner Mongolia was the more populated area before the partition, to this day the number of ethnic Mongols living in China outnumbers the population of Mongolia.

Following independence, the Soviet Union installed a communist government in Mongolia. Follwing the fall of communism in Europe, Mongolia enacted democratic reforms, which resulted in the first democratic multiparty elections in 1990. The democratic reforms eventually culminated with the first peaceful transfer of power in 1996, when the incumbent Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party lost the elections, and handed over to the victorious Democratic Union.

The Secret History of the Mongols is one of the great recordings of Mongolian history. Every Mongolian reads the book in the modern Mongolian language. This is one of the oldest books in the Mongolian language. There are vivid similarities with the Bible in literary style, wording and story telling. It is speculated that the author could have been a Christian or at least was very knowledgeable about the Bible. According to Hugh Kemp, Qadag is the most likely candidate for authorship of Secret History of the Mongols. He writes about the history of ancient Mongolia and connects the modern reality with the ancient world. Even though the book is about the history of Christianity in Mongolia, it paints a view of ancient Mongolia from the height of 21st century. The "History of Mongolia" by B. Baabar is a good source for the Modern History of Mongolia.

On the trail of Marco Polo covers some travel through the Mongol Empire in the time of Genghis' grandson, Kublai Khan.

Climate

The ideal Mongolia travel season starts in May and hits its highest peak in July, during the Naadam holiday, and in August when the weather is most favourable for travelling. This is the best time if you like the culture and can bear the crowds of other tourists. It is not a good time if you want to get away from your busy lifestyle because you will experience traffic, busy schedules, waiting in lines, etc.

September is also a very good time to visit, and October is not too late to travel to Mongolia. It is still warm during the days but a bit chilly during the nights. In the autumn, Mongolia is not very crowded, and this is time for late-comers and last-minute, unplanned trips. You will get to sightsee, enjoy the culture, and taste mare's milk, a bitter and at first somewhat unpleasant drink, throughout the country.

For visitors not afraid of cold or fermented mare's milk, travelling to Mongolia from November till the Lunar New Year is still an option. Winter tourism is a developing area of the Mongolian tourism industry.

The most rewarding experience will be visiting the nomads, as this is the time when you will experience their culture first-hand during "Tsagaan Sar" or the traditional (Lunar) New Year celebration.

Travellers will have the opportunity to watch lots of cultural activities: singing, dancing, wrestling, and winter horse racing.

Mongolia is known to have 250-260 sunny days throughout the year, so you will need good UV protection. During winter, protect your eyes, and during summer, protect your skin.

Activities

Experience the culture, have a meal or spend the night with a nomadic family. They are an authentic Mongolian experience. Whether you go just outside of the capital or fly to the far corners of the country, this is the most memorable part of any trip. There are some variations on the experience, depending on the tribal group.

The Trans-Siberian Railway passes through the country. Also follow the path of Marco Polo across Europe and Asia into Mongolia to visit the ancient capital of the Mongol Empire in Karakorum.

Mongolia is the least densely populated country in the world and has very little development of any kind outside of the capital and a few small towns. There often isn't even roads connecting these towns. This pristine setting means that Mongolia has wide open spaces for experiencing the outdoors for those who want adventure. Traveling across this vast country is often an adventure in itself with tourists and adventures alike going by car, motorcycle, bike, horse, camel, or foot. Most often this means camping on the shore of a river or with a nomadic family or in small roadside hotels in provincial towns. Along the way or on one of the many wild rivers and nature preserves, there is great fishing, particularly fly fishing during the summer. Climbing the mountains in the west are popular as well as photographing the wildlife, flora, or the multitude of birds living or migrating through Mongolia.

  • Mongolia Canoeing 976-99826883. River Tours, Canoe down some of Mongolia's major rivers
  • Visit Reindeer Herders (Tsaatan Community), Tsagaannuup, Khovsgol (West of Khovsgol lake, From Moron drive WNW, Past the Airport, Go to Ylaan Uul and continue north. High water can make the roads difficult.). Reindeer herders living in High Alpine mountains. Must ride horses or reindeer from Tsagaanuur. It can be a long hard ride.
  • Local Bonda Lake Camp in Khatgal village near Lake Khovsgol offers various nature and cultural featuring: fishing, hiking, winter tours, nomad visits, horse back riding, visiting reindeer herders and Darhad valley. Horse riding, you have chance discover Lake Khovsgol and its beautiful waters, meet Tsataan (nomadic reindeer herders) living in yurts in the north of Khovsgol area. This region is incredibly scenic, perched at 1645 m altitude in green mountains, covered with thick pine forests and lush meadows with grazing yaks and horses, and rich with wildlife: the lake has 9 species of fish and its surroundings are full of sheep, goats, elk and more than 430 species of birds. There are 5 different Mongolian tribes nearby: Khalh, Darhad, Buriad, Hotgoid, & Urianhai. The Camp has a hot shower, sauna, internet and a restaurant with Mongolian and European meals.
  • Mountain Climbing, All over Mongolia. Best to climb the highest peaks in July and August. While much of the country is rolling steppe, there are several mountain ranges. The Altai Mountains in the west have several peaks of over 13,000 ft up to 14,201 ft inside Altai Tavan Bogd National Park. The highest mountains have snow-capped peaks, glaciers, and require special equipment and experienced guides. Smaller mountains throughout the country can be hiked in an afternoon, including many surround the capital of Ulaanbaatar.

Winter Activities

  • Join Kazakh eagle hunters on a hunt, In Western Mongolia. During the cold winter months, the Kazakhs in western Mongolia use eagles to hunt for foxes and hares, which are easier to see against the snow. Freezing temperatures and long days on Mongolian horses discourage most people from attempting this adventure. For those that do, seeing an eagle released from a man's forearm swoop down and kill a fox a mile away is a truly unforgettable experience.
  • Skiing, Outside Ulaanbaatar and Western Mongolia. Snows from October to early May. There is one ski resort outside of Ulaanbaatar with a ski lift, equipment rentals, instructors, and all the other features of a ski resort. The lift may be slow, and the runs a bit hard, but it does provide good entertainment for those visiting UB during the long, cold winter months. For those more adventurous types, Western Mongolia's several large mountain ranges provide great back-country skiing. Spring months of April and May get the most snow and make the best skiing. Plan on joining a tour or lugging all your own equipment. There aren't any ski shops in the nearby villages.

Food

The main diet in rural Mongolia is mutton or sheep. Beef might also hit the menu occasionally. Here, about MNT2,000-4,000 will buy you a large platter heaped with fried noodles and slivers of mutton. On the side will be a large bottle of ketchup. A tasty and greasy dish served is khuushuur (huushoor), which is a fried dumpling stuffed with bits of mutton and onion. Three to four make a typical meal. Also, the ubiquitous buuz (booz) can be had at any canteen in town or the countryside. Buuz are similar to khuushuur in that they are big dumplings stuffed with mutton and onion, however they are steemed rather than fried. About 6 buuz cost MNT1,200-2,000 or USD1.00-1.60, and serves one.

The boodog or goat/marmot barbecue, is particularly worth experiencing. For about MNT15,000-20,000, a nomad will head out with his gun, shoot a marmot, and then cook it for you using hot stones in its skin without a pot. Along the same lines as boodog is khorkhog (made of mutton), which is prepared like so: build a fire; toss stones into fire until red hot; place water, hot stones, onions, potatoes, carrots, and, finally, mutton chops, into a large vacuum-sealed kettle; let the kettle simmer over a fire for 30-60 minutes; open kettle carefully, as the top will inevitably explode, sending hot juices flying everywhere; once the kettle is opened, and all injuries have been tended to, eat contents of kettle, including the salty broth. This cooking method makes mutton taste tender and juicy, like slow-roasted turkey. Ask your guide if he or she can arrange one (but only during summer).

The boodog is also made of other meat, usually goat, and is similar to the khorhog with one major difference: the meat, vegetables, water and stones are cooked inside the skin of the animal. They skin it very carefully, and then tie off the holes at the legs and back side, put the food and hot stones inside, tie off the throat, and let it cook for about 30 minutes.

Drinks

The national drink is called Airag. (It is available in for example in traditional Mongolian "ger" tents in Ulan Bator at the main entrance of Gandantegchinlen Monastery, GPS decimal coordinates N47.92069 E106.89467 for MNT1,500 and a the West Market N47.91118 E106.83569 for MNT1000 per bowl as of September 2010) This is a summer seasonal drink made from fermented mare's milk, and is certainly an acquired taste. The alcohol content is less than that of beer, but can have noticeable effects. Be careful, if you aren't accustomed to drinking sour milk products the first time might give you diarrhea as your stomach gets accustomed to it. This should only happen the first time though. Once you've completed the ritual, your digestive system shouldn't complain again. There are numerous ways to describe the taste, from bile-like to a mixture of lemonade and sour cream. The texture can also be offsetting to some people since it can be slightly gritty. It is worth keeping in mind that Airag is milk and a source of nutrients. After a day of riding it can actually be quite refreshing, once acquiring a taste for it.

The first thing you will be served every time you visit a ger will be milk tea, which is essentially a cup of boiled milk and water, sometimes with a couple pieces of tea leaf thrown in for good measure. You might want to build up your tolerance by drinking lots of milk in preparation for your stay because they don't drink much else, except perhaps boiled water if you specially request it during a longer stay. Also, most traditional nomadic foods such as dried yogurt and the like require acclimatization to milk as well. Cold drinks don't actually exist in the countryside (unless you intend to drink straight out of a river, generally not recommended).

If you are in Mongolia especially in the country side try their National Home Made Vodka. It's usually made from distilled yogurt or milk. It doesn't have any weird taste. After you have your first shot of the vodka you won't feel anything, but few minutes later it will get to your head. Most people in Mongolia usually drink this for medical reasons. First you heat up the vodka then put in a little bit of special oil which is also made from milk. Careful don't overheat it, you might get blind. Mongolians call their national vodka nermel areehk ("distilled vodka") or changa yum ("tight stuff"). There are lots of Russian type Vodkas sold all over the country. The best ones are Chinggis Khaan vodka, Soyombo and Golden Chinggis.

In Ulaanbaataar you can find most of Western beers, from Miller to Heineken. They sell Budweiser -- not American Bud but the Czech Budweiser. Local beer, such as Chingiss, Gem Grand, Borgio or Sengur is fine.

Shopping

  • Mongolian cashmere is known as the best in the world, so consider buying garments and blankets from one of the many stores that sell cashmere products.
  • Mongolia is famous for its copper mines Erdenet and Oyu Tolgoi. A copper bookmark mightmake an ideal souvenir and you can easily find this USD1 metal souvenir in Ulaanbaatar souvenir shops.
  • Kazakh Embroideries made in Ölgii using traditional Kazakh designs are sold in many gift shops in Ulaanbaatar.
  • Paintings by local artists are excellent buys in Mongolia.
  • You can find felt poker-work in Erdenet.
  • It is illegal to take antiques out of the country without a special permit.
  • The huge open-air market, Narantuul ("The Black Market") in Ulaanbaatar offers the lowest prices on just about anything you could want. Be very careful of the many pickpockets and even attackers there. This can be a great place to get a good pair of riding boots. You can opt for a variety of Mongolian styles, from fancy to the more practical, or even get a good set of Russian style boots.
  • In Erdenet is an ISO 9 001 certified carpet factory, making and selling also slippers made in carpet.

Currency

The Mongolian currency is the tögrög or tugrik or tôgrôg or tugrug or togrog (Mongol: төгрөг, sign: ₮), ISO 4217international currency code: MNT. You may also see the notation "tg" or "T".

Banknote denominations in circulation are MNT1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, 1,000, 5,000, 10,000 and 20,000

In September 2013, approximate exchange rates were:

This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Mongolia on Wikivoyage.

Cities in Mongolia

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Ulaanbaatar , also Ulan Bator or simply just UB, is the capital and, with a population of around 1,200,000, also the largest city in Mongolia. In fact, according to recent estimates, this means approximately 41% of the country lives here. It is located just east of the center of the country.

Interesting places:

  • Chinggis Khaan Square
  • Mongolian Parliament Building
  • National Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet of Mongolia
  • Choijin Lama Monastery
  • Natural History Museum
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Gorkhi-Terelj National Park (Горхи-Тэрэлж) is in Tuv of Mongolia, only 55 km outside of Ulaanbaatar.

Interesting places:

  • Gorkhi-Terelj National Park
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Points of Interest in Mongolia

Mongolia is a big country that has been beyond the reach of travelers and the normal trappings of civilization until very recently. Even today it can be difficult to travel between the few places that 'exist'. There is not a whole lot of noteworthy architecture in the country. Except for the short-lived capital of the Mongol Empire at Karakorum, the descendents of Genghis Khan did not leave much evidence of their power inside their native homeland. Genghis Khan, who leveled cities from the Yellow Sea to the Caspian, was said to have only built one permanent building during his life, a warehouse to store his stupendous amount of loot.

Archeology

Though this structure no longer exists, the capital built by his son, Ogedei, does, as does countless artifacts that occupy the National Museum in Ulaanbaatar, and thousands stone monuments and drawings spread throughout the country, some dating back thousands of years. After the gradual disintegration of the Mongol Empire, large number of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries were built, providing the most visible signs of Mongolia's history. Today only a few still stand after Stalinist religious purges. Of particular note is the Amarbaysgalant Monastery in Selenge, the Erdene Zuu Monastery in Karakorum, and Gandan Monastery in Ulaanbaatar, all active religious sites with large number of resident lamas. More recently during the communist era, the Russian helped establish large modern cities and modern industries, which aren't very pretty, but are of some interest, particularly the biggest open-pit copper mine in Asia at Erdenet.

Monasteries

Before the religious purges, Mongolia had around 750 monasteries and was a theocracy. Many were destroyed, while some were turned into museums by the communist to display Mongolian art or the opulence of the former religious leaders. Today the Choijin Lama Monastery and the Bogd Khan Winter Palace are preserved as museums for the art of the Lamas and the toys of the former king. Other ancient monasteries are slowing reopening and recovering like the Amarbaysalant in Selenge Province or the Gandan Monastery in Ulaanbaatar. Most monasteries today are small newly built temples in towns that didn't even exist before the purges.

Museums

Besides the monastery museums, Ulaanbaatar hosts several interesting and noteworthy museums to see before going off to the countryside. The best one by far is the National Museum of Mongolia with large collections of artifacts from the Mongol Empire through the Democratic Revolution of 1990. Several other good art museums and lesser history and nature museums also exist in the city if you will be there for an extended time. Outside of the capital, every provincial center also has a small museum usually built by the communist and mostly not updated since they left. These museums are cheap and do have useful displays on local cultures and history.

Nature

One thing that does look much the same as it always has is the unspoiled nature of Mongolia. Due to its very low population density, the lowest in the world, it is possible to travel days with only seeing the occasional nomadic herder interrupting endless rolling steppes, the vast Gobi desert, or the snow capped Altai Mountains. Up north, Siberian forests surround the 2nd largest freshwater lake in Asia by volume, Hôvsgôl (or "Hövsgöl") lake, in Hövsgöl province, which is very beautiful. The Flaming Cliffs near Dalanzadgad are stunning just to see, but also contain some of the earliest and most important dinosaur discoveries.

People

The most memorable part of any trip to Mongolia, regardless of what drew you here, will certainly be the people. Mongolians are incredibly hospitable to guests. No trip here is complete without having dinner or staying the night with nomadic herders. Around a third of the population still earns a living as semi-nomadic herders living in gers (yurts) on the open steppe. While their diets are not very diverse, consisting of meat, flour, and dairy, they will seek to serve guests a feast of boiled or fried meat and hot milky tea, with traditional entertainments of music, singing, and maybe dance. There is some variation depending on which tribe or region, with Kazakhs near Ölgii being the most different with different language, diet, and dress, including the practice of eagle hunting. While the Tuvans have a beautiful, eerie singing style of Throat singing, and the Tsaatan people live isolated lives herding reindeer near Lake Hövsgöl. Then there are the Lama Monks that are increasingly common in monasteries and elsewhere, and the Shaman priests, who practice the ancient animist religions of worshiping nature and the earth, and are widely respected in Mongolia.

Chinggis Khaan Square - Ulaanbaatar

Erdene Zuu Monastery - Kharkhorin

Altai Tavan Bogd National Park - Olgii

Lake Uvs Nuur - Ulaangom

Gorkhi-Terelj National Park - Terelj

Lake Khovsgul National Park - Moron

Mongolian Parliament Building - Ulaanbaatar

National Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet of Mongolia - Ulaanbaatar

Choijin Lama Monastery - Ulaanbaatar

Natural History Museum - Ulaanbaatar

Zanabazar Museum - Ulaanbaatar

Gandan Monastery - Ulaanbaatar

National University of Mongolia - Ulaanbaatar

Zaisan Memorial - Ulaanbaatar

Winter Palace of Bogdhan - Ulaanbaatar

National Sports Stadium - Ulaanbaatar

National Railway Museum - Ulaanbaatar

Shankh Monastery - Kharkhorin

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