Top tips for visiting Mongolia
For those of you interested in traveling to Mongolia, the sights are plenty. In the south is the incredible Gobi Desert home to the Bactrian camels. In the west are the majestic Altai Mountains, where the Kazakh eagle hunters reside. In the east lies the steppe of Mongolia with vast untouched rolling hills for miles on end. Finally, the north is home to the idyllic Lake Khovsgol and the Tsaatan reindeer herders of Mongolia.
The allure of Mongolia for many is the vast emptiness of the land dotted with what remains one the few true nomadic people of the world. In the emptiness, nomadic families live quietly in gers dotting the land with their animals grazing freely. PJ wanted to offer you some assistance and awareness prior to booking, so please enjoy our '9 Tips for Visiting Mongolia' to make the most out of your time in Mongolia:
1. Trust your driver
Although there are no maps/gps/road signs/roads available, rest assured, Mongolian drivers are incredibly skilled at navigating. Let yourself go in the incredible scenery and lose any worry about how and where you might be lost. However, if you feel the driver is speeding, do not hesitate to ask to slow down.
2. MST: Mongolian Stretchable Time
Synonymous to "Island Time". People are much less aware of time here and locals have a very relaxed attitude about it. If you need something urgently, be sure to make this known otherwise whatever you need could be a few more minutes/hours than expected. Just a note, if your driver says your destination is just over that next hill, be dubious but forgiving - although your guide should be more tourist savvy!
3. Join in and play with the local kids
Mongolian children are extremely friendly and just so cute. They are most famous for their big rosy red cheeks, covering much of their face. If you would like to take pictures, it is polite to ask the family first and if possible, offer an age appropriate gift or two for siblings and friends to share. Perhaps take a bouncy ball or frisbee so that you always have a game to hand to play when available.
4. Visit a nomadic family
If you have the opportunity, or pass a ger on your way, be sure to make a stop. Mongolians enjoy visitors and are happy to share a few minutes of their time with the weary traveler. It is customary that any visitor who visits a ger is offered a seat and some milk tea. It is polite to take a seat and a sip at least even if you don't manage to finish it. Gift giving is customary for visitors, so if you do intend to visit a nomadic family, bring with you a small gift.- something practical is always welcome such as hand cream, wind-up torch, boxed chocolates or stationery items.
5. Long (bumpy) drives
Be prepared for some epic long car rides in some old school furgons (Russian UAZ vans). As few of the vans have speakers or a method of playing music, you might like to bring along your own portable speakers and an MP3 player (but bear in mind others may like to enjoy the serenity!) It is not unheard of for people to feel a little travel sick, so if you are prone to this, remember to bring your tablets and feel free to ask your guide/driver to stop as frequently as you wish.
6. Cameras and photos
As fun as disposable cameras are and as easy to use your phone camera is, if you really want to capture the immense drama of this country and its landscapes and people, bring with you a decent camera. I promise you, it is worth it. Plus, you can make your friends even more jealous of your Mongolian adventures! Families love to see photos of your friends, family and home as well as seeing pictures of themselves - if you have a Polaroid camera, taking photos on your trip will be a winning gift for a nomadic family you might be eating or staying with.
7. Sleep in a ger
Ger camps or 'Mongolian countryside hotels', are plentiful in the most popular destinations and I recommend even just a night. If you are camping in a tent, it's a nice break to spend at least 1 night in a ger - you might also enjoy the facilities by then too! The sound of rain pitter-pattering whilst in your ger is incredibly serene. A great way to really experience Mongolian hospitality is to actually stay with a family, or in a ger next to theirs - although facilities here are limited.
8. The showering situation
Ger camps offer full toilet/shower facilities, in varying standards, and hot water is available at certain times of the day (normally solar heated). Families have just basic facilities including a bowl of stove-heated water to wash. There are no ger camps in the far west, so prepare for some rustic living and embrace this incredible experience.
9. Must buy gift ideas
Make sure you make room for your extra purchases and ask your guide where to head if you're interested in the Mongolian cashmere. some hefty loot. It is difficult shopping for cosy, snuggly clothing in the summer heat, but you won't find anything softer than camel hair, or those warm warm cashmere blankets and sweaters anywhere else.