I’ll admit that I knew very little about Mongolia before I arrived there. But something about the country fascinated me. Mongolia is the least populated country in the world in relation to its size. Compared to other countries in Asia, the vast open spaces, nomadic culture and untouched nature of the landscapes really make it stand out. There are steppes, deserts, mountains, lakes, unique cultures, monasteries and the start of the greatest train journey on earth (more about that here). Here are 10 very good reasons why Mongolia really should be top of your bucket list!
1. The views will blow you away
Everywhere you go in Mongolia, there are expansive views and some truly beautiful landscapes. What’s amazing about this country is just how unspoilt it is. Outside of Ulaan Baatar, the capital, there’s very few roads and it really gives you a new perspective on the world, and just how much humans have changed it. Mongolia is wild and untamed, and oh so beautiful.
2. It’s the most incredible place to road trip
Road tripping reaches a whole new level in Mongolia, where you’re often driving through deserts for days and days, staying in Gers with nomadic families and with not another person in sight. This is truly getting off the beaten track in the best possible way. There won’t be toilets, or gas stations or water stops, so you’ll need to make sure you carry everything you need. But there’s endless space, the odd wild camel and nights under the stars.
3. Ulaanbaatar might just be the coolest capital you’ve never heard of
Ulaanbaatar is the capital of Mongolia and home to around 1 and a half million people, half the population of the entire country. It’s a somewhat strange city, part communist, part modern and part ancient. There are stunning old monasteries right in the centre of the city, alongside shopping streets and huge sprawling markets. I’d recommend checking out the views from the Zaisan Memorial, shopping in the Black Market, and visiting the Gandantegchinlen Monastery. There’s also a booming night life scene in the city, a Beatles statue and a great vegan restaurant, Luna Blanca.
4. The monestries are beautiful
One of the top places to visit in Ulaanbaatar has got to be the Gandantegchinlen Monastery. The complex which is located in the city centre is great for people watching as well as admiring some of Mongolia’s history. Outside of the city, the Aryabal Buddhist Meditation Center in Terelj National Park is a must see if you head out that way. In the North of the country there’s also the Amarbayasgalant Monastery, a remote dwelling 60km from the nearest town.
5. The food is pretty ‘alternative’
As a vegetarian, the Mongolian food scene wasn’t always appealing. Dried camel meat is often on the menu when staying in Ger camps, otherwise it’s a dried curd called Aaruul. Often served with bread and salty tea, it’s a snack you must get used to. What’s amazing to see is how self sufficient the nomads on the steppes are, sourcing and making all their food from scratch and ensuring it is preserved throughout the winter months. Alternatively, Ulaanbaatar has an increasingly trendy dining scene where you can grab everything from Korean to Sri Lankan foods.
6. The people are some of the kindest in the world
Mongolian hospitality is really the highlight of any visit to the country. The people are calm, quiet and very helpful. Most come from a nomadic tradition, and have incredibly interesting cultural heritage. Staying in a Ger camp with a local family and learning a little bit about their lives is something you’ll never forget about your visit to Mongolia.
7. Their nomadic culture is unique and fascinating
Mongolia has a long tradition of nomads, and the unique thing about the lives of the people now is that nomadic tradition is still alive and well. Traveling through the country, it’s easy to meet and engage with nomadic families, many who live far from civilization or any other human being.
8. The Gobi Desert is one of the most beautiful landscapes you’ll ever lay your eyes on
Head south from Ulaanbaatar, past the wide open spaces, rolling green hills and steppes and you’ll reach the Gobi Desert. It’s a spectacular place, with rolling sand dunes, camels and Ger camps right on the edge of the dunes.
9. Sleeping in a Ger has gotta be one of the best accommodation experiences in the world
There are plenty of quirky accommodation experiences around the globe, but sleeping in a Ger alongside a huge Mongolian family has to be one of my favourites! Gers are traditional Mongolian tents, similar to yurts in other parts of the world. Often each nomadic family will have at least two tents, one for cooking and socializing during the day, and the other for sleeping. Some will have others for guests.
10. The stars at night are like no other
Mongolia’s location is quite remote, and with their being only one big city in the country, it means there’s a substantial lack of light pollution. When you get out onto the steppes, or down into the desert, there’s nothing stopping the stars coming to play. The milky way is incredibly clear and the sky seems to go on forever. If there’s one thing I’ll always remember about Mongolia, it’s how incredible the stars were.
Have you ever traveled to Mongolia? Would you like to?
Photos by Annapurna Mellor except no.8 via Pixabay