When to go

Mongolia's tourism season is from May to October because of the difficult climate at other times of the year. Visiting out of season is not a problem as long as you can tolerate cold weather, dust storms and difficulties in traveling. If you want to see the Naadam Festival, you'll need to come in July. However, July and August are the two wettest months of the year. The best time to visit the Gobi is June or September as temperatures aren't so hot then.

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Transport

Transport to or from Mongolia is usually by air or train. MIAT Mongolian Airlines, national flag carrier operates scheduled flights to Tokyo, Osaka, Seoul, Beijing, Huh Hot, Berlin, Moscow and Irkutsk. In the summer season, MIAT Mongolian Airlines flies to Hong Kong and Singapore in the charter basis. For timetables, airline offices and other flight information, visit our Planes Page.

The Trans-Mongolian Railway between Moscow and Beijing passes through Ulaanbaatar. Russian and Chinese trains make the full journey which takes around six days. For timetables, costs, ticket outlets and further information, visit our trains page.

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Tipping / Bargaining

Tipping - Tipping in restaurants, bars and cafes is not expected although, as more and more tourists are providing tips, the staff are of course very appreciative. Most places will charge a 13% sales tax on top of their menu prices so be aware of this. If you wish to leave a tip, 10% of your total order is a very reasonable amount. Bargaining - The only place to think about bargaining now is at the black market. Most of the shops and markets in town have fixed prices which are often displayed on the goods. Do not try to bargain here. At the black market, tourists are unlikely to be charged very much more than the locals, unless they are buying antiques, jewellery and other cultural items. By all means try and get a price down but be reasonable. For example, as a guide, don't try for less than 60-70% of the asking price. And only start bargaining if you're seriously interested in buying the item.

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Visas

Generally, everyone entering Mongolian territory must have a visa. However, because of bilateral agreements made with some countries, this is not always the case. All types of visas can be obtained from the Visa and Passport Division of the Ministry of External Relations, in Ulaanbaatar, and also Mongolian Embassies, Consulates, Honorary Consulates, Trade and Permanent Missions abroad.

Please note that the visa regulations have recently changed. It is now NOT possible to buy visas at Mongolian borders or at the airport upon arrival. Visas must be obtained in advance. For all types of visa application, you will need your passport, a completed application form and at least one passport-size photograph. Passports should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months. The standard charge for a tourist visa is US$25 and for a transit visa US$15 if you obtain the visa in advance. If you require the visa urgently or if you obtain your visa at the border points, you will need to pay US$50 and US$30 respectively. There have also been changes recently to Police Registration procedures. You are advised to find out up-to-date details from your Embassy or Consulate in advance.

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Banks

Most banks and the larger hotels in Ulaanbaatar will be able to change the major currencies, although US Dollars are the most widely accepted. It is also possible to change travellers cheques and get cash advances on your credit card. American Express, VISA and Mastercard are the most widely accepted. In the Aimag centres, you'll certainly find at least one bank, but they will not be able to accept credit cards or traveller's cheques. They may be able to change US Dollars but the exchange rate will be a lot lower than that available in the capital.

In Ulaanbaatar, one of the most centrally located banks for both traveller's cheque cashing and credit card advances is the Trade and Development Bank. If you have US dollars in cash, you can get better rates of exchange from the licensed money changers. A number of different currencies can be exchanged.

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Customs

Every tourist will complete a customs declaration form on arrival, which must be retained by them until their departure. This allows the free import and export of articles for personal use during your stay. The contents of checked-in baggage must be declared on arrival if the total value of those contents exceed US$1000 in value. The contents of checked-in baggage must be declared upon departure if the total value of those goods exceeds US$500.

Mongolia allows the following items to be brought in duty free :

  • 1 Litre of Spirits

  • 2 Litres of Wine

  • 3 Litres of Beer

  • 200 Cigarettes

  • 250 Grams of Tobacco

The customs declaration forms asks the visitor to declare the amount and currencies of money being carried. Visitors are advised that if they fail to declare the amount of money they are carrying, the money can be confiscated by customs officials. Visitors taking antiques and fossils out of the country must have official documentation to do so. Some shops will provide the necessary documents upon purchase. Alternatively, permission can be obtained from the Ministry of Enlightenment in Ulaanbaatar.

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Food

Despite what you might hear about food supplies in Mongolia, it's now very simple to have a balanced diet, even if you're a vegetarian. If you're intending to eat out in Ulaanbaatar, there are a large number of restaurants serving quality, Chinese, Indian, Korean, Japanese, Italian, English, French, Russian, Latin American and of course Mongolian cuisines. There are also a lot of supermarkets and markets selling both Mongolian and imported goods from China, Russia, East Asia and Europe. The domestic meat and dairy products are good value and considerably more tasty than meat you may find at home. The one used by most of the expatriates living in the country is the Mercury Market situated just a couple of hundred meters west of the Circus.

In the countryside things are a bit different. Although some of the larger Aimag centres will have supplies suitable for foreigners, the Sums will have little more than biscuits and chocolate. As you move out of the city, you also lose the quality in restaurant food. In most cases only Mongolian-style food will be available. The extreme climate here means that many Mongolians, especially those living in the countryside have to eat a lot of protein and fat to keep themselves warm and healthy. Visiting herders in the countryside will inevitably mean that you will be offered a number of meat and dairy products. Even if some of them look unappetizing, you will please your host greatly if only you try a little.

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Climate

The Mongolian Climate is one of extremes - hot summers and freezing cold winters. Known as the 'Land of Blue Skies', it has over 260 sunny days each year. The winter is long and cold with temperatures often well below -30o Centigrade. Despite these temperatures, the blue winter sky makes it often feel warmer. There is very little snowfall but it and ice can remain for several weeks at a time. The rainy season is from July to September, but the showers are often brief. The summer is a very pleasant time because, although temperatures can reach +40o Centigrade, the air is very dry. The Gobi usually has the hottest temperatures. Summer evenings can be cool because of Mongolia's high altitude. The Spring is a time of strong winds, especially difficult in the sandy areas of the Gobi. For up-to-date details of the weather in Mongolia, visit http://www.wunderground.com/global/MO.html or specifically Ulaanbaatar, http://www.weather.com/cities/mg__ulan_bator.html or http://cnn.com/WEATHER/html/UlaanBaatarMongolia.html

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Maps

Obtaining maps of Mongolia abroad can be very difficult. There are a few large scale maps around but for more detail, try searching out airline maps. On arrival in Mongolia, a greater range can be found, including tourism, road, geographical and ecological maps. The best place to buy them is at the 'Map Centre' near Elba Centre Electronics Shops and Gandan Monastery.

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Currency

The Mongolian currency is the Tugrug (T or MNT) which is available in denominations of 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, 1000, 5000 & 10,000 Tugrug Notes. Coins are beginning to become into circulation and are in denominations of MNT 20, 50, 100 and 200. All notes carry the face of Chinggis Khan or Sukhbaatar on them and because of their age, can often look alike. The exchange rate is constantly changing. The rate as of August 2000 is US$1 = MNT1075. For an up-to-date exchange rate visit http://www.oanda.com/converter/classic

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Telephones

The Mongolian telephone system is in the process of being modernised but still lacks many of the services we rely on elsewhere. Dialing Mongolia is relatively simple although may take several attempts. Mongolia's national code is '976'. Making international telephone calls from Ulaanbaatar is relatively easy. Most hotels have International Direct Dial Facilities. Alternatively, calls can be made from various telephone exchanges around the city. The 'Central Post' Building located on the southwest corner of Sukhbaatar Square is the largest telephone exchange.

Cheaper calls are available if calling from other telephones in the city, i.e. offices & hotels, especially between 22.00 and 07.00 weekdays, 17.00 and 07.00 Saturdays and all day Sunday. Domestic Calls also have the same discount rates available. Calls are charged according to distance from Ulaanbaatar and range from MNT 174 to MNT 261 per minute. Calls within the city are around MNT 5 per minute. The large telephone exchange on Sukhbaatar Square has the facilities for you to send faxes and emails. The cost for faxing depends on where the fax is being sent to. As a guide, a fax taking one minute to the United Kingdom would cost approximately MNT 3000.

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Accommodation

The standards of accommodation vary widely between Ulaanbaatar and the countryside. There are now a large number of hotels, guest houses and dormitories within the capital with prices between US$5 and US$120. The quality of the facilities, services and food generally increases in price.

In the countryside, there a few hotels of generally a poorer standard in the Aimag centres, although most tourists will stay in specially constructed ger camps. These camps provide accommodation in the round felt houses used by nomads and usually have separate toilet, washing and restaurant facilities. Prices are around US$30-40 per night. Tourists can camp virtually where they like although they are advised to stay away from settlements. Laws also prohibit camping within certain zones of protected areas.

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Dangers / Annoyances

Mongolia is a safe place to be. As a visitor you are unlikely to experience any serious problems. However, like anywhere else there are a few things that visitors should be aware of, things that will need extra care and attention. Foreign visitors are targets for a very small minority of thieves. Theft is seldom violent. Pick pocketing and bag slitting is most common in crowded places such as the black market, on buses or at tourist attractions such as Gandan Monastery. Valuables should be kept in a money belt and kept underneath your clothing. Be careful about being seen with large amounts of money outside.

Being out late at night is not advisable, especially if you are alone. Avoid ger districts and other poorly lit areas. Take a torch with you. Use a proper taxi if you can find one. Vodka may be a popular drink in Mongolia which used in many celebrations, but it is also the source of a big alcohol problem. The problems are more serious in Ulaanbaatar and the aimag centres than in the countryside. Drunks tend to me more of an annoyance than a danger. Drunks are easily recognised by a stumbling walk. They tend to be on their own rather than in large groups. If you are approached by a drunk, try to walk away. If they follow, try running - they're unlikely to catch up with you if they've had a lot to drink. If you can find a policeman, all the better. Experience has shown that they are very tough on drunks annoying or threatening foreigners, although the immediate punishment may be something you're not used to.

Dogs, both stray and domestic should be avoided. Many are vicious and some are rabid. This is the case whether you're in a ger district in the city or at a ger in the middle of the countryside. When it comes to getting train tickets, getting on a bus, walking through a market or entering shops, don't be surprised if you suddenly find an elbow in your side or a kick in the shin. It's not personal. It's the Mongolian Scramble. Go anywhere where there's a lot of people and you'll find out about it. Being polite won't get you very far - nor will getting angry. In Mongolia, do as the Mongolian's do. But don't get carried away!!

Power cuts and water shortages used to be common - but now very infrequent. Beggars are beginning to be more and more of a problem. No matter what your opinions are about begging, the increase is due to the number of tourists giving cash to children. If you wish to donate some money, find out about projects that are supporting the city's street children and put a donation to the best possible use.

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Activities

A number of activities are available to both independent travellers and groups. Among the most popular are horse riding, camel trekking, fishing, bird watching, hiking, mountaineering, rafting and hunting. For further details of the activities available and suggestions on the best locations

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Public Holidays

New Year's Day - 01st January
Tsagaan Tsar - 06th February
Mothers' and Children's Day - 01st June
Naadam - 11th to 13th July
Independence Day - 26th November and in 2001 - New Year's Day - 01st January, Tsagaan Tsar - 24th January, Mothers' and Children's Day - 01st June, Naadam - 11th to 13th July, Independence Day - 26th November.

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Embassies

Mongolia has over 50 Embassies, Consulates, Permanent Missions, Trade Missions and Honorary Consulates. For full details including addresses, telephone and fax numbers, and email addresses

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Electricity

The power supply in Ulaanbaatar is now very reliable and there are only the occasional black-outs. Electricity is 220V, 50Hz. The sockets throughout the country accommodate the European-style 2-pin plugs. In the countryside, the power supply still has frequent interruptions. In many cases this is due to the cost of fuel. Wiring in many places needs updating and so care should be undertaken.

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Medical Info

For detailed medical information, visitors to Mongolia should consult their doctors or refer to specialist information from the Internet. Some milk is unpasteurised and should be boiled. Powdered or tinned milk is available and is advised, but make sure that it is reconstituted with pure water. Avoid dairy products which are likely to have been made from unboiled milk. Only eat well-cooked meat and fish, preferably served hot. Pork, salad and mayonnaise may carry increased risk. Vegetables should be cooked and fruit peeled.

Rabies is present. For those at high risk, vaccination before arrival should be considered. If you are bitten, seek medical advice without delay. For more information, see the Health appendix. Diarrhoeal diseases and outbreaks of meningococcal meningitis occur. There is some risk of plague. Immunisation against hepatitis A is recommended. Hepatitis B is highly endemic.

There are almost 23,000 hospital beds and over 5000 doctors in Mongolia. However, health care facilities available to foreigners are limited. All Mongolian hospitals are very short of most medical supplies, including basic care items, drugs and spare parts for medical equipment. Reciprocal agreements with the UK or USA are not available and US medical insurance is apparently not valid in Mongolia. Doctors and hospitals expect immediate cash payment for health services. Visitors are urged to have health insurance including cover for evacuation to Hong Kong and to take with them any regular medication. Emergency care is available at the Russian Hospital, although a translator is essential.

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Postal Services

Letters and parcels posted abroad can take anything from ten days to a few months to arrive at their destination, but they do usually arrive. The current rates are relatively expensive; postcards MNT 400, letters under 20 grams MNT 550. Registered mail starts at MNT 950. Parcel rates range from around US$14 to US$27, for a 1Kg parcel, depending on the destination. An express mail service is available for a limited number of countries. Prices to send a 1Kg package range from US$25 to US$40 depending on the destination. The central post office in Ulaanbaatar has a good range of postcards available. Stamp collectors will be surprised at the range of stamps available.

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Tourism Info

There is at present no government tourist information centre to provide unbiased services to tourists. A number of hotels and tour operators may assist you but will obviously want you to stay in their hotels or undertake their tours. The Mongolian Tourism Board, the government's tourism policy implementation and promotion agency will be able to assist in emergencies but at present cannot cope with too many general enquiries. They can be contacted by telephone on (976-11) 311102 or emailed at ntc@mongol.net. Mongolia also does not currently have dedicated tourism offices abroad. Overseas embassies may be able to assist you.

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Shops and Shopping

Most of Mongolia’s economy is based on natural products. Hand woven carpets, leather clothing and articles, woolen clothing, furs, cashmere, camel hair products, Mongolian oil and water paintings, and wooden toys, puzzles and games. There are a number of souvenir shops. The most popular items are paintings, antiques, handicrafts, carpets, books, cashmere, traditional Mongolian clothing, leather goods, wall hangings, puzzles, postcards, snuff bottles and wood carvings.

The food markets are well stocked on Mongolia, Russian, East and West European products although they may be a little more expensive than you expect. Many of the shops throughout Mongolia are in fact small kiosks within larger shops. You will find that many shops sell the same things so you'll have to look hard to find exactly what you want. Along the streets of Ulaanbaatar you will find many 'Tuuts', small kiosks that sell snacks and general provisions. The most adventurous traveler may wish to go out to the infamous “black market”, which is a giant flea market on the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar. Almost anything can be bought at this market, which is always very crowded. Visitors should be aware however that pickpockets are a problem here and therefore care should be taken with wallets and purses.

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Time Differences

Most of Mongolia is 8 hours ahead of GMT. However, the three western aimags of Khovd, Uvs and Bayan Ulgii are GMT+7. Mongolia no longer puts forward its clocks by 1 hour in the summer months.

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What to take

What you need to bring depends on where you'll go when you travel, what activities you'll be undertaking, whether you're an independent traveller and what accommodation you'll be using. Here are a list of suggestions:

Passport, US$ cash, money belt, Sleeping bag, tent, petrol stove, daypack, camera and batteries, torch and batteries, water bottle, warm clothing, wet weather clothing, sunglasses, first aid kit, small gifts for nomadic families.

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Radio and TV

Mongolia has a number of radio stations broadcasting traditional and modern Mongolian and International music. BBC World Service has an FM transmitter broadcasting on FM103.1 in Ulaanbaatar. Other international radio stations can be heard on short-wave. For details of frequencies click here for BBC WORLD SERVICE and VOICE OF AMERICA. Mongolia has four television station, UBS, Mongol TV, Channel 25 and Eagle, the latter providing some programmes in English. However, cable television is now installed in many flats providing access to BBC World, CNN, Australian TV, Star TV Network, French, German, Italian, Russian, Portuguese and Chinese channels.

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Water Quality

Many visitors to Mongolia have drunk the tap and well water without boiling or treating it first. They have been lucky. Tourists are advised to buy mineral water or at least boil their water before using it. Giardia and other water-borne diseases can easily be picked up. Mineral water is in good supply in the capital and many of the Aimag centres.

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Photography

Mongolia must be one of the most photogenic countries in the world. The landscapes, wildlife, culture and people create a wealth of opportunities. Films and camera batteries are available in the capital for most types of cameras. However, you are advised to bring some supplies with you just in case. Photo processing can also be done in Ulaanbaatar but the quality is often lacking. Slide film is very difficult to obtain. Photography is not allowed in monasteries or temples. Exceptions are made on rare occasions and only with the permission of the Lamas. Please respect the decisions of the staff at the Monastery or Temple. In some museums, you may have to pay an extra fee to use a still or video camera. A regulation exists that states that tourists should pay to take photographs within Mongolia's protected areas. However, it is often not enforced. Care should be taken in some places, i.e. photographing military establishments, border crossings and government buildings.

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English Language Publications

There are two weekly English language newspapers, the UB Post and the Mongol Messenger. There are also a few books and magazines to look out for which give an insight into life, history and culture in Mongolia; UB Guide, My Mongolia, This is Mongolia, Fifty Routes through Mongolia, Mongolia Travel Guide, etc. A number of basic maps of Ulaanbaatar and Mongolia are available.

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  Information provided by the Ministry of Tourism. Government of Mongolia.

 

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