Country Guide: Mongolia

Country Guide to Mongolia

Here’s a few tips for the bush-walker friends who wish to explore Mongolia in a unique way, or a least away from marked trails.

This is thus NOT a touristic guide and the information you will find here is very broad. This article is for smart travelers and the goal is simply to help you get ready, that’s it. Once you are in the country, you’re an adventurer: figure it out yourself!

Mongolia for adventurers in 6 key points (plus 2 bonus points)

Quick Summary:
– Hitchhiking: 1.5 out of 5 stars (1.5 / 5) – Hard, and payment is expected
– General transportation: 2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5) – Some places are not or badly served
– Camping: 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5) – Wild Camping is allowed everywhere
– General cost: 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5) – Very inexpensive country

1. Transportation in Mongolia

Mongolia is a vast country spreading over a large part of the Asian continent and unfortunately transportation isn’t very well developed in the sens that everything is centralized in Ulaanbaatar. You’ll hear it all the time: Mongolian transportation is like a star: all the beams leave from the center but don’t touch each other; all transportation mean leaves from and arrives to the Ulaanbaatar. It can lead you to do massive detours since you’ll always have to go back through the capital.

Some unofficial solution you might want to try do exist…

  • Hitchhiking in Mongolia
    A possible thing to do but mostly for short distances (from one town to another).
    However, be advised that a financial compensation will almost always be asked for (unless you are extremely lucky). The hitchhiking mentality doesn’t really exist in Mongolia, whereas the idea that anyone with a car can be a taxi is very developed. If you’re lucky you’ll get picked up by a tourist van who’ll take you for free.
    Important: if you want to move from one town to another without going back through Ulaanbaatar, this option is a recommended solution. 
    ARTICLE: How to succeed at Hitchhiking.
  • Traveling by train in Mongolia
    Doable but only for some destination. As of today, there are only a limited range of cities where the trains go. Up North you can go up to Darkhan, while on the West you can go to Edernet (through Darkhan).
    Since I did not take the train, I can’t say more about it.
  • Traveling by bus in Mongolia
    Traveling by bus in Mongolia is THE solution. The easiest and most used solution. The buses depart on a daily basis and the prices are very attractive. Don’t expect luxurious buses however. They are usually packed with people and boxes (relax, you’ll be seated) and the roads are not all paved and some travels can last up to 30h.
    A useful link is shared at the end of this article to help you visualize a map and the destinations of Mongolian buses.

    For short trips, from one town to another, some shuttles exists though not regularly and at unknown departure times. They do not leave until they are full. But being almost the only local transportation method, it can happen quite quickly.
    Do note that you won’t get more information on it until you are in your departure city. People in the capital have no more idea than you on how it actually works.
    Important: if you want to move from one town to another without going back through Ulaanbaatar, this option is a recommended solution.
  • Traveling by car in Mongolia
    Quite doable knowing you can do it by renting a car with or without chauffeur (the locals will do everything they can for you to take a chauffeur but know that the option without one is doable. With today’s GPS, you really can’t get lost).
    The cost is however really high compared to buses, but you’ll have the freedom of going where and when you want, and also the ability not to got through Ulaanbaatar for each town change.
  • Traveling by bicycle in Mongolia
    A potentially dangerous way of traveling based on the driving behavior of local drivers, yet doable. Be aware that roads are mostly dirt or gravel roads.
    You should anticipate this and take many spare tires. You will not find one repairing center for bicycle in the country.
  • Traveling by plane in Mongolia
    Even though it can be done, it remains complicated. Airlines are limited (most of them recently closed) and flights are done for most of them only once a week. Prices are of course very high, unless you get really lucky (like a last minute deal).
  • Bonus: Public transportation in Ulaanbaatar
    Getting around in the Ulaanbaatar can easily be done by bus. Today, there’s multiple apps that can allow you to understand buses routes.
    As of now, prices are T500 per bus if you use a rechargeable card or T1000 without the card (the driver doesn’t give back change, so have the exact amount in hand)
    A useful link is shared at the end of this article about buses maps and routes in Ulaanbaatar.

2. Food in Mongolia

Mongolians eat because they have to eat.
You will very quickly get tired of noodles with mouton, the taste being very strong. The vegetables are rare, usually either potatoes or carrots.
Meals typically go with pre-served tea (locals say its good for digestion).
Other dishes can either be dry cheese, bread, butter and/or cream.

Know that all towns have numerous amount of little stores where you’ll be able to buy all the necessary food, such as pasta, rice, a few vegetables and fruits, chocolate and other condiments.

3. Water in Mongolia

Water is not drinkable in Mongolia. Don’t drink it. You will have to pack supplies of bottle water. 

Remember to also carry a filtering system (against bacteria and viruses) or chlorine tablets. Water streams are frequent (except in the Gobi desert).
Otherwise, do it like the locals do: boil your water and turn it into tea.

4. Sleeping / Camping in Mongolia

It’s simple: you can camp wherever you want. Mongolia is a big land with a lot of free space. You might attract some curious locals, so be ready to welcome them.

Even though they will mostly leave you alone, don’t tempt anyone: it’s highly not recommended to leave your tent by itself.

Try not to camp too close to towns as there are lots of stray dogs. There are plenty of guesthouses and hostels and they are really pretty cheap.

5. Locals / Communication in Mongolia

The main language in Mongolia is Mongolian. Very little people speak English, and those who actually do are usually in Ulaanbaatar.
Many Mongolian actually speak Russian better than English.
Like any other country where you’d go, learn a few key words in Mongolian.

Guesthouses’ hosts generally know how to communicate in English and will be ready to help you if you need information.

Communication of prices is typically done through a calculator.

Cultural clash: Mongolians are very welcoming and you’ll always be welcome in their home/geirs because it’s part of their traditions (set up by Ghingis Khan himself). They will share food and drinks with you without you asking for it. Don’t be greedy despite of that and don’t abuse of their hospitality. Always have some little thing to share: open a bag of nuts or give away some cigarettes*.
(*Cigarettes are perfect to start a conversation or ease a situation.)

6. Places to see in Mongolia

Anywhere and everywhere.

The land is still quite virgin of tourism and you’ll feel like an adventurer wherever you go.
Figure it out! But don’t necessarily try to do it all, as you might get bored by the repetitive landscape. Do a bit of the North, a bit of the middle and a bit of the South.

Be aware that i gets cold in the entire country after mid-September.

7. Useful links for Mongolia

  • Bus routes for Ulaanbaatar
    To get around Ulaanbaatar by bus, use both these apps to better understand bus routes (they complete each other):
    • UB Smart Bus
    • AutoBUS
  • Mongolian Buses destinations
    To visualize available national destinations done by bus in Mongolia but also to buy tickets online (watch-out! Payment can only be done by a Mongolian bank. Go to one so it can take care of it while you give them cash):
  • 2 apps to learn Mongolian:
    • WordPowerLt
    • Learn Mongolian

8. The author review of Mongolia

Everything is done so you participate to a group tour, so you rent a guide, so you go through an organization, …
Hold on! Doing expeditions by yourself (or in group) without any help is totally doable. It might be a bit more complicated to set up because each people you’ll talk to will try to convince you otherwise, but hold on to your idea!

While I had abandoned the idea of traveling by horse, I once crossed path with a European, all alone, on a horse. Don’t get impressed by the language barrier and the fake scary story you might hear.

However be ware of stray dogs as well as domesticated dogs. They both bite and won’t hesitate to do so. If you’re walking, stay away.


When you travel, you are an ambassador to your country. So for all your fellow citizens, be nice: don’t behave like an asshole.
Don’t get mad, don’t complain of cultural difference, don’t complain at all, and don’t mock locals. Are you a traveler? An adventurer? Then adapt!

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