Mongolia Countryside

There are many ways to explore the countryside. Most people hire a jeep from one of the guesthouses, get a group together and set off to either Khovsgol or the Gobi. Check the noticeboards in the guesthouses or at the Chez Bernard Cafe (on Peace Ave, east of the State Department Store). Guesthouses can organize a jeep, driver and an itinerary. There are also plenty of tour companies in Ulaanbaatar that organize trips.

Jeep trips offer an introduction the country but there are more interesting ways to travel. You can buy horses and ride around Khovsgol or Arkhangai aimags. You could cycle across the country or you could do a trek with the Ger to Ger project. Think creatively.

The central aimags consist of Tov, Ovorkhangai and Arkhangai. Most travelers go out to Ovorkhangai to check out the old capital Karakorum (Khorkhorin). This is probably the most overrated attraction in Mongolia, but its on the way if you are going overland so you may as well stop to see the local highlight, Erdene Zuu monastery. Tovkhon monastery, a couple hours drive from here, is more interesting. There is more going on in Arkhangai. It has a nice little aimag capital and the Great White Lake is a nice place for camping. Arkhagai is also a good location for horse trekking or mountain biking.

The north offers Selenge, Bulgan and Khovsgol Aimags. Among these, the best is Khovsgol, which is dominated by Lake Khovsgol, an enormous alpine lake surrounded by 9000 ft mountains. This is a great area for fishing, hiking and horseback riding. Sadly, a lot of people just to the lake and leave, but there is plenty more to see in Khovsgol, including the remote, but interesting Darkhat Depression, west of Lake Khovsgol. The depression has several remote villages and nomad camps. If you have lots of time, it’s possible to trek to the Tsaatan (reindeer herder) camps in the mountains.

The west is the most adventurous part of the country. It includes Khovd, Bayan Olgii and Uvs. Bayan Olgii is the most dramatic of the three, it’s a mountainous region inhabited mainly by ethnic Kazakhs. There are a number of curious sights here, including burial mounds, petroglyphs and carved stone statues that are over 1000 years old. Kazakh traditions here are rich. You’ll see lots of traditional crafts, clothing and customs. In winter, local hunting parties trap prey with the aid of trained eagles. In late September / early October, an ‘eagle festival’ attracts local hunters to the main town of Olgii. This is a great time to plan your visit if you can’t make it to a genuine hunt in winter. The Tavan Bogd National Park, in western Bayan Olgii, has some extraordinary lakes and snow-capped peaks, as well as Mongolia’s tallest mountain, Tavan Bogd (14,434 ft). The approach to the mountain is up a long glacier and some technical skill is needed to negotiate the ascent. The best way to get out here is to fly from UB and then hire a jeep at the market in Olgii to get you into the mountains. If you are continuing onto Uvs, there is good trekking around Kharkhiraa Uul.

The east offers Khentii, Dornod and Sukhbaatar aimags; it’s mainly flat steppe land with some hilly landscape in northern Khentii. Check out the village of Dadal in Khentii, which is the supposed birthplace of Chinggis Khaan. Another interesting area is the far east of Dornod near the Chinese border. There are war memorials here dedicated to the soldiers who fought off the Japanese in WWII, plus lots of grazing land for gazelle.

Trips to the Gobi usually last between 4 to 10 days and typically involve lots of driving. You really need to hire your own vehicle as you’ll see nothing of interest if you attempt to hitch hike. Fortunately, it’s not too difficult to find other travelers to share the cost of a jeep. Heading south from Ulaanbaatar, you’ll enter Dundgov (Middle Gobi), the highlight of which is the ruined Ongiin Monastery. Camel trekking is a popular activity in the area, as is the ger-to-ger project, which runs walking tours where you stop at gers for the night (similar to tea house trekking in Nepal). Continuing south, the next stop is Omnogov (South Gobi province), where you can visit the Flaming Cliffs, an area famed for its dinosaur fossils, and the ice canyon in Gurvansaikhan National Park. A trip to Dornogov (eastern Gobi province) is easily done by train. Here you can visit the increasingly popular monastery of Khamaryn Khiid, founded by the well-known poet Danzan Ravjaa.

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Having spent a few months in the amazing Mongolia for the past few years, PkTan is fascinated with this beautiful, complicated country. He love advising travellers to Mongolia and have developed this site to share all his knowledge of Mongolia with everyone.

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