Mongolia Travel Guide A Vagabond Life
Mongolia Travel Guide
Mongolia is a vast and diverse country in East Asia sandwiched between Russia and China. Tourism is still in its infancy and there is little to no infrastructure outside Ulaanbaatar (UB).
To travel around Mongolia visitors either need to hire a car and self drive, hire a driver and guide or go on a tour. There are multiple outfitters in UB who can assist.
Ulaanbaatar is a vibrant city with a good eating scene and a lively nightlife with Karaoke being a firm favourite with the locals.
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Mongolia Travel Guides
Mongolia Travel Guide
Five Quick Facts About Travelling In Mongolia
- Mongolia is BIG, it has the 18th largest land mass in the world.
- There are very few roads outside Ulaanbaatar mostly its just tracks or even more often just tyre tracks in the dirt.
- There are no signs and very few maps.
- The terrain is beautiful but very unforgiving, if venturing into the Gobi this needs to be taken very seriously.
- Villages and towns are few and far between and often hard to find.
Ways To Travel In Mongolia
Private Driver & Guide
Hiring a driver and a guide means you can design a trip that suits you, takes you where you want to go and can be as long as you want it to be. By hiring a driver and guide you can travel to more remote parts of the country and visit areas off the tour trail. It is important to note if you do travel into more remote parts of Mongolia it will mean no toilets (rocks work well) and limited opportunity to shower.
Do I need a driver and a guide? Yes you do. The drivers job is to drive – all day – and get you through some tough, rugged terrain. The guides job is to look after you, cook the meals and make sure you have somewhere safe and comfortable to sleep. You need them both.
We hired a driver and guide through Golden Gobi and they were excellent.
Every guest house in Ulaanbaatar offers tours along with a number of the big travel companies. These tours generally follow a generic route which takes in the ‘big ticket’ items of a particular region of Mongolia.
If you elect to do a tour with a guest house it is important to do you homework and research companies thoroughly as the quality and professionalism varies greatly. You need a driver and guide who are experienced in the wilds of Mongolia, can negotiate with nomads and know their way around an often hostile environment.
When we travelled in the Gobi twice we encountered massive storms and our driver & guide were able to quickly change plans to avoid the weather and find alternative accommodation that was safe.
Alternately you can do a tour with one of the big international tour companies. These tours generally follow a well worn route and stay at Tourist camps which usually have both toilets and showers.
Some decide to hire a car and travel independently. If you chose to do this some tour operators will be able to kit you out with sleeping bags, tents and camping equipment.
A word to the wise – If you decide to travel independently you will need an excellent GPS, be able to carry water and food for multiple days and have a knowledge of where all the small towns and villages are so you can replenish both petrol and water supplies.
What Should A Good Tour Operator Offer
- Experienced driver and guide.
- All transportation including pick up and drop off from your guest house. This also includes all fuel costs.
- All meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner)
- 1.5 litres water per person per day
- Tents, sleeping bags, ground mats.
- A combination of camping and staying in nomad family gites.
- Entrance to National Parks
Mongolia is a high altitude country and has extreme diverse weather. The average temperature does not get above zero from November to March with mid winter night temps regularly hovering around -40C. In summer temperatures reach +40C in the Gobi and +33C in Ulaanbaatar. Ulaanbaatar is one of the coldest and windiest cities in the world.
Mongolia is also windy with the the Gobi desert experiencing severe dust storms that stop everything. The weather can change quickly and go from warm and sunny to dust and snow storms in the blink of the eye. The locals take weather warnings very seriously and you should too.
When Is The Best Time To Travel
Gobi Desert – June to September is peak travel season in the Gobi. This is the period most Tourist Camps are open, although be warned it will be very hot in high summer.
** We travelled in the Gobi in mid May and it was a good time to travel although we did have some very cold nights. If you are travelling independently and reliant on Tourist camps for accommodation you will need to travel when they are open from June. We were unable to travel to the far north west to see the Eagle Hunters as it was still too cold in that region.
Northern Mongolia and Khuvsgul Lake – July and August. Heavy snow and storms impact travel in this area for much of the year.
Mongolian Currency is the Mongolian Tögrög
ATM’s are widely available in Ulaanbaatar but very limited in regional areas.
All visitors to Mongolia require a visa unless they come from one of the visa-exempt countries. Visitors must hold passports that are valid for at least 6 months from the date of departure from Mongolia.
Applying for a Mongolian visa is a straightforward process and can be done directly via the Mongolian consulate or embassy in your country.
- Download the form from your countries consulate or embassy. Click here for Australia & NZ
- Complete form, the required information is
- Current passport with 6 months validity from the time you depart
- Copy of biometric page from passport
- Fee in the form of a Bank Cheque
- Proof of Hotel Booking
- Proof of Travel Itinerary (flights/train tickets)
- Flights – We had our inbound flights booked.
- We used Mongolia Train Tickets who were excellent. They book your tickets, send you a booking confirmation which you can use for your visa application and then meet you at your guest house with the actual tickets. You do not pay until they hand you the tickets in Mongolia.
- If staying with friends/family a letter of invitation or copy of their resident card plus their full name and address.
If under 18 a letter from your Parents OR Legal guardian showing:
• Approval of your travel,
• The length of your travel and person responsible for funding the travel;
• Persons you are travelling with,
• Parents’ OR Legal guardian’s contact details.
- Your contact details
- Attach a 3.5*4.5 passport photo taken within the last six
months to the application.
- Post completed application form, checklist and passport to provided address and include a pre-paid return address. It is advisable to usage traceable postage.
- Visa turn around time is 5 working days plus post. I strongly recommend you allow at least 2 full weeks.
Visa Exempt Countries
Mongolia grants visa-free access to citizens of 24 countries and territories listed below.
Visa At Border Countries
Nationals of the following countries do not need a local sponsor or approval prior to arrival and can apply for a visa valid for 30 days independently at a border crossing.
Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, United Arab Emirates
Visa Guide By Map
Mongolia shares a border with China and Russia. Mongolia does NOT share a border with Kazakhstan.
As all three countries are huge there are many border crossing however many of those are for locals only.
Listed below are the most common borders for visitors.
NOTE: Visas are required for most nationalities before arriving at the border.
Mongolia – China Border Crossings
Bulgan – Takashiken: Western crossing between Urumqi and the Mongolian Altai mountains. Open for international travellers from Monday to Friday 10.30-13.45 and 15.30-18.45 Beijing time.
China to Mongolia: Buses run from Beijing’s Xinfadi bus station to Erlian. Tour operators in Beijing sell bus transfers from Beijing to Ulan Bator or catch the train from Beijing to Ulaanbaator.
Minivans can take you from Erlian (China) to Zamin Uud (Mongolia) from there you can catch a train to Ulaanbaatar or negotiate a ride in a car.
Note: You cannot walk across this border.
Mongolia – China: The following buses daily between
- Zamin Üüd – Hohhot
- Ulanbatar – Erlian
- Zamin Üüd – Beijing
Mongolia – Russia Border Crossings
Tsagaannuur – Tashanta: Between Barnaul and the Mongolian Altai mountains at the Durbet-Daba Pass. This crossing has a 26 kilometres of no man’s land between the Mongolian and Russian border posts. Open are Mon-Sat, 9-18.
Russia to Mongolia
- Ulan-Ude – Ulan Bator (stops in Kyakhta, Gusinoozyorsk and Darkhan-Uul): daily
- Sükhbataar – Ulan Ude (stop in Kyakhta): 4 times per week
- Sükhbataar – Kyakhta: daily
Naushki – Sükhbaatar: The railroad border crossing for the Trans-Mongolian Railway.
Ereentsav-Solovyovsk: In the far east of Mongolia, this crossing is open everyday from 9-13 and 14-18 and is open to foreigners.
This crossing involves 230 km of off road driving on the Mongolian side, is not recommended in the wet and a 4WD is needed.
Mondy – Khankh: Between lake Khovsgol and Irkutsk. Open to locals only.
Khandgait – Borshoo: Between lake Uvs and Tuva. Open to locals only.
What To Pack
Mongolia is a country of climate extremes so the trick to packing is layering.
Here is what I took into the Gobi for 11 days
- 2 pants (or if it is hot during the day 1 pants and 2 shorts)
** I threw the second pair of pants in at the last minute and was glad I did as my original pair got wet and it was good to have a second pair.
- 1 pair track pants (or leggings) – can be slept in
- 1 shorts ** see pants
- 1 x singlets – good for layering and sleeping in
- 4 short sleeve tee shirts
- 1 x long sleeve sloppy joe or similar
- 1 x polar fleece jumper
- 1 x zip-up shell jacket
- 1 x lightweight windproof raincoat
- 3 x socks
- 5 x underpants
- 1 x bra
- 1 x Northface Dipsea (or similar) – an absolute essential as it can be used as a head wrap, scarf, face cover etc.
- I x warm hat
- 1 x sun hat
- 1 x warm gloves
- 1 x pair walking or hiking shoes.
- 1 x pair flip flops (great for showers)
- Wet Wipes – with no water or showers these are essential
- Hand Sanitiser
- Toilet Paper
- Travel Towel
- Lush Bar Shampoo
- Bar of Soap
- Brush / Comb
- Hair Ties
1 x Earbud headphones. Light and small,
1 x 6S iPhone loaded with music and podcasts
1 x power bank
I took my LUMIX out in the middle of a dust storm and got dust in the lens and ruined it. I was very pleased I did not have my expensive camera kit with me. Be very careful with your kit in the Gobi.
- 1 x GoPro Hero 5
- 2 x Spare GoPro Batteries
- 1 x LUMIX TZ80
- Spare micro SD Card
- 1 x headlight or torch **essential
- 1 x Swiss knife
- 1 x medical kit
- Refillable water bottle
Food & Drinks
Your tour operator will supply breakfast, lunch and dinner however if you want snacks or alcohol you will need to bring your own.
The Trans Siberian Railway is one of the great trips of the world.
The Trans Siberian Railway is a network of railways that connects Moscow with the far east of Russia.
It is actually three different routes
- The Trans Siberian – travels from Moscow to Vladivostock on Russias eastern coast. – 9250 kilometres.
- The Trans-Mongolian Railway follows an ancient tea-caravan route from China to Russia via Mongolia – 9258 kilometres
- The Trans-Manchurian runs as from Moscow, through the Manchuria region of China and onto Beijing – 8960 kilometres.
Here is a snapshot of catching the Trans Mongolian / Siberian. For detailed information click here
How To Buy Tickets For The Trans Siberian Railway – Ulanbaaatar to Russia.
You will need to organise your tickets from UB to Russia before you get to Mongolia for visa purposes. To do this you will need to use an agent.
We used the good folk at Mongolia Train Tickets who were brilliant. They booked our ticket and emailed us a copy of the booking reference which can be used when applying for a visa. They then met us in UB with the tickets and this is when we paid them. It worked brilliantly.
How To Buy Tickets For The Trans Siberian Railway
The Russian Railway website RZD is excellent and in English. I downloaded the APP and booked all our tickets via the APP. This then stores all your journeys and if you have an iPhone you can save trips to your wallet.
You can download the APP directly from the RZD website.
When buying tickets you will need all passengers details including passport details.
Your ticket reference details will be emailed to you and you will need to print them out.
Once at the station you need to find a ticketing machine where you enter your passport details and ticket reference number and an actual ticket will be generated. There is usually staff at the automatic ticket machines to help although the machine does have an English option.
Types Of Compartments On The Trans Siberian Railway
First Class (Spalny Vagon) – Two single bunks in a compartment.
Second Class (Kupé) – Four Berth in the form of 2 sets of bunks.
Third Class (Platskartny) – Dorm style carriage with bunk beds.
Toilets – At each end of every carriage is a toilet with washbasin.
Hot Water – Available from the Samovars in each carriage.
Dining Car – In our experience the dining cars offered a good range of food and beer. There is no dining car between Ulaanbaatar and Irkutsk so you will need to pack food for this leg.
World Destination Guide
There are 195 countries in the world stretching across seven continents – so there is an awful lot to see. Where to begin? Many people are inspired by a movie they have seen or a story they have heard, or a desire to see the land of their ancestors.
Use the drop-down on the right to explore the world.
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