General information on Mongolia
Mongolia – the land of immeasurable distances, home to the nomadic Mongols, the magical Gobi Desert and impressive foothills to the mighty Altai mountain range. The land of Genghis Khan, steeped in legend, combines mysticism, tradition and nature untouched by man to provide a fascinating and unique experience.
Like the landscape, the lives of the nomadic peoples are astoundingly diverse and fascinating. Different regions are characterised by different rituals, dances, songs, clothing, craftwork and religions. Peaceful desert, unimaginably vast areas of steppe , a stillness so quiet that you can hear it, a fascinating pattern of light and reflections in the vast and beguiling landscapes in the land of eternal blue skies. People who are open and inquisitive, yet remain rooted in their traditions. Most of them still live in gers (Mongolian round tents), which form the heart of the nomads’ culture. Isolated for centuries by the Siberian forests to the north and the huge wall to the south, these nomads of the steppes have retained and further developed their largely self-sufficient way of life in defiance of the rigorous challenges posed to it by nature.
The time difference to CET (Central European Time) is plus seven hours.
Mongolia shares a border with the Russian Federation in the north and with China in the south. From north to south the country can be divided into four regions: Mountain and forest steppe, mountain steppe and in the extreme south semi-desert and desert making up approximately 3% of the land area. Mongolia is a relatively high country, with the main mountain ranges in the western region. The highest peak is the Munkhairkhan at 4,362 metres, and the lowest point in the country is the Khukhu-Nuur Lake (552 metres above sea level) in the east of the country. Mongolia has several hundred lakes and a large number of rivers. It extends 2,400 km from west to east and 1,250 km from north to south. The country’s total surface area is 1.5 million sq. km., making it larger than Germany, France, Spain and Italy put together; Mongolia is the 17th largest country in the world. Despite the enormous distances, Mongolia has a mere 3,000 km of metalled roads.
The climate in Mongolia is dry and extremely continental; it can in fact be described as the most continental climate on earth. Average temperatures in January range from minus 35°C to minus 10°C, in July from plus 15°C to plus 26°C, while the southern part of the Gobi desert experiences a temperature range from minus 40°C to plus 40°C. The difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures can be up to 20°C in summer and as much as 30°C in winter.
Precipitation is naturally a rare occurrence; that which does occur is predominantly between mid-July and September, and comes in the form of short, heavy bursts of rainfall. The layer of snow is thin, but remains for an extremely long time (in the mountain regions it remains practically throughout the year). The sun shines on up to 260 days per year, which is why Mongolia is often called "the Land of Blue Skies”.
You should certainly take summer clothing with you in the summer months, but as the evenings and nights may sometimes be cool you are advised to also take one or more warm wool or fleece garments with you. You should certainly also take waterproof and windproof clothing. In addition, it is advisable to bring a few other hard-wearing warm items of clothing. We recommend that you bring a sunhat, suncream and UV-protective sunglasses with you for sunny days.
In Ulan Bator you’ll have the opportunity to try traditional Mongolian cuisine. But you’ll also have plenty of opportunity to eat European and other types of Asian food. Most restaurants are superb, offering high-quality, tasty dishes. Mongolian food is largely based on cooked meat, mainly lamb, but also including yakmeat, beef, horsemeat and marmot. However, there is also no shortage of locally-grown vegetables (onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, cabbage, carrots and potatoes). Eggs, milk and cereal products are generally produced and/or processed domestically. Alcohol consumption is very widespread in Mongolia. There is the drink traditionally made from fermented mare’s milk, well-known in the west under the name kumys, and there is the self-distilled ‘milk schnaps’, but the most popular tipple in Mongolia is vodka, some of which is produced in Mongolia and some imported, and which is consumed with gay abandon.
There are some good, comfortable hotels in Ulan Bator, but few others in Mongolia away from the capital. People staying in tourist camps generally sleep in heated ‘gers’ (yurts) or in two-, three- or four-person tents. Each of these camps features a large, central catering yurt which can also be heated. Most of the camps are also equipped with toilets and showers with hot water in the mornings and evenings. Most of Mongolia, however, is altogether untouched by any kind of tourist infrastructure. It is a requirement that you bring your own sleeping bag for overnight stays in yurts or other camping facilities. The sleeping bag you bring should be warm enough to cope with temperatures as low as -10°C.
We take care to choose especially scenic locations for overnight campsites so that your fascinating day can be rounded off perfectly with an atmospheric evening sitting round the camp fire. The camps will be set up in rural locations and will not have toilet facilities of any kind. All participants are required to help set up and clear away the camps. You’ll find there is plenty of space since a spacious three-person tent is allowed for just two of you.
The Mongolian currency is the tugrik (abbreviated to Tug). To a limit extent credit cards can be used in the capital city, and travellers’ cheques should preferably be made out in US dollars.
Most telephones in Mongolia only allow local phone calls. Telephones of this type can be found and used in shops, post offices and many other locations. In recent years card phones have been installed in many public places (hotels, government offices, restaurants, airports, universities, etc.). Mobicom is the mobile network operator with the greatest coverage in Mongolia, although even this network only works in or near the larger centres of population. The international roaming system makes western mobile numbers accessible in Ulan Bator and certain provincial centres.
Germany can be dialled from Mongolia using the international prefix 00149. To ring Mongolia from Germany the international prefix 00976 must be dialled. Dial 102 for police or 103 for other emergencies.
When travelling to Mongolia you should bring with you any medicaments that you are likely to require, and especially those that you need to take on a regular basis. Having said this, the dispensing chemists in Mongolia do stock a great hotchpotch of preparations from all over the world, but this includes many products that are either not approved or no longer approved in Germany. Away from Ulan Bator, medical care can only be relied on to an extremely limited extent.
Attention to hygiene when eating and drinking (everything should be thoroughly cooked and boiled rather than just lukewarm) should enable travellers to completely avoid most occurrences of diarrhoea (which can sometimes be quite dangerous) as well as many infectious diseases. Tap water should be boiled and fruit and vegetables washed thoroughly or peeled before use. Mongolian First Assistance provides a 24-hour emergency phoneline on 311801 and 326939.
It is also advisable to check that you have been inoculated recently against diphtheria, tetanus and polio. We would also recommend vaccinations for hepatitis A and B, typhoid and perhaps also rabies. The animal disease brucellosis is widespread in Mongolia, and this can be transferred to humans if raw meat or untreated milk is consumed. For this reason you should avoid drinking fresh milk and eating raw meat. Travellers should obtain information and medical advice on how to protect themselves against infection, what vaccinations are required and other prophylactic measures well in advance of their departure date. We would refer you in particular to the general information available from health authorities, doctors experienced in travel medicine, doctors of tropical medicine, travel medicine information services or the Federal Centre for Health Education [Bundeszentrale für gesundheitliche Aufklärung].
German plugs are largely compatible with Mongolian sockets. Power cuts nowadays occur only very infrequently. Mains voltage in Mongolia is 220 volts, 50 Hz.
On entering the country every traveller must fill out a customs form which is retained until you leave the country again. The following items may be brought in duty-free: 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars and 250g of tobacco, 1 litre of spirits, 2 litres of wine, 3 litres of beer and goods with a total value of up to 1,000 US dollars. When leaving the country you should make absolutely sure that you have nothing in your luggage that could result in problems. Such items might include antiquities, valuable minerals, religious artefacts, antique jewellery and ancient relics. Travellers are not allowed to bring Mongolian currency into the country with them; there is no limit on the amount of foreign currency that can be brought in, although it must be declared. Travellers must not take Mongolian currency out of the country with them; foreign currency may be taken out up to the amount that was declared on entry.
Mongolians are friendly and extremely hospitable. Everywhere you go you’ll find people are keen to offer you help. Houses and yurts are open to guests at all times. Mongolians barely understand the meaning of private space, as there is no such thing in their culture. Mongolian culture is based on human coexistence, care and cohesion. Tourists are also expected to enter this society with a spirit of interest and open acceptance of hospitality, which is after all a matter of course for the indigenous people. If you are invited into anyone’s home, the rule of thumb is that you should taste whatever you are offered, even if only to a token extent. Refusing an offering is regarded as an impoliteness. As a guest you should always have a little something with you to present to the host and their family.
The nomads wander to and fro between their summer and winter quarters, sustaining their lives with whatever nature has to offer. This process involves virtually no waste whatsoever. In the capital city many Mongolians dress in western clothes, and so there’s no need to worry as a foreign visitor that you will stand out in a disagreeable way. In the rural areas, on the other hand, women in particular should avoid dressing in a style that could be construed as too loose or risqué. Otherwise the ensuing conflict with strictly traditional moral perceptions may well result in an embarrassing situation. The men in Mongolia, incidentally, almost always wear long sleeves, and short trousers are practically never seen. This is a reliable way to protect your skin from damage in the "land of sun”.
Overland travel in Mongolia could hardly be any safer. Travellers may experience problems with thieves in cities such as Ulan Bator; to avoid such problems you should never leave luggage or valuables unattended in a car or indeed anywhere else. We also recommend that you do not wear ostentatious jewellery or display large quantities of money in public; you should keep valuables close to your body and always be aware of what is happening around you.
Stages through or in Mongolia
This information has been compiled to the best of our knowledge, however this may be subject to change. We are not liable for the accuracy of the stated information.