Put simply, there is nowhere else on earth like Mongolia. Among the five least most populated countries on the planet, it provides the ultimate escape from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong. We asked our friends at Lightfoot Travel to give us a few compelling reasons for adding Mongolia to our travel plans.
#1 Serenity and landscapes
Mongolia is renowned for its unforgiving yet stunningly beautiful landscapes. With dramatic mountains, vast grassy meadows, towering sand dunes and a startling silence in the open air, you can understand why Mongolians call their homeland the “land of the blue sky”. In the evening, as the sun bows down to the moon, the night sky reveals an incredible display of stars that seem close enough to touch!
With reindeer roaming the north, golden eagles soaring in the west and camels wandering the deserts of the south, travellers often pick which regions to visit based on the wildlife they hope to encounter. The mountains of the southern Gobi are also home to the rare and incredibly beautiful snow leopard. Intrepid travellers can trek through their natural habitat in the hopes of spotting these elusive creatures.
#3 Nomadic culture
While half of the Mongolian population lives in the capital, the rest lead a peaceful nomadic life, herding cattle and wildlife as the seasons change. A truly once-in-a-lifetime experience is to live alongside nomad families, getting up with them in the morning to milk the cows, collect water and help cook the day’s meals. It’s a humbling and enlightening experience that takes you back to what life is really about.
Despite living simple lives, Mongolians are renowned for their hospitality. If nomads have a spare ger – a tent made from felt and wood – they will stay in it while hosting visitors in the main ger. They are incredibly welcoming and very proud people, and are always wanting to show off their wonderful culture.
#5 No other tourists
With a population of just under three million – half of them in Ulaanbaatar – seeing other travellers (or even another person) when out in the wilderness is unlikely. Still, tourism in Mongolia is on the rise, with increased direct flights from Western countries, so be sure to visit soon to have this empty and untouched land all to yourself.
#6 The Gobi Desert
Seeing the world’s fourth-largest desert up close is reason itself to visit Mongolia. From wild roaming camels to the views at the top of the giant “singing sand dunes” of Khongoryn Els, there’s a lot to take in. Be sure to visit the Flaming Cliffs where dinosaur fossils have been found, and make sure you fit in a camel ride for an unforgettable desert experience.
#7 Unique cuisine
While international dishes are available in Ulaanbaatar, the rural nomads rely on their livestock for meat and dairy produce, which makes up the bulk of their diet and helps them survive the harsh winters. A fun way to spend an afternoon is learning to make Mongolian dumplings with a nomad family; vegetarians needn’t worry as alternative dishes can be arranged.
#8 Mongolian history
Genghis Khan, or Chinggis Khan to the locals, is known to most of the world as a ruthless warrior who founded an empire stretching from Asia to Eastern Europe. In Mongolia, though, he is viewed as the father of the nation. His name adorns many businesses in Ulaanbaatar and there is a 40m-high silver statue of him riding his horse close to the capital. Travellers can climb all the way up the horse’s neck for views across the great Khan’s land.
#9 Eagle hunters
Selecting chicks straight from the nest, the Kazakh people of western Mongolia, known locally as Berkutchi, train the majestic Golden Eagle to hunt prey as large as wolves. Visit the far western Altai Mountains in September and October to witness the incredible Kazakh Eagle Festival that’s been a tradition for centuries.
#10 Naadam Festival
The wildly popular Naadam Festival celebrates important and traditional aspects of being “manly” in Mongolia. The festival takes place all over the country in July, with the largest gathering in the capital. Men compete in three sports – horse-riding, wrestling and archery – and children get involved too, with horse racing across a 20km course.
This article first appeared in the June/July edition of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue!