Looking for things to do in Mongolia? Look no farther!
Mongolia is a country which alternates between beautiful, untouched countryside speckled with free-roaming cattle and colorful gers (yurts), and chaotic, bustling city filled with so many cars that there are laws dictating who can drive on what day of the week. And while it may seem intimidating or impossible to navigate, I learned from a Mongolian native about the places to go in the city.
Here are a few tips and tricks to help you wander the busy and broken streets of Mongolia’s capital city: Ulaanbaatar.
General Advice for Mongolia
First things first: the current exchange rate of USD to MNT is (though it varies daily) approximately 1 USD = 2500 MNT. Understanding these numbers will help you save money while traveling.
Be sure to bring a jacket. Though temperatures may get toasty in the summer, if you ever venture outside (or above!) the city, the weather can get quite blustery.
Mongolian Transportation Tips
The best from of transportation in Mongolia is your own two feet. If you’re obviously a foreigner, most taxi drivers will try to fleece you out of a few extra thousand tughrik, or tögrög (Mongolian currency). But, taxi rates are generally cheap to begin with, and being fleeced a few extra thousand shouldn’t hurt your wallet too much.
How to hail a taxi in Mongolia: stand on the side of traffic and hold your arm up at a 45o angle from your side. Taxis are mostly unmarked and drivers will not have a meter or GPS system. Some drivers might not know where it is you’re trying to go, but there are hundreds of taxi drivers and you can always get out and hail another one.
Where to Stay in Mongolia: Hotels and Hostels
While I was in Ulaanbaatar, I stayed in a hotel called Zaluuchuud Hotel. At $55 a night, the hotel is a reasonable price, and it offers single beds, two singles, as well as doubles and queens. Each room has a mini fridge, an electric kettle, a desk, and TV. The hotel offers Wi-Fi for the whole building, as well as a complimentary continental breakfast. However, if the food offered isn’t to your liking, you can head to the café next door (Café Eder) for the cheapest breakfast I’ve ever had: 1 slice of crumb cake and 1 large green tea latté only set me back $3.
If Zaluuchuud isn’t your style, or you want to spend a little more money on a more luxurious experience, head over to the Lonely Planet .They’ve already compiled a list of high- and low- end hotels with their prices on their webpage.
What to Eat in Mongolia: Food
One of the best things to do in Mongolia is eat. You may have heard before that Mongolian food is 90% meat, and 10% fat. I’m here to tell you that this is very, very, very true. But vegetables still abound.
Ulaanbaatar is overrun with Indian, Korean, Japanese and Asian-fusion restaurants. There are hundreds of cafés that serve up a heaping bowl of udon soup for lunch, filled with beef, tofu, egg, and noodles – but be warned, you can’t ask for ingredients to be replaced or removed. There’s even a vegan restaurant now: Luna Blanca Restaurant. And if you start to feel a little homesick for some classic American cuisine, you can hit up a KFC.
- Table service takes a very long time, so don’t try to eat in a hurry.
- It is common for waitstaff to not serve you or bring the check until you flag them down and ask.
- It is very difficult to ask for items to be removed or added to a dish. I don’t recommend trying.
- In cheaper restaurants, menu items may be translated incorrectly (ex. Spring rolls with shrimp — there wasn’t any shrimp).
- There is no gratuity for restaurant service.
Best restaurants in Ulaanbaatar:
(V!) is the symbol I use for vegetarian-friendly food.
- A higher-end Indian restaurant with some of the best Indian food I’ve eaten in my entire life.
- What did I buy?
- Masala chai
- Samosas, aloo gobi, naan (V!)
The Green Zone ($-$$)
- A hipster-friendly grill that serves omelets, burgers, and pizza to-order.
- What did I buy?
- Green tea (V!)
- Cheese omelet, French fries (V!)
- Though actually a Korean department store, there’s a wonderful food court with a selection of Korean food, gelato, and other goodies perfect for snacking on when going about your day.
- What did I buy?
- From the Korean restaurant:
- Green tea, rice cake soup (V!), and kimbap
- From the gelato cart:
- Straciatella gelato (V!)
- From the supermarket:
- Sea buckthorn juice, Russian wafer cookies, Turkish chocolate cakes, green tea powder, Mongolian vodka (V!)
- From the Korean restaurant:
The Bull Hotpot Restaurant ($$-$$$)
- Located in the BlueMon center, this hotpot restaurant is always busy, especially as it has become more popular with tourists.
- The BlueMon center also has a Korean restaurant, in case the Bull is too busy.
- What did I buy?
- Warm milk and honey
- Bone broth, beef platter, vegetable platter, assorted noodles, dumplings
- Soy sauce and garlic cucumber slices
But should you want to find some traditional Mongolian cuisine, go to Modern Nomads.
Best Things to do in Mongolia
Between meals, there are plenty of things to in Ulaanbaatar both in and outside of the city to help you experience local culture and history, as well as pick up some awesome souvenirs.
While in Ulaanbaatar, stop by the main city square. If you’re visiting Mongolia in the summer, you might stumble upon some goodies in one of the pop-up shops, or see the many statues and memorials erected there. On the north side the square is the Government Palace, where a large statue of Chinggis Khan sits. This square is often the location of many exhibitions, events, parades, and ceremonies.
During WWII and the Cold War, Mongolia was part of the Soviet Bloc. At the base of the memorial is one of the tanks that Mongolia sent with the Russians to Berlin.
Commemorating fallen soldiers of the war is a massive statue of a soldier holding a flag. One of the great things to do in Mongolia is to go see it! To get there, and take in the aerial view of the city it provides, you need to climb the 300 steps to the summit. Thankfully, at the halfway point there are a handful of tiny snack stands, should you need a refreshment.
At the top you’ll find a large, circular mural depicting images of friendship between Soviet Russia and the Mongols. There is also a magnificent view of the city from all sides, and a fire pit in the center, though it seems to more recently be used as a trash can.
This museum is home to four of the remaining residences of the eighth Jebtsundamba Khutughtu (spiritual head of the Tibetan Buddhism residing in Mongolia), who was later proclaimed Bogd Khan, or emperor of Mongolia. Try to find out ahead of time about tours in English, but there are placards about each exhibit in English in case you miss a tour. No photos are allowed without paying about $10 on top of the normal ticket price.
Gerelt Gudamj, or the Selfie Street (as coined by me)
An unofficial tradition, this street is closed to traffic each Saturday evening in the summer, and dozens of food stands open up on the street. There is often a performance or show occurring on a stage on the street as well. This is a perfect opportunity to sample the foods that the youth culture in Mongolia would eat fairly regularly (i.e. kebabs), though there are lots of novelty food stands as well (i.e. churros!).
Shangri La Mall
The fanciest mall in Mongolia, this towering mall and hotel is a great place to go to get away from the bustle of the city. It’s a sparkling clean, high-end shopping wonderland.
This building houses plenty of restaurants and a handful of embassies, but in the lobby you might find an art exhibition from local artists or universities
If you can manage a trip to the countryside, do. You can escape the sounds of the city and breathe in the crisp, clean air while enjoying the vast expanse of prairie land, bordered on the horizon by tall, blue mountains, and dotted with roaming cattle.
The State Department Store
So now you’ve seen some wonderful things in the city, but you still don’t have a great souvenir to remember your time by? Head over to the State Department Store and shop around the cashmere section. Mongolian cashmere is one of the top exports from the country, and getting in in Mongolia is much cheaper than getting it in the US!
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Sarah is finishing her MS degree at the University of Maine, and is currently scrambling to find laboratory job. In her free time, she enjoys hang gliding, singing, sewing, cooking, and of course, traveling. After studying abroad in Copenhagen, she began to compile a grand list of countries/cities/regions to visit. She’s only seen 1% of that list in person: Copenhagen, Stockholm, Greenland, Paris, Madrid, Frankfurt, and most recently, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. She hopes to head down to Argentina next, followed by Iceland and maybe South Korea. Until then? Maine is a beautiful place to stay.