How to get there
From the Philippines, there is no direct flight to Ulaan Baatar. Either you take a connecting flight from Hong Kong or Seoul or do as we did and go to Beijing and take the transiberian railway. I highly recommend riding the train because it is truly a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience. You may read my full post on the transiberian railway here.
Where to stay
Hotels in Ulaan Baatar are a bit pricey. Most are in the USD$70-$200 price range. To save money, we opted to stay in a hostel instead. May sound a bit scary, especially when it's your first time, but the "hostel" experience was not as scary as I thought it was, it was actually very enjoyable!
We stayed at Zaya Hostel, which is at the 3rd floor of a building by Peace Avenue. From the outside, it looks like an old building but inside, it is very cozy and warm. The decor was also very cozy and pretty. We especially liked the lounge area where you can surf the net, cook food, watch movies and just hang out with fellow travellers. We made a lot of friends there and it was a nice change from the usual stiff atmosphere in hotels.
I also enjoyed the simple breakfast they serve:
You may contact Zaya through their website Say hi to Zaya and Bayor for us too!
The weather in Ulaan Baatar is absolutely bipolar! Although it's generally cold, there are days when it's a bit hot too. Choosing what to wear then becomes a major challenge and a hit-or-miss kind of thing. If you're travelling in May or in summer months, you could wear long sleeved clothes but if you're going at start of spring, bring with you thick winter clothing! The lowest temp we experienced was 2 degrees celsius plus wind chill which was around -5 degrees.
Most tourist spots are outside the city. The nearest is Terelj National Park which about 2 hours away from the city.
Some tourists go on 4-day hiking trips where you will stay in ger camps as you go around Mongolia. Since we didn't want to stay overnight in a ger, we opted to go to national parks nearest Ulaan Baatar, Terelj National Park and Hustai National Park.
My favorite would have to be Terelj National Park because its more populated and there are so much to do there. We got to dine with a Mongolian family inside their ger and got to ate traditional Mongolian food. We also rode horses around the park which made the experience even more enjoyable.
On the way to Hustai National Park, we dropped by the Gobi desert. Too bad we couldn't visit the sand dunes but dropping by a section of the desert was enough to satisfy us.
Hustai National Park is home to Mongolian wild horses. They run free in the area along with other animals. As our host Zaya said, some tourists don't appreciate Hustai that much because there are only animals in the area. To appreciate the place, you have to look with your heart, not your eyes. And so that's exactly what we did in Hustai.
Mongolia is heaven for carnivores! There is so much meat! They serve pork, beef, horse, & mutton. Vegetarians on the other hand will have a more difficult time but we're not exactly deprived. When in Mongolia, you must try the authentic Mongolian grill. For vegetarians, they have tofu and a lot of root crops, so no worries ;)
My favorite Mongolian product on the other hand is called Aarts (like what I've been saying in my previous posts). It's milk curd and resembles the taste of yoghurt. I love it because the milk itself is delicious and the sourness is not too strong. It's subtler than having yoghurt. If you're ever in the area, do not miss out on this-- especially the Aarts cake!
When I think of Mongolia, leather comes to mind. And true enough, leather products in Mongolia are plenty!-- and best part is, they're cheap!
Apart from leather, it is also best to shop for chocolates in Mongolia. European chocolates are super cheap but my favorites would be Golden Gobi, which is Mongolia's local chocolate brand. They are sooooo good! You could taste the difference in the milk they used. Two-thumbs up indeed!
1. Days are longer in Mongolia. Sunset is at 8:30pm, so if you're planning to go somewhere far, you need not worry in having to travel in the dark.
2. Try to avoid traveling via plane as much as you can. Mongolian Air is notorious for delayed flights. And it's not just a few hours delay, they get delayed for days! Apparently, it's challenging fly over the mountains in Mongolia especially when it gets too windy. We experienced this on our flight back to Beijing which was delayed for 10 hours.
3. Taxis are more discrete and there are no signs on them. You just have to stick your hand out and wait for a car to stop in front of you-- then you'd know it's a taxi. Taxi fares are cheap, flag down is normally at 2,500 tugrug which is roughly around $1.50usd
There you go! Hope this guide would help you in your visit to Mongolia! Have fun!
Related posts: Guide to the Transiberian Railway , A photo tour of Mongolia