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A vast, landlocked country in Asia, Mongolia is as much a cultural cross between China and Russia as it is the landmass dividing them. With one of the world’s lowest population densities, this is a land full of empty spaces… and therein lies its charm. Big, clear skies kissed by sunlight mirror the cold, vast outback in wide-openness.

Mongolia is a land replete with stunning natural features, a feast for the eyes. The Gobi Desert is located here, and is home to double-humped camels! Also of note is the world’s second-largest freshwater lake, Khuvsgul Lake. Eagles wheel through the sky over the western Altai Mountains, and then there is the massive steppe, which rolls out in seemingly endless hills for as far as the eye can see. Pristine and unspoiled, this is truly one of Earth’s last great wild places.

Some of the world’s last true nomads live in Mongolia, and one can find them living with their families in their portable ger houses. They love visitors and will welcome you with a steaming cup of milk tea and some friendly conversation. It’s even possible to spend a night in a ger and discover the nomads’ peaceful, humble way of life. The people here are relaxed and friendly, especially the Mongolian children!

Mongolia Top Destinations

Ulaanbaatar

Wild and unpredictable, the Mongolian capital city is full of surprises. The traffic is crazy, the culture is engagingly bohemian, and the nightlife is livelier than you would expect! Traditional Mongolian theater is a treat, and Ulaanbaatar’s National Academic Drama Theater is a great place to take it in. The food here is also exceptional. Don’t miss the Gandan Khiid, a 19th century monastery with great historical and religious significance, or the Winter Palace, where Mongolia’s last king lived for twenty years. If you love to shop, you won’t want to pass up a chance of scoring some authentic Mongolian cashmere, which is soft as a dream.

Erdenet

Erdenet is Mongolia’s second-largest city, and the site of one of the world’s largest open-pit copper mines. The city is also known for its carpet factory, which turns out specimens of exceptional style and beauty—they make fabulous souvenirs. You won’t want to miss a display of traditional local archery, which is practiced by both men and women robed in beautiful gowns. You can see the teams practicing in winter and springtime as the weather warms and they prepare for the Naadam, or competition. Horse-racing and wrestling are other local spectacles that make for fascinating watching.

Hovd

Hovd exists at the intersection of Kazakh and Mongolian cultures. From language to traditional art styles, one experiences the best of both worlds here. Two big rivers run through town—the Buyant and the Hovd—and in warm months families will often leave their homes and set up their gers on the banks. There are also mineral springs in the area, which are rumored to have curative properties. Swimming is understandably excellent here! This area is also known for its ancient cave paintings, located in Tsenkheriin Agui in Mankhan soum. The paintings are some 15,000 years old and depict animals. You also won’t want to miss performances of traditional Mongolian music and dancing at the Hovd theater.

<3>Khentii

You can trace the path of Genghis Khan through Khentii, the region where he lived and conquered. Horseback is the best way to move around out here, as well as being an appropriate way to follow in the footsteps of a fearsome warlord. You’ll want to bring a copy of The Secret History of the Mongols, a very old book that is considered a definitive history of the land and a must-read for all Mongolians. Khentii is anchored by the Khentii Mountain Range, which offers excellent hiking trails. Here you’ll feel like you stepped into another century, or that you’ve found the ends of the earth.

Olgii

The gateway to Altai Tavan National Park is emblematic of Mongolia’s “winter wonderland” side. High, rugged, and dry, this is a land of glaciers and snow-capped peaks. Foxes and wolves run through the snow, and the tradition of eagle hunting still lives on here. If you like hiking, the Altai Mountains have some fantastic trails. The presence of 12,000 year old petroglyphs has led to the area being designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The ancient Turkic Standing Stones will also give you a glimpse into the past. Visit the many mosques here for a quiet moment.

Quick Facts

Capital: Ulaanbaatar
Primary Airports: Chinggis Khaan International Airport (ULN)
Government: Parliamentary Democracy
Currency: Tugrik (MNT)
Population: 2,839,000 (2013 est.)
Language: Mongol, Turkic, Russian
Electricity: 230V/50Hz (Euro)
Time Zone: UTC +7 - +8
Mongolia
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