Look at a map and find Mongolia on it. Do not be confused with the Chinese territory, but it is just there, very close. Mongolia is a landlocked country but there are very powerful neighbors like China and Russia.
Have you heard of Genghis Khan? Well, he was a Mongolian and he was the leader of a very important empire. In fact, China had Mongol emperors. Its political history is somewhat agitated but since the 20s of the last century it is an independent country and if you are looking exotic destinations… What do you think of this?
It is a huge country but at the same time it has very few inhabitants per square kilometer of surface area. Even today many of them are nomads and semi-nomads and although the majority belong to the Mongolian ethnic group there are also ethnic minorities.
Its landscapes are dominated by the Gobi desert, grasslands and steppes. His horses are famous, with them Genghis Khan formed his empire and it was one of his grandsons who founded the Yuan Dynasty in China that Marco Polo talks about in his travel stories.
The Mongols fought for a long time with the Manchu, another of the peoples that came to dominate the Chinese empire, until in the end the territory was divided into an independent republic and a Chinese territory called today Inner Mongolia.
Its capital is Ulaanbaatar, cold city if there are when it is winter. They can make -45 ºC! Obviously, no going in winter unless you want to experience what Stalin's prisoners must have experienced in their dramatic exiles ... Mongolia's economy is based on its natural resources, coal, oil and copper basically.
How to get to Mongolia
Genghis Khan International Airport is about 18 kilometers southwest of Ulaanbaatar. Korean Air, Air China, Mongolian Airlines, Aeroflot or Turkish maintain regular flights, among other companies, so You can arrive by direct flight from Germany, Japan, Hong Kong, Turkey, Russia and China and with a connection from the rest of the world.
If you are adventurous too there is the famous Trans-Siberian Train, the longest in the world. From Beijing to Saint Petersburg it is almost eight thousand kilometers and it is the Trans Mongol branch that runs from the Russian border via Ulaanbaatar to the Chinese border. What trip! 1.100 kilometers in total that run inside Mongolia. Making the trip on this train is a great experience in itself, beyond the destination. It's like the trip to Ithaca.
Many choose to take the Moscow - Ulaanbaatar - Beijing tour. Between Moscow and Ulaanbaatar is five days and from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar is 36 hours. Each carriage has nine cabins with four beds and for a little more money you get twin cabins. Tickets are purchased online from the site www.eticket-ubtz.mn/mn and must be purchased one month in advance.
But when to travel to Mongolia? As we said winter is very harsh. The weather here is extreme but the sun is always shining and that's terribly good. Mongolia enjoys more than 200 days of sunshine so its skies remain blue almost all year round. A beauty. Anyway tourist season is from May to September although you must bear in mind that the climate varies according to the part of the country. It rains a lot from July to August, Yes indeed.
A great time to go to Mongolia is in the middle of July. There are a lot of people but it is worth it because it is when the National Naadam Festival which we will talk about later. Finally, do you need a visa? Some countries do not, but they are not the majority. Anyway the visa is processed in embassies and consulates And if there is no one in your country, you can apply for one in a country neighboring yours that does have it or obtain it upon arrival, but it is complicated by the language.
The tourist visa is 30 days and once you get it, it is valid to be used within the next three months to be issued. In the procedures they ask for an invitation letter so if you go on an organized tour you ask the agency. Until the end of 2015 some countries were exempt from visa but it was to promote tourism (Spain was on that list), but supposedly the promotion has already ended so confirm before traveling.
What to see in Mongolia
Looking at Mongolia on a map we can divide it into different regions according to the cardinal points. The capital is in the central area and it will surely be your gateway so here is a list of what to see in Ulaanbaatar:
- Sukhbaatar Square. It is the main square and it has the statue of this guy in the middle, a very famous patriot. Around it is the Ballet and Opera Theater, the Cultural Palace and the Parliament, for example.
- Gandan monastery. It has occupied its place since 1838 but before it was in the heart of the capital. It has grown a lot since then and today it houses some 5 Buddhist monks. Buddhism suffered under Communism and five temples of the monastery in question were destroyed. With the fall of the Soviet Union, everything was relaxed, the monastery was restored and today it has a lot of life. It has a 40 meter high Buddha.
- Nacional History Museum. It is the best to soak up the history of the country from the Stone Age to the XNUMXst century.
- National Museum of Natural History. The same, but to get to know in depth the flora, fauna and geography of this distant land. Dinosaur skeletons are not lacking,
- Bogd Khan Palace Museum. Luckily the Soviets didn't destroy it in the destructive purge they spearheaded in the 30s. This was the Bogd Khan Winter Palace and today it is a museum. The building dates from the XNUMXth century and Bogd Khan was the last king and Living Buddha. There are six beautiful temples in its gardens.
In short, this is what the city offers, but on the outskirts you can know among other destinations the following:
- Bogd Khan Mountain National Park. It is south of the capital and is actually a mountainous complex with cave drawings and a variety of flora and fauna. Inside is an old monastery from the 20th century with around XNUMX temples and glorious views of the valley.
- Gorkhi-Terelj National Park. It is 80 kilometers from the city and offers a lot of outdoor tourism such as hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking and more. It is a beautiful valley with oddly shaped rock formations, pine-covered peaks, and green meadows studded with wildflowers.
- Gun Galuut Nature Reserve. The best place if you like animals, lakes, mountains, rivers and even swamps. Everything in the same reservation.
- Khustai Nature Reserve. It is 95 kilometers from the capital and the last wild horses in the world live there. They are known by the name of Przewalski horses, after the Polish explorer who saw them in 1878, and after being almost extinct today they are a protected species.
In this first article about Mongolia we focus on providing you with information about the country, how to get there, what you need to get in and the most touristic places in the capital and its surroundings. But like we said, Mongolia is huge so we will continue to discover it together.