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Mongolia Guide & Travel Advice

Getting there

There are no direct flights from the UK to Mongolia but a number of airlines offer single-stop options from the UK via Beijing or Moscow to Ulaanbaatar.

Flying times from UK

Flying from the UK to Ulaanbaatar will involve one or two stops and the journey will take around 14 hours. 

Time zone

Mongolia is +8 hours ahead of GMT.

Visa requirements

Visas for Mongolia must be arranged prior to travel and full details will be sent at the time of booking. Travellers must ensure that their passports are valid for at least six months beyond their planned return date and the passport has at least one blank visa page. Please remember that if you travel via China a Chinese visa will also be required.

Do's and don'ts

Learn a few little phrases such as hello, ‘sain bainuu’, before you arrive. Any effort is gratefully appreciated.

If by accident you tap someone’s foot with yours, immediately shake hands with them so as not to cause offence.

A few things to avoid include whistling inside a ger, turning your back to an altar or religious object or taking food from a communal plate with your left hand.

Fire is sacred to Mongolians so never stamp one out or pour water on it.

Money

The Mongolian currency is called the tugrik, although you might also see this stylised as the tögrög (MNT). Mongolia is still very much a cash-based society but it is possible to use credit cards in some hotels, shops and restaurants in Ulaanbaatar. ATMs are available in the capital and are also becoming more common in other towns. Most accept international debit cards and these can be used to withdraw Mongolian tögrögs. Travellers cheques are no longer accepted.

Tipping

Usually tipping, whether in a restaurant, bar or café, is not expected. However, tipping is appreciated and 10% is a reasonable amount. A guideline for tipping your drivers and guides will be advised prior to travel.

Food and drink

Food in Mongolia is greatly influenced by its climate and tends to be simple. Traditional nomadic life, and the food of neighbouring Russia and China, have all had an impact on Mongolian cuisine, however, the standard Mongolian diet still consists of meat, rice, bread and dairy products. Most Mongolians consider breakfast and lunch to be the most important meals of the day. Although beer and vodka are common, Airag – a popular home brew made from fermented horse's milk – is the national alcoholic drink and regularly shared with guests and visitors and at important celebrations. Mongolians also love tea with the most popular suutei tsai or salty tea.

Holidays, festivals and celebrations

Naadam is the most popular celebration in Mongolia and the festival is held every year on the 11th and 12th July. This festival celebrates the anniversary of the People's Revolution that happened in 1921 and consists of traditional games and sports including wrestling, horse racing and archery. At Naadam, children as young as six race stallions for up to 18 miles, men and women compete at archery, and men wrestle each other for the much sought-after title of ‘Invincible Titan’. Tsagaan Sar, the ‘White Month’, is Mongolian New Year when the end of winter is celebrated and people welcome in the spring with lots of eating, drinking and singing.

Shopping

The world’s most luxurious cashmere comes from Mongolian goats. You can buy all kinds of beautifully crafted cashmere items from markets and shops in Ulaanbaatar and camel wool blankets, shoes, jewellery and carpets can usually be purchased from nomadic traders. Please note that it is illegal to take antiques out of the country without a special permit.

Suggested reading

To really understand Mongolia read ‘Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World’, by Jack Weatherford. The author looks at his own travels and field work on the Central Asian steppe, most of it on horseback, with a lively portrait of Genghis Khan and the world of the medieval Mongolian people. In a similar vein, you could also try ‘On the Trail of Genghis Khan: An Epic Journey through the Land of the Nomads’ by Tim Cope. Inspired by the nomadic tradition, Tim Cope takes you on a horseback adventure across the entire length of the Eurasian steppe starting at Karakorum, the ancient capital of Mongolia, and ending up in Hungary. The ‘Lonely Planet Mongolian Phrasebook’ by J. Bat-Ireediu is a really handy pocket guide to Khalkh Mongolian, the language spoken in Mongolia and surrounding parts of Russia and China. The Lonely Planet and Bradt Travel Guide are also useful for general information on the country.

Health

Your doctor is the best person to advise you on staying healthy whilst abroad but current recommended vaccinations are Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Tetanus and Diphtheria. Yellow Fever is compulsory, but only if you have visited an affected Yellow Fever area within 5 days prior to your arrival. In some instances anti-malarial tablets may also be needed. For current information on health advice you may wish to visit the Medical Advisory Services for Travellers Abroad (MASTA) Web Site on www.masta.org.  The NHS ‘Fit for Travel’ website (http://www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk/home.aspx) is also a useful resource.

Travel advice

For current information on Mongolia the best resource is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice) which is a comprehensive resource and updated regularly. We would also recommend visiting the Safer Tourism Foundation website (https://safertourism.org.uk/) before you travel and will be happy to address any questions or concerns you may have.

Mongolia Holiday Ideas

China, Mongolia, South Korea, Central Asia, Nepal and Bhutan Holiday Review

I was lucky enough to be given a three month career break and wanted to do some extensive travelling in Asia. I emailed a number of travel companies with a request to prepare a tailor made tour across certain specific dates. Pettitts were the first to reply and from that moment on provided a superb service. Initially there were a number of changes requested to the itinerary, but they were able to accommodate all changes and flex the programme according to our needs. The countries visited were China, Mongolia, South Korea, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Nepal and Bhutan. Pettitts have clearly identified high quality international partners given that we were impressed with all travel guides in each country.

Pettitts assisted with all questions we had during the planning of the trip and were very quick to get in touch with us on the one occasion they needed to during the trip. Pettitts were excellent and I cannot recommend them highly enough. Their service was first class and I would be more than happy to use their services again.

SG - China, Mongolia, South Korea, Central Asia, Nepal and Bhutan - July 2018

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