If you’re an adventure seeker and outdoor lover looking for a unique and off-the-beaten-path destination, Mongolia should be on your radar. This vast and rugged country, located in East Asia, offers a wealth of experiences for those willing to venture beyond the typical tourist hotspots. Join us as we share our road trip adventure in Mongolia this October, where we explored the northern regions, with a special focus on the Khantay region. Let’s dive into the best places to visit and the incredible activities you can experience.
The vast open expanse of Mongolia never ceases to amaze
What are the Best Places to Visit in Mongolia:
1. Different Regions of Mongolia
Mongolia, a vast and diverse country, invites adventurers to explore its unique regions. While there are incredible destinations across the country, we’d like to spotlight the northern and western regions, known for eagle hunter families and the majestic Altai Mountains. Additionally, the southern Gobi Desert is known for camel trekking and unique landscapes. However, our main focus was the enchanting Khantay region in Bulgan province.
Western Mongolia boasts the Altai Mountains, ideal for trekking and mountaineering. This region is also famous for its Kazakh eagle hunter families in Bayan-Ölgii Province. These areas offer a glimpse into centuries-old traditions and the chance to capture amazing photography.
While the North has much to see, like the Taiga region, where the Tsaatan relies on reindeer herding, our journey led us to the hidden gem of the Khantay region in Bulgan province, a peaceful haven still untouched by mass tourism. Carefully managed by the Khantay cooperative, consisting of 12 dedicated members, this region started as a beekeeping venture for livelihood. Intriguingly, their high-quality honey led to the offering of Ger accommodations for guests. Breakfast and housekeeping services are available, and the tour operator we work with, New Milestone Tours, helps by organizing the full tour and daily customized day trips for travelers to immerse in the region. These excursions provide opportunities for local nomad families to host and exchange cultural experiences with travelers, making Khantay a remarkable and sustainable destination in Mongolia.
2. What to Do in the Great Outdoors
There is an incredible array of outdoor activities one can embark on in their time in Mongolia. Beyond knowing what are the bestplaces to visit in Mongolia, you also need to know what are the best things to do. From enjoying the wildflowers and observing the bee farming in the July to August period in Summer time to ice fishing in winter, there is an endless stream of nature and adventure activities to experience.
Mongolia’s vast wilderness is a hiker’s paradise. From gentle strolls through meadows to challenging treks in the mountains, there’s something for every level of hiker. We explored the lush Khantay region on foot, encountering breathtaking vistas and pristine nature along the Pass Khyasaa with the local rangers.
Our morning of hiking consisted of scaling mountains with the local rangers of the Khantay cooperative.
If you crave adrenaline, consider a hiking and rafting excursion down the river. This allows you to take in the vast landscape and even stop for more fishing if you choose to. You can also camp overnight in a ger further down the river after an active day of rafting.
To truly immerse yourself in Mongolia’s nomadic culture, spend a few nights in a traditional ger (yurt). We had the opportunity to stay in one during our journey in Khantay, and it was an unforgettable experience and one of the highlights of the trip. The cosy warmth of the ger in the cold nights and the starry night sky above made for a magical evening.
Mongolia’s rivers and lakes are teeming with fish, making it an ideal destination for anglers. The Khantay region is most known for Taimen Salmon, though they do practice a catch-and-release policy to protect and sustain the Taimen salmon population. This fish is the biggest freshwater fish in the world and is known by the name Siberian Taimen. We tried our hand at lure fishing at sunset and enjoyed the serene beauty of fishing in the pristine waters of Khantay.
Kai with the first catch, a local Lenok, a type of trout.
Explore Mongolia’s hidden underground wonders by venturing into its caves. The Khantay region has several caves waiting to be discovered, each with its own unique charm.
Nature and Wildlife Encounters
A Day with Herders
Spend a day with a herder as they go about bringing their goats, sheep, cows and yaks to graze new pastures. You would also be able to spot vultures and other incredible birds of prey in the magnificent steppes.
Depending on the season of your visit, you may have the chance to go on a berry picking excursion. Mongolia’s wild berries are delicious, and you can enjoy them while hiking or camping.
Just like countries like UK, horses are an integral part of Mongolian culture, and you can’t visit without experiencing horseback riding. Whether you’re a novice or an experienced rider, there are tours available for all levels.
Baagii (middle), with her daughter and local community members.
Discovering Mini Gobi and Gobi Desert
The Gobi Desert is one of Mongolia’s most famous attractions, but did you know you can experience the Gobi without having to travel all the way south? If you’re short on time you can get your desert fix by visiting the Mini Gobi which is located close to Kharkhorin, an ancient capital of the Mongol Empire.
Explore the vast desert landscapes atop a trusty Bactrian camel. It’s a unique way to experience the tranquil beauty of the desert.
Mongolia is a photographer’s dream. You need not travel all the way to Dubai for the sand dunes. Capture the stunning sand dunes, camel riding and breathtaking sunsets at Gobi through your lens.
3. Immersing in the Mongolian Way of Life
While Mongolia offers incredible natural beauty, it’s also about connecting with the people and their way of life. Here are some unique cultural experiences to encounter on top of checking off the list of best places to visit in Mongolia.
Engage with the Local Community
Our visit to the Khantay region, located in the Bulgan province, was not just about adventure; it was also about sustainable tourism and community building. We met Baagii, a local entrepreneur who started a successful tourism cooperative, which benefits the local community. By participating in these initiatives, you can support sustainable livelihoods for the locals while experiencing authentic Mongolian hospitality.
Interacting with the Nomad Families – A True Mongolian Experience
Spend time living with nomadic families in their Gers. We got to experience this precious experience with Mr Battulga’s family, despite them being so busy with vaccinations of their cattle that day, he and his wife Jagaa still welcomed us into their home so warmly and prepared a home-cooked local homemade noodles with lamb stew. It was nice getting to see what’s like in their home and how they go about their daily lives.
As a guest having a planned visit to a nomad family, you can also help with seasonal activities like herding, goat combing, and haymaking.
Engaging in Herder Family Seasonal Activities
Our visit coincided with seasonal activities such as cow vaccinations and Mongolian traditional curd making. We had great fun impromptu-ing crashing their cow vaccination activity that day. Join in, and you’ll gain a deeper understanding of the nomadic way of life.
4. Mongolia’s Historical Marvels
Mongolia has a rich history, and there are several historical sites worth exploring:
The Capital- Ulaanbaatar’s Rich History
Start your journey in Ulaanbaatar, where you can visit museums and monuments that shed light on Mongolia’s past. Don’t miss the impressive Gandantegchinlen Monastery, Zaisan Memorial and enjoy the sunset at Zaisan Hill. It used to be a sacred mountain and worshipped by local people, but later it became a WWll memorial with a Russian soldier statue during the soviet regime.
Kharkhorin – Ancient Capital of the Mongol Empire
Explore the ruins of Kharkhorin, the ancient capital of the Mongol Empire. Visit the local museum to learn about the history of this once-mighty city. Dive deeper into Mongolia’s history at the Kharkhorin or Karakorum Museum, where you can see artefacts and exhibits that bring the past to life.
Exploring Erdene Zuu Temple
Adjacent to Kharkhorin, you’ll find Erdene Zuu Monastery, one of Mongolia’s most important religious sites. The stunning architecture and serene surroundings make it a must-visit.
5. Useful Tips to Get the Best of Your Mongolia Adventure Trip
Now that you’re inspired to embark on your own Mongolia adventure, let’s delve deeper into some practical tips to ensure that your journey is as smooth and rewarding as possible while you visit some of these best places in Mongolia.
Going with a local guide or tour operator
As adventurers, we are often more keen on planning our own free and easy trips to have full flexibility and control of our itineraries and preferences. However, going on a road trip in Mongolia on your own may pose some difficulties, given the limitations of the landmarks and sights that are indicated, the rough road conditions and more.
Hence, we strongly encourage you to go with an experienced local tour operator who specializes in adventure and outdoor travel and is flexible with their itineraries. We had a great experience with Adiya, our English-speaking local Mongolian guide and also the founder of New Milestones Tours was extremely accommodating, and flexible and had great relationships with the locals in the Khantay community. We wouldn’t have been able to experience all these authentic and real local adventures and community exchanges if not because of him.
Recommended Telco Networks
Staying connected while travelling is crucial, and in Mongolia, you have a couple of reliable options. Consider getting a local SIM card from Mobicom or Unitel, both of which offer affordable plans ranging from US$10 to $15 for 15-30 days. This will allow you to navigate the vast landscapes, keep in touch with your fellow adventurers, and share your incredible experiences with friends and family back home.
Try Local Snacks
One of the joys of travel is savouring the flavors of the local cuisine. While in Mongolia, don’t miss the opportunity to try Mongolian snacks like Bortsog. These delightful treats are reminiscent of fried dough, and they make for a delicious and satisfying snack while you’re on the go. Sampling local snacks is not only a culinary adventure but also a chance to connect with the culture and traditions of Mongolia.
Local Khantay community members making fresh fried dumplings
Other top recommendations are their local lamb stew and Khuushuur, a local fried dumpling that is made of meat fillings.
Prepare for Long Drives
Mongolia’s breathtaking landscapes are vast and spread out, which means that you’ll often find yourself on long drives, sometimes on bumpy unpaved roads and cutting through streams. To make the most of these journeys, come prepared with comfortable clothing, plenty of snacks for the journey, and a sense of adventure. If you tend to get car sick, bring along some motion sickness pills, or opt for a more spread-out trip of a minimum 7-11 days in order to have more spaces in between. For example, to explore the Khantay region, we first stayed a night in Voyage Hotel in Ulaanbaatar, the same location as New Milestone tour office, which allows for an easy and convenient departure the next moring. If you embark on this tour, its likely you can opt for a ger night in Edernet city for the 1st night and stop by Kharkhorin and Ugii Lake on the way back to Ulaanbaatar. This beautiful lake is a popular stop in July to September and is great for a dip too on warmer days.
Bring Gifts for Local Nomad Families
Mongolian nomads are known for their warm hospitality, and it’s customary to show your appreciation by bringing small gifts when you visit their gers. Consider bringing a unique gift from your home country or food items like candies, or anything that you think might be useful or enjoyable for the families you encounter. These gestures not only show appreciation and courtesy, strengthen the connections you’ll make but also contribute positively to the local communities you visit.
Mindset: Be Open-Minded
Lastly, perhaps the most important tip for your Mongolia adventure is to approach it with an open mind and a spirit of curiosity. Embrace the differences in culture, lifestyle, and landscapes you’ll encounter. Be willing to step out of your comfort zone and immerse yourself in the unique experiences that Mongolia has to offer. Traveling with an open mind opens doors to unexpected friendships, deeper cultural insights, and a greater appreciation for the world’s diverse wonders.
As we conclude our exploration of Mongolia’s untamed beauty and rich culture, we can’t help but emphasize the transformative power of sustainable tourism. Beyond the usual tourist spots, our journey through the Khantay region revealed the immense value of supporting local communities and preserving the environment in the process.
Sustainable tourism offers a chance to immerse yourself in authentic experiences, forging connections that transcend borders and leaving a positive impact on the places you visit. So, when planning your next adventure and deciding on the best places to visit in Mongolia, choose the road less travelled, opt for tours with operators like New Milestone Tours that prioritize sustainability and community engagement, and embrace the opportunity to make a meaningful difference while creating unforgettable memories. In Mongolia and beyond, this is the path to truly enriching travel experiences that resonate long after your journey has ended.