Posted by Selena Travel / 03 02, 2024
Sometimes we can’t stay as long as we want in a place. If you don’t have a ton of time, but want to maximize your Mongolian experience you can. Mongolia’s size is part of its charm, but it’s also one of its challenges. For example, if you want to visit Mongolia, and see a lot of the Gobi Desert in three days, it’s just not going to happen.
For this list, I compiled things you can easily do from the hub of Ulaanbaatar. From there, you can arrange smaller trips, and some of these activities can be done elsewhere (like horseback riding). These trips are for anything from a day-long layover to three days.
Terelj is one of the jewels in Mongolia’s crown of National Parks. The park is primarily located a valley that follows the Tuul River. There are some craggy peaks, but nothing so high you will need specialized gear. There’s a lot to do in Terelj.
There are many ger camps located along the road that have varying levels of luxury. Some are simple gers with a couple of beds, and others are larger buildings with heated floors and windows facing out to the hills.
Hiking is a great way to see the park. While there are few actual marked trails, maps can be easily found at your ger camp or in Ulaanbaatar. The aptly named “Turtle Rock” is a popular picnic site, and a good place to grab some photos. There’s a small dinosaur statue park as well.
The park is located an hour away from the center of the city. The new highway that’s being built there, should make it a smoother trip. Right now, it’s under construction, but should be finished before the end of the summer. The park is good for a one to three-day trip.
While you’re in Mongolia, you should definitely try some traditional Mongolian foods. Some great restaurants are the chain of Modern Nomads Restaurants located throughout Ulaanbaatar and the country. The restaurant Mongolians, located in the Shangri-La mall, also have great traditional meals with many artifacts as decoration throughout the sitting area.
There are a number of Mongolian foods you should try. Most of them are hearty, to keep you warm through the winter, or to revitalize you after a day hiking (or a night partying). The first to try is khorkhog. It’s a kind of stew that is traditionally made with mutton, cooked with hot stones inside the body of the lamb.
Some other tasty mutton dishes include khuushuur and buuz, both of which are basically dumplings with lamb inside. Buuz is sometimes served in a broth, but khuushuur is fried and served piping hot everywhere.
Most restaurants that cater to tourists will also have beef and chicken options. There are many more traditional foods, though if you’re looking for a vegetarian option, try Luna Blanca. They do traditional Mongolian foods but with vegetables instead of meat.
After all the long trip to Ulaanbaatar you may need some time to relax. Ulaanbaatar has a number of good spas available. If you go out to Terelj the UB Hotel has a great spa with a pool. You can get manicures, pedicures and massages to sooth your tender muscles. After riding a horse for a couple hours, you’d probably sleep well after a massage or two. There are hot stone massages, couples’ massages, aromatherapy and a handful of other varieties on offer.
Other spas in Ulaanbaatar offer beauty services for a lower price than you can get at home. Depilatory options, make up tattoos and many kinds of ice or water therapies can be found at many places. They can be just the thing to end an adventure or a nice way to spend some time in a layover.
Some people may not know this, but Mongolia produces a lot of cashmere each year. There are a number of cashmere outlets that sell their goods to Europe. You can get them at a much lower price here in Mongolia.
The processing happens here as well. You can go on a factory tour. Watching the machines turn the soft fibers into thread, and then weave them together in a cloth is fascinating and meditative. Of course, afterwards buy a lovely blanket or scarf as a souvenir. If you have a little bit of time, you can ask for a custom-made cashmere suit or piece of clothing, though the outlet stores have many options for many sizes.
There’s a number of ger camps near the capital, Ulaanbaatar. Once you’re outside the city, you can find one very easily. For the more prepared traveler, you can arrange a ger camp in advance. Those camps are usually run by herder families, or have relationships with herders. They will definitely have some horses to ride, or yaks, or even camels if you’re lucky. For those who are more spontaneous, you can also just go and negotiate a ride with a herder. You will probably want to have some basic Mongolian to negotiate a price.
Seeing the country on horseback is probably the most romantic and epic ways to experience Mongolia. Horses are an integral part of the Mongolian identity. Mongolians love their horses, and begin riding from an early age. Even city kids can ride better than most Westerners. Remember, the Mongolian horses are short and sometimes a little wilder than European horses. A good camp will set you up with a horse based on your skill level, though. You can ride for as short as an hour, or set up a multi-day tour with camping and a cook as a guide.
If you’re in Ulaanbaatar for a couple days and want to see some of the vast steppe, Hustai Nuruu is a great destination. The park is about an hour or two from Ulaanbaatar. The park works better as an overnight or multi day trip. By staying in the evening and early morning, you have a better likelihood of seeing the wildlife.
Hustai Nuruu is home to the takhi, or Przewalski’s Horse. Other wild horses are escaped domesticated horses. The takhi is the last true wild horse on earth. They have complex social lives, and the park has a nice little museum to introduce you to them. If you’re into bird watching, there are dozens of species and books available for purchase to see what species there are.
This monastery and meditation center is about an hour north of Ulaanbaatar. Set in beautiful nature, there are lovely pine trees on the hills surrounding the temples. Small pagodas dot hilltops, and the place is a picture of peace. The monastery has a few activities; you can meditate, visit a temple with some Buddhist art, and hike to see all the sculptures built into the hillsides. This could work as a day trip, or be a side trip on your way North.
If you’re not so into the outdoors, no need to worry. Mongolians can party with the best of them. Ulaanbaatar is the capital of the nightlife in the country. Seoul Street, which spreads out from the center of town, has many options.
They stop car traffic during summer nights. Whether it’s a boy’s night out or something more relaxed, you can find what you’re looking for. There’s a number of classy restaurants in the high-rise buildings at the top.
And be sure to try some karaoke – it’s become a big part of Mongolian culture, and a fun way to unwind with some friends.
If you only have a little time in Mongolia, but want to see the world-famous Gobi Desert, it is definitely possible. It would be tough to do in a day, but you could see some of it in two or three days. You could take the train to Sainshand, a lovely little town in the Gobi. They have a monastery and meditation center there with a cave to get “reborn” in. You could stay in one of the hotels there.
If you want to hire a driver, you could stay in a ger near the dunes. The White Stupa cliffs are close enough to be an easy trip from Ulaanbaatar, and the road is mostly paved. You could spend the night with a herder family, and either return the next day or go farther out. There are many activities in the Gobi, from hiking to camel riding, to dune sliding, so be sure to bring your sense of adventure!
Though Mongolia has a well-deserved reputation for outdoor activities. However, there are tons of art galleries in Ulaanbaatar. The local arts are well supported and well-funded. There are many galleries and a handful of museums devoted to Mongolian art. You should definitely check out the Zanabazar Art Gallery, and the Art Gallery next to Sukhbaatar Square.
Most of the art is reasonably priced, and there are options for all budgets. Even a trip to the State Department Store can turn up some gems to take home to remember your time in Mongolia.