This post is also available in: Français (French) Norsk bokmål (Norwegian Bokmål)
You have always dreamed to be a nomad in a yurt? You wish to go to the Gobi desert and by doing so cross the biggest desert of Asia? You want to learn more about the country that in the XII century managed to reign on the biggest empire ever created? In that case your next vacations will probably be in Mongolia. Be before going there, let us share some tips with you.
5 millions of people in the world speak Mongolian, the official language in Mongolia. That’s not much. Therefore the chances for you not knowing a word of Mongolian are strong. So how can you communicate with locals?
If your trip in Mongolia involves going through Ulaanbaator, the capital, you will be happy to learn that a part of the population (mainly the young population) speaks English. Well, it will be hard to have long conversations in the language of Shakespeare with the locals, but at least you will be able tofind your way in the city, buy train or bus tickets.
What should you do if you move away from the capital or speak with the older part the population?
If you are in an area with internet coverage, then it’s simple, just use Google Translate. If that’s not the case, remember to download on offline translator application.
Unfortunately there are not many app of this type. The one that we can recommend is Mongolian. This app, partially free, contains basic sentences on different themes (greetings, numbers, accommodation, eating outside, do shopping, emergency, tourism…). If you want more sentences and themes, you will have to take the pro version, it costs 9,99 euros.
Another tip: G’palémo. Before leaving for our world tour, my brother offered us this little book. It contains pictures on all the necessary and useful themes for a trip: food, accommodation, leisure activities…) . How do you use it?For example if you are in a pharmacy or supermarket, looking for band-aids, search for the corresponding image in the book and then show it to your interlocutor.
This book has helped us a lot in Mongolia, but also in China. It is true that pictures are often more efficient than a rough translation.
2. The equipment
Starting from September, the weather in Mongolia is cold… very cold. During our one month trip in the country in October 2017, the temperature went very low: -26 Celsius degrees!
You will need to prepare well if you go to Mongolia during this period. You want to learn more about the type of equipement that we took with us? Look at this video >>here<<.
Most of the stuff mentioned in the video were bought at Décathlon. We will soon publish an article with all the equipment we have bought for this world trip, as well as the links and prices of the items.
3. The yurt
If you want to discover the traditional way of living of Mongolian nomads, you will have to live in a yurt. Yurt are big tents covered by animal skins. In the center there is a wood-burning stove and on the sides single person beds. No toilet, no shower, no electricity. Don’t expect a luxurious place or a lot of comfort when living in a yurt. That type of housing is very practical for nomads as they can take it down easily to go to other places where the pasture will be better for the animals.
During our trip to Mongolia, we were lucky to have a Workaway mission in a farm in Khatgal, a city located 700 km away from Ulaanbaator. For about a week we have shared the daily life of a family of nomads and lived with them in their yurt. If you want to know more about our mission, click on the link to our Youtube video: here.
We didn’t know what to expect when we arrived there. The family we were living with included 3 people: the grand-parents and their grand-child of 4 years. In total we were 5 people in the yurt. The grand-parents would sleep on the single person beds placed on each side of the tent and we would sleep on the floor, in our sleeping bags.
Beside the lack of toilets and running water to shower, the hardest thing was probably the promiscuity. No moment just by yourself in the yurt, there was only one room and no separation between the different parts of the tent. Prepare yourself for the lack of privacy and just enjoy this authentic moment, away from unnecessary things and technology.
4. Food in Mongolia
As said previously, it can be very cold in Mongolia. This climate is not conducive to the production of fruits, vegetables, and cereals, products that need sun to grow. By the way, if you go to supermarkets you will see that the price of these products is often quite high.
Thus we find mainly products of animal origin in the basic diet of the Mongols. To hold and resist the cold, it takes calories. These calories are found in fat. In Mongolia, we eat a lot of mutton (meat known to be very fat) and dairy products with high fat content (cheese, cream) and proteins.
And if you go to the Mongolian steppes, you probably will not have access to clean drinking water. Do like the locals, drink milk. We were stubborn and wanted to drink the water from the river after boiling it … bad idea: we got sick!
5. City or Countryside
It’s simple, move away from big cities like Ulaanbaator or Moron, from their pollution, permanent works and noise, numerous cars …
If you want a more authentic experience, with beautiful encounters and breathtaking landscapes, go to more remote places. Privilege the Mongolian steppes and if you have the opportunity spend time in a Mongolian family and live in a yurt. Many tourists visiting Mongolia visit the Gobi Desert. We decided not to do it and to go to areas that are a little less well known, but in which there are just as many, if not more things to see.
In addition, prices to go in the Gobi desert with an agency can reach nearly 90 euros per day! A big amount when traveling on a small budget. And when we talked with travelers we met here and there during our stay in Mongolia, and who made trips in the desert, we didn’t regret our choice. During these tours you spend an average of 8 hours a day in the car, you travel with people you do not necessarily know, you can not stay longer in the places you appreciate: there is a program to respect …
But if you’ve always dreamed of going to this Asian desert then, compare prices, ask if there are no hidden costs and ask to meet those who will travel with you to get to know them beforehand.
In any case, do not hesitate to visit the other regions of the country.
Do you have other tips for a successful trip to Mongolia? Share them in the comments below 🙂