Backpacking around Mongolia in winter
Travels with pure vodka, fat food and endless blue sky
Backpacking around Mongolia: That’s one of the decisions, that might change your perspectives on life. It is a fascinating, but also rough country, which leaves enough space for adventures. I went backpacking in Mongolia for four weeks in 2012. Vodka, fat food, Buddhist monasteries and endless blue sky were part of it as well as traveling around the Mongolian steppe, staying in gers, hiking and horse trekking.
I was backpacking around Mongolia as a solo female traveler in winter and used public transport. I wouldn’t call it the easiest experience in my life, but backpacking around Mongolia as a solo female traveler clearly was one of the more intense experiences in my life. During my time in Mongolia, I traveled to Ulaanbaatar, Lake Khövsgöl (also called Lake Khovsgol, Chöwsgöl Nuur oder Chöwsgöl Dalai) and Gorkhi-Terelj National Park. I finally left Mongolia by the Trans Siberian Train to Moscow.
Still, backpacking around Mongolia is possible. Food, vodka and accommodation are still cheap. There is public transport, but busses can be slow, old and uncomfortable, roads really bad or non-existent. More than once, I felt uncomfortable traveling just by myself as a female traveler and very happy to join other people on a backpacking trip. More than twice, I was happy about a shower and a vegetarian restaurant.
I found it slightly tough traveling in the cold around Mongolia. I had to get used to being inside a rough nature and to drinking vodka pure. But I totally enjoyed the trip and the occasional thrill. And I can just recommend Mongolia to everyone, who wants to experience something more unique than full moon parties in Thailand. Maybe just go, before the first snow falls or again in spring or summer.
Ulaanbaatar: Arrival in a different world
Backpacking Mongolia, I arrived in Ulaanbaatar from the Chinese border. It felt like entering a different world. Within a few days, I had experienced a dramatic change of temperatures. Two days earlier in Beijing, I had been wearing a t-shirt. In Ulaanbaatar, I had to cope with minus degrees. It was beginning of October and I was wearing all the clothes, that I had. Leggings under my jeans, the fake brand rain coat, that I had bought in China. The air in Mongolia was freezing cold. The clear blue sky was framing the sharp frost. The sun helped me to stay in a good mood.
There were a lot of communist style buildings in Ulaanbaatar. Cyrillic letters everywhere. Women were wearing long traditional coats. Restaurants served lots of fatty meat. I arrived in a place, where I saw people drinking vodka like water and where every car will offer you a taxi ride. Mongolian gers – the portable white round Nomad tents covered with skin or felt – stand next to apartment blocks. After checking a few restaurant menus on my backpacking trip around Mongolia, I can definitely say, that Mongolia is a meat lovers’ country. And a place, where I experienced openly racist behavior.
As a solo female traveler in Mongolia:
Not always a good idea
To be a solo female traveler in Ulaanbaatar had been perfectly alright as hostels seemed to be safe. But while backpacking around Mongolia and staying in rural parts of the country, I was more than happy to have company. Of course, the big majority of the people, that I met in Mongolia was friendly. I also had a few situations with drunken and impolite or aggressive men, that made me feel uncomfortable and feeling helpless. For example, one time in a train, a sturdy man, who was completely drunk, put himself in my way between the waggons. He didn’t want to let me pass. He was laughing. I asked him a few times with a very Strong voice to let me pass. He did. But I didn’t feel good with the situation. Of course, these are very personal and subjective experiences. It might not happen to you. But it happened to me.
If you are not an experienced single traveler, I would always recommend to find travel mates in Mongolia and to explore especially the wide landscapes and fascinating nature of Mongolia together with other travelers. Hostels in Ulaanbaatar can be a good base to meet fellow travelers while backpacking Mongolia. At least, in winter, it seemed a bit tough. Mongolia is definitely more rough, colder and more distant on the first impression than other and Asian countries.
Tours around Mongolia for solo backpackers
Even if you don’t meet any fellow travelers to go on backpacking Mongolia together, don’t miss out to see great landscapes. It’s still possible to travel by yourself even as a woman. And there are also a lot of tours offered in Ulaanbaatar. The countryside is definitely worth a visit or more. Your eyes will love the colors. Your ears the nature’s soft silence, your heart the hospitality of the Nomads. It took me a while until I learned to love the rough Mongolia. But I managed to get there.
- Get general information about Sightseeing, shopping and public transport on the capital’s website.
Do I need a visa for Mongolia?
- Get visa information at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mongolia.
Border crossing from Erlian to Zamin Ud: Not easy!
After I had been backpacking around China for 7 weeks, I crossed the border from China to Mongolia from Erlian in China to Zamin Ud in Mongolia. I could have traveled directly from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar by train, but that would have been slightly more expensive and maybe also less adventurous. I wanted to see Hohot in China, the small villages in Mongolia and to cross the border by jeep.
The border crossing from Erlian in China to Zamin Ud in Mongolia hadn’t been easy. I had arrived late in the evening in the border town of Erlian and spent a night in a basic hotel in Erlian. The hotel was so basic, that didn’t even have a shower. But the hotel staff told me, where to go and to ask for a ride to cross the border. Ask and bargain! That is what I did early in the next morning. In Erlian, there was a square, where all the jeeps were lined up – ready to go for Mongolia. Many people crossing the border are traders. I couldn’t manage to get a ride cheaper than 100 Yuan, although some travel bloggers say, that 50 to 80 Yuan is the normal price. Well I tried. But no way.
In a car with 3 strong women:
Problems at the border from China to Mongolia
Crossing the border to Mongolia, I had a good feeling going in a jeep with three strong Mongolian women. We left Erlian around 10am. But too bad: All foreigners had to wait at the border to pass immigration. Just the Mongolians had been allowed to pass the border quickly. I didn’t understand the problem. I guess, there had been a computer issue. I was patient and sat there for three hours until I got a bit nervous. My plan was to catch the overnight train from Erlian to Ulaanbaatar, which was supposed to leave at 6.20 pm as every day.
After a while, I was carefully asking some officials to please let me pass the border. I felt a little desperate at that time. And yes, suddenly I was allowed to speak with an English-speaking official. He probably considered me to be harmless and suddenly gave me the permission to pass the border.
I had gotten my Mongolian tourist visa at the Mongolian embassy in Beijing before. If you end up in Erlian without a visa for some reason, there is a Mongolian Embassy in Erlian as well. Turn up early in the morning and you are probably able to get your visa at the same day. But be aware: Same day processing is always the most expensive way to get a visa. And the border closes at 6pm.
Tears behind sunglasses:
Walking to Zamin Ud train station
I passed the border to Mongolia with delay. Of course, the jeep with the three strong Mongolian women had gone. Our deal had been to bring me to the train station in Zamin Ud in Mongolia. But instead, I stood in the middle of nowhere by myself. Of course, it hadn’t been the women’s fault, that the border was closed for foreigners. They had even given me back some of the money, that I had paid for the ride.
Normally, people aren’t allowed to pass the border by foot. But there were no buses, so I started walking. An official tried to stop me. But what did he want me to do? To wait? There was no other car coming, no bus, so that there was no choice. I asked him, what to do instead. I almost shouted at him.
And suddenly, I was allowed to walk on. It was a few kilometers to Erlian. I tried to look cool. But I was not. At that point, my nerves had already been wrecked. Behind my dark sun glasses, I started to cry. I felt lonely and swamped. Just for a minute. No more time for self-pity. It was me, who had chosen to travel this way. So I had to deal with all kinds of stupid situations.
Strangers gave me a ride to Zamin Ud train station
While I was walking with my backpack to Zamin Ud train station, there was suddenly a car stopping next to me. A couple offered me a ride to the train station. Yes. All went good in the end. I was still in time to buy a train ticket at the station and to catch the train to Ulaanbaatar. It was 17 Euros to get to Ulaanbaatar. I just had to share my cabin with two terribly snoring guys, that were constantly telling me, that I was too thin and that I needed to eat more to survive the Mongolian winter. Instead of sleeping, I watched the sparse landscape passing by for long hours.
Great stay at the Idre Hostel in Ulaanbaatar
The first morning in my hostel in Ulaanbaatar, I slept till lunch. I didn’t care. I was exhausted. But I was not alone in the dormitory. Already at the train station in Ulaanbaatar, I had met another traveler from Slovenia, that arrived there with the same train. Together, we had walked a few hundred meters to the nearby Idre Hostel in Bayangol district, Narnii Guur street. The hostel was great, cosy and the price for a bed in a dorm less than 10 Euros per night.
When I walked into the kitchen to have some breakfast, my jaw dropped. I knew the guy, who was just preparing a bread with jam. I had met him a few months before in Vietnam. We had visited the Cu Chi Tunnels close to Saigon together. It was very funny to meet him again in Ulaanbaatar. Every traveler understands sometimes, how small the world is.
Sightseeing in Ulaanbaatar:
About the Beatles and Nomadic city life
Sightseeing in Ulaanbaatar was funny and bizarre at the same time. I got myself a map at the very centrally located hostel and just started waking: Top sights are the impressive Chingis Khan Square with the parliament building and the city centers impressive buildings as the state department store with some empty upper floors.
I walked into the supermarkets and small markets with the very expensive imported vegetables, fruits and cans. It’s obviously not a vegetable growing country. Fresh fruit is not cheap.
I looked into the English bookstore close to the State Department Store on the Peace Avenue. I walked on and I had to smile, when I saw the Beatles monuments in the middle of the city center. I love bizarre monuments in post communist countries.
The Zaisan Memorial on top of the hill south of the city is one of the highlight considering sightseeing in Ulaanbaatar. You can walk or take a bus from the city center. The Zaisan Memorial is a great place to watch the sunset behind Ulaanbaatar’s smokestacks, apartment blocks and the white Nomad gers spread across the city.
Yes, the city is growing, because many Mongolians take their tents and try to find a better life in the city. The tents look idyllic in the countryside, represent liberty and movement. But in the city’s dust, the tents looked poor. The mix of stones and tents showed the society’s diversity, but inequality at the same time.
On the way up the hill, I spend some time in the Tsagaandarium gallery, really surprised to find a gallery like this in Mongolia’s capital.
I also visited some museums like the National History Museum and the “Victims of Political Persecution Museum” in Ulaanbaatar. It’s okay to check the museums out, if you have spare time. They probably won’t change your life. But with outside temperatures of -14 °C, it was very nice to be inside.
Buying clothes at Narantuul Market in Ulaanbaatar
Narantuul Market in Ulaanbatar is also called Black Market. Don’t expect to get into a criminal’s hell. To me, it appeared just as a normal market with traditional clothes, typical Mongolian boots, socks, jumpers, second-hand clothes and household goods. A lot of people were there, traders, customers, some snack stalls. Everyone knows, how to get there. It’s the place to be for shopping. You can get a bus from Peace Avenue for example.
It’s definitely worth getting some sturdy colorful handmade Mongolian winter boots for just a few Dollars. It’s not a real market for souvenirs, but I still found some stuff for family and friends like warm wool socks and some shoes for the home. And it’s a good place for travelers, that need to buy some clothes for backpacking in Mongolian temperatures. As everywhere in crowded public places: Be aware of pickpockets!
On the way to Lake Khövsgöl:
Going overnight cross-country by bus
The area around Lake Khövgöl close to Khatgal and close to the Russian border had been one of the most impressive places, that I saw while backpacking Mongolia. Well, I saw many ways to write the name of the lake: Lake Hovsgol, Lake Khövsgöl, Lake Khovsgol, Khuvsgul Lake, Chöwsgöl Nuur oder Chöwsgöl Dalai. But anyway, if you don’t have a plan yet, what to do in Mongolia on a backpacking trip, it’s a good idea to choose Lake Khövsgöl to spent some time. There are tourist camps around in Khatgal, that offer the opportunity to stay in authentic Nomad tents, to go hiking, horse trekking or kayaking. There is a lot of stuff to do. Maybe even swimming in summer.
With a few people from my hostel, I made my way from Ulaanbaatar to Lake Khövsgöl close to Khatgal. No, we didn’t rent a jeep. We traveled as most of the locals do: We took the bus from Ulaanbaatar. To get to Lake Khövsgöl close to Khatgal, we had to travel 684 kilometers from Ulaanbaatar to Moron first.
Bus stations in Ulaanbaatar:
Take a taxi ride with a local to get there
To get to the bus station in Ulaanbaatar, the staff from our hostel helped us and stopped a random car for a taxi ride. Just on the street in front of the hostel. In Ulaanbaatar, any driver, who wants to earn some money, is allowed to give people a ride. You just need to agree on a price before the ride.
The bus station was a dusty place, basically just a random place. I wouldn’t have recognized it without knowing. And we had bought the tickets a day in advance. The hostel staff had explained us how to get there by bus. My advise: Stay in Ulaanbaatar in a good hostel or hotel, where the staff is able to help with advise.
Good to know for example: There are four main bus stations in the capital. Buses going north and west are leaving from Dragon (Songino Khairkhan), south and east from Bayanzurkh. Vans going west and north are leaving near Narantuul Balck Market and vans going north from Bayantzkh.
16 hours traveling overnight to Lake Khövsgöl:
Toilet stops in the middle of nowhere
To get to Lake Khövsgöl close to Khatgal, we had to travel 684 kilometers from Ulaanbaatar to Moron first. The bus started 2 hours late. No idea why, but no one seemed to be in a hurry. The bus didn’t look especially trustworthy, but it was working. The ride was horrible and long. 16 hours going cross-country overnight. There were no proper roads, so that I got shaken in the bus for hours. The toilet stops were in the middle of nowhere. There hadn’t been even trees to hide behind. At the food stop in a roadhouse, my travel mates almost got unintentionally involved in a fight with some sloshed Mongolians. I was just happy, that the bus driver wasn’t drinking too much.
We were happy to arrive in Moron the next day. It was a village of colorful wooden houses with colorful roofs embedded in a sparse scenery, dust and spruces with yellow needles around.
But that was not the end of the trip. Usually, there are vans from Moron leaving to Khatgal as soon as enough people want to go. But that day, it was not working that way. I didn’t understand why, but we had to find a private driver. People were helpfully asking around. It took us 2 hours until we sat in a car of a random guy, that was going to Khatgal anyway. 2 hour waiting time. It was just enough time to buy a few small bottles of vodka to drink on the way. We were already adopting the Mongolian way of life. And the vodka made us stay warm.
Camping in winter:
Surprisingly cosy in MS Guesthouse in Khatgal
I was tired and dead after the overnight ride from Ulaanbaatar to Moron. I was very happy, when we arrived at the MS Guesthouse in one of the few ger camps, that were still open in October. There were not many tourists around at that time of the year. We had found the address in our guidebook and had sent an email before. One of the three white nomad tents was already waiting for us.
In the tent, there were four beds with a lot of blankets standing around the oven. We shared the tent with 3 people in total. I’ve never slept in a tent while it was snowing outside. My friends at home would have called me crazy. But to my surprise, it was really warm in the tent with the oven running. I also had a very good lightweight down sleeping bag working for cold temperatures.
We had o heat up the tent by ourselves. But early in the mornings, the camp owners came into the tent and started the fire. For breakfasts and dinners, we went to the stone house of the owners with a living room or the guests inside. All in all, it was a great and new experience to me.
Camping in winter in Khatgal:
Water pipes in the toilet building frozen
The day of our arrival in Khatgal, it also started to hail and to snow. First, I found all of that kind of romantic and authentic, even if I was staying in a tent in a tourist camp. But after a few days, I couldn’t laugh anymore about the fact, that the water pipes were frozen in the little building with toilets and showers. It’s true, that you fully understand, how hard life in the countryside is in winter.
The frozen water pipes meant, that there was no possibility at all to have a shower. There was no hot water to wash your hair. And I understood, that many families living a true Nomad life don’t even have a shower building. They are heating up some water in their tents to wash themselves – considering the effort probably not on a daily basis as people told us. That might have been the reason, why I saw quite a few Mongolian women with their very greasy hair pinned up in neat hairdos.
- You can contact the MS Guesthouse via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Read reviews about MS Guesthouse on Tripadvisor.
Horse trekking around Khatgal: Hurting bum
At the first morning in Khatgal, me and one of my travel mates went on a trekking trip on horseback. It was seriously the first time in my life, that I sat on a horse for longer than ten minutes, riding the horse by myself. Well, at least I tried to. I was a bit useless on the horse and the animal just did, what it wanted. It basically wanted to stop and to eat wherever possible.
The owner of the MS guesthouse had organized the trip. Early in the morning, our 18-year old Mongolian guide had arrived with two horses. He hardly spoke English, but he knew, what he was doing. The next few hours, we saw amazing landscapes, touched with snow under a stunning blue sky. My bum was hurting and I was sure, that the horse was laughing about me, but I still enjoyed the day.
Khatgal: Visit at the desert home of a Mongolian family
On the horse trekking tour through the surroundings of Khatgal, the guide took us for lunch to his family home. A ger in the middle of nowhere. The living room and sleeping room of several generations. We were invited to come into the simple house. There was little furniture, a TV, some mattresses, equipment for the baby, meat hanging inside the ger with some flies sitting on it. We took place on some small stools and got generously offered salty milk tea and some bread with salted butter milk spread.
A woman had used snow for cooking the tea. I offered some chocolate and mandarins to the family, that I had bought at the market in Ulaanbaatar. I didn’t have a present. I had not been prepared to visit a Mongolian family. But in this spontaneous way, it was somehow very relaxed to sit and eat with some strange people in a ger, whose language we didn’t speak. We still tried to communicate a bit. I felt very welcome. Outside, there were some animals fenced. I imagined it to be a tough life. After lunch, the guide brought us back before it got dark outside. I was thankful about the experience.
With a private driver to Toilgt:
Diving into deep Mongolian silence
While staying in Khatgal on my backpacking trip around Mongolia, me and the other guys went with a private driver to Toilgt to get a different Perspective of Lake Khövsgöl. We saw the whole beauty of the lake. There were animal skeletons lying on the ground. Icy beauty. No wind. No leaves were rustling. Complete silence. I didn’t even hear a bird singing. We were all strolling around a few meters away from each other. And I couldn’t remember, that I have ever been in such a quiet environment.
When I stopped breathing, there was simply no noise anymore. Nothing. It scared me a bit, but was on the other hand a unique experience. It’s a great place to calm down, relax, go back to the essentials. Once being there, I just noticed, how noisy my daily life constantly is.
On the way back to Khatgal, we had to cope with a burst tire. Obviously a routine situation for our driver on the very bad basic roads. It just took him a few minutes to fix the problem.
Khatgal: Wolves howling a night
Aggressive dogs around
The only downside in rural Mongolia was, that there were far too many dogs around, seemingly living in the streets, having no home. At night, I heard dogs and probably also wolves howling. In Khatgal in the countryside, I didn’t feel very comfortable, when I had to go to the toilet building at night. Some of these dogs were aggressive. I didn’t like it to walk around in the village and the countryside by myself. Even locals were throwing stones at the wild aggressive dogs to protect themselves. We also always took stones with us.
During my journey around Mongolia, I had seen dogs with white foam at their mouths going crazy, even in town centers. I guess, that there is rabies around in Mongolia.
Nightmare of every traveler:
Scared of rabies after dog bite at Lake Khövsgöl
Actually, while backpacking Mongolia, one of my travel mates got bitten by a dog on a small hike around Lake Khövsgöl. It had seemed as if the peaceful dog had just wanted to play. But suddenly the blood was running down my travel mate’s hand. He needed medical treatment soon. We had some first aid equipment with us for disinfection and bandaging. But it was a serious bite and we were all quite sure, that he needed rabies vaccination soon – just in case. He didn’t want to risk becoming a zombie and dying because of carelessness. Who knows, if the dog was infected or not. We didn’t know the dog or its owner. Suddenly, the real challenge started.
Challenge after dog bite at Lake Khövsgöl: No doctor in town
After my travel mate got bitten by a wild dog on a hiking trip around Lake Khövsgöl, there was no doctor in town, just a nurse. And no vaccine. The nurse was able to stitch the wound. But we had to find a driver to go to the hospital in Moron for the rabies vaccination. Just a few hours later, we sat together in the very expensive taxi, that was driving us to the next hospital late in the evening.The ride took 2 hours.
Fighting for rabies vaccine at the hospital in Moron
After my travel mate got bitten by a dog on our hiking trip, we arrived in Moron late at night. The hospital was bizarre. From the outside, it reminded me of an abandoned slaughterhouse, not of a well equipped clinic. Empty halls. I almost fell down at the entrance stairs, because there was no light.
Most of the doctors didn’t speak English. They helplessly looked at us. To make ourselves understood, we called the international hospital in Ulaanbaatar for translations. But still nothing happened, because it wasn’t possible.
One English-speaking doctor came and explained to us, that the vaccine against rabies was locked away in a special room. The nurse, who had the key, had gone home already and didn’t want to come back to work in the middle of the night just because of some scared tourists. The doctor wanted us to come back the next day. I felt like an actor in a really bad movie. We had no choice.
Very early in the morning, we went back to the hospital. It looked much friendlier at daytime. Nurses and doctors were smiling at us. This time, the vaccine was available – for free. My travel mate had to start a vaccination scheme getting shots every few days.
He decided to take the vaccine and to travel on, doing the injections himself. But before he was able to leave Moron, additional rabies immunoglobulin had to be flown it from Ulaanbaatar by plane. He had to wait one more day in Moron. After this day, I just felt a great relief.
A ride to the Amarbayasgalant monastery:
Stopping in Darkhan first
After a few more days in Khatgal, me and my travel mates wanted to travel on to the Amarbayasgalant monastery. Once, it had been one of the three largest Buddhist centers in Mongolia. And it is still a popular destination for tourists and travelers. It is worth a stop while backpacking Mongolia.
To get there, me and the guys went on from Moron to Darkhan first, the second largest city in Mongolia. We went overnight – squeezed into a minivan with too many passengers. It was still winter. The town was ugly, gray, cold. Like in a communist fairy tale book.
We arrived in Darkhan before sunrise. It was cold. When we asked for a place to eat breakfast, everyone was laughing about us. This wasn’t the sort of town, where people go out for breakfast or brunch. And it was too early. Everything was closed. We finally went to the train station and were able to get some food in the train station restaurant. Dumplings with ground meat. I really wasn’t a fan of Mongolian food. But it fills you up.
Sharing a car to the Amarbayasgalant monastery
At the train station restaurant in Darkhan, we met a Polish traveler. He was traveling around Mongolia in a car by himself. He sat down at our table. And he invited us to go to together with him to the Amarbayasgalant monastery. All he wanted was to share the costs for petrol. It was a great deal. This way, we didn’t have to look again for a taxi.
We were riding 3 hours through the steppe. Just stopped once to watch some beautiful reindeer. The Amarbayasgalant monastery was impressive. I was really surprised to find such a colorful place in Mongolia in the middle of the steppe. Some Buddhist flags in the wind. Some monks caring for the monastery. It is well worth a visit. Worth a moment to pause.
Mongolia – A hell for vegetarians and vegans
On the way back from the Amarbayasgalant monastery to Darkhan, we stopped for dinner at one of the roadhouses just next to the road. Eating there felt like traveling back in time. The whole furniture and decoration looked like preserved since the 1980s. We had the choice between huge portions of meat or huge portions of sausages.
Mongolia must feel like hell for vegetarians or vegans. I have seen some vegetarian restaurants somewhere in Mongolia, but I wouldn’t count on finding one in the moment, you need it. Vegetarians or vegans should probably take some food with them. People are traditionally eating a lot of meat. The Nomads care for their own animals. I have seen a lot of animals, but within three weeks, I haven’t seen any places for vegetable growing.
Provocation, drunkenness and a horrible train ride
Later at night, we took the train from Darkhan to Ulaanbaatar. The train station was a horrible place at night. We had to beg to were allowed to buy some tickets for the train to Ulaanbaatar. It was obviously full. We had got used to get squeezed into buses already. So why not trying a crowded train?
We had to hang out 4 hours at the train station between lot’s of drunk people. One guy was so drunk, that he fall over. A security guy prickled him with an umbrella. In Ulaanbaatar they used tasers. It was scary. Not much fun. Another guy tried to provoke me impolitely. People just watched the scene amused until I walked away.
In the train, we had to share our cabin with some young people, that obviously were not very happy about that. We were far too many people. But at least, we sat on the right seats. They started to bump their legs against our seats and to take as much space as possible to make us leave the cabin. But the whole train was crowded, so that there were no other available seats. I tried to punish them with some angry looks and hoped, hat the night would be over soon.
Visiting Gorkhi-Terelj National Park and Chinggis Khan
My last days in Mongolia, I spent on an overnight tour to Gorkhi-Terelj National Park organized by a tour agency in Ulaanbaatar. We were just 3 people on the tour, me and an older Norwegian couple. It was just a 2-hour-drive from the capital to get there. The driver took us directly to a tourist ger camp, from where it was possible to start some hikes around the amazing landscape.
You can definitely go there by public bus, but if you don’t carry your own tents, you also have to get to a tourist ger camp.We stayed in camp with some more international travelers. I went on small hikes, enjoyed the great landscapes. The camp owner also offered us a ride to a beautiful nearby monastery. Some of the other travelers tried to go on a horse trek. Just, that the horses didn’t feel like that. After a few minutes, one horse bolted and made one young guy fall off. Luckily, he didn’t get hurt. After I saw that, I wasn’t keen anymore on getting on a horseback.
Meeting Chinggis Khan:
Great view on the surrounding
On the way back to Ulaanbaatar the next day, we stopped at the probably tallest horseman statue in the world, a 40 meters high statue of the legendary Mongolian emperor Chinggis Khan, that you can walk up to have a great view on the surrounding – basically an empty space. When I went there, there was no public transport to the statue. But quite a few tour buses were stopping there. I thought, it was somehow interesting and funny to see the statue as a part of a tour. It was okay for me to pay to get in. Those, who just make the long trip from Ulaanbaatar to visit Chinggis Khan might be disappointed though as there is nothing else around except from great views.
Visa and ticket for Russia:
Getting ready for the Trans Siberian Train to Moscow
After three weeks, my time in Mongolia was over. My plan was to travel from Ulaanbaatar to Moscow by train. One of the first things, that I had done three weeks before after the arrival in Ulaanbaatar was to apply for a Russian transit visa at the Russian embassy located on Enkh Tayvan Avenue in the city center of Ulaanbaatar. They have special opening times for non Mongolian residents, that you can check online on their website.
I have seen a lot of embassies and applied for a lot of visas in my life, but the staff at the Russian Embassy in Ulaanbaatar was extremely friendly and patient. The process of applying for a transit visa was straight forward. I would have liked to visit Russia for a longer time, but you have to be in your home country or country of residence to apply for an ordinary Russian tourist visa. So I would have had to go back to Germany first to apply for a Russian visa, although I was just a few kilometers away from the border.
The guy at the embassy was laughing politely with me about that fact. But no chance. Abroad, you are just allowed to apply for a transit visa. But it still gives you some time to see something of the country. It took a few days until I was able to collect the visa. With the transit visa, I was allowed to use the Trans Siberian Train and to spend two additional days in Moscow until I had to fly out of the country.
Cheap ticket for train from Ulaanbaatar to Moscow
There is a direct train connecting Ulaanbaatar and Moscow once or even twice a week. It was a 4 day or 99 hours train ride in a 4-berth second class cabin with stops at Irkutsk and Ekaterinburg for example and great views on Lake Baikal. In Ulaanbaatar, I just went to an official railway ticket office close to the train station to buy a ticket three weeks before I wanted to leave. I needed the ticket and the exact date for my Russian transit visa application.
It was not very easy to find the railway ticket office, but in the end, I paid a lot less than some online agencies try to charge. It was seriously a lot cheaper than anything offered online. I paid less than 150 US-Dollars for the train ride. So if you have a little bit of spare time in Ulaanbaatar and are a little flexible in time, just buy your train ticket directly in Ulaanbaatar.
- You can find some information about train timetables here: www.traintomongolia.com/trans-mongolian-train-timetable/
- The man in seat 61 might help you to plan your Trans Siberian Train experience: www.seat61.com/index.html
- Get visa information for Russia of the Russian Embassy: www.mongolia.mid.ru/en/cons_visa.html