Learn about Mongolia, by reading Mongolia – Wishing For More Time by Jerry Fogle, World Traveler and WTA Member. It features a mini, but thorough tour of the destination, plus all you'll need to know to plan your trip including getting there, objective information on places to stay and eat, and things to do. At the end of the article, we've provided a summary of the contact information for your easy reference. Enjoy!
Mongolia – Wishing For More Time
By Jerry Fogle, World Traveler and WTA Member
Part 1 - Days One and Two
After decades of travel worldwide, I was tasked with performing a technical job in the vast country of Mongolia in October 2014. I have been to Asia numerous times but never so far into central Asia. The work I performed on this trip was at the National Cancer Center in the capital of Ulaanbaatar. The local representatives there had coordinated the logistics so well that the job only took parts of two days to complete. This left time for local tours in the coldest capital of the world and I was thankful that Indian summer was hanging on. The biggest regret was not having enough time in the schedule to travel outside Ulaanbaatar. If you travel to this interesting country as a tourist, I recommend allowing adequate time to see nomadic life and the natural beauty of the varied landscape outside the cities.
Except for the distance, it is not difficult to travel to Mongolia. I live in Frederick, Maryland, a short distance to Washington Dulles Airport. United Airlines has a non-stop to Beijing, China and Ulaanbaatar is a short 2 hour flight from the Chinese capital. However, there are other routes to that destination, some with more stops which have lower airfares. The route through Beijing involved a 17 hour layover requiring me to obtain a tourist visa to go outside the airport to a hotel for the overnight stay. ($300/person for a visa service company to obtain the visa, allow 10 days for processing prior to the trip). The advantage of having the visa would be to spend some time in China before your return trip. If returning directly, no layover is required coming back to Washington, a 4 hour connection time in Beijing the same day.
On my outbound trip, I purposely asked for a window seat on the Beijing to Ulaanbaatar flight to get a good look at the landscape. After take-off, it takes 20 – 25 minutes to get to cruise altitude. During that time we left the city of Beijing, crossed over the Great Wall (I did not see it from the plane), and went over the Jundu Shan Mountains. The landscape quickly changed from green trees to high desert with yellow shrubs and grass. There were no fields, few roads and occasional mines on rolling plains. This was the Gobi desert and it looked as uninviting as it was vast. On the approach to Ulaanbaatar, I could see mountains surrounding the city. The morning was cold (30 – 35 degrees F) and there was an inversion in the valley that hid any features of the city. After landing, I noticed that the smog/fog was a cold white which hung far above the ground. It was something I had never seen before. I quickly cleared customs (no visa required for U. S. citizens) and proceeded to the hotel with a driver from our representative in Mongolia.
Because I had rested overnight in Beijing, I was able to join a colleague at the work site and complete most of the job that day. In the evening, I began to plan the rest of my stay including the tours and sites I wanted to see. The concierge at the hotel (Kempinski Hotel Khan Palace) provided guidance and information on available tours for the remaining 1 ½ days left on the short trip. Note that this hotel has a 5 star rating and has rooms from US $143/night. There are 4 restaurants, a spa, gym, shops and quality amenities. I would recommend this hotel which provides needed comfort in a very remote location. There are many other good hotels which you can find on any hotel website.
On the second day in Mongolia, we finished the work at the National Cancer Center and returned to the hotel. We ate lunch at one of the fine restaurants on the main level and talked about what we wanted to see that afternoon.
On the half day tour arranged by the concierge at the hotel, I traveled with my colleague by private taxi to the city center. We were dropped off at Suhbaatar Square, the government and cultural center of Mongolia. This is a vast, open concrete area surrounded by government buildings, hotels and statues. From any point in the square, we were able to see a number of attractions:
The Government House, where the Parliament meets, at one end of the square
Massive marble steps lead up to a wide, 25 foot high statue of Chinngis Khaan seated in a ruler’s position. (There are numerous ways to spell his name, this spelling is used in the tour brochures). He is flanked by smaller statues of his son and grandson, both known to be conquerors as well.
Numerous private and state banks and hotels and other private businesses
The center of the square features a large statue of Chinngis Khaan riding a horse in battle. During our brief visit to the square, we a saw a wedding party taking pictures on the steps of the Government House, military leaders posing in front of the statues, children riding rented toy cars on the open center of the square, and locals crossing the square for routine business.
We then traveled a few blocks to the National Museum of Mongolia. There were several levels in the museum which featured Mongolia’s history from ancient times up to the present time. The most popular exhibit was the hall with artifacts from the Great Mongol Empire era and traditional costumes of ethnic groups of Mongolia. The clothing and hats are made from animal skins to keep out the arctic air during the long, cold winters.
There was also an exhibit of a Gher, a common, portable structure covered by animal skins or 2 inch thick felt that many of the citizens live in.
Interior of Gher exhibit
The museum was very interesting and gave visitors a good understanding of Mongolian history and what the life of average citizens was like in the early times of the country. The many periods of conquest during their history would not have been pleasant for most.
A brief look at its history - Mongolia has been invaded by numerous empires that set-up states of Xiongnu, Xiabei, Ruuran, Turkic Khaganate, Uyghur, Kirghiz, and Khitan. The Mongols invaded and conquered large areas of present day China and Russia. The revolution in 1911 ended the 220 year Manchu Empire creating the State of Mongolia. With the help of Russian forces, Mongolians defeated Chinese occupation of present-day Mongolia in 1920. A democratic movement in 1989 led to protests and eventual democratic elections in 1990. Today, Mongolia has peaceful relations with Russia and China.
After the visit to the museum, it was getting late in the afternoon. We went back to Suhbaatar Square and entered the Central Tower, a private building that our concierge had visited before and took the elevator to the top floor. She received permission from the security staff to enter a private function room being set-up for a reception. There were large windows all around the room, giving us a great view of the square and much of Ulaanbaatar. We took many more pictures before returning to our private taxi for the ride to our hotel.
In the evening, we had dinner with our local representative at a restaurant that featured typical Mongolian fare. Dishes included a warm, meat flavored milk soup that had a taste that I did not like. We also had a mixed grill of lamb and beef with potatoes and rice on the side. Sheep and goat meat is used widely in the Mongolian diet, I found the meat to be somewhat tough and with a distinct flavor. All of the dishes were high in protein, a much needed source of nutrition for the cold weather. The trip to and from the restaurant included plenty of traffic and when outside the taxi, the air temperature was below freezing.
Having only been in the country for 2 days, I was glad to have had the time to see the sites visited today. I was looking forward to a full day of more cultural and visitor sites, and to see the city from outside the central area.
Continued in Part 2 – Days Three and Four, Mongolia - Wishing for More Time
Where to Stay
Kempinski Hotel Khan Palace
East Cross Road and Peace Avenue
976 11 463463
Things to Do
Tour guides through hotel or directly at:
Juulchin Tourism Corporation
Olympic Street, 8
Ulaanbaatar 14-253, Mongolia
976 11 328428
This company provides free, easy to read street maps of Ulaanbaatar and Mongolia including points of interest.
Notice: This information is current as of February 2015. It is recommended that you contact the numbers, and/or visit the websites above to determine any changes to the information.