Mongolia itself is an unusual country. It’s a country that is roughly the same size as Western Europe, with a population of only about three million. Between one-third to two-thirds of that population lives in its capital city, Ulaanbaatar, which means that in the rest of the country, people are few and far between.
Historically, though, Mongolians are a nomadic people who learned that they must rely on one another for survival on the harsh steppes. Tim Cope explores this in his exploration of Genghis Khan’s route from Mongolia to Hungary. As you travel through Mongolia, you will find that the people you run into out in the countryside are friendly and welcoming, always ready to share a drink or a meal with you. It’s best to be prepared to stay and enjoy the company. Here are five unusual accommodations in Mongolia.
The traditional Mongolian nomad’s house is called a ger (pronounced the same as ‘gear’), more commonly known as a yurt. This circular tent-house is easily broken down and carried on to the next place as the Mongolian nomad follows his herd in search of food. Today, there are still many Mongolians that live in gers, even on the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar—partly because of tradition and partly because of the tight-knit sense of family that the ger enforces. See, gers are one-room affairs where the family’s whole life is played out—they sleep there together, cook together, eat together, and shelter there together on frigid winter nights.
Want to get really immersed in traditional Mongolian life? The ger is the perfect way to do that, and there are some ger-camps that have been set up specifically for tourists. These get a bit pricey at times, although they often will offer you decent meals as part of your accommodation fees. If you’re out in the middle of nowhere, though, you may find a ger that’s been left stocked with supplies that may be used (respectfully) by anyone, or you may be invited in by a family who wants nothing more than to offer a weary traveller a place to rest for the night.
2) Tent Camping
One of the coolest things about travelling in Mongolia is that most of the land (and remember, we’re talking about a lot of land here!) is publicly-owned. This means that Mongolia is the perfect place to live out all those beatnik fantasies of hitchhiking around a country and sleeping wherever you want for the night. Obviously you’ll want to keep your tent away from the notoriously-bad Mongolian roads, but the sky’s the limit. Speaking of the sky, can you imagine how many stars there are in a sky that is mostly unpolluted by city lights for such vast distances? Incredible.
You know all those crazy pictures you see from Mongolia of guys holding giant eagles and looking all sorts of fearsome? First, a short history lesson: ancestrally, those are Kazakhs who migrated with their herds into Mongolia and then stayed there for various political reasons. Now, there are still many people of Kazakh origin residing in Mongolia. Every year at the beginning of October, they hold the Golden Eagle Festival in Bayan-Olgii.
Now, obviously this isn’t a totally accommodation-centered item in this list, but because this is such a special, popular festival to attend, accommodation at the event is a bit limited and you have to get kind of creative if you attend the event. Then again, who needs sleep when you’ve got some of the coolest people on the earth all gathered in the same area and plenty of drink to go around?
4) Manjusri Monastery
Most of Mongolia’s population is Buddhist, so it’s only fitting to include a monastery on this list of accommodations. Manjusri Monastery is located in Bogd Khan National Park, just south of Ulaanbaatar. The monastery was founded in early half of the 18th century, but it was partially destroyed during the Communist Party’s religious purges in the 1930s.
A new temple has been built alongside the ruins of the old structures, and on the cliffs above the ruins, you can see many Buddhist cave paintings from the early times of the monastery. Today, there is a hostel on-site, making the monastery the perfect base for hiking in the area.
5) Trans-Mongolian Railway
Nearly every avid traveller has heard of the classic Trans-Siberian Railway, which stretches from across Russia from Moscow to Vladivostok. However, there is another linked route which stretches from Moscow across Russia, through Mongolia (and through Ulaanbaatar), and down to Beijing, China. This is called the Trans-Mongolian Railway, and the journey takes eight days if you don’t stop along the way, meaning you’ll likely be sleeping some on your journey across Mongolia. Don’t worry—the Mongolian countryside is beautiful!
No matter what your plans are for Mongolia, you’re guaranteed to find something special, a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you never even dreamt of having. From the people to the accommodations, you’ll find that this simple lifestyle breeds a love of life that is intensely unique to this too-often-forgotten country.
This is a guest post written by Jess Singet of the beautiful blog, Tripelio. She writes more about unique places in Asia, as well as the best places to go zip lining and the top five places with wierd nature. She speaks directly to the adventure traveler in you! Check it out.