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Five Quintessential Mongolian Experiences

Written by Going Places

This blog post was updated on August 28, 2023.

My stay in Mongolia was rather short considering the size of the country, but at the same time, the majority of the country is rather barren and desolate. We were on a long stopover from the Trans-Mongolian train journey from China to Russia, and it was during this time that we got to experience some of the quintessential Mongolian culture, regardless of our lack of time.

If you’re planning a trip to Mongolia, here are five of the activities you must take part in (or at least watch) in order to best understand what the country has to offer.

Altai Khairkhan performing by Lnemekhbayar licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Throat Singing:  Mind-blowing. There is no other way to describe the sounds of throat-singing, because half the time I couldn’t tell if the man was making this noise, or if I was hearing some synthesized techno track blurring over him. It turns out that throat singing allows the singer to produce two different pitches at the same time.  I highly recommend watching a throat singing show in Ulaan Bator.

Horse Riding:  Or camel riding, for that matter.  Mongolians love their animals, and the tiny horses there are considered beautiful and important creatures – important for transport and living life in general.  Get out in the countryside of Mongolia and take a horse for a ride or a camel if you’re as lucky as I was, and experience the Mongolian way of life first-hand.

Ger Sleeping:
A “ger” is the Mongolian form of a yurt, or a round tent-like structure made easily constructible to accommodate the traditionally nomadic lifestyle.  You won’t have to go far to find a ger; there are little villages of them just outside of Ulaan Bator, and ger camps are quite the norm for tourists.

Playing Knuckles:  You are most likely going to think this is disgusting, but I guess in a barren and remote land such as Mongolia, you are going to make do with what you have. A popular game for kids in the Mongolian gers is called “Knuckles”, and it is called this because the playing pieces are actually made from the bones of sheep knuckles.  Yes, totally disgusting! The cool part, however, was how the knuckles became more like a deck of cards in that many different games could be played with the pieces.

Watch a Contortionist:  Did you know that contortion holds cultural significance to the Mongolian people? In a show I caught in Ulaan Bator, it was actually mentioned that it started in Mongolia, but other countries had done a much better job at selling the act as their own. Many young girls start young in Mongolia to build a career as a contortionist, which provides us with some truly unique entertainment.


Q: What is the best time to visit Mongolia?  

A: The ideal time to visit Mongolia is during the summer months of June to August when the weather is pleasant and conducive to outdoor activities.

Q: How can I experience the nomadic way of life?  

A: To experience the nomadic lifestyle, consider staying with a nomadic family in a traditional ger (yurt) and engaging in their daily activities.

Q: Are there any safety concerns for travelers in Mongolia?  

A: Mongolia is generally safe for travelers. However, it’s advisable to be cautious in rural areas and respect local customs and traditions.

Q: What should I pack for a trip to the Gobi Desert? 

A: Pack light, breathable clothing, a wide-brimmed hat, sunscreen, and a sturdy pair of hiking boots to navigate the desert terrain.

Q: Is English widely spoken in Mongolia?  

A: English is spoken in major cities and tourist areas, but having a few basic Mongolian phrases can greatly enhance your interactions.

Q: What are some traditional Mongolian dishes to try?  

A: Apart from buuz and khorkhog, don’t miss out on boodog (meat cooked with hot stones inside animal skin) and aaruul (dried curd cheese) for an authentic culinary experience.

What would you consider a quintessential Mongolian experience? Tell us about it in the comments below! 

Featured Photo: Rainbow in Mongolia by Bernd Thaller licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

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