Tips for Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar and Naadam
June 10, 2015 8:06 PM   Subscribe

At the end of June, I'm travelling to Mongolia for a two week trip. Much of it will be occupied by hiking (so excited!) but I will have a few days in Ulaanbaatar by myself during Naadam. Any tips for Ulaanbaatar?

Any Mongolian food I should definitely try? I love to try local food, so restaurant recommendations are especially welcome. Any tips for those who have been there during Naadam? What would be your must-do things in Ulaanbaatar? Any things you wish you had known before visiting Mongolia?

Did I mention I'm so excited?
posted by frumiousb to Travel & Transportation around Mongolia (4 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I went to Naadam during the 800th anniversary celebration in 2006. So, this is a bit dated but I was there for a month and went on one group van trip up to the North and one through the Gobi. I absolutely loved Naadam, but I love organized dance, costumes and spectacle. I bought my ticket through the hostel (everything is booked up during that time so book ahead). I am the type of traveler who shows up in a town and find a room once I get there and this is the one time during a 14 month trip that I made sure I booked everything ahead.

A day or two before Naadam started in the city I ran into a small local Naadam out in the countryside traveling back from the a trip around the North. These smaller celebrations will allow you to get up close with the participants so you might want to see if anyone knows of one happening out near where you're hiking or on your route.

There wasn't much to do in Ulaanbaatar, but my favorite thing to do was the costume museum. Cranky old ladies were seriously annoyed I wanted to enter and then followed me around turning on lights as I went and shooting me dirty looks for staying for hours drawing. It's very obvious that the Star Wars costume designers drew a lot of influence for for Queen Amidala's Episode I costumes from Mongolian history. I don't know if it still exists, but it was pretty rad if you're into that sort of thing.

Mongolian food was... not good. Out in the countryside we were fed by whatever family's yurt we were staying in so we were met with lots of organ meet and odd combinations like white bread with crackers on it. I'm sure there's good food out there but I didn't find it in my month there.

I'll send you links to my website's Mongolian archives via message (to avoid self-link). HAVE FUN!
posted by Bunglegirl at 8:56 PM on June 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I spent a couple of weeks horse-trekking in Mongolia during Naadam in 2010. I stayed two nights in Ulaanbaatar, although most of that time was spent recuperating from all the riding I'd done. So I didn't see that much of the city, but it really didn't seem like there was much to see. The best of Mongolia is really in the countryside not in the city, and unless things have changed drastically in the five years since I was there, Ulaanbaatar is kind of a dump.

Like Bunglegirl I went to a smaller local Naadam (as part of this trek) and was able to get right up close to the action (horse racing, archery comps, etc.). It was pretty cool.

The food in Mongolia generally is not much to write home about. Aside from some meat dumplings at Naadam I don't remember anything I ate that was particularly good.

One thing I would say is that if you're a female travelling alone in Mongolia you should be careful. The local men can be really sleazy, and there is supposedly a lot of petty crime in UB particularly in places like the Black Market. In the hostel I stayed at, my friends met a couple of people who claimed they had been in Ulaanbaatar for six days and were mugged on every one of those days. I personally didn't experience anything like that, but I was mostly travelling with a group of other women and when we were riding we had male guides. One woman I met on the horse trek had been relentlessly harrassed by local men when she was out riding with her male partner until she bought a fake wedding ring at the Black Market.

Honestly if I had a few days spare in Mongolia again I'd head back out to the countryside and do something there. If you like the idea of riding, Stepperiders (the company I rode with) will do a 1 - 2 day trek for $75 a day and I believe this includes pick-up and drop-off from UB. I was really happy with my trekking experience with them and they are located not too far away from the city.

Aside from my gripes about the food and Ulaanbaatar... Mongolia is seriously a magical place. The countryside is beyond spectacular and I had an absolutely amazing time there.

One last thing, make sure you pack heaps of sunscreen because the sun during summer is pretty fierce and it's almost impossible to buy sunscreen in Mongolia. But it will get freezing at night and you'll probably need thermals!
posted by RubyScarlet at 4:19 AM on June 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks a lot! Did you need to book the Naadam tickets ahead of time as well? The hotel is arranged.
posted by frumiousb at 5:41 PM on June 11, 2015

I would reach out to your hotel and ask them for recent advice on Naadam tickets and if they can get them in advance for you. When I was there tickets were scarce and I think I only got them because I was there almost a month in advance. It was oversold as well, and they had problems with people trying to push in—it's not a huge stadium. It might have been because of the 800th anniversary but I wouldn't expect to show up and get a ticket at the door.
posted by Bunglegirl at 5:49 AM on June 15, 2015

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