Monday, February 26, 2024

Mongolia: Land of the Blue Skies

March 7, 2010  
Filed under Global Spotlight

A snapshot of Mongolian culture and what to expect on your travels there.

By Annie Suh —

If Genghis Khan and Mongolian Beef are the only things you know about Mongolia, it’ll do you good to read on. Who knows, maybe you’ll be flying there one day in hopes of hitting a different vacation spot and having something new to talk about with your jet-setting pals. But a word of caution. It’s not really a place to go if you’re there just looking for a luxury ride to your dreams of being pampered, sleeping on 1,200 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets and shooing all your discomforts away.

Of course the luxury accommodations and fine dining options still exist, but you’d be missing out by not venturing into the wilderness of Mongolia—one of the last places on earth to find nature so untouched and free. It explains why Mongolia is home to the horses, where the horse-person ratio is a staggering 13:1. Genghis Khan and his followers had their horses to thank when they were conquering lands with the kind of speed and boldness fit for any warrior. Horse-racing, archery and wrestling are major sports in Mongolia, with competitions held at the popular Naadam festivals during the summer.

Mongolians traditionally live a nomadic life, and outside the capital of Ulaanbaatar the horse remains the main mode of transportation. It is the most cherished animal among others that nomads raise, which include sheep, cattle, goats and camels. If you happen to go, you’ll see the Mongol nomads living in gers, which are portable tent-like homes made with wood, covered by felt or skin. No need to worry about getting cold stares since they are known to be friendly and hospitable, unlike their harsh winter temperatures hovering in the -35C degree mark where it’s not uncommon to see dead, frozen animals along the road. (See BBC News article for life in the extreme cold).

So just in case you Angelinos or any other weather-spoiled folks don’t have the thick skin or wherewithal to stand the cold, May to October is the perfect traveling window, as recommended by the Mongolian tourism board. Since Mongolia is a country that is still developing their infrastructure and lacking convenient transportation systems, it’s a better option to go through a tour company.

And on your trip there, if you happen to see an older person grasp the head of a younger person and sniff his/her hair or face, don’t be alarmed. It’s only a natural way of greeting, as is “Sain bain uu?” which means “Are you well?” Mongolian may be the official language, but it’s normal to be fluent in Russian and Korean, and English is quickly picking up. So whether you want a new adventure, love horse-back riding or just want a different cultural experience, remember ULN—the airport code in Ulaanbaatar to book your destination flight.


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