Whether you are out on the steppe observing the nomadic herders or wandering in a small-town market, amongst the local folk, Mongolia will tantalise all your senses.
However, to the unsuspecting traveller, Mongolia’s extreme temperatures and erratic climate can be a bit of a shock to the system. With a bit of preparation, you can have an amazing trip.
If you are camping or sleeping in a yurt, you need a -10°C (yes that’s a minus) down sleeping bag. I’ve seen plenty of people freezing at night because they bought an inferior bag. “But the salesperson in the camping shop told me it would be warm enough!” The sales person is not going out to the Gobi Desert to try it out are they? You are! Pay the extra.
Get yourself a good Therma-rest self-inflating mattress to keep the cold and sometimes rocky ground away from your body.
If you need to bring your own tent, you’ll need one that’s sturdy enough to withstand 60kph winds. A low, compact dome tent that you can peg right to the ground with no gaps will stop sand and dust getting in during a windstorm.
Keep it simple when you pack for Mongolia. A couple of comfortable travelling trousers that you can put thermals underneath, two short-sleeved t-shirts, a singlet, a pair of shorts, something modest to sleep in for those mixed-gender dorms at the guesthouses, a hat, two pairs of socks, comfortable all-terrain boots and a pair of rubber flip flops. The last item is a must if you plan to go into a public bath house … there’s tinea!
A warm jumper, a thermal long-sleeve top, thermal tights, a warm beanie (knitted hat) and a decent-sized scarf to cover your head, face and neck will help you cope with suddenly icy conditions, wind and the odd dust storm. Lastly, you absolutely cannot do without a good windproof, waterproof jacket. I also took a pair of windproof ski pants, as the icy-cold wind can be very cutting. Clothes can be purchased at the Central Market in Ulaanbataar. It sells anything and everything.
There has been a huge increase in the number of pickpockets and thieves in Ulaanbataar over the past few years. If you want to keep your stuff safe then don’t flaunt it. If you carry a daypack on your back, don’t carry valuables in it. Keep your hands on your camera (and/or binoculars) all the time, and keep it in front of your body. A flash-looking camera bag might look great on your shoulder but it will be emptied before you can blink.
Its best not to carry a wallet but rather stash some cash about your person. Put it in a zipped pocket at the front of your shirt or pants, in a money belt strapped to your body or in your bra. A pocket pinned to the inside of your shirt works, too.
There’s a good variety of International food in Ulaanbataar including vegetarian — despite what the Lonely Planet Mongolia Guide Book tells you. The markets provide lots of fresh fruit and vegetables in the city but in the smaller towns there’s not as much fresh produce so stock up in the city before you head out into the countryside. You can buy fresh yoghurt and meat in many of the towns. Mongolians are very clean folks and their food is cooked fresh but be mindful that our Western stomachs are not used to the ‘different’ bugs they have over there.
Purchase some probiotics to help your stomach before you leave – try Travel Bug by Ethical Nutrients, which you can buy online.
Bottled water is available for purchase in every town in Mongolia, but a filter will save you a lot of cash. We take a small Russian filter called Aquaphor with us, everywhere we travel. It weighs two hundred grams and fits in one hand, and takes out heavy metals, cholera, typhoid, chlorine and many other bugs. We filter water from wells and rivers everywhere in Mongolia. The water in Mongolian countryside looks clean and clear but there are millions of sheep, goats, horses, cows, gazelles, wild ass and camels shitting in the water supplies everywhere, so it should definitely be filtered.
First aid kit and vaccinations
In the city of Ulaanbataar there are many pharmacies and some of the larger towns also have them. You can buy most medicines over the counter, including antibiotics. Some useful natural remedies to take with you to Mongolia are arnica, teatree oil, oil of cloves, colloidal silver, and tea tree insect repellent. You can find vaccination information at the Travel Doctor.