Have you bagged eight to ten days in Mongolia but curious as to how to fill them? Fear not. My list of must sees and do's in the landlocked nation (given in no particular order) will fill your itinerary to the metaphorical brim.
The capital gets bad press for being a big, old, drab city with a dire pollution problem from coal burning (particularly in the winter months). However, there is much to see and do here and the city warrants at least two days to explore some of its fantastic museums, galleries, temples, cultural shows, shopping, good restaurants and comfortable hotels. There's a budding and exciting nightlife available too, so bring your dancing shoes.
Flora and Fauna
There is much in abundance and, no, it's not about spotting 'The Big Five' but more about revelling in the animals you thought you knew but actually didn't. Try milking a goat, shuffling through the Gobi on a gorgeous bactrian (camel), spotting the rare Tahki wild horse and ogling at the acrobatic displays of huge birds of prey. For the botanist, pretty wild flowers cover the steppe and mountains in early summer and provide a true treat for the oculars.
The People of Course
Mongolians are renowned for being fun loving, spiritual, kind, liberal, courageous and above all hospitable people. They welcome you into their homes if you are lost (quite easy to be), give you a bed to sleep in if you are without one (you never know) and provide food if you're hungry (always). The women are jaw-droppingly gorgeous and most of the children can ride a horse by the age of five (what were you doing at five?!). Mongolians love and revere their land and folklore and the spirits play a huge part in their daily lives.
There are an abundance of festivals to choose from but the most popular, and most accessible, is the Naadam on 11 July. Each of the 21 aimags (province's) hold a Naadam with the main and biggest one in Ulaanbaatur. These are all fantastic opportunities to watch Mongolians excel in horse racing, wrestling, and archery with prizes also awarded to the best dressed couple and plenty of onsite entertainment in the form of music and dancing. Enjoy it all with lashings of mutton pancakes washed down with fermented mare's milk. Other festivals to consider are the Eagle, Camel and Ice festivals in February and October.
Staying in a Ger
Nomads live in gers (basically a yurt) and you can experience their day-to-day life by helping to break in horses, milk the livestock and make cheese and yoghurt. Many of the fixed ger camps dotted around the country are cosy with your own stove, a bed piled high with woollen blankets and the comforting smell of wet camel. It would be remiss not to mention The Three Camel Lodge though which stands head and shoulders above the rest in terms of comfort and luxury: located in the heart of the Gobi the lodge has been awarded one of the 'best Eco-lodge's' in the world by National Geographic and has a fantastic restaurant and bar area. The gers are large and luxurious with your own wet room attached (and piping hot water), but the best thing is the location: wake early, open your little door, climb back into bed and look out onto the vast, empty glorious steppe.