When the 13th-century Venetian merchant and explorer Marco Polo traversed Asia to reach the court of Kubilai Khan, he passed through the largest empire the world has ever known, the Mongol Empire. Stretching from Hungary to Korea, Mongolia is heir to this remote, vast and multifaceted domain. Steeped in the past and home to one of Earth’s last remaining horse-based nomadic cultures, Mongolia is a truly great Asia travel destination for both custom luxury Asia travel itineraries or one of our Small Group tours.
Charming and surprisingly cosmopolitan, Ulaanbaatar is much more than a convenient base for trips to Mongolia’s countryside during your trip to Asia. Its museums provide unique insight into Mongolian culture and history; its temples, many rebuilt after the communists left, hint at the Mongolians’ tenacious traditions; and its culinary scene—wide ranging and gourmet—is a delightful treat.
The jewel of Northern Mongolia, the area around Lake Khovsgol is pristine, quiet and surprisingly lush, in stark contrast to the deserts and wind-swept plains that characterize so much of Mongolia. Here the wide-open steppe gives way to forests of Siberian larch overlooking Lake Khovsgol—vast and awe-inspiring. The area offers excellent opportunities for hiking, fishing, horseback riding and sea kayaking, as well as visiting with the native Tsaatan people, reindeer herders who migrate to this area in the summer.
Hemming the Gobi Desert on the west, these remote majestic peaks providing a unique ecosystem teeming with wolves, snow leopards, pallas cats, gazelle, ibex, argali and a variety of raptors. For adventurous travelers, the rugged, remote Altai landscape is sure to awaken your inner naturalist.
In 1220, Genghis Khan founded Karakorum as his capital to display the marvelous architecture and fabulous wealth of the Mongol Empire. Now it lies in ruins, but is still worth a visit for its undeniable historical significance. The nearby Buddhist monastery of Erdenezuu Hiid is largely built from stones recycled from ancient Karakorum.
Asia travel is typically full of lush rice fields and green palms, but Mongolia’s Gobi Desert presents a different persona. Moonscapes, burnt red cliffs and endless sand dunes define the Gobi. But, far from deserted, the desert is also rich with wildlife—antelope, gazelle, and more than 200 species of birds, including cranes and raptors, inhabit the expansive landscape.
Travel expert recommendations
Attend a small-town Naadam Games in the Gobi Desert. Tucked away from the increasing tourist crowds attending the Naadam games in Ulaanbaatar, a local Naadam celebration offers an intimate experience to mingle with the locals for a day of authentic Mongolian fun. The festivities feature many different sorts of horse races, wrestling matches, archery demonstrations and lasso trials—all definitive of the local, nomadic culture. The Naadam is more than just a venue for Mongolia’s athletes to show off their skills, it is also a time for Mongolians to enjoy the warm, sunny days of summer in the company of family and friends and take pride in their rich cultural heritage. This luxury Asia travel experience must be booked through a knowledgeable tour operator.
For an easy break from the bustle of Ulaanbaater, pay a visit to Bogd Mountain National Park, located just outside the capital city. Despite its convenient location, this park feels worlds away from urban life with its abundance of wildlife and natural landscapes. It is also home to the partially ruined Manzshir Monastery, spectacularly set overlooking a gorgeous wooded valley studded with granite outcroppings.
Mongolia is one of the world’s top locations for unearthing dinosaur fossils, and the Gobi Desert’s Gurvansaikhan National Park is the epicenter of this pursuit. Join an expert paleontologist for a day amid the stunning red-hued cliffs hearing tales of and viewing the remarkable assemblage of Late Cretaceous fossils found in the area.
30% of Mongolia’s population still lives a nomadic lifestyle.
The local hangover cure is a glass of tomato juice and vinegar with sheep eyes in it. (So take it easy on the local hooch).
It is estimated that as many as 17 million Central Asian men can trace their lineage back to the great Mongolian warlord Genghis Khan.
Mongolia is the most sparsely populated nation in the world, with only 4.3 people per square mile.
Cuisine & Recipe
Any trip to Asia is enhanced by sampling the native cuisine. In the harsh Mongolian climate, local dishes are focused on meat and dairy, seasoned with intriguing Central Asia flavors. These dumplings are one of the most common ways to use up leftover meat scraps—and they’re delicious and portable too!
Buuz (Mongolian Dumplings)
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup Water
1 1/2 pounds ground lamb
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
3 scallions, very thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, grated
3 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
In a large bowl, mix together the flour and salt. Make a well in the center and gradually pour in water. Mix gently by hand or with a mixer, kneading until a smooth dough is formed. (Add a bit more flour or water as necessary).
Place the dough in a clean bowl, cover and allow dough to rest for one hour in the refrigerator.
While the dough rest, combine all the ingredients for the filling in a large bowl and mix thoroughly.
Remove dough from refrigerator and knead into a log about 1-inch in diameter. Then cut the roll into 1-inch slices.
Roll slice into a ball and lightly dust it with flour. Then roll each ball into an even circle about 4-inches in diameter.
Hold one dough circle in your hand and place about a teaspoon of filling in the center.
Pinch the dough vertically around the edge of the circle to encase the filling. Each dumpling should resemble a drawstring bag with a small opening at the top.
Place the dumplings in an oiled steamer and steam over simmering water for 15-minutes or until cooked through.
Serve with soy sauce or ketchup (yes, really) as is common in contemporary Mongolia.
Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World
The Mongol army led by Genghis Khan subjugated more lands and people in twenty-five years than the Romans did in four hundred. In nearly every country the Mongols conquered, they brought an unprecedented rise in cultural communication, expanded trade, and a blossoming of civilization. Vastly more progressive than his European or Asian counterparts, Genghis Khan abolished torture, granted universal religious freedom, and smashed feudal systems of aristocratic privilege. From the story of his rise through the tribal culture to the explosion of civilization that the Mongol Empire unleashed, this brilliant work of revisionist history is nothing less than the epic story of how the modern world was made.