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9 interesting facts about Mongolia

9 interesting facts about Mongolia

After a month of eating lots of mutton, drinking salted milk tea and trying to find the ultimate hat, we came up with our top 9 observations about Mongolia:

#1 Mongolians love their hats

The nomadic Mongolians, hats and are very important, a sign of good luck and they are very proud of them.

They are so proud of their hats that Lonely Planet advises never to touch a Mongolian’s hat when in a ger, or ever!  It is considered very disrespectful.  Mongolians have traditions that forbids placing their hat on the ground, throwing the hat away or exchanging hats with another person.

This was quite hard for us because some of the hats we saw were particularly dramatic and we wanted to try them on:

Never touch someone's hat in Mongolia

Observations about Mongolia: never touch someone’s hat in Mongolia

But luckily we managed to try out some of these hats at Ulan Bator’s black market, “Naran Tuul”:

You are allowed to touch the hats at the black market in Ulan Bator

You are allowed to touch the hats at the black market in Ulan Bator

Sebastien discovering Mongolian hats

Sebastien discovering Mongolian hats

#2 Gers always face South

A handy tip if ever you are lost and disorientated in Mongolia is look at which direction the gers are facing.

Gers are built to traditionally face South to shield the nomadic families from the cold Northerly winds.

Gers in Mongolia face South

Gers in Mongolia face South

#3 Weigh yourself – an innovative way to make money on the streets

In Ulan Bator we saw a lot of old men on the street with their weighing scales in front of them offering you the chance to weigh yourself for 100 tugric (around 3p):

Weigh yourself on the streets of Ulan Bator for 100 tugriks (3p)

Weigh yourself on the streets of Ulan Bator for 100 tugriks (3p)

#4 Mongolian yodelling

Bayartsengel is a Mongolian pop yodelling artist who topped the Mongolian pop charts recently with his hit, “Holly Dolly” with some Mongolian rap also thrown in.

We loved dancing to this in the van during our tour of the Gobi desert:

#5 Mongolian currency: just notes and no coins

Mongolia is the first country we have visited which does not have coins.  All the currency here are notes.  At the time of writing, £1 was around 3,132 tugric.  The highest note is a 20,000 note (worth around £6) and they work downwards from there.

Genghis Khan appears on the higher value notes (20,000, 10,000, 5,000, 1,000 and 500).  General Sukhbaatar (who declared Mongolia an independent county in 1921 from the Chinese) appears on the lower denominations.

As a result you end up with a large bundle of notes making you feel very rich:

34,960 tugriks in this photo, which is around £11

34,960 tugriks in this photo, which is around £11

Stefan a keen currency collector and made it his mission to get the very rare 1 tugrik note (worth around 0.00032).  

After a lot of searching he finally managed to get hold of one:

A 1 tugrik note worth around 0.00032 pence

A 1 tugrik note worth around 0.00032 pence

#6 Mongolian men like to roll their tops up

We noticed many Mongolian men walking around with their tops rolled up to their chest exposing their bellies.  We assume this is to air their bellies, but couldn’t help be amused by this, especially as this was done by Mongolian men of all shapes and sizes:

Our driver on our Gobi tour liked to roll his top up a lot

Our driver on our Gobi tour liked to roll his top up a lot

Man at Ulan Bator's black market rolling his top up

Man at Ulan Bator’s black market rolling his top up

Man walking down Ulan Bator's streets with his top rolled up

Man walking down Ulan Bator’s streets with his top rolled up

Man in Central Mongolia with his top rolled up

Man in Central Mongolia with his top rolled up

This guy in Central Mongolia is obviously not eating enough mutton fat:

Man in Central Monglia with his top rolled up

Man in Central Monglia with his top rolled up

 #7 Pretty 3D graffiti on the pavements of Ulan Bator

In Ulan Bator, we noticed a variety of very beautiful graffiti on the pavements.  You have to stand at a particular point a few steps back to see the entire 3D picture:

Stefan being admired by 3D pavement graffiti in Ulan Bator

Stefan being admited by a 3D pavement graffiti in Ulan Bator

Fellow travel blogger, Claire McHale posing on a 3D pavement graffiti in Ulan Bator

Fellow travel blogger, Claire McHale posing on a 3D pavement graffiti in Ulan Bator

Little girl posing on a 3D pavement graffiti in Ulan Bator

Little girl posing on a 3D pavement graffiti in Ulan Bator

Sebastien posing on a 3D pavement graffiti in Ulan Bator

Sebastien posing on a 3D pavement graffiti in Ulan Bator

Sebastien feeling zen on a 3D pavement graffiti in Ulan Bator

Sebastien feeling zen on a 3D pavement graffiti in Ulan Bator

3D street art on the pavements of Ulan Bator

3D street art on the pavements of Ulan Bator

3D street art on the pavements of Ulan Bator

3D street art on the pavements of Ulan Bator

Can you spot the cigarette stub in this one?

Cigarette stub in Ulan Bator's 3D pavement graffiti

Cigarette stub in Ulan Bator’s 3D pavement graffiti

#8 Buy and make your own ger

At Ulan Bator’s famous Black Market, “Naran Tuul”, there is an area dedicated to materials you can buy to build your own ger:

Buy the materials to make your own ger at Ulan Bator's Black Market

Buy the materials to make your own ger at Ulan Bator’s Black Market

Man buying ger materials at Ulan Bator's Black Market

Man buying ger materials at Ulan Bator’s Black Market

Ulan Bator has seen a huge influx of nomadic families moving to the capital city.  As a result this has caused a shantytown of gers to develop around Ulan Bator’s suburbs, much like Rio’s favellas or the shantytowns in New Delhi.

The ger districts in Ulan Bator’s suburbs are unfortunately very poor, have no running water, no central heating, sporadic rubbish collection and no sewage system.

Suburbia Ulan Bator and its ger district

Suburbia Ulan Bator and its ger district

#9 Monitoring the smog in Ulan Bator:

As a result of the increase of ger districts around Ulan Bator, pollution and smog levels in the capital have greatly increased.

This is mainly caused by the coal-powered stoves used by the ger communities to seek heat during the harsh cold Mongolian winters, producing a thick smog.

As a result, since October 2012, the government implemented a new law requiring each car not to drive into the city centre for one weekday each week.  The weekday depends on the last number the car licence plate ends with.

Ulan Bator's evening traffic by the Sukhbaatar square

Ulan Bator’s evening traffic by the Sukhbaatar square

So, cars ending with the following numbers are not allowed to enter the city centre of Ulan Bator as follows:

  • Mondays: cars ending with 1 and 6 are not allowed to enter the city centre
  • Tuesdays: cars ending with 2 and 7 are not allowed to enter the city centre
  • Wednesdays: cars ending with 3 and 8 are not allowed to enter the city centre
  • Thursdays: cars ending with 4 and 9 are not allowed to enter the city centre
  • Fridays: cars ending with 5 and 0 are not allowed to enter the city centre

If caught entering when you shouldn’t, the fine imposed is 80,000 tugriks (around £26).  Although this doesn’t seem much, this is a hefty fine in a city where the average net monthly salary is less then £250.

We encountered this problem on our return to the city from one of our tours: it was Tuesday and our van ended with the number, 2.  So, we had to stop at our guide’s brother’s house outside the city centre to swap cars before driving into the capital.

For more from our travels in Mongolia, check out our travel video:

15 Comments

  1. Great insights into Mongolia guys. I’ve heard of a few people having visited but never really thought of it for ourselves; maybe it’s a place we shouldn’t overlook?!

    I heard Paris did/does a similar system where cars are only allowed into the city on alternate days depending on the last number of their number plate.

    It must make it more tempting to try on other people’s hats knowing that it’s so wrong to do so too! We saw so many men in Asia in general with their rolled up tops, their bellies must just get too hot I guess!

    Reply
    • Andrew- you guys must take a detour from your next trip (I think it involved teaching in Vietnam if I recall correctly?) to visit Mongolia. The landscape is some of the best I’ve ever seen. Totally recommend a visit!

      Reply
  2. Ha ha love the selection of pics of the guys airing their bellies!

    Reply
    • Thanks Claire 🙂

      Reply
  3. Great photos! I’m going to Mongolia soon, just want to ask where did you take the photos of district gers in UB? Where is the best spot to take pictures of district gers? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Hi Angelica, thanks for your comment. We took it from our van on the way back into UB from our Gobi Desert tour, so not really sure where exactly.

      Reply
      • Thanks Stefan! It’s lovely. Loved reading your travel blog!

        Reply
        • My pleasure! When are you going to Mongolia? Is it part of a larger trip? Are you blogging about it as well?

          Reply
  4. Interesting and insightful post on Mongolia. I especially liked the photos with the ‘3D graffiti’.

    Reply
  5. Your choice of the term “black market” is a little off, I’d say it’s more of a bazaar rather than a black market as it has negative connotations to it. But overall awesome facts 😀

    Reply
  6. I liked discovering some things on here that I haven’t discovered on the other few blogs on Mongolia I’ve found! It’s making my upcoming trip there even more exciting.

    Reply
    • Thanks

      Reply

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