Thrilled didn’t even begin to describe my feelings when I received the “Welcome to the 2018 Chazen Mongolia Study Tour” email. This first ever Chazen Mongolia tour only had 20 available spots with over 60 people having applied. Demand was high, supply was low, and I was feeling quite #blessed despite certainly having used up all my luck for lotteries this year.
For those who did not end up on this trip but are interested in visiting Mongolia, I’ve compiled a list of practical travel tips for you. As part of the process of preparing for this trip, I realized how little I know about Mongolia (it’s above China and below Russia! There may be yaks!). The following tips, sourced from our lovely student organizers and from my own research, should provide some guidance on what to pack, see, or do.
A brief bite on Mongolia:
Mongolia is one of the last surviving nomadic societies. Around half of the small 3 million population lives in the capital city of Ulanbaatar, and the other half are scattered across the vast grasslands, making it the second least densely populated country in the world with ~4 people per square mile. (If you were curious, the first is Greenland.)
Mongolia is the home of the famous Mongol emperor Genghis Khan, and you are likely to see his likeness adorning everything throughout the country from statues to packs of cigarettes. For more on Genghis Khan, read Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World.
Mongolia also claims the title for coldest capital city in the world. Ulaanbaatar has an average annual temperature of ~30F, and temperatures in January regularly hover around -40F.
You’ve been warned about the weather, so it makes sense to pack warmly. The daily temperature in May can swing from highs of 70s to lows of 30s. A warm jacket as well as layering friendly clothing are all musts. As our CBS local Mucka said: “Pack for New York in February.”
It’s also good to bring cash to exchange for the local currency, the Mongolian Tögrög. Cash is essential for anything outside of the capital city, and there are few ATMs.
As it is in most foreign countries, it’s difficult to find the same over-the-counter medication as in the US. We’ve been warned that the traffic in Mongolia is especially slow and bumpy, so be sure to bring anti-carsickness medication. Other good to haves include: Tylenol, Pepto-Bismol, Band-aids, and allergy medication to guard against the copious dust and pollen.
If you are planning on participating in the night life, get ready for more of a club-scene rather than a bar scene. Bring clothes that you would wear to the meatpacking district – no sneakers and athletic wear allowed.
There are no direct flights from New York to Ulaanbaatar (ULN). Most people choose to transfer in Beijing (PEK), Seoul (ICN), or Moscow (SVO).
Our official itinerary takes us to some drastically different company visits, including the Central Bank of Mongolia, Gobi Group -the oldest and largest cashmere processor, APU Group – Mongolia’s largest brewer and premium vodka producer, and the president of Mongolia – H.E. Battulga Khaltmaa. If you are picturing us wearing fur coats, sipping on vodka cocktails, making it rain Tögrögs in the club while partying with the president, we are thinking the same exact thing! In all seriousness, stay tuned for more on these activities as we actually embark on the trip.
If the great outdoors is more your thing, track our itinerary to Khuvsgul, a lakeside region ~350 miles from Ulaanbaatar. Gers (Mongolian teepees) are rentable from the Toilogt tourist camp, where you can get a taste of the traditional Mongolian living experience.
Lastly, Mongolia is home to the Gobi desert. Here, travelers can camp and go camel trekking on two-humped camels that are unique to Mongolia.
At the pre-departure meeting, our group of Chazen travelers admitted that Mongolia is probably one of the most “off-the-beaten-path” places we will travel to. As adventurous business school students, “off-the-beaten-path” doesn’t seem to faze us, but it’s still important to remember that Mongolia is not an “easy” travel experience.
Our two local CBS-ers gave us a heads-up: Mongolia is not a food destination, very few vegetarian food options exist, traffic could be nauseating, electricity sometimes runs out, there may not be private bathrooms, and wifi-connectivity is not a guarantee. During travels like these, it’s important to be open-minded and not to get frustrated. After all, you’ve made it to Mongolia!
I’ll be taking my own advice in about a week when we land in Ulaanbaatar. Stick around for more updates from the CBS Chazen Mongolia tour!