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MONGOLIA – GENERAL INFORMATION

                 Fig.1 – Mongolia Flag

GEOGRAPHY

Mongolia has a 3,485km (2,165-mile) border with the Russian Federation in the north and a 4,670km (2,902-mile) border with China in the south. From north to south, it can be divided into four areas: mountain-forest steppe, mountain steppe and, in the extreme south, semi-desert and desert (the latter being about 3% of the entire territory). The majority of the country has a high elevation, with the principal mountains concentrated in the west. The highest point is the peak of Tavan Bogd, in the Altai Mountains, at 4,374m (14,350ft) high. The lowest point, Khukh Nuur Lake in the east, lies at 560m (1,820ft). There are several hundred lakes in the country and numerous rivers, of which the Orkhon is the longest at 1,124km (698 miles).

HISTORY

Credit: Central Intelligence Agency

The Hunnu (Xiongnu) Empire was the first great confederation of tribes to occupy the land of present day Mongolia. The Chinese responded to Hunnu raids by building the Great Wall of China. Under the leadership of Chinggis (Genghis) Khaan, the Mongols emerged in the 13th century and quickly amassed an empire that stretched from Korea to Hungary. Even today, Mongolians view this period as their ‘Golden Age’ and Khaan is still revered with God-like reverence.

Mongolian independence was achieved in 1911 after the fall of the Qing Dynasty. China attempted to reassert its rule following the Russian Revolution of 1917 but was beaten back in 1921, with Soviet help. The Soviet intervention led to virtual occupation by the USSR for the next 70 years.

China finally recognised Mongolian independence in 1944 and in 1990 pro-democracy demonstrations errupted in Ulaanbaatar eventually leading to the demise of communism and the creation of a new constitution based on democratic principles.

At the most recent parliamentary elections in 2008, victory by the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP) was contested amid allegations of fraud, which sparked violent protests and a state of emergency being declared for five days. A coalition was then formed between the MPRP and the Democratic Party (DP), which will remain until the next elections planned in 2012.

Mongolia is undergoing dramatic change with the demise of a traditional nomadic lifestyle that, a generation ago, was lived by a third of the population. Mongolia’s cities are growing rapidly as people leave the land. Another important change has been the resurgence of Buddhism, which was largely suppressed under Communism; Mongolians are adherents of the Dalai Lama, although this is handled with great caution by the country’s leadership for fear of upsetting the Chinese.

Mongolia’s foreign relations are necessarily dominated by its giant neighbors, China and Russia, and based on bilateral friendship treaties. However, the Mongolians have also quietly developed closer links with the West; in 2003, a small but symbolically significant contingent of Mongolian troops was dispatched to support the US-led military operation in Iraq.

THE PEOPLE

The Khalkha make up 90% of the ethnic Mongol population. The remaining 10% include Buryats, Durbet Mongols and others in the north and Dariganga Mongols in the east. Turkic peoples (Kazakhs, Tuvans, and Chantuu (Uzbek) constitute 7% of Mongolia’s population, and the rest are Tungusic peoples, Chinese, and Russians.

SOCIAL CONVENTIONS

Religious customs should be respected. Mongolia has large number of customs and traditions although they are generally not offended when foreigners break custom.

LANGUAGES

Khalkh Mongolian is the official language. Kazakh is spoken by 5% of the population. There are also many Mongolian dialects.

GOVERNMENT

Mongolian government is a framework of a semi-presidential representative democratic republic, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and parliament. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.

 TIME ZONE

Mongolia is 12 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time (EST).

ELECTRICITY

230 Volts AC, 50 Hz

 CLIMATE

A dry climate with short and mild summers; and long and severe winters (November to February). In the depths of the winter (December and January), temperatures can remain below zero degrees for several weeks. Cold snaps can bring the temperature to minus 30°C (86°F). Spring (March-May) brings unsettled weather, strong winds and wild fluctuations in temperature. Summers (June-August) are warm across the country, particularly in the Gobi Desert where temperatures can reach 40°C (104°F). Thunderstorms are common in late summer. September and October are cool in the north but quite pleasant in Gobi areas. July and August are generally the best months for travel.

CLOTHES TO WEAR

Mediumweights are worn during summer, with very warm heavyweights advised for winter.

LOGISTICAL

Entry & Exit Requirements:

You must have a passport valid for at least six months beyond the date of your intended arrival in Mongolia.  An entry/exit visa is not required if you are visiting for fewer than 90 days; however, if you plan to stay in Mongolia for more than 30 days, you must register with the Office of Immigration, Naturalization, and Foreign Citizens in Ulaanbaatar within seven days of arriving in Mongolia and obtain a residency permit card.  If you do not register and you stay longer than 30 days, even for reasons beyond your control, you will not be allowed to exit until you pay a fine.  The Immigration Office inspector sets the fine amount, which can vary.  According to Mongolian immigration law, the minimum fine is one to three times the Mongolian minimum wage.  On July 8, 2010, the Government of Mongolia passed a law requiring foreign citizens to carry their residency permit card or passport at all times while in Mongolia.  Mongolian authorities now have the legal right and responsibility to stop people and request their documents.  Persons found to be non-compliant with the law are subject to a fine.

If you are planning to work or study in Mongolia, you should apply for a visa at a Mongolian embassy or consulate outside of Mongolia.  If you do not have a visa upon arrival in Mongolia, the authorities may refuse to allow you to register to obtain a residency permit; they may charge you a fine or require that you leave the country.

If you plan to arrive and depart Mongolia through China or Russia, you should be aware of Chinese and Russian visa regulations and obtain multiple-entry visas for Russia or China before beginning your trip.  It is difficult to obtain Russian visas at the Russian Embassy in Mongolia, so if you need a visa for Russia, you should obtain it outside of Mongolia.

Check with immigration authorities to make sure that the border posts you intend to use in China and Russia will allow U.S. citizens to transit there and will be open when you want to use them.  A number of border posts are closed to foreigners.  For more information on the entry/exit requirements for Russia and China, see the Country Specific Information for Russia and China.

Visitors who have been in Mongolia for more than 90 days must obtain an exit visa to leave the country.  The exit visa is obtained from the Office of Immigration and usually takes 10 days to process.  Visitors to Mongolia for fewer than 90 days do not need an exit permit or visa. However, be aware that requests to exit Mongolia can be denied for reasons such as pending civil disputes, pending criminal investigation, or an immigration violation.  In such instances, you may not be allowed to leave the country until the dispute is resolved, however long that may be.  We are aware of U.S. citizens who have been denied exit visas for more than two years.

In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated procedures at entry/exit points.  These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission from the parent(s) or legal guardian for the child to travel.  Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may facilitate entry/departure.

Please visit the Embassy of Mongolia website for the most current visa information or contact the Embassy of Mongolia at 2833 M Street NW, Washington, DC 20007, telephone (202) 333-7117, ext. 13 or 16. http://mongolianembassy.us

HIV/AIDS RESTRICTIONS:  Some HIV/AIDS entry restrictions exist for visitors to and foreign residents of Mongolia.  For additional information, contact the Embassy of Mongolia before you travel.

Embassy Locations:

Embassy of the United States of America

11 Micro District, Big Ring Road, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Tel: + (976) 11-329-095

Emergency After-Hours Telephone: + (976) 9911-4168

Fax: + (976) 11-353-788

http://mongolia.usembassy.gov/

 Embassy of Canada to Mongolia

Central Tower
Sukhbaatar district 8th horoo
Great Chinggis Khaan’s Square -2
Ulaanbaatar 14200

Tel.: (976-11) 332500
Fax: (976-11) 332515

http://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/mongolia-mongolie/contact-contactez.aspx?lang=eng

 HEALTH

Medical facilities in Mongolia are very limited and do not meet most Western standards, especially for emergency health care.  Many brand-name Western medicines are unavailable.  The majority of medical facilities are located in Ulaanbaatar; medical facilities are extremely limited or non-existent outside of Ulaanbaatar.  Specialized emergency care for infants and the elderly is not available.  Doctors and hospitals usually expect immediate payment in cash for health services.

Sanitation in some restaurants, particularly outside of Ulaanbaatar, is inadequate.  Stomach illnesses are frequent.  You should drink only bottled water and use other routine safety measures to protect your health.  Severe air pollution is a serious problem during the winter months, and travelers with breathing or other health problems should plan accordingly.  Infectious diseases, such as plague and meningococcal meningitis, are present at various times of the year. Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Mongolia.  For further information, please consult the CDC’s information on TB.  Local hospitals generally do not contact the Embassy about ill or injured U.S. citizens in their care.  If you need assistance from the Embassy, you should ask the doctor or hospital to contact the U.S. Embassy in Ulaanbaatar.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or via the CDC website at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/topics/infectious_ diseases/en/. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.

BANKS & CURRENCY

The Mongolian unit of currency is the tögrög (T), which comes in notes of T5, T10, T20, T50, T100, T500, T1000, T5000, T10, 000 and T20, 000. (T1 notes are basically souvenirs.) There are also T50 and T100 coins. The highest-value note is worth around US$17.

Banks and exchange offices in Ulaanbaatar will change money with relative efficiency. Banks in provincial centers are also fine; they change dollars and give cash advances against debit and credit cards. However, since they are so remote it’s still a good idea to leave the capital with enough cash to keep you going for a week or so.

When paying out large sums of money (to hotels, tour operators and sometimes airlines) its fine to use either US dollars or tögrögs. Other forms of currency aren’t usually accepted, although the euro is probably second best. Cash offers the best exchange rates and you won’t be paying any commission charge, but for security purposes you can also use debit cards (traveler’s cheques are going the way of the dinosaur).

Moneychangers who hang around the markets may or may not be legal. They offer the best rates for US dollars and are usually safe, but the risks are obvious. Remember to change all your tögrög when leaving the country as it’s worthless elsewhere.

COMMUNICATION

The International Dialing Code is +976

Cell Phone Usage:

Please contact your cell phone provider to determine whether your contract includes coverage in the country you are visiting. Depending on your contract you may have to add international services and/or country specific services.

ENTERTAINMENT

Food & Drink:

Meat is the basis of the diet, primarily mutton, with goat, horse, camel and yak meat dishes also on offer. Rice, flour, potatoes and onions are other main ingredients while green vegetables are rarely encountered outside the capital. The local cooking is quite distinctive.

 Specialties: 

  • Traditional meals generally consist of boiled mutton with lots of fat and flour with either rice, pasta, noodles or dairy products.
  • Boodogis the whole carcass of a goat or marmot roasted from the inside – the entrails and bones are taken out through the throat, the carcass is filled with burning hot stones and the neck tied tightly, and thus the goat is cooked from the inside to the outside.
  •  Popular in summer is horhog. This meal consists of chopped up goat, potatoes and onions slowly steamed inside a metal container. Scalding hot rocks are placed inside the container to create the steam and once extracted it is customary to pass the stones from hand to hand.
  •  The national food is buuz, a steamed dumpling filled with mutton. These are eaten in great quantities during the Tsaagan Sar (New Year) festival.
  •  Huushuur(a deep fried mutton pancake) is another popular food item, particularly during the summer Naadam festivities.

 Note: 

Many restaurants will add a sales tax.

 Regional drinks

Suutei tsai (salty tea with milk) is very popular.
Mongolian vodka is excellent.
Chinese and Korean beers are widely available.

NIGHTLIFE

Drama Theatre and Puppet Theatre. The Moonstone Song & Dance Ensemble perform at Tsuki House. The most popular cultural show is staged by the Tumen Ekh Song & Dance Ensemble at the State Youth & Children’s Theatre (in Nairamdal Park). Provincial capitals also have theatres although performances are generally only staged during holidays. The Tengis Cinema and Urgoo Cinema in Ulaanbaatar both feature Hollywood and Korean films, as well as Mongolian movies when they appear.

Ulaanbaatar is teeming with bars, discos and restaurants. The best places to hear live music are River Sounds (Choidog Street) and Grand Khaan Irish Pub (Seoul Street). A popular live music genre in Mongolia is a four- or five-piece band that plays Western style rock music with traditional Mongolian instruments. Night entertainment in provincial capitals is limited but some bars and nightclubs are generally available.

SHOPPING

Ulaanbaatar is well-endowed with antique stores and souvenir shops. Best buys include landscape paintings, cashmere garments, camel-wool blankets, national costumes, boots, jewelry, carpets, books and handicrafts. The State Department Store (Ikh Delguur) has the largest selection of souvenirs and gifts in the country. Juulchin (Tourist) Street has several antique shops. When buying antiques be sure to get a certificate of sale that will allow you to take them out of the country.

The notorious Naran Market on the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar is a large, crowded flea market which sells a huge variety of items. Suitable for the adventurous traveler, it is patronized mainly by local people. Pickpockets here are skilful, so leave valuables in your hotel.

Shopping hours: Daily 1000-1800 as a general guide although times and days vary considerably.

BAGGAGE

Baggage rules for international and domestic air travel have changed much in recent years, differ from carrier to carrier and these days even may cover your on-board bags. Checking luggage may cost a separate fee or may be free depending on your personal status with the carrier. We therefore encourage you to read your ticket’s small print and/or contact your carrier for exact rules.

TIPPING

Gratuities are not included as a part of our service. However, we would like to reiterate that tipping is NOT mandatory and is entirely at your discretion, based on your level of satisfaction for the services that you have received. Having said that, most service providers do expect gratuity. Please contact us for a suggested tipping guideline.

LAUNDRY

Most hotels will arrange affordable laundry services for guests.

PHOTOS & VIDEOS

In some countries you must refrain from photographing sites such as Military bases and industrial installations. Also be aware of cultural sensitivities when taking pictures of or near churches and other religious sites. It is always courteous to ask for permission before taking photographs of people.

USE OF DRONES 

The use of drones is being legislated by many countries. In some cases drones are already forbidden and their unauthorized use may carry severe penalties. If you plan to travel with a drone please contact the embassy or consulate of the country you wish to visit.

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