Mongolia is one of the least crime-ridden countries to visit. With one of the lowest crime rates in Asia, you won't have to worry too much about getting into trouble while visiting, so long as you play it safe and use common sense.
The biggest concern when travelling in Ulaanbataar or any other Mongolian city is that you might get your purse slashed or your wallet stolen. It's petty theft but really annoying and troublesome if you lose your passport and all your cash. Put them in a money belt or locked up back at the hotel.
Mongolia has seen a recent rise in ethnically-motivated violence. Ultra-nationalist Mongolian groups single out individuals with Caucasian, African or Chinese features just because of the way they look.
Xenophobic and nationalist groups are most likely to target you if you're a white, black or ethnic-Chinese man speaking with a Mongolian woman.
If you are a single male travelling alone, be very aware of this dynamic and try not to flirt too much at bars or in clubs. There has been a string of racially-inspired attacks since the spring of 2010 against inter-racial couples ranging from deliberate, planned attacks to assaults of passion at bars.
Don't travel by yourself late at night. Keep a low profile at all times (as best you can being Caucasian, African or Chinese!) and simply enjoy yourself. Getting into political arguments with locals at bars or acting in an antagonistic manner is sure to have consequences you don't want.
There are limits when it comes to trying to blend in, guys!
You will need to be wary of theft in the larger cities, on trains, on buses, in airports and at major tourist landmarks - which is true of any destination - but specifically at these locations:
These areas see a variety of organized criminal groups operating on a daily basis, so if you plan on walking through, be sure you have your money stashed in a safe place.
The airport is rich pickings for thieves because many travellers are so weary from their flight they forget to pay attention to their money and easily parted from it. Don't rest your mind until you get to your hotel room!
If you're travelling on the train or bus for extended periods, such as on the Trans-Mongolian Railway, strap that money belt under your shirt. This way, you can sleep on the train without worrying about your things. Try not to wear expensive jewellery or accessories when you go out.
Thieves won't just steal your cash, they even flogged a prayer wheel..
Also be aware that unmarked cars often drive the streets of cities with the window rolled down, offering to give you a ride. Be wary! At best, these unmarked cabs will offer poor service for an overly expensive price. At worst, they will be in on a scam where you are held up for all the money you're carrying. If you need to take a cab, be sure to schedule one from your hotel, restaurant or store and have people there assist you.
Large groups of teenagers or kids may harass you for your money upon leaving a bar. Generally, as long as you keep your money hidden and out of sight, they will leave you alone to try to find someone showing more obvious bling. These groups are generally harmless if you move through them, but they may seem scary at the time because there are so many people.
Times to be aware of increased criminal activity are the Naadam Summer Festival in July and the Tsagaan Sar Winter Festival, when lots of tourists are around. Don't keep your valuables in your pockets, because organized crime syndicates with plenty of experience pickpocketing are sure to be trawling the areas discreetly to steal whatever money they can find.
It may seem like a fun idea to travel across the desert or scrubland by horse, especially if you are travelling with other tourists or a guide you picked up locally. Armed bandits may follow your group across the desert and steal all your stuff, including your horses, while you sleep. The local guide may either be a patsy or in league with the thieves. Either way, you will end up out of luck and stuck in the desert.
If you want to travel further afield and see some of the stunning natural beauty that Mongolia has to offer, make sure you travel with a respectable touring agency.
How generous, they left one behind..
Finally, one common scam if you're crossing the border from Mongolia into either Russia or China is to be stopped and harassed by someone in an official-looking uniform. This person will attempt to inform you that you are required to have travel insurance in order to travel across the border and will sell you the "required travel insurance." This is a flat-out lie designed to trick westerners into giving up money for nothing. Don't do it! There is no such thing as required travel insurance, and the uniforms were probably borrowed, stolen or manufactured, and you already have a great WorldNomads policy!
Ultimately, crime in Mongolia isn't a huge deal. Just don't trigger local nationalist or xenophobic elements, don't keep your money where anyone can see it, use your head and your wallet and life will both remain safe.
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