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With one of the lowest crime rates in Asia, you won't have much to worry about when it comes to trouble in Mongolia – so long as you use common sense.
The biggest concern when traveling in Ulaanbaatar 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.
Be particularly careful with your belongings around the State Department Store, Emart Supermarket, and Tedy Center IT Market. The local police aren't flash at speaking English, if at all; so you will need to bring someone who speaks Mongolian with you (your tour guide or someone from your hotel) if something does go wrong.
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 traveling 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 interracial 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 if you're 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.
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 valuables stashed in a safe place.
The airport is rich pickings for thieves because many travelers are so weary from their flight that they forget to pay attention to their money and can be easily parted from it. Don't rest your mind until you get to your hotel room!
If you're traveling 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 jewelry or accessories when you go out.
There are two types of taxis in Mongolia – official and unofficial. Official taxis will have branding on the outside of their car and fare meters. Unofficial is basically a private car you pick up off the street, so don't be surprised if one pulls up and offers you a ride!
Negotiate the fare before you hop into the taxi as some drivers can charge travelers exorbitant fares. Always carry small Togrog notes so the driver doesn't see the rest of your money.
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.
Use a padlock on your backpack, as pickpockets will open the bag and take things out without you noticing. Take a local who speaks Mongolian to the police station if you need to report anything, and be aware that you need your phone serial number to report it if it is your cell phone that has been stolen.
It may seem like a fun idea to travel across the desert or scrubland by horse, especially if you are traveling with other nomads 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.
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 travelers 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. Plus you already have travel insurance before you set off from home.
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Mariana from MIR Corp tells us the things she wishes she'd known before traveling to the Mongolian hinterland.
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