Weathering weather & bureaucracy in Mongolia

From border bureaucracy to road rage to extreme temperatures, Mongolia demands that you pay attention to your surroundings and prepare accordingly.

It is not an easy place to travel, especially if you're by yourself, but the rewards are worth it. The beauty in the environments, both urban and rural, are profound.

Consider a trip to Mongolia today! You won't be disappointed, especially if you take these tips under consideration.

Weather in Mongolia

Most people prepare for how to navigate the little customs of a nation, how not to offend anyone, how not to get killed, how not to get sick, how not to die, be maimed or drawn into a sectarian conflict. Then, upon reaching their destination, they find that, by and large, it's safe as long as they use common sense. But wow is it ever hot!

Mongolia, for instance, is always going to have intense weather extremes, seeing as it's smack in the middle of the desert steppes of East Asia. These extremes won't kill you unless you plan on travelling alone through the desert unprepared, but they will make life miserable if you haven't prepared.

Mongolian weather can be unpredictable at best, with radical changes between day time and night time temperatures. The altitude of the area combined with the nature of the terrain means that extremes in weather can vary from 35 degrees C in the summer to -40 degrees C in winter.

Even in summer temperatures can be cold, so be sure to bring plenty of layers and check the forecasts before you go. Summer also brings rain, so be sure to pack a jacket or raincoat! A scarf is also a good idea, as gusts of wind may make it difficult to traverse the beautiful bluffs, steppes and dunes of the Mongolian countryside.

Be sure to carry around a satellite phone and/or GPS if you plan on straying outside of Ulaanbaatar in case of a weather-related emergency.

While in Mongolia: Customs and Borders

The human weather can be just as difficult to navigate as the climate. Sometimes it can feel like people are their own form of weather, as implacable and capricious as the storms and the seas, and you have to develop patience and a healthy respect for the dots on your i's and crosses on your t's if you want to make it through in a reasonable fashion.

This is especially true at border crossings.

There are only six border points in all of Mongolia open to tourists, meaning that most travel to and from the country is pushed through these points. This may make for a much longer wait than you're used to. A wait of several hours is not uncommon if you want to travel from Mongolia into Russia or China.

Plan on the crossing being an all-day process.

If you're taking vehicles, extensive baggage or other big-ticket items to or from the country, it would be a good idea to inform authorities in advance. Contact your country's embassy in order to get more information about how to do that.

If you are travelling by train in from Russia, be aware that this is a very common route for criminals to take. Mongolian police have caught on to it, and customs officials tend to scrutinise documentation and ask pointed questions, especially if you have any dubious items listed on your customs declarations. It does you no good to withhold information from border crossings personnel. If you have something to hide, then you are not advised to enter the country.

There is also the possibility of encountering a scammer posing as a border police officer, learn more here.

Road safety in Mongolia

There was a time when Mongolia almost ruled the entire world, so there is fierce pride here, and stunning beauty.

(Look at this horde of athletes!)

That beauty, however, is not to be found on the roads.

Roads are definitely a doozy, perhaps because there are so few of them and perhaps because Mongolia itself is a rapidly growing country. If you can help it, stay off them, especially outside of the city of Ulaanbaatar. Travel by foot, by horse or by train, but be very cautious about taking the road.

People tend to drive recklessly, crowding onto poorly maintained roads in old, unsafe vehicles and not adhering to any standard that Western drivers would expect. People act as though cars are extensions of themselves, and when cars break down it can stall traffic for hours.

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