Uncensored: How to get around in Mongolia?

Rolls-Royce in Mongolia

Are you pissed off wasting your time in a traffic jam? Or watching idiots driving wrong-way, when you are the only, who knows the right direction?

There is one ultimate solution for you — move to Mongolia. Heal your nerves among endless steppes covered with grass swaying to the rhythm of the wind. No more jams, no cars, no roads. However that’s not ultimately true for Ulaanbaatar. There rules are different… did I say rules?

Rules of traffic in Ulaanbaatar

Driving in Ulaanbaatar? In one word: avoid. The net of roads in capital is terribly small. All the traffic goes through city center. That’s where you can find a few asphalt roads. But the majority of existing roads are covered with gravel, bumps and holes.

Roads in Mongolia

Such roads in Mongolia are considered as luxury. Not far from one of best tourist attractions – Winter Palace of Living Buddha.

Peak hours seem to be all over during a day. Cars and buses are staying in permanent traffic. Everybody is in rush, everybody is pissed off and everybody wants to go first. No matter if has a right to do so, or not. Drivers treat pedestrians like cones — maneuvering between them. Besides literally hundreds of policemen on streets, only one rule is valid — bigger has the priority. The biggest are usually buses, so watch them carefully and don’t try anything funny with them.

Mongolians waiting for a bus

Typical dilemma: taking a bus or a walk? In bus — too tight, by foot — too far.

Wanna go for a bus ride?

Here is a short survival guide how to take a bus trip and get out alive:

  1. Count stops you need to go and write down the destination stop’s name in pure Mongolian. There is no other way for you to orientate when to exit. However counting stops isn’t perfect technique too, because bus drivers sometimes omit unpopular stops. In that case scrap of paper with a bus name will be handy.
  2. Don’t be the first and the last to enter the bus. Being first is a risk to get trapped between a bus, which is still moving and crowd behind you. Being last usually means, that you don’t get to the bus at all.
  3. Seek a space close to the window or doors. Don’t give it away under any circumstances. That’s how you can secure access to the fresh air. Otherwise you may faint while staying cramped like sardines in a can for 2 hours under 30°C heat. I am not kidding, nor exaggerating. Many people simply faint in the bus.
  4. Don’t bother paying for ticket on entrance. The collector will find you any way. Just go, go, go don’t lose time while people push insanely inside.
  5. Check prices for tickets and prepare cash in advance. Keep bills in hand. Don’t even think about taking out wallet from your pocket, handbag or any place you keep it. There is no space for such maneuvers. Even if you make it, you may find your wallet missing later on. Pickpockets are a plague here.

Most of buses don’t get on the road after 9 pm. Check schedule of your line in advance if you don’t want to get trapped somewhere on suburbs at night. And no, definitely you don’t want to. If that happens you can try to catch a cab.

Getting a taxi

In taxi, what you pay for is your comfort, because in most of cases you won’t be much faster than regular bus. Getting out from the center in peek hours can take even 2 hours. At night the same route takes 20 minutes. On evening usually you don’t have a choice and you need to catch a cab. Prepare to pay around 20000 MNT for a ride lasting 5 bus stops. Expensive?

Trolleybus made in Mongolia

Mongolians already make trolleybuses for the roads once happen to be built here one day.

You can save half on fare using a private car instead. Most of cases you won’t have any choice, because regular taxis are hard to find. Getting into private car is quite risky, though. Never get into the car with two or more people inside. Always negotiate the price for a trip in advance. Watch carefully the road ensuring, that you are going in the right direction. It’s worth even to write car’s numbers and let know somebody at the destination, that you are on a way in that particular car.

And use only written address in Mongolian or simply point it on the map. There is only a little chance, that the driver will understand English.

Going out from Ulaanbaatar

First check if the destination you have chosen is really accessible. Ask Mongolians to help you and than decide to take a train, bus or rent a 4×4 car.

Taking a train

Railway network in Mongolia is very limited. It’s major route, a part of Transsiberian Railway, stretches from northern border with Russia to southern with China. There are a few minor branch routes, but none of them will help you access distant, rural places on west or east. Tickets for trains on a routes within Mongolia are very cheap.

Taking a long-distance bus

It’s possible to find buses only to closest towns around Ulaanbaatar. If you plan to go further, try train or organize your own transport.

Tank in Ulaanbaatar

To sum up, tank is the best mean of transport in Mongolia. I keep waiting for guys from Top Gear to confirm my words.

Did you try to go in any other way? Renting a car, having an organized trip or maybe riding a camel across Gobi Desert? Let as know in a comment :)


Instead of work in glass skyscraper, mortgage and couch from Ikea I chosen a travel to unknown. That’s how I landed in China. I burned maps and walked straight ahead. Sometimes the wind whips my eyes, but at least I feel that I am alive.

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