Things to see and do
One of the few monasteries to survive the Stalinist purges, Amarbayasgalant is considered one of the finest examples of pre-20th century architecture in Mongolia. The monastery is situated in a peaceful location in Selenge aimag. Ger (tent) camp accommodation is available. Other monasteries worth visiting include Erdene Zuu (Kharkhorin) and Gandan Monastery (Ulaanbaatar).
Mongolia is home to 429 recorded bird species. With a strong pair of binoculars twitchers can spot falcons, eagles, vultures, swans, cranes and more. The best places to look are around the lakes in western Mongolia, such as Uvs Nuur or Khar Us Nuur.
In this land without fences you can pitch your tent any place that pleases you. Some of the best spots are in Khovsgol National Park, Terelj and Tavan Bogd National Park. Car camping is an option or you can hike between camping spots.
The vast steppes of Mongolia get plenty of snow in winter, making the country a great place for cross-country skiers. A good place to start is Terelj National Park, which has ger camps still operating in the winter months. It's best to bring your own equipment as the local stuff isn't very reliable.
The fishing in Mongolia is world-renowned. The big catch is taiman, the world's largest salmonoid. These beasts can live more than 50 years and grow up to 45kg. Catch and release is standard practice. Getting a fishing permit on your own can be difficult so travellers are encouraged to work with a licensed tour operator. See www.taiman.mn for further information.
Ghengis Khan's birthplace
Travel to northern part of Khentii aimag, and you'll experience the boyhood home of Ghengis Khan. This landscape of beautiful lakes, rolling mountains and clear streams has changed little since the great warlord last pitched his tent here, some 800 years ago.
The mysterious Gobi Desert is not as barren as one may think. The vast area contains mountains, lakes, sand dunes and even an oasis or two. Visitors can hunt for dinosaur fossils, go on a camel trek or hike along the ice-filled gorge of Yolyn Am.
For a truly authentic experience, try to arrange a night in a ger (yurt). Staying with a nomad family is a fascinating experience and full of surprises. You'll get to taste local food, ride horse and help herd the sheep. Remember to bring some thoughtful gifts in exchange for hospitality.
Mongolians are avid horse riders and this is still the main form of transportation in rural areas. Visitors can sign up for a horse trek with a tour company or even organise their own horse expedition. Steppe Riders (www.stepperiders.mn) provides introductory horse riding lessons.
Known as the ‘pearl of Mongolia’, this lake is ideal for fishing, camping, horse riding and hiking. The gateway to the area is the village of Khatgal, where lodge accommodation is available. In winter tour companies offer skating and dog sledding trips over the frozen lake.
After years of communist persecution, Mongolia is seeing a revival in Buddhism and you can visit a number of active monasteries. Don't miss the beautiful and well-maintained monasteries Erdene Zuu (near Kharkhorin), Amarbayasgalant (between Darkhan and Erdenet) and Gandan (Ulaanbaatar).
This nomad sports extravaganza features horse racing, wrestling and archery. It's a great time to see Mongolians decked out in their festive gear and taking part in traditional sporting events. The biggest naadam is in Ulaanbaatar but more intimate naadams are held all around the country.
National Museum of Mongolia
The National Museum in Ulaanbaatar shows off Mongolia’s most prized archaeological finds and historical treasures. Ulaanbaatar has a number of other excellent museums, including the Zanabazar Museum of Buddhist Art and the Natural History Museum. All the regional capitals have their own modest museums.
Tavan Bogd National Park
One of the best places in Mongolia for back country walking, this park is a high alpine zone with numerous lakes, forests and glaciated peaks. There are no set trails so a good map and a GPS or compass are essential. Khoton Lake is one of the best places for trekking within the park and in summer Kazakh families pasture their sheep on the shores of the lake. Other suggested hiking areas include Bogd Khan Uul and Otgontenger Uul.
Bring a pair of binoculars and keep an eye out for gazelle bounding over the steppes, marmots scurrying over rocks and argali sheep perched on the mountaintops. Wolves, snow leopards and bears are harder to spot but keep your camera ready, just in case.