- Don’t go in the winter. Go in May to September. If you absolutely must go in the winter, travel in February, during Mongolia’s winter festivals. It’s coldest then, but you get the most bang for your buck. If you’re like us, and insist on going in winter but not in February, keep reading.
- Wear layers. Don’t wear cotton, especially against your skin. At a minimum, bring thermal underwear, a wool sweater, a fleece pullover, wool socks, and a coat. Try to get some sort of extra layer for your legs as well.
- It’s okay if you don’t bring all your winter gear. You can pick up coats, boots, gloves, scarves, hats, and socks for really cheap at Naran Tuul (“Black Market”) in Ulaan Baatar. Jordan and I bough three pairs of boots for 119 USD; and three hats, four pairs of gloves, two pairs of socks and one scarf for 36 USD. Make sure the boots fit, though, otherwise you’ll have a hard time exchanging them.
- If you have enough time, do a Gobi Desert tour. It’s a little warmer in southern Mongolia, and you get to see camels and yaks. If you don’t have enough time for a 3- or 4-day tour, that’s fine, there’s still things to see and do in the rest of Mongolia.
- Plan your schedule with lots of wiggle room. Winter isn’t just difficult to travel in because it’s cold (but boy, is it cold!), but also because roads can become impassable. Or there will be delays.
- Taxi rules in UB aren’t strict—anyone can pick anyone up and charge whatever price they want. If you can, stick with official white-and-green taxis with “TAXI” written on a sign. They have meters and aren’t likely to rip you off. Everyone else (usually in Toyota Priusees, because that’s popular) can just quote a price. It’s okay and usually safe, but you need to know what’s a fair price and agree to it before you get in the car.
- Mongolia isn’t set up for independent travelers—there are few roads signs (or even roads) and public transportation is spotty. Most of Mongolia is grassy steppes, so to travel to the more picturesque and remote portions of the country requires an off-roading vehicles. In winter, it’s doubly important to get a tour or at least rent a car and driver for where you want to go, especially if you’re not used to driving on ice.
- Official tour operators with nice websites are great and usually very professional. But they also charge a lot of money. Independent tour operators through hostels are hit-or-miss, like our experience. The Lotus Guesthouse booked the dates incorrectly and refused to help us make up the time lost. But the Golden Gobi Guesthouse took us on a day tour last-minute. Price comparison: Discover Mongolia, an official tour operator charges about 300 USD for a two-person private day tour to Terelj National Park. Golden Gobi, a hostel/tour operator, charges 120 USD. For pretty much the exact same services.
Enjoy the snow-laden landscapes! It’s easy to look around and see closed tours and gers in the winter and feel a little discontent about your seasonal choice, but just remember—you get to see Mongolia in a time few travelers ever do. And you’ll be able to say you braved -30 degree C weather and survived it.