The Magic (and Mystery) of Mongolia | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

The Magic (and Mystery) of Mongolia

Travel writer Kevin Mak dives into the magic and mysteries of Mongolia and explains why it's the perfect destination for an unorthodox escape

When going through your potential holiday destinations, few will find Mongolia on their list of options – and rightly so. With endless plains of sand dunes and temperatures ranging from a bitter -30ºC to a blazing 40ºC, Mongolia frightens the meekest of travellers with its sheer harshness.

For the brave and the bold, don’t strike this nomadic nation off your list just yet! The beauty of the “Land of Blue Skies” is a hidden gem waiting to be unveiled by the most hardened of travellers and having had the opportunity to visit Mongolia for a week, I can testify to that.

However, unless you’re proficiently trained to drive a hulking Russian van, you’ll soon realise that transportation will be the biggest obstacle to traversing and discovering the hidden gems of Mongolia. With some expertise on hand, we’ll take you through some sights and scenes that you absolutely cannot miss on your guided tours! You may not be able to travel solo this time but you sure can plan and personalise your itinerary – here are the unmissable and spectacular sights and activities you wouldn’t want to leave out of your tour package:

Explore Elsen Tasarkhai

Situated slightly west of Ulaanbaatar, Elsen Tasarkhai (or otherwise promoted as the “Semi-Gobi” by tour operators) is an extensive amalgamation of Mongolian shifting sand dunes, looming mountains and dense forestry within a single vicinity. For the brave, climb the various rock formations along the sand dunes and you’ll find yourself stumbling across the remains of stags, deers and foxes who’ve perished in this vicious climate. For the bold, hike the sand dunes and embrace the raw Mongolian landscape, isolated and cut off from civilisation. This is the closest you’re ever going to get to being stranded in the middle of nowhere.

Stay in a Ger

No visit to Mongolia is complete until you find yourself staying in a local ger! These nomadic tents lined with skins or felt are the traditional and unorthodox “hostels” of this country. After sunrise, stay up and watch as the night sky is littered with stars in the clear desert skies.

Marvel at the Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue

The Mongolians aren’t one for subtlety and this gargantuan 40-metre tall stainless steel statue of Genghis Khan proves it. The Genghis Equestrian Statue is probably the most outstanding landmark in the vast sparseness of the Töv Province. To the outside world, the whopping US$4.1 million statue may be a reminder of the fearsome ruler that conquered nations but to the locals, it is a reminder of the nation’s greatest hero. Climb the landmark and check out the panoramic view from the stallion’s back!

Traverse Terelj National Park

Swap the dusty desert to the flourishing fauna of the Terelj National Park, north of Ulaanbaatar, as you see a completely different side of Mongolian! While the barren desert may have left you isolated, the national park promises to surround you with peace amidst the blue skies, flora and fauna.

For a more passive pastime, watch herds of yak and sheep make their way from one farm to another. For a more active adventure climb Turtle Rock, situated in the heart of the national park, and check out the sublime views from above!

Scale Altai Tavan Bogd National Park

Image credit: martin_vmoriss

Located at the far western side of Mongolian bordering China is the Altai Tavan Bogd National Park. The journey there is not for the faint hearted especially with the non-existent 1,800km roads you’ll have to travel from the country's capital. For the ardent travellers who survive the ride, you’re in for a spectacular treat coupled with stunning archaeological sites, colossal glacier lakes and rows of snowcapped mountains. Scale the peak of the highest mountain, Khuiten Uul, and you may just spot Kazakhstan.

Gobi Desert

Image credit: Christopher Michel

North of Mongolia presents to you the golden glimmer of perpetual scorched valleys. The Gobi Desert is perhaps Mongolia’s most famous stretch of infinite sand dunes and plays host to countless spectacles within, one being the notoriously crimson Flaming Cliffs.

Naadam Festival

Image credit: Edwin Lee

Mongolia’s most revered festival takes place every year from 11-13 July! Watch as the country’s entire population (literally everyone, nomads included) is perched over their radio sets or glued to their television screens, eager to know the results of the “three manly sports” of Mongolia. Mongolian “warriors” compete in wrestling, horse racing, and archery to vie for the honourable title of Avarga (Titan). If you find yourself lucky enough to be in Mongolia during these few days, be sure to check out this cultural bonanza that captivates Mongolians annually!

For travellers seeking an unorthodox adventure, Mongolia is the place to be. From harsh climates to sublime sceneries, Mongolia will definitely leave you pining for more after your visit there is up.

First year Law student, Singaporean and avid wanderluster.


9th November 2017 at 9:00 am

Images from

Kevin Mak, martin vmoriss, Christopher Michel and Edwin Lee