10 Facts People Should Know About Mongolia

When I was nine years old, my family moved to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. We lived there four years before moving back to the United States. I know that doesn’t sound like a very long time, but it was my home. And I loved it. Since I moved away, I have often had to explain the mysterious Mongolia. It seems that although the famous Mongols once possessed a great portion of the known-world, they have since crept back into the shadows.

In light of that, I thought I would share with you 10 Facts People Should Know About Mongolia.

1. IT’S IN ASIA (NOT AFRICA)

Sometimes, people ask me where home is. I look at them for a moment and then say slowly, “I’m not really sure. I lived in Mongolia for four years though.” That usually changes the subject (thank goodness) to, “Oh! Mongolia! That’s interesting. It’s hot there right?”

I hesitate. Could Mongolia be described as hot? Well, I used to think the summers were hot. They could get up in the 90s. But, no, of course not. Mongolia would never be described as hot. It has basically nine months of winter.

“Are you thinking of Angola?”

“Oh! That’s right, I am. Where’s Mongolia again?”

“Sandwiched between Russia and China,” I respond.

“Ha! That’s funny. I forgot there was even a country there.”

You’re not alone, my friend. You’re not alone.

2. THEY SPEAK MONGOLIAN (NOT CHINESE)

“You lived in Mongolia! How interesting! Do you speak Chinese then?”

…No. No, I don’t speak Chinese because they don’t speak Chinese in Mongolia. They speak Mongolian.

A common misconception about Mongolia is that they are some sort of territory or province of China. As much as China might like that, this is not the case. I know this is confusing with the province in China actually called “Inner Mongolia.” Let me explain. Inner Mongolia is outside of Mongolia – in China. Outer Mongolia is actual Mongolia. Don’t ask me why this happened, I have no idea.

Due to the fact that Mongolia is not a part of China, it speaks a language not even remotely like Chinese. Strangely enough, it is more similar to Arabic than any thing else. It is not tonal, it doesn’t use characters, and, to be honest, it doesn’t sound very pretty. But I love it because it’s theirs.

3. THEY EAT MUTTON (NOT “BD’S MONGOLIAN GRILL”)

“You are so lucky you got to live in Mongolia! I LOVE Mongolian food!”

Few things in life make me want to cuss. However, hearing these words makes this girl want to scream some foul language. I did not eat five hundred mutton dumplings or drink a thousand bowls of milk tea to be told I was lucky to eat it. I ate it to be polite.

I am sure there are some people in the world who really appreciate a hearty Mongol meal. If you like mutton and fermented mare’s milk, you really are in for a treat. Wait, are you surprised that this doesn’t sound like BD’s Mongolian Grill? That’s because that restaurant is one big fat lie.

BD’s serves seafood, NY strip steak, and every kind of beautiful fresh vegetable you can imagine. It has workers, with swords, flinging your food around on a grill while they sing a happy “Mongol” song. Just…what the heck.

Mongolia is a landlocked country – it’s a rare day when they get seafood. NY strip steak? Are you kidding me? I’d saw off my right leg for one of those in BEIJING alone. Mongolia is a land of permafrost – getting a lot of different kind of veggies is a miracle.

I just can’t tell you how much BD’s goes against every memory of my Mongolian childhood. I do understand that it is a delicious restaurant, but I’m not really sure why they picked Mongolia. Maybe the idea that no one would ever know they were crazy?

On a positive note, I do hope it’s helping Mongolian tourism. What a bummer for the tourists though, when they realize there’s no delicious seafood on the menu.

4. ROADS ARE A PRIVILEGE (NOT A RIGHT)

I have noticed that complaining about poor road conditions is just something humans like to do. When I first visited Leif’s home in downeast Maine, I learned that America still has a final frontier in regards to roads. They twist, and they dip, and they bump. I feel nauseated every time we fly down the street to his old home.

However, nothing compares to the “roads” of Mongolia. Almost as soon as you leave the capital, Ulaanbaatar, you find the end of the pavement. You cross over into the nomadic steppe that is the Mongolian countryside. The roads become dirt paths that have so many potholes and rocks you’re often better off just driving on the grass.

My dad would often weave our jeep in and out of power lines, saying, “We know power leads to something!” Of course, that meant getting stuck in a bog for six hours until a Russian truck could tow us out. The time my dad stayed faithful to the dirt “road,” the jeep rolled three times and he almost died out in the Mongolian steppe.

I would just like to take this moment to thank the American government for their beautiful highways. Thanks, America.

5. IT’S PRONOUNCED OO-LAN-BAH-TER (NOT OO-LAN-BAY-TAR)

Ulaanbaatar is a fascinating city that I hope everyone has the privilege of visiting. It is nestled in a valley, surrounded by rolling hills with ancient Mongolian script painted upon them. A developing city, it is under almost constant construction as it seeks to better itself for the world stage. And, currently, Mongolia is actually considered one of the world’s fastest growing economies.

Surrounding modern Ulaanbaatar is the ger district. The ger district is where more than half of Mongolians live. It often, if not entirely, lacks access to basic amenities like water, sewage systems, and central heating. Gers (yurts) are the felt tents you may have seen in pictures when talking about northern Asia. The ger district is mostly made up of these gers, wooden fences, and poorly constructed houses.

Now that you know a little more about Ulaanbaatar, just remember to pronounce it correctly. Or, you could always just call it “UB” for short.

6. THERE ARE PEOPLE THERE (NOT JUST ANIMALS)

In university, I took an international relations class that required each student to religiously read the BBC News every week. Each week, I waited and waited for there to be an article about Mongolia. I thought about how wonderful it would be to finally be able to share my favorite country with my class. …No article ever came.

I can understand why people aren’t sure anyone lives in the country. I mean, we never hear about them in the media. My dad, being the wise father he is, did a lot of research on Mongolia before we moved there. One of the few things he uncovered during his research was that Mongolia has more horses than people. So…it’s an empty land running free with horses?

Well, yes and no. There are, indeed, a lot of horses. And sheep. And goats. And yaks. And reindeer. And hawks. And vultures. However, I am here to tell you today, there are also 3.2 million people in Mongolia. 3 million people with a unique culture and fascinating traditions. Just because you never hear about them, doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

7. CHINNGGIS KHAAN IS THEIR HERO (NOT A VILLAIN)

When we were feeling particularly optimistic about life, my family and I traveled around the countryside of Mongolia. Usually we decided to venture out for a camping trip or some other kind of vacation. Every time we got in the car, my brother, Jonan, and I would sit by our windows and stare intently out at the steppe. Our parents had told us that Chinnggis Khaan was buried out there somewhere and, gosh darn it, we were gonna be the ones to find him.

Chinnggis Khan (Genghis Khan), as you may remember from history class, was the founder and Great Khan of the Mongol empire. He was able to unite the nomadic tribes and conquer most of Eurasia. He was a fearless leader, willing to do whatever necessary to further his people’s iron grasp of the world. Their conquest was brutal.

Despite the brutality Chinnggis Khaan used, he is never a villain in the eyes of the Mongols. He is their founding father. Their hero. Statues of him are found all over Mongolia and, honestly, can you blame them? Chinnggis Khaan, although horrendously vicious, got the job done. A tip of the hat to the brilliant warrior.

As rumors have it, Chinnggis Khaan had a very serious burial plan in the event of his death. He was to be buried at an undisclosed location and anyone who was involved in the burial process was later to be killed.

As you might imagine, Jonan and I never found his grave. Bummer.

8. IT IS FRIGID (NOT JUST COLD)

Our first winter in Mongolia, our radiators in our apartment froze. It was -40 Celsius and our heaters froze. We could put hot soup on the counter and it would freeze in five minutes or less. I have decided that I didn’t know cold until I didn’t know what warmth felt like any more. You know it’s cold when your snot freezes to your nose hairs. You know it’s cold when your eyelashes get so many ice crystals you can’t see anymore. And you know it’s cold when you’re wearing seven layers and you’re still cold.

Strangely enough, thanks to the polar vortex this year, a lot of you may actually know how this feels. It is freaking miserable. Not just miserable. Freaking miserable.

However, when it gets warm enough to snow again, suddenly you’re running around in shorts and a t-shirt.

Mongolia and the cold give you tough skin.

9. IT IS AN UNDISCOVERED BEAUTY (NOT A DESOLATE WASTELAND)

Yes, Mongolia doesn’t have a lot of people. And, yes, Mongolia isn’t well known.

Yet, Mongolia still has so much to offer. My memories of Mongolia are absolutely beautiful. There is a sea of rolling steppe where you can watch the shadows of clouds roll over the land for miles. In the north, there is beautiful Lake Khovsgol, where mountains, forests, and plains collide. In the west, towering, snow-capped mountains. And, in the south, there is the Gobi Desert with towering sand dunes and springing tumbleweeds.

Part of me loves that Mongolia is so little known. Part of me hopes it’ll stay that way forever, because it is charming in its endless emptiness of beauty.

10. IT IS ALWAYS AN ADVENTURE (NOT EVER BORING)

All of my best stories have come from Mongolia.

My family and I were trapped in a blizzard in the Gobi Desert. Nine stories of sewage backed up into my family’s toilet and tub. I stepped on a mouse that died in my boot. I could tell you story after story, but all of it to say, Mongolia is the best kind of adventure.

It’s the kind of adventure where you don’t know how it’s going to turn out. You never know what the next day will bring. You never know how it’s going to change you. I am incredibly grateful my parents moved me to the unknown nation of Mongolia. It taught me the life-long lesson:

There should always be adventure.

***

Are there other facts people should know about Mongolia? Leave a comment below.

160 thoughts on “10 Facts People Should Know About Mongolia

  1. We live in UB now and we came here 4 years ago when my daughter (Hannah Grace) was 9! I hope she will have a positive attitude about Mongolia whenever we go back to the States! Thank you for posting! Blessings be on you!

  2. Spot on. I’ve been To Mongolia seven or eight times in every season, staying in homes and apartments, enjoying the food and wonderful hospitality. I’ve been in gers drinking airag (mare and camel) and driving across the steppe looking for a man with camels to ride. We finally found him and the camels weren’t very happy. I thought I was going to die one winter in UB when I couldn’t breathe from the smog. Actually, doesn’t describe it. You could cut this stuff with a knife. I tried one to describe the roads. Finally I said, “Put one of those mechanical bulls in it, get a helmet on and go. That’s pretty close. There is so much to say; I will never forget. Thanks for the article.

      1. Oh i’ve chosen the wrong word (lol). I didn’t mean that i was a mongolian person. I am a mongolian person.

  3. Thank you Grace! I find your attitude toward Mongolia is such wonderful and supporting. Please keep going with this mind! Visit again in Mongolia someday.It’s getting better here day by day except winter smog.I do really appreciate you as a Mongolian.

  4. I have never been to Mongolia but I’ve been teaching Italian language to more then 100 students when I was in China. I have learned so many things about this huge country and its culture. Nice article btw!

  5. Thanks for writing about Mongolia to correct some of the misunderstandings!
    You are always welcome to my beautiful country Mongolia!

  6. A lovely post. I took both my children to Mongolia when they were 3 and 5 years old. We lived there for 7 years. You are so right with all of these observations. Mongolia gets under your skin, you love it and the people and the adventure.

  7. Also, we enjoyed a HOT flushing toilet occasionally. Much preferable to sewerage back up 🙂

  8. Great article! I’m 8 months into a 2 year stay here in Mongolia and loved reading about your observations! I can’t wait to explore outside of UB this summer and witness the beauty you were writing about!

  9. its always nice to see someone writing about how beautiful my country is. You got some good points there. please keep up the good work, and you are always welcome to visit again.

    1. I’ve lived in America for over half my life (22 short years) but I couldn’t agree with you more! I hate those fake MGL restaurants in the US but there are a few legit Mongolian restaurants (small mom and pop spots) in most of the major cities. We need one in DC!

      1. In which major cities? I could die for some authentic Mongolian food rather than some Americanized Chinese food. I’ve been in America for almost 5 years and I miss airag a little too much, so even if the restaurants don’t have airag I would like to know in which major cities they are located in. I also agree with you about the DC part since we have hundreds of Mongolians around and in DC.

    2. Nice to read, That is my country. Now I live in Seoul, Sometimes people ask me “do you ride horse to school?”. In the beginning I was shocked why people have such misunderstanding about Mongolia, later I realize most of tv shows are showing only countryside life.

  10. Now i understand there are still so many interesting things that i know about it but never paid attention. When i go back i hope i will feel what u felt

  11. Wow, Finally there is someone who states all the true facts about our beautiful country, Mongolia! Thank you for sharing this article.

  12. Thank you for writing such a an awesome article. I appreciate your way of fixing the misunderstandings. I have been live in the States almost 7 years and lived close to Washington DC for almost 4 years. I had so many Mongolian friends there but soon as moved couple hours from there no one here knows anything about Mongolia and their stereotypes always bother me. Again thank you so much. I always miss my beautiful country hoping I’ll be able to visit this summer 😀

  13. Oh my god, thank you for writing this. This just warmed my heart and gave me butterflies. These are the exact 10 facts I’ve been trying to tell people, and not to lose most of my hair out of frustration. Thank you and thank you and thank you a million more. I am sharing this so hopefully many people will learn that we exist and there is a lot to learn from us. Thank you!

  14. As a Mongolian, it is really glad that there are many people like you who knows, likes and loves my country. Thank you so much for your effort to correct others misunderstanding about Mongolia. It is really well written article. Have a nice adventure again in Mongolia.

  15. Terrific post. We are scheduled to move to UB only July 31 and will teach there. Already encountered a colleague who thought Mongolia was in Africa, and several others who thought it was in China. 🙂 We’ve spent the past 4 years living in Arctic Alaska and are excited about our next cold country adventure! Er, Frigid country adventure.

  16. It’s really interesting when It’s described by foreign people view and sight about Mongolia. Keep coming to Mongolia and expand your unforgettable memories. Good work btw.

  17. Thanks for correcting some of the misunderstanding that people have. I am glad you saw the beauty of Mongolia; the pureness of nature. For me, there is nothing else to compare to. Do you remember breathing the fresh air that just fills your chest with good feeling.

  18. Greetings. Thanks. This helps because many of my grandmother’s people are fed up being mistaken for Chinese when we don’t have any drop of Chinese blood in us: our ancestors are Huns and Aryans from the Caucasus mountains-we are over 60 tribes of which Gengghis Khaan (spelt at times Chinggis Khaan or Genghis Khaan) united and yes, we love him, unlike the West who hate my greatest grandfather. We are proud to have his blood in our veins and do not discriminate anyone with this fact. We are just proud of being of Mongol blood or in my case, Borjigin Mongol tribal blood. We don’t wish to be anyone and we wish for world peace just like any sane people on the planet. Thank you.
    Sayyed A. Musawi.

  19. Great article. You have good insights in the opinions of others. One thing, I would have used an accent mark in telling how to pronounce u lan BA taar.

  20. I have really enjoyed reading your article and certainly very pleased that you remarked some misunderstandings. Indeed, the land of the Mongols is beautiful and you are always welcome.

  21. This is great! I can totally relate as I lived in Mongolia when I was little. Although, I think Mongolia offers some delicious food, such as buuz and khuushuur!

  22. Wow! Your article, i just love it.
    I love how you described my beautiful country. And thank you for trying to take away the misunderstandings.

  23. This is so fun to read!! Thank you for sharing Grace ❤ The comments about the frozen soup remind me of a letter I read of a relative that did some "pioneer living" in Alaska one winter. He said half a pot can be frozen while the other side of the pot is over the flame….. I have NEVER been ANYwhere that cold!

  24. I have been living in abroad almost ten years and it has not too much time left to get back to my country.
    And thanks for your sharing . We hope we gonna be one of the top country in the world in very soon and we have been taking help from other countries but soon we gonna help them. God bless Mongolia.

  25. So glad to see people loving our country. I’d have loved to be friends with you when you were here. ^_^

  26. also, ppl think that mongolians are poor and nomadic lifed ppl, who live with animals. lol we’re not!!!

  27. GERMAN TOURISTS come to Mongolia and buy an used Land Cruiser that has steering on the right side. Then they’d drive their cars like crazy in the country side, the never drive on pavement cause they want the freedom, they’re always drunk cause there are no cops in country side and when they leave they leave the car to the guide saying that they’ll come back next year again. If it was a shitty country nobody would be that happy 😀

  28. We lived in Mongolia for 8 yrs from 1994 to 2002 and then again from 2006 to 2010. We lived and worked in many nations now and yet Mongolia still has the top place in our hearts. It’s a totally unique place and I love it and miss it,and it feels like home even though we are from NZ. Excellent article.

  29. Inner Mongolia is an incorrect translation of the words chosen. In Mongolian language, inner (өвөр- inner) indicates a south-southeast direction. Therefore, the correct translation is South Mongolian.

    1. I think inner is right, cus i ve heard why they call it inner. Inner, cus it s inside in CHina and it belongs to China. And actual Mongolia is outer mongolia, cus it s outside of CHina. I think this description is used from the sight of chinese.

  30. This was such a great article! It captured so many things that I’ve thought or felt over the years and I applaud you for getting them out there.

  31. woow I am just blown away 😀 this article is very nice and i really agree with every single words of you. You are always welcome to my beautiful Country 🙂

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