The Ultimate Get-Away-From-It-All Vacation – Mongolia
Mongolia is three times the size of France and has only one major city, its capital Ulaanbaatar, where the majority of Mongolians reside. Roughly a third of the population is nomadic or semi-nomadic and practice a way of life that is so very different in rhythm and culture than ours. The country is emptier than the mind can imagine, an incredible landscape of windswept desert dunes, towering pines, snow-capped mountains, flowing rivers and incredible expanses of valleys and steppes.
The Ghost of Genghis Kahn
The most well-known place in Mongolia is not its capital, but rather Kharkhorin, the spiritual heart of the country. Genghis Khan built the capital city of his far-reaching empire here, naming it Karakorum. During the 13th century, Khan’s empire spanned from Central Europe to the Sea of Japan. Surprisingly, in spite of his brutal nature, Khan founded a city that embraced Buddhists, Christians and Muslims—an early example of religious tolerance. He continues to be one of the most famous historical figures in Mongolia, which is today Buddhist at large. The entire region surrounding Kharkhorin is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and there are many ancient ruins to explore.
Mongolia was one of the least visited places in the world up until recently, making it the perfect time to visit and explore, before it becomes a popular haven for international tourists looking to get off the grid. You could take a guided tour with one of the few local operators offering themed excursions, or, if you have an adventurous soul, you could travel around on your own. You might want to pick your season carefully though, summer is beautiful, but winter arrives early. With the first snowfall in September, temperatures can dip to -40C.
An Opportunity to Disconnect
Go bird watching or rock climbing (or both) at the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, where you can also enjoy the refreshing contrast between the waters of the Khagiin Khar glacial lake and the Yestii Hot Water Springs. Stay in a ger - the traditional Mongolian house, visit the Gobi desert, enjoy the quiet outdoors and the star-littered skies.
You will probably come across a fair share of goats, sheep, horses and yaks, as Mongolia is abundant in livestock. Wi-Fi on the other hand, is much more of a challenge to find and cell phone service is limited to the city. A great opportunity to unplug from your mobile devices.
If you're a city person, Ulaanbaatar has much to offer aside from decent Wi-Fi. The National Museum of Mongolia, for instance, was built in the 1920s and holds an impressive collection of artifacts that begin in prehistoric times and continue right into the 20th century, and the Migjid Janraisig Sum Buddhist Monastery offers an experience of great beauty and serenity.
In short, Mongolia offers a perfect balance of old and new, nature and development, adventure and relaxation.