The world’s coldest national capital is Ulaanbaatar, a surprisingly busy, bustling, booming city—especially when you consider it’s located in one of the world’s most remote regions.
Mongolia is large, expansive and, in comparison to its vast size, almost uninhabited; it has a population of just less than three million. It was the home of Genghis Kahn and his famous Mongol empire, and has experienced influences from the Mongols, the Chinese Quing Dynasty and Tibetan Buddhists. Its rich and storied history is matched only by the beauty of its wide-open steppes, the famous Gobi desert in the south and its snow-capped mountains of the north. Little grows here, few live here and yet it is one of the most well-known places on the planet. It is a destination for adventurers, with just about every type of adventure you could imagine.
Currency: Togrog (MNT)
Government: Parliamentary Republic
DID YOU KNOW?
- Despite its remoteness, Mongolia is actually a successful and fast-growing country. Its population is young and well educated, and its economy is growing at a healthy and fast pace. Tourism, natural resources and a booming cashmere industry are its strongest areas of growth, while foreign investors have taken an interest in the country’s mining industry.
- Mongolia’s sheep population outnumbers its human population by 35 to one! Its horse population: 13 to one!
- Because of the harsh extremes in climate, Mongolia’s road system is only three percent paved—that’s three percent of 47,000 kilometres of road! Dirt roads are easier to maintain, but can get rough and dusty.
- Ulaan Bataar isn’t just the capital city of Mongolia—it’s also the only major city in the entire country. In a country known for is stoic way of life, and in what has been referred to as vast nothingness, Mongolia’s capital is a direct contrast. It’s the economic, social and political hub of the nation. SUVs and taxi cabs, discos, suburbs and European fashion outlets can all be found in Ulaan Bataar.
Mongolia’s climate is classified as northern temperate. Its capital city has an average annual temperature below 0°C and half the country is in a perpetual state of permafrost. Mongolia experiences an extreme continental climate with incredibly cold winters that last from October to April, and erratic, dry summers. Although it is often called the “Blue Sky” country due to the fact that approximately 250 days of the year in Mongolia are sunny, the spring and fall can be extremely volatile, with Mongolians seeing what feels like all four seasons in one day.
Mongolia has been inhabited by tribal peoples for 20,000 years, but it is perhaps most famous for the Mongol empire that began in 1206 CE. This was the beginning of the reign of the powerful ruler Chinggis (more commonly known as Genghis) Khan. Genghis Khan’s great army of Mongol warriors conquered much of Asia and Russia in just 25 years—in comparison, it took the Roman empire 900 years to conquer less land. Genghis Khan’s grandson was the famous Kublai Khan. Made famous by the writings of Marco Polo, Kublai Khan conquered China and established the Yuan dynasty.
The Mongol dynasty in China was overthrown in 1368, and by 1691, Mongolia was under the control of China. Mongolia was a Chinese province until 1911 when the Russian empire took over. After the fall of the Russian empire, China took control again for a brief period.
In 1921, Mongolia gained its independence with help from the Soviet Union. The government installed was communist, but in 1989, the commencement of the democratic movement began and, after heavy demands to step down in 1990 and a two-day hunger strike, the Mongolian democratic union was successful. In July of that year Mongolia, had its first ever democratic election. Today, Mongolia’s government remains as one of the only true democratic governments in Asia.
It may have erupted and expired millions of years ago, but the Khorgo Volcano is still a fascinating adventure for trekkers and geology buffs. Incredible surrounding rock formations and incredible landscapes make this a must-see adventure.
ERDENE ZUU MONASTERY
Built in 1585, the Erdene Zuu Monastery is the oldest remaining Tibetan Buddhist Monastery in Mongolia. In 1939, the communist leadership had more than ten thousand Buddhist monks murdered, and all monasteries were shut down, but Erdene Zuu was ordered to be kept around as a museum. In 1990, after the fall of communism, the monastery was turned over to the lamas, and was restored as a functioning Buddhist monastery. It has remained a museum as well and is open to the general public.
GOBI GURVANSAIKHAN NATIONAL PARK
Named for the three mountains nearby known as “the three beauties,” the Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park is a must. It is situated on the northern extent of the Gobi desert, where, on the steppes of the interior, rare wildlife and fauna can be found, and the majesty of one of the largest deserts on the planet lies at your feet.
The Mongol Rally will chew you up, spit you out and expect you to keep going as if nothing happened, says Pamela MacNaughtan. Follow her as she braves the world’s most outrageous road trip—and takes Travel+Escape along for the ride!