Khovd (pronounced and sometimes spelled as 'Hovd') is one of the larger cities in Western Mongolia. The tree-lined streets give the town a more pleasant feel than other Mongolian aimags, and it's a nice enough place to stop and stock up on supplies. If looking for a base as a starting point for a tour of the west, Khovd comes second to Olgii but beats Uvs and Uliastai. In all honesty, Hovd is generally pretty quiet, and apart from a quick wonder around the streets and a visit to the old Manchu ruins, as well as a shop and a shower, there really isn't too much to keep the foreign visitor here for long.
Getting around Hovd is relatively straightforward. The town is framed on its West by the Buyant gol (river), which flows north-south. At the northern end of town lie the ruins of the Manchu fort (sadly, little remains but the mud-brick outer walls). Visitors will orientate themselves around the town's large (and usually empty) centre square.
I've labelled the town's landmarks, as well as recommended restaurants and accomodations, on the map below.
View Khovd in a larger map
There are a couple of options for accommodation in Khovd, though don't expect to be blown away by the standards or value for money. The Myangan Ugalzat would be chosen if the Buyant is booked out, as it was when i visited Hovd during Nadaam. It's priced the same as the Buyant. Don't expect to be overwhelmed by the service or friendliness of the staff, but the rooms are clean enough. Beware the under-the-table laundry racket being ran by the hotel maids: they attempt to approach foreigners directly and charge them ten times the going rate to wash clothes: go through the front desk.
Restaurants in Khovd
There are a many options for eating in Hovd, but all serve traditional local fare and most are not geared towards foreigners. The restaurant down at the Buyant Hotel is pretty decent, with English menus and some of the best service in town. The Myangan Ugulzat Hotel has a restaurant downstairs, the service is woeful but the food is actually pretty decent.
The hotel diagonally across from the Town square I wouldn't recommend as a place to stay in Khovd, but the restaurant downstairs is a good place to grab a few beers and watch people walk past. All these places are marked on my map (above).
To be perfectly honest, looking back on our experience with Khovd restaurants, I'd recommend you consider heading to the supermarket and preparing your own food!
The town's tree-lined streets make it a more pleasant city than most in Mongolia
Thankfully, there is a wonderful supermarket in Hovd! After weeks out in the gastronomic desert that is the Mongolian countryside, the huge Nomin supermarket is a veritable Aladdin's cave of fresh fruits and vegetables, and imported foodstuffs you might not have seen for a long time. Only somebody who's spent a few months outside Ulaanbaatar can understand the immense joy a visitor feels upon walking down the large, well-stocked aisles of what is probably the best supermarket in all Western Mongolia. Also sells camping stoves.
There are many other smaller shops around Khovd, selling the basics and essentials like bread, vodka and candy. The booze hounds among you will find the availability of alcohol in restaurants and eateries in Hovd aimag a welcome change after muslim-dominated Bayan Olgii.
Tourist Information and travel agents in Khovd
Hovd, despite being bigger than Olgii, is not as good a place as Olgii to organize a tour of Western Mongolia. There are not many travel agents in Khovd, and few people who speak English to help you (that's why you should organize tours from Olgii or Ulaanbaatar). The main tour operator in Hovd is a nice lady who runs the Kazakh handicrafts store; she can arrange a driver and translate your requested itinerary to him, but don't expect drivers in those parts to speak english or completely understand that you want a leisurely tour (he'll probably race you to your destination quicker than you imagined: job done!). As I said, she's a nice and honest lady, but i can't say I came across any super professional tour operators based in Khovd.
Note the travel agent Hovd Tour is actually based in Ulaanbaatar rather than Hovd. However, they may be worth calling from Hovd if you're in a pinch. I struggled for a couple of days to find a car and driver due to the busy town nadaam festival in 2011, and ended up calling Hovd Tour in desparation; they must have some good contacts there as they managed to arrange a driver for me remotely from Ulan Bator, when nobody else in Hovd could do it!
Buses from Khovd to Ulan Bator
There is a bus from Hovd to Ulaanbaatar which leaves every 2nd day or so. The ticket office is up from the jeep stand, just turn right at the 'T' intersection and walk up about 100 yards (see map). As with many bus ticketing offices in Mongolia, the non-descript office is difficult to find, just keep asking people.
The bus is reasonably comfortable and you will actually get a seat all to yourself, but after 2 days of constant driving and rest stops at average guanz (roadside restaurants) you will be pretty over it. The bus to Ulan Bator is far cheaper than a flight, though, so budget travelers should consider it. Seats fill up quickly in summer, so try to book at least a few days ahead of your intended departure date.
Public transport from Khovd
Public jeeps leave town from a stand south of the big school (yellow buildings with green rooves and University (see my map). Most head to Altai on the main road to Ulan Bator, but others head to Olgii and Uvs, and a minority head to Uliastai (i.e only every few days or so). Note most cars head to Uliastai via Altai rather than take the beautiful, but dry and remote, direct route.
Shared jeeps also head to the remote border crossing with Chinese Xinjiang province at Bulgan. The road through the southern Altai mountains is rough but beautiful. The problem might be finding transport on the Chinese side (you can't take your own vehicle over). It should be possible if you're willing to wait long enough, somebody will eventually feel sorry for you waiting there!
It helps to have the name of your destination written in cyrillic so you can match it with the labels stuck in the windows of the waiting jeeps/vans. You will save money taking the jeeps compared to hiring a private driver, but you will be crammed in with a large number of people and you may have to wait all day (or a couple of days) for the ride to leave. The jeeps do have an uncanny ability to leave just on sundown, which ensures you won't get to see the countryside or get any sleep on the uncomfortable overnight journey. Ensure you have warm clothes at hand (i.e. don't leave them in your backpack just beacuse it's hot and sunny when you arrive at the jeep stand). Be patient and prepared for some miscomfort; expect to have a local child seated on your lap; somebody will probably vomit on you at some point or another.
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