For most travelers, Mongolia summons images of a windswept Gobi desert, or nomads with their herds on the grassy steppes, but with the Mongolian mining boom—and the new wealth that has come with it—a very different Mongolia is materializing. And the transformation brought by the Mongolia mining boom is bringing new options for travelers. For those who have moved beyond backpacks and sleeping bags (or who never liked them), you can now experience this remarkable country with a degree of comfort and sophistication.
Mongolia’s emergence as a quickly developing nation is not without its challenges. Formerly under the sphere of Soviet influence, this young democracy with only three million people is squeezed between the world’s largest country, Russia, and the world’s most populous one, China. Couple that with incredible mineral wealth including uranium, gold, silver, copper and coal only starting to be developed, and you have international markets and investors beating down your door. A rapid infusion of capital has propelled Mongolia into becoming the fastest growing economy in the world. With the boom, however, there are also issues that have yet to be addressed: the preservation of Mongolian culture in the face of international pressures, environmental conservation, long term plans for sustainable investment and development, and appropriate ways to spread around this new found wealth so that average Mongolians will benefit.
Nonetheless, it is an exciting time in this ancient country. For those wishing to experience this new side of Mongolian culture while also appreciating Mongolia’s more traditional aspects and natural beauty, Mongolian travel options are increasing at a blistering pace. International branded hotels such as Shangri-la, Kempinski, and Ramada are starting to appear in the capital, Ulan Bator, as well as up-scale, European style, Mongolian hotels catering to western travelers. Feel the need for a good pint? There are several popular Irish pubs. In the mood for a massage accompanied by Aromatherapy? It’s available. And for a country once known for serving nothing but mutton, you can now find Mongolian restaurants serving traditional Italian style pizza, French crepes, sushi rolls, and even vegan fare.
Mongolian travel beyond Ulan Bator can also be accomplished in style. For example, you can make your home base in a boutique hotel in the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park and from there explore glacial lakes, hot springs, Buddhist retreats and nomad gers. And for those who have a couple of million to spare, it’s even possible to travel around Mongolia by private jet, accompanied by a butler and a chef, and set up in luxury versions of traditional gers. For those who would just like air conditioning and a flush commode with their ger, or an eco-conscious vibe and solar-power, you can also find more modestly priced, but civilized options.