48 hours in Mongolia – your essential itinerary
My first visit to Mongolia was two years ago. I was cooking on a retreat in the Gobi Desert run by Reclaim Yourself, a yoga retreat company. Not knowing much about Mongolia, I had no expectations and what I found was an immense country with beautiful people, a growing inner-city but one that still had a good foothold draped in tradition.
Ulan Bator, the Capital city is a strange mixture of large imposing soviet buildings side by side with modern builds and large boulevards. On the outskirts of the city, many people live in Gers (felted yurts) with beautiful hand-painted wooden interiors. The city is located on the bank of the river Tull surrounded by four sacred mountains with dense pine forests on the northern slopes and the Bogd Uul Mountain to its south.
TIPS AND TRICKS WHEN VISITING MONGOLIA
If possible, opt to fly through Moscow rather than Hong Kong, it’s a shorter journey and helps to control the pain of jet lag.
Getting a taxi in Ulan Bator is easy. Be sure to use a licensed taxi with a meter. Taxi drivers relate to landmarks rather than street addresses. Local buses can also be used as a good cheap alternative but are often crowded.
I always stay at the Bayangol Hotel. This is a great 4-star central hotel which has breakfast included and is just a walk away from all major tourist attractions. The staff speak good English, are very helpful and it has great beds, which is always a plus! If you want to stay somewhere a little fancier, then there is also the Shangri-La.
08:00 am: Grab some delicious breakfast at Millie’s a favourite amongst locals and tourists.
10:00 am: Head to the Gandan Monastery, the largest and most important Monastery in Mongolia. It is beautiful and definitely worth visiting if you want to experience something old and traditional in an ever-evolving modern city.
12:00 pm: Close to the Monastery there is The Central Museum of Mongolian Dinosaurs, believe it or not, many dinosaur remains have been found in the vast country stretching out over Mongolia. It is amazing and humbling to see these remains close up.
2:00 pm: Luna Blanca is famous for being one of the first proper vegan establishments in town and is still going strong. There is something for everyone on the menu, regardless of dietary preferences.
4:00: After an extensive history and culture immersion, it’s time for some shopping. Mongolia produces incredible wool and cashmere, so I recommend treating yourself to some while you’re here. There are many shops in town and a state department store.
6:00: Stop by Sukhbaatar square. Here you will find more shops and some great places to have a delicious coffee or a drink.
7:00 pm: The Shangri La is a great place for a pre-dinner drink and a stop off to see the wonderful views of the city.
8:00 pm: Head to Maxi Pot. The restaurant has two units; downstairs serves Mongolian cuisine and upstairs you can tuck into traditional hot-pot and cook your own soup right there on your table.
06:00 am: Grab breakfast at the hotel which normally includes a big buffet of savoury soups, pancakes and a selection of fruits, veggies and the traditional continental options.
07:00 am – 7 pm: I highly recommend taking a day trip outside the city. Nomadic Journeys is a well-established tour company offering awesome trips such as horse-back riding, river-adventure tours and yak trekking. They are well organised and have fantastic English-speaking guides who have a natural passion for the culture of Mongolia. They also have well-trained chefs (some I trained myself!) who can cater to a wide range of dietary requirements, which can be harder to find once you are out of the city.
8:00 pm: Stop by Rosewood for some dinner. It has a great modern menu with dishes ranging from Mediterranean style food, pizzas, salads and hummus.
Regardless of what you choose to do in Mongolia, it will open up its doors and its heart. The people, their relationship to animals and nature is something that we could all use a bit more of. Like any country that is young and thriving, it’s growing fast and if you have a chance to go and experience it for yourself, you must take it.
Thank you to Bettina Campolucci Bordi of Bettina’s Kitchen for providing these tips.
7 Day Vegan Challenge: The easy guide to going vegan by Bettina Campolucci Bordi will be published on 26th December 2019 (Hardie Grant, £15)