Open for Business
For most of the 20th century, Mongolia was sealed off from the world; a place so distant and so exotic that the very name of the country became a byword for remoteness and isolation. Mongolia has spent the past 20 years ﬁghting that stereotype, and for tourists, that means that Mongolia is now open for business. Visas are relatively easy to acquire compared to other Central Asian republics; a handful of nationals won’t even require one. Mongolia appreciates that tourism is a key growth sector of its economy and is an important revenue earner for local communities. It’s important to remember that despite the warm welcome you will receive, it’s not a pleasure cruise. Mongolia is still a poor country with rudimentary infrastructure and mostly basic facilities outside the capital.
Mongolians know they live in a unique country. Ask anyone why it is so special and they will probably start gushing about the beautiful countryside, the vast steppes, rugged mountains, clear lakes, abundant wildlife and, of course, their animals. It’s this true wilderness experience that many people find so appealing. But just as appealing is Mongolia’s nomadic culture, still going strong in the 21st century. The chance to sleep in a nomads’ ger, help herd the sheep, ride horses and milk a cow or two is the ‘back to rural roots’ experience that many Westemers crave. Experiencing the Mongolian way of life is really only possible because of the tremendous hospitality that exists in Mongolia. In a world of walls, locks and fences, it can be tremendously refreshing to meet a people who are willing to open their doors to complete strangers.
Not Just Grass Horses
There are few countries in the world with such a stark difference between the rural and urban populations. While nomadic Mongols live the simple life, their cousins in Ulaanbaatar are lurching headlong into the future. The capital is changing at a dizzying pace and many Mongolians have bought wholeheartedly into the global economy, capitalism and consumerism. If you’ve travelled elsewhere in Asia, this unbridled consumerism might not be anything new – what sets Mongolia apart from its neighbours is its embrace of Western-style democracy. Despite leaving communism behind just 20 years ago, the country is often held up as a model emerging democratic state, which is nothing short of a miracle for a country surrounded by democracy-challenged countries like Russia, China and Kazakhstan. Mongolia is eager to be part of the global community; by visiting the country and sharing your experiences with locals, you are contributing in some way to the remarkable.