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Educators Programs in Mongolia

Exploring Mongolia

Country Basics

Mongolia, often referred to as the “Land of the Eternal Blue Sky,” is a landlocked country nestled in the heart of East Asia. Situated between China to the south and Russia to the north, Mongolia is known for its vast expanses of unspoiled wilderness, nomadic culture, and rich history.

The country boasts diverse landscapes, from the rugged Altai Mountains in the west to the expansive Gobi Desert in the south. Mongolia is one of the least densely populated countries in the world, with a landscape dominated by grasslands, known as steppe.

Ulaanbaatar, the largest city and capital of Mongolia, serves as its political, economic, and cultural center.

Mongolia’s breathtaking natural beauty, including its pristine wilderness areas, attracts adventure seekers and nature enthusiasts from around the world. Tourists come to experience the unique nomadic culture, explore the Gobi Desert, and discover ancient monasteries and archaeological sites.

Brief History of Mongolia

Several nomadic empires have ruled the area of Mongolia, the most notable being led by Ghengis Khan. Ghengis Khan, or Chinggis Kahn as he is known in Mongolia, led the expansion of the empire during the 13th century when he successfully united the incredibly large Mongol state.

After his death, rivalries over the throne began to break down the empire. In 1260, Kublai Khan took over the empire, moved the capital to Dadu, or present-day Beijing, and completed the conquest of China. Various dynasties ruled the area until 1691, when all of modern-day Mongolia fell under Chinese rule.

The Chinese Qing Dynasty ruled Mongolia for over 200 years. While the Mongols declared independence in 1911, it wasn’t until 1921 that they officially defeated the Chinese forces with the help of the Soviet Union. At this point, a Communist regime was installed. Under the Communist government, herds were collectivized, and private trade and transport were outlawed.

Demonstrations against the Communist regime began in 1989 with small gatherings that eventually led to a hunger strike in March of 1990. The strike convinced the Politburo to step down. Free elections were held in July of that year. Many Communist leaders were elected into the new government, but they eventually lost majority representation in 1996. Mongolia has experienced several democratic elections since, with the Mongolian People’s Party peacefully sharing power with the Democratic Party.

Cultural Expectations

Mongolia has a rich nomadic heritage, with many of its citizens still leading a traditional way of life, herding livestock across the grassy steppe. The nomadic culture is characterized by a deep connection to the land, as well as unique customs, music, dance, and art.

While in Mongolia, you can expect…

to be greeted with a handshake, milk tea, and a nomadic lifestyle that mixes hard work with relaxation.

While in Mongolia, locals will expect you…

to respect their customs, try the food they offer you, and clean up after yourself. Consider leaving a small gift for your host family!

Cultural Icon: Ghengis Khan is known locally as Chinggis Khan. He was the founder and Great Khan of the Mongol Empire, which became the largest contiguous empire in history after his death. To keep his empire together and facilitate trade with other peoples, he invented concepts we take for granted today, such as the passport and diplomatic immunity for ambassadors. A 131-foot statue of Genghis Khan and his horse sits just outside Ulaanbaatar and is the world’s tallest statue of a horse.


When in Mongolia, you will feast on…

  • Buuz (meat dumplings)
  • Boodog (goat)
  • Khorkhog (meat cooked with hot stones)
  • Tsuvian (pasta and vegetables)
  • Salted milk tea, and boorstog (Mongolian cookies)
  • Meat stews
  • Most meals are served with rice


The official language of the nation is Mongolian, and it is spoken by approximately 90 percent of the population. Mongolian encompasses various closely related languages and dialects, with the Khalkha dialect being the most prevalent. Additionally, Turkic and Russian languages are also spoken within the country.

Mongolian Cyrillic script is commonly used for writing. However, the traditional Mongolian script is also an integral part of the country’s heritage.

  • Hello, how are you? Sain bainuu?; I’m good. How are you? Sain sain bainuu?
  • Goodbye: Bayartai
  • Yes: Teem; No: U-gui
  • Thank you: Ba-yar-laa; You’re welcome: Zu-geer
  • Excuse me: Uuch-laa-rai
  • Sorry: Uuch-laa-rai
  • What is your name? Ta-ny ne-riig khen ge-eg ve?; My name is ___. Mi-nii ne-riig ___ ge-deg.
  • Where is ___? ___ khaan bai-na ve?

Here’s some helpful phrases and words for visiting the nomads:

  • We’d like to see inside the herder’s ger. Bid malch-ny gert orj u-zekh ge-sen yum.
  • I hope your animals are fattening up nicely. Mal su-reg tar-gan tav-tai yu.
  • Please hold the dogs! Nok-hoi kho-ri-o! (Traditionally used as “hello” when approaching a ger.)
  • I’d like a ride to a ___. Bi ___ ya-vakh ge-sen yum.
  • Camel: Te-mee-geer
  • Horse: Mo-rior
  • Yak: Sar-la-gaar
  • Eagle: Bur-geed


The official currency of Mongolia is the Mongolian Tögrög (MNT). The currency is available in both bills and coins, with bills ranging from 10 to 20,000 Tögrög.

Ethnic Groups

About 84-percent of the population are Khalkh. Other groups include Kazak, Durvud, Bayad, Buriad, Zakhchin and Dariganga.


The breakdown in the country is:

51.7 percent Buddhist, nearly 40 percent nonreligious, 3.2 percent Muslim, 2.5 percent Shamanist, 1.3 percent Christian and a small number of people in other faiths.

Did You Know?

  • In Mongolia, horses outnumber people 13 to 1.
  • Genghis Khan means “Universal King.” His given name was Temujin, which means “Ocean.”
  • Mongolia is known as “The Land of Eternal Blue Sky” – a well-deserved name seeing as the sun shines over 200 days per year.
  • It is the second largest land-locked country. A point in western Mongolia is further from the ocean than any other spot on earth.
  • Mongolian khuumii or throat singing involves producing two simultaneous tones with the voice.
  • The Gobi Desert is the largest desert in Asia and is the fifth largest in the world.
  • Some nomads in the west still keep eagles as pets.
  • In the 1920s, fossilized dinosaur remains were found in the Gobi Desert, along with the first dinosaur eggs.
  • Ulaanbaatar used to be a nomadic city that moved three times a year. Now permanent, it is one of the coldest capitals in the world.
  • The Mongolian Empire once stretched from present-day Poland in the west to Korea in the east, and from Siberia in the north to the Gulf of Oman and Vietnam in the south.

Rustic Pathways in Mongolia

How Students Are Immersed in the Nomadic Lifestyle of Mongolia
No Wi-Fi, no Western amenities, but plenty of culture – What students experience when they travel to remote Mongolian regions where few Westerners have tread.

A to Z: Everything You Need to Know About Traveling to Mongolia
From the Altai Mountains to Yaks and Zud, we go through the A, B, C’s of Mongolia.

Student Story: Taking A Leap of Faith
Rachel traveled to three countries with Rustic Pathways, including Mongolia! Read about what she learned from the people she met on her journeys.


Mongolian Wrestling
Mongolian wrestling (бөх, bökh) has been a traditional sport in Mongolia for centuries. Mongolian wrestlers have an important cultural status in traditional Mongolian society and are thought to embody ancient ideals of nobility, strength and chivalrous sportsmanship. This article helps show the importance of this sport to the Mongolian culture.

The Nomadic Way Meets Generation Z in Modern Mongolia
How old world cultures are colliding and cohabitating with the modern world of social media, luxury coffee shops and pop music with help from Generation Z


Video: The Last Eagle Hunters of Mongolia
The Last Eagle Hunters: In a remote corner of Mongolia live the last practitioners of an ancient tradition – the eagle hunters. Passed down through countless generations, this skill is at risk of being lost to the modern world.


History of the Mongolian Ger
Learn about how the Ger (a traditional Mongolian felt tent) originated and what it is like to sleep in one!

Genghis Khan – History
Mongol leader Genghis Khan (1162-1227) rose from humble beginnings to establish the largest land empire in history. Learn about how he conquered huge chunks of central Asia and China, slaughtered countless tribes, granted religious freedom to his subjects, abolished torture, encouraged trade and created the first international postal system.

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World
A book on the Mongol Empire from the time of Genghis Khan through the reign of Kubulai Khan.


Native Dish: Mongolian Byaslag Cheese
Ancient creamy Mongolian cheese known as Byaslag is made using two everyday store-bought ingredients familiar to most Americans: whole milk and plain yogurt.


12 Signature Mongolian Foods
Mongolian cuisine is much influenced by the continental climate that dominates the region, and also a bit by the Russian and Chinese cultures. Meat and dairy form the staple diet of this nomadic cuisine, with the use of vegetables being limited. The meat of horse, yak, beef, lamb and even camel is consumed as delicacies.

Try it Out

Mongolian Throat Singing
Tuvan throat singing, Khoomei, is one particular variant of overtone singing practiced by people in Tuva, Mongolia, it was inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO.


Mongolian Wrestling Eagle Dance
Learn the traditional dance of Mongolian wrestlers. Before and after each match, each wrestler does a traditional “Eagle Dance” (devekh), which has its origins in shamanistic rituals.