Being the westernmost and the most remote of all provinces in Mongolia (it’s about 1660 kilometers far from Ulaanbaatar), Bayan Ulgii is the place of multiple nations, tribes and multiple cultures. There are 5 Mongol tribes including Uriankhai, Dorvod, Tuva, Khalkh, Uzumchin and one nationality-Kazakhs all living in harmony and relationship. In our tour packages we include domestic flight to Ulgii city and back, but if you have enough time and enthusiasm to try a bus trip, you are getting another feeling. Highway, leading to Ulgii city passes through centers of 4 provinces before it reaches Ulgii city: Uvurkhangai, Bayankhongor, Govi-Altai, and Khovd. Therefore different climates and nature from mountainous to desert steppes, from forests to vast steppes where you can’t find any of mountains 250 kilometers long drive. Bayan-Ulgii is a country of mountains. The biggest mountain range Mongolian Altai range, Hohserh mountain range, Siilkhem mountain ranges are in our aimag. Basically, the territory of province is 1600m above sea level, and the highest point is 4473 meters above sea level (Khuiten mount Altai Tavan bogd). The home for cultural tours, hiking and mountaineering, fishing and horseback riding tours. Eagle hunting festival and domestic Naadam festivals are must-see events when you are planning tour in Bayan-Ulgii.
Converting foreign currency into Mongolian Togrog in Olgii can be easy if you follow a few simple steps. The first is to try to convert larger bills from major currencies: US Dollar ($20 or larger), Chinese Yuan, Euro, and the Russian Rubble. Lower denominations can have different exchange rates. Next, you should try to keep your money in as pristine condition possible. Some banks will refuse any bill that has a crease. You should also be prepared to try 2 or 3 banks. If you want to exchange on a Sunday, can’t exchange at a bank, or have Kazakhstan Tengi, Korea Won, or Japanese Yen, there are money changers near the entrance of the sports palace (look for a row of small shops next to the large red dome).
ATM and Credit Cards
ATM machines accept most foreign credit and debit cards (as long as you tell your bank you are in Mongolia). The fees charged by Mongolian banks are low, though your bank may add a large fee to the transaction. All machines have English as an option and dispense Mongolian Togrog. Most shops in Olgii accept major credit cards (Visa, MasterCard, UnionPay, and sometimes American Express). Discover is not accepted anywhere in Mongolia. All tour operators, hotels, and restaurants accept credit cards.
Kazakh food is heavily influenced by Islam and available food sources. All meat meets Islamic Halal standards, which is similar to Kosher, except horse is allowed. Traditional meals consist of horse, goat, or sheep with dairy, flour, onions, potatoes, and spices. Meat is often boiled for several hours, or grilled until very tender. Kazakh have several delicious meat dishes. Kaz is a horse sausage that is eaten throughout the cold winter when meat preservation is important. Besbarmak (“five fingers”) and sirne are meat, vegatable and flour dishes served for large gatherings. They consume many dairy products including kumiz (fermented mare’s milk), traditional cheese, butters, and hard curds. In Olgii, you can also find Turkish, Uighur, Mongolian, and European food choices.
It is recommended that you bring any prescription drugs with you. There are pharmacies with Russian and Chinese made medications that don’t require a prescription if you absolutely have to get some meds. Olgii has a large hospital with many doctors and nurse on staff and has improved greatly over the years, though it falls well short of the standards of a developed country. Emergency flights to western quality hospitals in the capital are possible. Due to the harsh winters, there are few contagious diseases.
Mongolians and Kazakhs differ is some important areas. Kazakhs follow Islamic food and cleanliness rules closely. They do not eat pork and usually don’t drink alcohol. They also always take their shoes off inside, are almost obsessive about cleaning, and wash their hands and face several times a day. They also share many cultural customs with Mongolians. It is rude to show the bottom of your feet, touch food with your left hand, and to throw anything to a person or point at someone. You should also shake someone’s hand and say “oochlaaray” (sorry) if you step on their foot. Kazakhs, like Mongolian’s believe that they have an obligation to ensure that no one ever leaves their house hungry or thirsty. Don’t worry though, as a foreigner you will not be held strictly to all the rules, and guides will happily help you out.
Grand Altai Travel LLC
-Grand Altai Travel LLC is a full service tour operator with a wide range of services and tour offerings. The owner, Ainur and Aibek, has been a tour guide since 2002, and is fluent in English, Russian, Mongolian, and Kazakh. Some of his clients over the last 10 years are National Geographic magazine, Outside magazine, Patagonia, American Falconry, Atlanta, and UK International Falconry. Grand Altai employs a small staff of guides, cooks, and drivers that are skilled at offering a safe, fun, and adventurous experience. They provide over a thousand guests annually with an safe, unforgettable trip without serious incident. Grand Altai Tarvel LLC aims to help to use tourism to bring economic and social development to western Mongolia and raise awareness of the unique natural and cultural resources of the area. To do this they work with local nomadic families to ensure they benefit from tourism and sponsors the Altai Nomad’s Festival in Fab and the Altai Kazakh Eagle Festival in September to highlight Kazakh eagle hunting skills, local cultures through performances, handcrafts, concerts, horse games, archery on horseback, horse- and camel-racing. They also aim to extend the travel season by providing tours in winter to watch wildlife, witness eagle nting, ice fishing, and snow skiing.
Grand Altai Travel LLC operates a ger camp and restaurant in Olgii (1.2 km south of Central Square, go right intersection for 100 m). Another ger camp is located in Olgii som Hot shower, laundry services, Wifi internet, bar and restaurant at both. Restaurant serves Kazakh, Mongolian, and International food, and can accommodate vegetarians.
-Tours in Chinese, Kazakhstani, and Russian Altai, and all parts of Mongolia.
-Offers personal customized tours, fixed dates tours, and unguided tour packages.
-Can assist with visa, hotel, train and plane ticketing.
Phone: (+976) 95420880, 95420990
Things to do in Bayan-Olgii
Bayan-Olgii is a place to get away from the crowds and enjoy life under the clear blue sky with people that know how to live. From its scenic mountains, wild rivers, and abundant wildlife to petroglyphs, eagle hunters, and felt tents of nomadic gers; there is no other place on earth that offers the chance to experience life in such an unrefined form. The western-most province of Mongolia is not Disneyworld or New York; it is not a place for those whose idea of a vacation is an all-inclusive resort, a massage, and name brand shopping. What Bayan-Olgii does offer is a chance to get a truly unique adventure-packed experience that can include riding a Bactrian camel, climbing a 14,000 ft mountain, whitewater rafting, fly-fishing, spending the night with a real nomad, seeing 3000 year old cave drawings, and visit with an eagle hunter within one week. On the way back to the airport, you can get your massage and buy hand stitched Kazakh embroideries or Mongolian cashmere at a number of local shops if you still want the massage and shopping.
Activities in Bayan-Olgii include hiking, horse and camel riding, mountain biking, jeep tours, wildlife and bird watching, eagle hunting, fishing, hunting, archeological sites and cultural experiences, festivals, shopping, mountain climbing, whitewater rafting, and skiing.
Kazakhs in Mongolia
Bayan-Olgii is a unique place in Mongolia, home of the Kazakh ethnic group. The Kazakhs have a rich culture, close extended families, and many traditions that are still practiced today that are centuries old. The Kazakhs are the second largest ethnic group in Mongolia after the Khalkhs, with 101,000 people comprising 5% of the population. Most live in Bayan-Olgii Aimag, where they make up 90% of the inhabitants. The aimag or province was created in 1939 as a semi-autonomous homeland for Kazakhs living in Mongolia. Today, Bayan-Olgii has a distinctly Kazakh culture. Kazakh is the language of everyday communication, with Mongolian used for inter-ethnic interactions and official communication. Islam is the primary religion of the Kazakhs.
The Kazakhs trace their origins back the 15th century and the founding of the Kazakh Khanate by a direct linage of Chinngis Khan near the Aral Sea in present day Kazakhstan. The Khanate was formed in the wake of several other declining kingdoms including Mongolistan, Nogai Horde, Ak-Orda, and Khanate of Abulkhair that controlled much of Central Asia and trace their beginnings back to the family of Chinngis Khan. The Kazakhs were themselves descendents of Mongols and other nomadic tribes of Central Asia. The Kazakhs quickly developed a distinct identity and a powerful state for several hundred years until the Russian Empire began absorbed the Kazakhs the mid 18th century. It was during this period that Kazakhs fled into the lawless region of the Altai Mountains in China and Mongolia. When the Soviet Union and China established borders, Kazakhs in Mongolia were isolated from their brethren until the 1990s. During this time, nomadic herding and the traditional way of life was completely suppressed in the Soviet Union. The traditional nomadic lifestyle was only preserved in the undeveloped steppes and mountain ranges of Mongolia. About half of the Kazakhs in Mongolia moved to Kazakhstan after independence in the 1990s. Though many came back, the Kazakhs maintain close ties to family in either country.
Today, many Kazakhs in Bayan-Olgii maintain traditional semi-nomadic herding by moving with their animals several times a year, and living in a Kazakh style ger (larger and taller than a Mongolian ger) during the summer. All Kazakhs keep close ties to extended families. Tradition requires that one must not marry anyone related within 9 generations. As a result, upon meeting each other, Kazakhs always tell if and how they are related. This is not their only tradition, though.
The most visible expression of tradition one will notice is the world famous art work of these nomadic people of the steppe. Kazakhs are famous around the world for their intricately embroidered wall hangings (tuskies) used on ger (yurt) walls. A typical ger may have 5 to 7 wall hangings that can take 200 hours to hand stitch each. The curving designs of the wall hangings are patterned after goat horns which symbolize the primary source of wealth of the nomadic herder. This design is used for a wide variety of traditional clothes, home furnishings, and accessories. The Kazakhs are not only known for their artwork, but also for their incredible friendliness.
After meeting a Kazakh, you will be impressed by the generous hospitality expressed through expansive meals with many dishes and countless cups of milk tea and sweets. Like other tribes of the steppe, Kazakhs love to sing and play music. After dinner or while travelling, one will pull out a dombra, the national instrument of the Kazakhs, and play a traditional folk songs that reminds one of the time of the great warriors of Central Asia. Living is such a sparse land; they make the most of celebrations, with music, dancing, and horse games. The biggest celebration is Nauryz, the Kazakh New Years, which is celebrated in March.
But whatever time of year you visit Bayan-Olgii, you should go see a family. Go inside, have tea, and enjoy a delicious meal, including their favorites of kuz (a horse meat sausage) and bisbarmak (literally “five fingers”), and have fun. Kazakhs love to laugh and enjoy company. Listen to Kazakh music, and maybe sing a song for them. By the time you leave, both of you will call each other brothers, and you will never forget the incredible hospitality and spirit of the Kazakhs.
Discover the Outdoors
There is great hiking all over Bayan-Olgii with many tours travelling through Tavan-Bogd and Tsambagarav National Parks on foot. Walking allows visitors to take in the clean air and see the many points of interest inside the parks. The uneven terrain provides many opportunities to find hidden gems behind hills and valleys. You can also see wildlife that may not have noticed your approach. You could be totally self sufficient using only a fishing pole, a water purifier, compass and map. This allows you to be your own tour guide. For those that want to carry a lighter load, tour companies can have your camp and a meal waiting for you each day.
Horse or camel riding
A faster way to get across the vast distances is the always reliable horse. Mongolians use their short shaggy horses year round. Their short powerful legs, thick hair, and great stamina provided Chinngis Khan with a strategic advantage in the fast moving cavalry attacks that devastated much of Asia and Europe. Today these horses are still used by nomadic herders and for the 30 km races of Naadam. A leisurely stroll is a vacation for these workhorses of the steppe.
Bactrian Camels can also be used. These large double-humped beasts offer a unique experience. Camels have traditionally been used by nomads for heavy lifting when moving camp between seasons or transporting goods to market along the ancient Silk Road. The automobile has largely relegated them to livestock in desert areas, though there are still a few thousand in Bayan-Olgii. Usually they are only used as pack animals during tours, though riding is possible.
If you wish to combine the speed of the horse with some exercise, the Altai Mountains can provide a wonderful opportunity for those that like a challenge. With elevations ranging from 1600 m to 4000 m, Bayan-Olgii is roughly the same altitude of Colorado. Grand Altai Travel LLC offers mountain bike rentals and tour packages throughout the summer, while Grand Altai travellers Guesthouse have mountain bikes to rent in Olgii. Mountain bike tours are trail rides and do not require advanced skill, but you should be in great shape due to the high elevation and long climbs.
Though Mongolia is in the process of paving the road connecting Olgii to the Russian Border crossing at Tsaagannuur and the Olgii to Ulaanbaatar road (planned 2023 completion) , the countryside remains wide open, and there is no requirement that says you have to drive on the road. Fences are rare with most of the country is open access grazing land. Even roads between the villages can be rough and bone jarring. For that reason, most public transportation is in rugged Russian army jeeps (UAZ 469) designed in 1973. They substitute a padded roof for seatbelts and lack most modern conveniences that would just fail in the harsh conditions. On the bright side, it is said that simple Russian design allows the engine to be overhauled with only a hammer. The jeeps and its close relative, the Russian army vans, provide reliable transportation to the even the most remote areas. Smaller cars or 2 wheel drive vehicles should be avoided or driven very slowly on the main roads.
Discover the Wildlife
Wildlife and Bird Watching
Bayan-Olgii possesses a wide spectrum of large, rare, and endangered animals that cannot be found easily in many other places. The Argali sheep, Corsac fox, grey wolf, Siberia ibex, brown bears, falcons, and golden eagle attract tourists and nature film makers from around the world. The rare snow leopard and lynx prowl the mountain passes though most people are lucky if they find tracks. Many migratory birds pass through during the warmer months, while the perennial bird population of eagles, falcons, eagle owls, and vultures become more active during winter. Sillkemiin Nuruu and Kohkh Serkhiin Nuruu National Parks were created specifically to protect the rare and majestic Argali sheep and Siberian ibex. Many of these animals can be seen year round, though winter is better. Contact our tour guides for the best times and places to see the wildlife.
This awesome show of power and manliness cannot be found on this scale anywhere else in the world. An estimated 70% of all the eagle hunters in the world live in the small province of Bayan-Olgii, with a small number in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and China. The Kazakh eagle hunters of Mongolia have continuously practiced this unique sport; even through periods of historical adversity. Today it is thriving and is still much celebrated. This is truly their passion. In fact, only a fraction of eagle hunters host tourists during the summer. Every tour guide knows several hunters whom is probably a relative. You can visit eagle hunters year round, though hunting only takes place during winter when their prized game, the Corsac fox, is easily seen in the snow and has a thick, soft fur. In late September and October, you can see one of two eagle festivals including the largest gathering of eagle hunters in the world. Afterwards, you can have a once in a lifetime experience of going on an actual eagle hunt.
The rivers and lakes of Bayan-Olgii are stocked full of trout, salmon, and other freshwater fish. Fly fishing and ice fishing are especially popular. All of Bayan-Olgii drains into the Great Lakes depression of Mongolia, and is a self contained watershed. There are 5 species of fish that inhabit this watershed including the Taimen, Lenok Trout, Osman, Grayling, and Pike. Fish in Mongolia can be quite big with the Taimen weighing over 30 kg (66 lbs), making the large salmon prized by anglers around the world. Lenok Trout are abundant during late spring and early summer, while graylings are found all over Northern Asia. Osmans are a large carp that is only found in the Lake Uvs drainage area of Russia and Mongolia (covering all of Bayan-Olgii). Fly fishing is great all summer with the best time being July to September, though ice fishing offers the largest catches. The locals prefer fishing during the cold winter months when the thick ice traps fish in a limited number of deep water holes. It is not uncommon to catch hundreds of trout and graylings in a 2 or 3 day fishing trip.
Hunting wolves is a common pastime for men across Mongolia and is actively encouraged by the Mongolian government. Custom says that every Kazakh should have a wolf pelt in their house for good luck. Marmots are also hunted, though it is currently illegal. Foreigners can hunt a wide range of animals with a hunting license and an official guide. These currently include wolves, Argali sheep, Siberian ibex, elk, roe deer, wild boar, brown bears, and several other species found elsewhere in Mongolia. No local guide currently offers hunting. Only Ulaanbaatar based guides providing this service in the Bayan-Olgii area.
Discover the Culture
Archeological treasures are abundant in Bayan-Olgii. You can see petroglyphs, standing stones, and burial mounds from the Aimag museum in Olgii to Tsaagan Salaa inside Tavan Bogd National Park with over 10,000 petroglyphs in one valley. Many sites are outside of National Parks, though the best places are inside Tavan Bogd National Park. Due to the rough landscape, it is easy to pass within a short distance of a petroglyph site and not see it without a detailed map or guide. Burial mounds and standing stones are usually found in wide valleys inside the park. Archeology sightseeing is included in most tour packages and archeology centric tours are popular. These tours are usually paired with visits to nomadic families, allowing you to view artistic representations of past cultures and the current lifestyle of locals.
Outside of Mongolia, the ancient practice of nomadic herding has been mostly suppressed in Central Asia under communist rule. Between 80 to 95% of Mongolia’s land is public grazing land used by semi-nomadic herders that move 3 to 6 times a year and live in felt tents called gers at least part of the year. They are considered to be semi-nomadic since they return to the same pastures each year, only changing during droughts or extreme weather. Kazakh and Mongolian nomads are very hospitable people that will welcome unexpected guests with milk tea and food. Kazakhs in particular take great pride in being good hosts. It is their responsibility to ensure that guests are full by the time they leave, and they intend to make sure that no one is hungry. In areas like Tavan Bogd, nomadic families will host guests throughout the summer for small fees. Other families and eagle hunters are usually given gifts as not to insult proud herders. Cultural Festivals
Bayan-Olgii has a busy calendar of cultural events throughout the year. The Golden Eagle Festival in early October is listed by Lonely Planet quite unfairly as only the 2nd best event in Mongolia behind the National Naadam. Naadam lacks displays by trained golden eagles and wrestling is a poor substitute for fighting over a goat carcass on horseback (kokpar). The smaller Altai Kazakh Eagle Festival is held in late September is equally entertaining. You can see the Kazakh horse games at two more festivals in March and July, though without eagle hunters (they only hunt in winter). No celebration in Bayan-Olgii would be complete without a Kazakh traditional music concert. Also, several small Naadams and a large Aimag Naadam are held during the summer.
The Kazakhs of Mongolia are famous throughout Central Asia and increasingly further abroad for their beautiful, vibrant hand-embroidered designs. Kazakh gers are covered in the stunningly colorful wall hangings, carpets, and ribbons, creating a psychedelic world inside the felt tents, which Kazakhs consider to be the center of the universe. The curving designs patterned after goat horns symbolize the wealth of herders. The richness of Mongolian Kazakh designs make them a popular export to their traditional homeland in Kazakhstan, where the old production method has fallen out of favor. Kazakh products made in Olgii can be found in many shops in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia and Almaty and Astana, Kazakhstan. However the best prices and selection can be found in the workshops and stores of Olgii. The hectic bazaar with its fresh halal meat, produce, clothing, and vast variety of Chinese, Russian, and local goods is worth experiencing even if you have nothing to buy. For higher end shopping, the several cashmere shops sell Mongolian cashmere (the best in the world), camel hair, and furs that rivals anything sold in Europe.
The seven of the ten tallest mountains in Mongolia can be found in Bayan-Oglii. The tallest mountain is the snow capped-center of the Tavan Bogd Mountains (“Five Saints”), and 3rd and 5th tallest being the Tsambagarav Mountains. Most of these mountains can only be climbed by experienced climbers with special equipment, though Malchin Uul at 4025 m (the shortest of the Tavan Bogd) and several lesser peaks (3500 to 4000 m) can be hiked. The best time to hike is July to September when the snow has melted, temperature is warmer, and days are long. In addition several glaciers around Bayan-Olgii including the 23 sq km Pontuninii Glacier can be hiked. All tour guides offer climbs on Malchin Uul and Pontuninii Glacier, though only a few have the equipment to attempt the bigger mountains.
Spring and summer snowmelt on the wild rivers of Bayan-Olgii provides great rafting. There are few large rapids on the rivers, though the water is usually fast flowing. The river trips are on inflatable rafts with an experienced guide. A van carrying food and camping gear will be near by on the shore. The lack of human development and sparse population makes rafting in Bayan-Olgii a natural and serene experience.
This sport is relatively new to Bayan-Olgii with the first ski trip only in 2016. In each of the last few years there has been at least one group skiing on the Tavan Bogd Mountains with as many as 3 tours planned in Spring 201. These are backcountry ski runs for experienced skiers only. The mountains receive heavy snow in April and May. The tour takes camels and horses from the park entrance to the Tavan Bogd Mountains Base Camp (16 km) due to deep snow. From there, they hike up the mountains and ski down over several days. The giant bowl shape of the mountains mean that skiing down any point brings you right back to the base camp. At least one tour also goes to Tsambagarav Mountains. Contact Grand Altai Travel LLC for more our information.
Altai Tavan Bogd National Park
Located at the western most point of Mongolia, this park on the border of both Russia and China has views of Kazakhstan from the highest peak of Tavan Bogd Mountains (“Five Sacred” in Mongolian). At the northwest end of this 630,000 hectare park, the Tavan Bogd Mountains contains the 5 highest mountain peaks in Mongolia, with the highest, Khuiten Uul (“Cold Peak’) at 4374 M (14,201 ft). The mountains are considered sacred to local Tuvans and Kazakhs. In the shadows of the Tavan Bogd are the Pontuninii Glacier (covering 23 square kilometers) and 34 other smaller glaciers, plus several large lakes and a 10 M waterfall to the south and many archeological sites, which form the Petroglyph Complexes of the Mongolian Altai, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park contains the full spectrum of archeology in Bayan-Olgii with petroglyphs, standing stones, burial mounds, and Kazakh cemeteries. This biggest concentration of petroglyphs with over 10,000, which is the Tsagaan Sala site, is situated along a 15 km river valley. Another popular region of the park is the lakes region, which is renowned for its natural beauty making it much visited area by tourists and nomadic herders alike. Many eagle hunters live inside the park to hunt the plentiful wildlife during the winter months like Corsac foxes and rabbits. There are many endangered species inside the park including argali sheep, ibex, grey wolves, red deer, black vulture, elk, snow leopards, Altai snowcock, golden eagles, and many others.
The Altai Tavan Bogd National Park is the most visited park in western Mongolia with a wide variety of activities. Mountain climbing is best during late summer when weather is warmest. Four of the peaks require mountaineering equipment and experience climbers, though the shortest, Malchin Uul (“Herder Peak”) at 4025 M, can be hiked by novices. Near the mountains it is possible to hike Pontuninii Glacier. Hiking, fishing, mountain biking, horse and camel riding, and whitewater rafting is popular throughout the summer and autumn, with tour packages of several days or weeks available. The best area to hike is around the lakes and to the Tavan Bogd Base Camp at 3092 M elevation. Tour guides can help you find the best archeological sites and to spot wildlife. Fishing is permitted in the park from mid June to April. Joining an eagle hunter with the help of a guide is available during the winter hunting season (See Tour Guides for more information). Everything except mountain climbing and rafting is available through the winter. Backcountry skiing has become increasingly popular on the Tavan Bogd Mountains during April and May when the snow is deep and fresh, though the numbers are still small.
There are a few places to sleep and buy supplies inside the park. Local families have gers available to stay around the park, plus there a shop and gas station at Syrgal park ranger station between the lakes. This shop has limited stock and is not always open. Vans can be hired to drive to the park or scheduled shuttle service from either Grand Altai Travel LLC or www.grand-altai.com goes to the park. Grand Altai Tarvel goes on Wednesdays and Sundays during the summer months to the Tavan Bogd Mountains base camp, and from the camp on Mondays and Fridays. Our company goes to both the Tavan Bogd North Rangers Station and the bridge at Syrgal every Sunday. Their van costs $514 divided between each passenger (up to 8) and begins June 22nd. All tour guides can arrange rides to and from different parts of the park.
Tsambagarav Uul National Park
The sacred, snow covered Tsambagarav Mountain at 4208 M (13,737 ft) on the border of Bayan-Olgii and Hovd Aimags towers over the 110,960 hectares of Tsambagarav Uul National Park. The park is known for its stunning vistas and diverse wildlife. The park contains many glaciers, rocky gorges, glacial lakes, and a 7 meter waterfall, in addition to deer stones , balbal (standing stones), and Kazakh and Uriankhai nomads. Many rare and endangered species can be found including the Argali sheep, Ibex, Snow Leopard, Rock Ptarmigan and Altai Snowcock. Tsambagarav Mountain and the smaller Tsast Uul at 4193 M both require crampons and ropes, though surrounding peaks can be hiked. This park is great place for hiking, horse and camel riding, mountain climbing, fishing, eagle hunting, and cultural and nature sightseeing. Family stays with Kazakhs and Uriankhai nomads are also popular. There is a ger camp near the park and a small summer village outside of the park, plus a few nomadic herders inside the park during the summer. Most of the village of Altantsogts moves 30 km south to be closer to the summer grazing area on the slopes of the Tsambagarav. Transportation can be arranged through local tour guides or a twice weekly shuttle to the ger camp inside the park on Wednesdays and Sundays during the summer tourist season provided by Grand Altai Travel LLC. The park is 75 km east of Olgii on the road to Hovd.
Other National Parks Sillkemiin Nuruu National park
Spread along the northern border of Bayan-Olgii with the border to Russia, this 140,000 hectare park and a neighboring Russian park provides important habitat to many large mammals such as argali sheep, ibex, wolf, and snow leopards. The park has particularly large numbers of argali sheep. Several archeological sites can be found including standing stones, petroglyphs, and burial mounds. Hiking, horse riding, mountain climbing, camping, nature and cultural sightseeing, and eagle hunting are available inside the park. The park is divided into 2 sections with the Russian border crossing in between. Supplies can be bought at shops near the crossing or in the nearby village of Tsagaannuur (borders the eastern section and 30 km from the western section). Regular shared jeeps drive daily between Tsagannuur and Olgii, though you may have to hire a jeep from there to get to the park. However it will be easier to hire a jeep in Olgii. There are regular tours through the park by local tour guides.
Devliin Aral (Island) National Reserve
This nature reserve on the south side of Achit Lake and neighbors Uvs Aimag in the eastern part of Bayan-Olgii covers 10,300 hectares. Devliin Aral provides a sanctuary for the very rare ring-necked pheasant, snowcock, wild boar, and beavers, as well as habitat for many species of migratory birds. Much of the park is heavily forested. Visitors to the park can go hiking, horse riding, fishing, nature and bird watching, and enjoy cultural experiences with nomads. The best times to go are during in late spring or autumn when the lake is full of migratory birds. The park should be avoided from mid June to end of July due to large swarms of mosquitoes. Many tours will spend a night in the park to take in its spectacular sunrise and enjoy a warm swim. Regular transportation is not available to this park, though jeeps and guides can be hired. It is 100 km from Olgii off the road to Ulaangov.
Kohkh Serkhiin Nuruu Strictly Protected Area
Located on the border of Hovd and Bayan-Olgii near the town of Deluun, Kohkh Serkhiin Nuruu (“Blue Goat”) has the world’s largest concentration of the endangered argali sheep. The park is an important refuge for many other rare and endangered species including the snow leopard, Altai deer and the ibex. Your best chance for seeing these rare animals is in this park. In fact, the largest ram horns ever recorded at 190 cm long (6 ft 2in) were from an Argali sheep killed just outside the park. For that reason, it hosts many regular tours with horse riding being especially popular. The 65,920 hectare park is several hours on rough roads south of Olgii. There are regular shared jeeps and cars between Olgii and Deluun. From there it is a short hike to the park.
Around Olgii City
Olgii (Өлгий)has been a predominately Kazakh settlement since before the creation of an independent Mongolia in 1911. It was the center of the local Kazakh community with the largest mosque in the region. However, this mosque was destroyed during religious purges in the 1930s. In 1939, Olgii was made the seat of government of the newly created Bayan-Olgii Aimag (Баян-Өлгий, “Fertile Cradle” in Mongolian). Since this time, From WikiCommons
schools, apartments, factories, a hospital, and a theatre have been built in Olgii. Despite all this construction, Olgii was much less developed than the rest of the country when Communism fell in 1991, with no paved roads or railroads connecting to neighboring cities or to neighboring China and Russia. This was mainly due to the lack of mining and difficult terrain in Bayan-Olgii. After the fall of communism and the break-up of the USSR, about 25% of the population moved to the newly created Kazakhstan, though many later came back allowing the population to largely recover. A small building boom in recent years has resulted in significant increase in apartments, shops, restaurants, and hotels (about half of the town center has been built since 2005). The city of 30,000 people is the center of trade and industry for Bayan-Olgii. There is a large wool factory and many smaller animal related factories to process products from the 2 million animals in the Aimag. Tourism and local handicrafts have become increasingly important in the past few years. The unique Kazakh embroideries made by several local companies and cooperatives are now sold in at least 6 countries and employ over 100 local women.
Open from 12pm to around 6pm Tues- Sun. Admission is free. The sprawling market offers fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy products, and meat (Halal compliant horse, beef, goat, and sheep), as well as a Chinese made goods, clothes, and traditional Kazakh embroideries and hand crafts. Small venders and shops surrounding the market sell everything from high end cashmere to construction supplies. Just past the entrance to the bazaar are about 20 outdoor billiards tables. There are several small cafes (гуанз) selling бууз (steamed mutton dumplings) and хуушуур (fried mutton-filled pancakes) and a Uighur café near the main entrance to the Bazaar. Also near the main entrance is the main meeting area for shared jeeps and vans going to soums and to Hovd (the other area is beside the Kazakh National Theatre for buses going to Ulaanbaatar). The Bazaar is northeast of the Central Square, east of the museum.
This three story museum provides a great starting point for trips through Bayan-Olgii with displays on local culture, history, and nature. The top floor offers displays of local tribal culture and life, as well as a full size Kazakh ger with photo opportunities. The second floor provides a brief look at the local history, especially the Communist era from 1924 to 1991. The ground floor has a wide variety of stuffed wildlife and a gift shop with traditional Kazakh handicrafts. Outside, you can see a broad selection of standing stones including deer stones and Turkic image stones and another shop selling Kazakh embroideries and handbags. Almost all the displays in the museum have been translated into English. Admission is 5000 MNT. Operating hours are 9-12 and 1-5pm Mon-Fri, and 10-5pm on Sat.
The main mosque in Olgii was built in the early 1990s. This mosque was the first mosque in Olgii since the old mosque was destroyed and local imams (Muslim religious leaders) were killed during Stalin-backed purges of religion during the 1930s. Today there is at least 5 mosques inside Olgii, plus more in the small towns in Bayan-Olgii. The call to prayer can be heard several times during the day. The beautiful blue mosque and its minarets (prayer towers) help give the city a Central Asian feel. Visitors are allowed, though you are encouraged to be respectful of customs including showering before entering and removing shoes before entering. Women are also asked to cover their hair. The main mosque is located behind Tsambagarav Hotel. From the museum, walk north, and then turn down the first street to the left. Another large mosque is located half kilometer west of the square. From Tsambagarav Hotel, walk west until you see a large minaret.
The theatre hosts concerts, plays, and various performances throughout the year including traditional concerts during Nauriz and the Golden Eagle Fastival. This massive red walled building is easily the tallest building in the center of town, located just southwest of the Square. Buses going to Ulaanbaatar leave from here. Tickets can be purchased in the basement to the right of the main entrance.
- Post Office (Монголын цахилгаан холбоо)There is an internet café located on the first floor with printing and faxes available. There are 3 ATM machines inside next to the internet café, plus one outside the door. Post office can mail packages and postcards, though packages mailed outside the country will require customs and health inspector stamps.
- Naadam StadiumThis stadium, used mainly for Naadam, is located north of the road to Sagsai, 2 km west of the center of Olgii.
This shallow, cold river provides a nice place to fish during the summer and go ice skating during the winter. Locals will advice you not swim because of the strong current and cold glacial temperatures even in July and August.
- Border Patrol OfficeLocated between the river and the Naadam Stadium, 2 km northwest of the center of town, border permits for entering the national parks (except Tsambagarav) can be purchased here. Operating hours are 8 to 11am and 2 to 5pm Mon-Fri.
- Internet Cafes and Print ShopsThere are numerous internet cafes located around the center of the city. Most will say ‘Интернет’ or ‘Game Center’ in English and charge between 500 -1000 MNT per hour. Some will offer print and fax services. Printing can be done at any shop called ‘Канон’ or ‘Фото.’ These can also a great place to get a photo taken in traditional Mongolian clothing. For those with smart phones or laptops, most restaurants, coffee shops, hotels have WiFi internet.