A nondescript but friendly aimag capital, Arvaikheer is mainly used by travellers as a place to eat and rest, refuel the jeep or arrange onward public transport. Note, there is no need to go to Arvaikheer if you only want to visit Kharkhorin and northern Övörkhangai, as a paved road runs to Kharkhorin from Ulaanbaatar.
After a strong rain the magnificent seasonal Orkhon Khürkhree, is one of the best sights in central Mongolia. About 250m downstream from the waterfall you can climb down to the bottom of the gorge; it’s 22m deep and dotted with pine trees. Ask your tour operator about the status of the falls.
Khögnö Khan Uul Nature Reserve
Located just off the main Ulaanbaatar–Kharkhorin highway, this 46,900-hectare nature reserve centres on a large, boulder-strewn rocky mountain which rises up surreally from its semidesert surrounds. The arid terrain is good for short hikes (there's plenty of rock clambering to be done), and there are old temples to explore, both ruined and active.
Hidden deep in a pine forest in the Khangai mountains, this scenic monastery has become a major pilgrimage centre for Mongolians. Zanabazar founded the site in 1653 and lived, worked and meditated here for 30 years. The monastery was destroyed in 1937 but rebuilt with public funds in the early 1990s.
Shankh Khiid, once known as the West Monastery, and Erdene Zuu are the only monasteries in the region to have survived the 1937 purge. Shankh was founded by the great Zanabazar in 1648 and is said to have once housed Chinggis Khaan’s black military banner. At one time the monastery was home to more than 1500 monks.
After a lifetime on the steppes, the last thing any nomad needs is a holiday in the great outdoors. Fortunately, there is Khujirt, where local Mongolians can come and put on a pair of slippers and a bathrobe, enter a mud bath, dip into metal tubs filled with spring water and get some vitamin injections.