Mongolia is a reasonably safe country in which to travel, but given the infrastructure of the country, the state of the economy and other development problems, you are bound to run into bumps along the way. With a bit of patience, care and planning, you should be able to handle just about anything.
Alcoholism is a problem in Mongolia and you are bound to encounter drunks in both the city and countryside. Drunks (sogtuu khun) are more annoying than dangerous, except when they are driving your vehicle. Drivers who work for tour companies have been disciplined to hold their alcohol on trips, but hitchhikers may encounter drunk drivers.
Trains Drinking is pretty common on the trains, which is another reason to travel in coupe class or ‘soft seat’ (you can close your cabin door). If the offending drunk happens to be in your cabin, ask the attendant to move you to another cabin.
Camping If camping, always make sure that you pitch your tent somewhere secluded, and that no drunks see you set up camp; otherwise, they will invariably visit you during the night.
Stray dogs in the cities and domestic dogs around gers in the countryside can be vicious and possibly rabid. In the countryside, some dogs are so damn lazy that you wouldn’t get a whimper if 100 lame cats hobbled past; others will almost headbutt your vehicle and chase it for a kilometre or two.
Before approaching any ger, especially in the countryside, make sure the dogs are friendly or under control and shout the phrase Nokhoi khor, which roughly translates as ‘Can I come in?’ but literally means ‘Hold the dog!’. Getting rabies shots is no fun; it’s easier to just stay away from dogs, even if they appear friendly.
If you need to walk in the dark in the countryside, perhaps for a midnight trip to the toilet, locals have suggested that if you swing a torch in front of you it will stop any possible dog attacks.
Professional scamming is not common; the main thing to be aware of is dodgy tour companies that don’t deliver on their promises. We’ve had letters from readers who booked tours where the promised accommodation, food and service standards fell short of expectations. It might be good to get in writing exactly what is offered, and ask about compensation if things don’t work out as planned. The riskiest tour companies are the ones operated by guesthouses and the ones that specialise in onward trips to Russia.
Ulaanbaatar Petty theft is a fact of life in Ulaanbaatar and you need to stay vigilant of bag slashers and pickpockets, especially around Naadam time when muggers do a brisk trade on all the starry-eyed tourists wandering about.
Countryside In the countryside, keep an eye on your gear and don’t leave valuables lying around your campsite if you wander off. Lock your kit inside your jeep or hotel whenever possible (drivers do a good job of watching your stuff).
Horse trekking When horse trekking, be wary of Mongolians who seem to be following you; they may be after your valuables or even your horses, which are easily stolen while you sleep.
Heat Heating and hot-water shortages and electricity blackouts are common in aimag capitals. Some villages go for days (or weeks) without any utility services at all.
Quarantine This sometimes affects travel in Mongolia. Foot-and-mouth disease, malignant anthrax and the plague pop up all the time and may prevent you from travelling to certain areas. Some regions that have been hit by foot-and-mouth disease require drivers to decontaminate their cars when they enter and leave cities. This requires the spraying of tyres (or the whole car) and can cost a few thousand tögrög.