Self-Guided Travel to Mongolia

By Julian Dierkes

Despite my many visits to Mongolia, I usually do not come for vacation. But, in late July 2023 I spent a week with my brother touring the countryside. Perhaps some of these observations will inform others planning future travel…


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Our trip gave us some experience and insights into the tourism industry from the particular perspective of a knowledgeable-about-Mongolia tourist travelling without a tour. With this being the officially proclaimed years of tourism to Mongolia, perhaps these observations will be of interest as an update to a post I wrote about the experience of traveling around Mongolia on a tour.

One of the great surprises was that ger camps were nearly empty in the last week of July. In the process of trying to make reservations (see below) I had had the impression that some of the camps were nearly booked, but that turned out not to be the case. We learned that the busiest time for the camps had been the week after Naadam, as many Mongolians travelled that week. As much as we really enjoyed the lack of crowds, it does make you wonder about the continued viability of this kind of travel when seasons are short and camps are investing into infrastructure.


I have been driven around the countryside for over 10,000km, I would guess, but I had never driven myself. This was my chance! But, it turned out to be a more ambitious plan than I had anticipated. Rental cars without a driver are very difficult to find. In the end, I had to rely on the advice of some experience travel professionals, and managed to rent a car from Drive Mongolia that served us really well.

We relied on cell phone-based navigation and that worked just fine.

Roads are much better now than they had been ten years ago or so, but there are still many spots that are only reached by gravel roads which vary between washboards (<30km/h) to highways (<80km/h). I’ve noted some of the complex communication patterns that one adopts in a post about recent changes in the countryside.

Ger Camps

We stayed in three ger camps. I would classify all of these as “destination camps” in that they were not along the way of major routes, but instead would be locations that travellers would aim at specifically.


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Harganat River Lodge

Harganat River Lodge is located near Murun. It sits high on a river bank with a 270º view over the entire valley stretching out to the West from Murun. One of its distinguishing features is a dome structure that houses a large open room (used for yoga class, for example), but also shower and toilet facilities as well as a sauna. Obviously, we couldn’t say no to a sauna!

Av Darhar Eco Lodge

Av Darhar Eco Lodge is on the eastern side of Lake Khuvsgul. It was the only occasion that I’ve ever had travelled to a location that could only be reached by boat in Mongolia! This is a great spot inside a national park. At other times of the year, there is an abundance of wildlife of whom we only saw the droppings.

Tultiin Tokhoi Camp

Tultiin Tokhoi Camp is also located near Murun, on the same river as the Harganat Lodge. It includes gers as well as really nicely-constructed small blockhouses.


This is a weak spot if you’re making your own arrangements. The camps seem to largely be catering to Mongolians and international tourists on organized tours, i.e. relying on the good services of travel companies.

Since most camps are out of cell/data range they struggle in replying to contact attempts and some of the other camps we considered did not have much of an online presence either.

Of course, this is also terrific as we did not have WiFi in any of the camps and only had cell data connections by climbing a hill in all. Peaceful.


To me, one of the great attractions to summer-time ger camp travel is fresh yoghurt and we got that. The orum (өрөм) at Av Darhar was fantastic, especially as it came with freshly-made rhubarb jam. But camps also seem to continue to offer a toned-down version of Mongolian food or somewhat generic meals that don’t include Mongolian aspects.

My foodie brother was very curious that none of the Mongolian dishes (he happily took to mutton soup) include any local herbs, as the steppe seems to offer abundant plants, and some of those are likely to be tasty. The curious answer we got from a Mongolian guide staying at the same camp: “We don’t have to season our meat because the animals already eat all the herbs!”


I was really pleased to find that the ger camps we stayed in offered experiences. This had not been the case when I had taken notes about previous tours. In this case, the activities included a map for local hikes, including archaeological sites, and rafting. With these kind of activities, ger camps might become more of a multi-day destination, rather than just a stopover. Other facilities such as saunas added to the sense that it would be really nice to spend some days at a camp, explore the local surroundings, and relax.


All of the camps offered electricity. Some of them were hooked up to the grid, elsewhere this was provided via car batteries fed by solar collectors. Some camps also offered WiFi, though, who wants it, when you’re traveling in the Mongolian countryside.

About Julian Dierkes

Julian Dierkes is a sociologist by training (PhD Princeton Univ) and a Mongolist by choice and passion since around 2005. He teaches in the Master of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. He toots and tweets @jdierkes
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