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Ölgii

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Mongolia : Western Mongolia : Ölgii
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Ölgii is the capital of Bayan-Ölgii province, and is also known as Ulgy or Ulgii. Nestled in the Altai mountains in western Mongolia, most people in the region are part of the Kazakh ethnic minority, with a small percentage of Mongols living in the province.

Get in

Routes to enter include coming by plane to the Ölgii airport, usually from either Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia or from Kazakhstan; routes can also include biking in, driving in by bus (from Ulaanbaatar or the Altai region of Russia), or by private taxi/transit.

Get around

Ölgii is not a large town so you should be able to get most places by walking, 30-40 minutes at the most. Unofficial taxis are cheap and can be found alongside major roads or in/near the city square. As of 2011 it costs around 500-1500 togrog, depending where you're going, more if you don't speak Kazakh (The exchange rate at the time was 1235 togrog to $1). Most drivers will speak Kazakh; bring a pencil and paper to write down numbers (in Tg) if you don't speak Kazakh.

By going to the bazaar you can also hire a shared taxi which is going further away into nearby towns; Only Mondays baazar does not work. Most taxis would leave around 3-4 pm afternoon.

See

Check out the local museum with displays of Kazakh culture.

Green Garden is a nice place to hang out in the evenings; has cheap beer and soft drinks, and is one of the greener spots in town. Most tourists come in the summer when it is quite brown and dusty (in the winter it's snowy!), so green is a rare thing.

It's worth going on hikes up into the nearby mountains; find someone familiar who can guide you there.

It's also worth experiencing Kazakh hospitality in a ger, or white felt round-house. Many people set up gers in their yards in the summer, but you can also go outside of town to see gers in their "natural setting."

Do

If you happen to be in town during Naadam (the Mongolian summer festival, usually in early July) there's a nice little celebration outside of town up on the hill, with horse racing, drinking, and lots of people picnicking and shopping at tents set up there.

Most people come to see the surrounding areas and don't spend a lot of time in Ölgii itself. It really helps to know someone local who can introduce you to other people! Learning at least a few words of Kazakh will also be helpful and people will really appreciate it.

Buy

Altai Craft is a providing women with employment by sewing. You can look it up online. They have some beautiful Kazakh embroidered bags, pillowcases, placemats, coats, hats, and even Christmas stockings! There's also an Artshop on south east corner of main square, closer to the center of town, which also sells tourist handicrafts, Kazakh hats, and clothing.

There's a small bazaar, mostly filled with cheap imported stuff from China, but also some local stuff.

There are lots of small shops in the center of town that also sell food and odds and ends.

Eat

Manti (dumplings) is a must! There's a shop just off the center of town, facing the "BU Palace," which makes delicious manti soup. Has some other reasonable dishes as well, and usually has beer and soft drinks.

Pamukkale is a nice Turkish-owned restaurant, which food that is expensive for locals but reasonably priced for foreigners ($2-3). Most plates come with a meat of some sort, shredded carrots, rice, and french fries; you can also get soups, and sometimes, cucumber and tomato salads. You can regularly get coke products, but not alcohol.

There's a Mongol-owned restaurant that opened up facing Pamukkale but a couple of blocks down, which is a little more expensive ($4 a meal or so) but has nice food.

Several smaller shops will have meat patties or manti for cheap, usually served only with milky tea.

If you're lucky, you'll find a shop or friends that serve delicious beshparmak (Kazakh traditional food - lamb and noodles) or horse sausage (fat mixed with dark lean meat - very tasty!)

You'll probably find it difficult to eat well as a vegetarian, and will only rarely find fresh fruit and vegetables.

Drink

You can find Coke, Sprite, and Fanta in most shops; Diet Coke is found in fewer shops.

Several stores will serve beer and you can also buy alcohol at some of the larger supermarkets, although you may find it difficult to buy alcohol on Fridays because of religious observance. Most Kazakhs will drink alcohol, even though they will say that it isn't appropriate according to Islam, but they may not drink on Fridays.

Sleep

Check out the Duman hotel for moderately priced rooms ($20 or so a night); also check out Canat's for guest-houses.

For a longer stay, it's possible to rent a local apartment for around $150-200 a month, if you can find someone to translate and advocate for you.

Get out

Nearby destinations include several-day excursions into other areas of Bayan-Ölgii province to see the beautiful mountain scenery, Kazakh herders, and ancient petroglyphs.





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