Nestled in the Altai mountains in western Mongolia, this small city was established in the 1840s by Kazakhs fleeing the expanding Russian Empire. Though current day Bayan-Ölgii was likely a wintering grounds for nomadic Kazakh herders living in what is now Xinjiang Province of China. More Kazakhs came after Stalin started suppressing traditional cultures and religion and during the Chinese Civil War in the 1930s. During this time Ölgii became a staging point for a Soviet supported rebellion against the Nationalist in the western Muslim region of China. After the Chinese Communist won, Kazakh rebels and religious leaders were purged, about 500 arrested and 100 murdered in Bayan-Ölgii alone. The region was largely ignored since then, allowing the Kazakh's unique culture based on nomadic herding, vibrant art and music, and large, close families. No where else on earth has the traditional practice of hunting with eagles been so well preserved, with 250 active Kazakh eagle hunters in this small remote province.
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.
Ölgii Airport is located 5 km from the center of the city. The airport has a new concrete runway and modern controls. Most flights are from Ulaanbaatar with the occasional stop on the way in Hovd, Ulaangom, or Moron.
AeroMongolia ☎ +976 11 330373 (Ulaanbaatar) +976 8808 0025 (Ölgii) , is generally cheaper and has older planes. Ölgii office is in the same building as the Visitor Information Center on the southeast corner of the square on the 2nd floor.
Eznis ☎ +976 11 331111 (Ulaanbaatar) +976 7042 7337 (Ölgii) , has the newest aircraft and foreign pilots, though it costs more. Ölgii office is next to the post office on the 2nd floor of the Altai Cashmere building.
There is a bus 3 times a week from Ulaanbaatar (48+ hours on most unpaved roads) costing 80,000 Tugriks. It leaves for UB from the Dragon Center in UB, and to UB from the Theater (giant red building west of square) in Ölgii. Bus to Kazakhstan leaves every 10 days, and cost $100 to Astana. You need to get visa in UB first. Tickets can be bought in the basement of the west wing of the theater building. Buses leave for UB on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday exactly at 3 pm. There are shared jeeps daily to and from Hovd. These are cheap, but very overcrowded. They leave from the Bazaar in Ölgii and Black Market in Hovd. Times depend on the driver. Travel time is roughly 8 hours, with a stop around halfway for dinner of buuz and hoshuur (steamed mutton dumplings and fried mutton pancakes). Price of shared jeep to Hovd is 20,000T.
Taxi is 700T per km.
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. You can signal for a taxi by sticking your hand out waste high and flicking your wrist. As of 2013 it costs around 700-2100 togrog, depending where you're going, more if you don't speak Kazakh. Most drivers will speak Kazakh, but can speak Mongolian; bring a pencil and paper to write down numbers (in Tg) if you don't speak either.
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 leave around 3-4 pm afternoon. The Tourist Visitor Center can help arrange jeeps for getting out into the countryside as well as permits for various parks. Shared jeeps typically have at least 10 and up to 15 passengers for a 5 seat jeep.
To the Soums
There are shared jeeps on most days, except Monday, to the various Soums (villages) in Bayan-Ölgii. Jeeps leave the soums in the morning for Ölgii and return in the afternoon. Below are approximate prices in togrogs of transport to each Soum;
Bugat, 500T (For shared jeep, taxi is 3,500T)
Ölgii is the capital of the Kazakh homeland of Mongolia. It has a unique traditional Kazakh culture and is the cultural, religious, and economic center of the region.
Petroglyphs are found all over Bayan-Ölgii. There are an estimated 1 million images throughout the region dating back 12,000 years. The images trace the history of early cavemen to more recent groups like the Blue Turks (ancestors of modern Turkic language groups) as transition from hunter gather to pastoralism to 'modern' horse-based nomadism seen today in Mongolia. Several sites with large concentrations make up the Petroglyphic Complexes of the Mongolian Altai UNESCO World Heritage Site. The best sites are in Altai Tavan Bogd National Park, though other sites are only a short drive outside of the city.
Turkic Standing Stones are unique stone artifacts made by the ancient Blue Turks and others made between 2000BC to right before the Mongolian Empire. These standing stones are carved to look like a man and can be over 5 or 6 ft tall. Around 1000 are found in Bayan-Ölgii, with a few placed in front of the museum.
Museum is located northeast of the square on the way to the Bazaar. You should take time to visit it before heading out to the countryside to see the displays of Kazakh culture, local history, and wildlife. The 3 story museum has an entire floor dedicated to various tribes living in Bayan-Ölgii including the majority Kazakhs, Uriankhai, Dörvöd, Tuva, and Khoshuud, including a complete Kazakh ger (much larger and more colorful than Mongolian gers). There are also costumes and ancient artifacts from each tribe. The second floor has local history from the Communist era, and the ground level covers local wildlife, with many stuffed animals, and has a gift store full of Kazakh handicrafts. Outside is a small display of ancient small Turkic Stone Men (ones in countryside are much bigger). Admission is 5,000T.
Mosques There are at least a half dozen mosques in the city that have all been built in the last 25 years. The call to prayer can be heard around town several times a day. The old mosque was destroyed in the 1930s during religious purges throughout Mongolia. The Central Mosque behind Tsambagarav Hotel and the mosque at Bili Tagan School just north of the shower house next to several large communist era apartments are the largest and best ones to visit. You are free to go inside an take pictures, though you should follow Muslim customs inside the mosque.
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.
Statues Ölgii has many modern statues besides its ancient stone men. The central square is dominated by the Soviet-Mongolian War Memorial commemorating Mongolia's contribution to the Great Patriotic War (World War 2). Facing the square is statues of Lenin and Sukhbaatar ('Ax Hero,' hero of the war of independence) in front of the government building. Inside the beer garden is a full size statue of a man playing a dombra (traditional kazakh instrument). The most unusual statue is a full size statue of a local war hero, Akie, that died in 1929 during the war between White and Red Russians in Mongolia. Akie is firing a pistol backwards while running.
Kazakh National Theater was constructed to host cultural events in the city has regular concerts and plays from locals and groups traveling from Kazakhstan or elsewhere in Mongolia. Though it is not especially nice or well maintained, it does hold regular concerts in plays throughout the year.
Altai Mountains surround the city extending to the west and south. 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."
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.
Altai Kazakh Eagle Festival on September 22/23, is the smaller festival of eagle hunters in the village of Sagsai, 45 minutes from Ölgii. This festival usually has 30 to 40 eagles and their horse-mounted masters. The event is held over 2 days and features displays of skill by the trained eagles, traditional Kazakh horse games such as a camel race, kokpar, Tiyn Teru, and Kyz Kuar. The event has handicrafts, food, and gers to stay at. Price to attend is $30.
Golden Eagle Festival on October 5/6, is just outside of Ölgii. It is the largest gathering of eagle hunters in the world with 70 eagles and hunters at the event, which has been recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Cultural Event. There are 2 days of events starting with various competitions between eagle hunters such as appearance, returning to master on command, and catching a piece of fur pulled behind a horse. Other events are a camel race, kokpar(tug-of-war over goat carcass while on horseback), Tiyn Teru(race to pick up a coin on the ground), and Kyz Kuar('woman chase' with woman whipping man while racing. There are locally-made Kazakh handicrafts, food tents, and other entertainment at the festival site. Those with tickets to the event can attend a traditional Kazakh concert at the Kazakh National Theater in Ölgii. Tickets are $40.
Nauryz March 22, is the traditional Kazakh New Years during the spring equinox. There is a parade in the center of town, a concert, and everyone is dressed in traditional clothing. It is mostly a family holiday with everyone going from house to house to eat Nauryz soup and wish people a happy new years.
Naadam July 10/11, 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.
Altai Nomad's Festival July 21/22, is a community festival held each summer by Kazakh nomadic herders living in the lake region of Altai Tavan Bogd National Park. The event has Kazakh horse games, cultural performances, and wrestling. Food, lodging, and handicrafts available during the event. Price is $30, not including transportation.
There is not a lot of infrastructure in Mongolia in general, and Bayan-Ölgii especially. There are no paved roads or many places to stay or eat or even buy food outside of the city. The parks are completely pristine, often without even borders fences between Russia and China. Therefore most visitors use one of the several tour groups located in Ölgii for transportation, camping equipment, food, and guides. The largest companies offer unguided tour options to the main National Parks with only transportation and supplies, but no guide, cook, or other services. While other activities like mountain climbing, whitewater rafting, or going with an eagle hunter on a hunt will require a guide for most people.
Altai Expeditions (+976 9942 7003)  provides fishing, bird watching, mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding, jeep, hiking, whitewater rafting, and mountain climbing. The owner, Bekbolat, is a expert mountain climber and whitewater rafting guide. They have a ger camp and restaurant just outside Ölgii and a guest house in Ölgii.
Bear Valley Adventures (+976 9942 6311 +976 9966 2324)  Bear Valley has tour packages that offer cultural experiences, trekking, hiking, horseback-riding, fishing, cycling, kayaking, and mountain climbing. The owner, Akhmaral, has been a guide for many years. They have a ger camp and restaurant in Ölgii.
Blue Wolf Travel (+976 9493 4994)  is a large tour operator in Bayan-Ölgii, with ger camps in Sagsai and Ölgii, scheduled shuttle services to Tavan Bogd and Tsambagarav National Parks, tours in Russia, China, and Kazakhstan Altai regions, a wide selection of tours including unguided tours, and the only snow skiing trips in Western Mongolia.
Kazakh Tours (+976 9942 2006)  offers a broad selection of tour packages and services, including scheduled shuttle services to Tavan Bogd and unguided tours. Their tours offer many exciting activities such as fishing, bird watching, eagle hunting, mountain climbing, and whitewater rafting. There office is located in the Central Square directly across from BU Palace.
Bayan-Ölgii has developed a reputation around Mongolia and Kazakhstan for its unique craft production that is not found anywhere else. Local artisans export brightly colored embroideries with elaborate curving designs. The Kazakh designs has recently been used for handbags, wallets, computer bags, pillow cases, place-mats, and a wide range of products. Before the end of communism, the designs were used primarily for wall hangings on gers, traditional clothing, and the takiyat (Muslim prayer cap). Tourists visiting in the 90s started buying wall hangings (tuskies), some 40 or 50 years old, and created a demand for new wall hangings and other items. Local artisans also make fox fur hats, dombras (traditional instruments), chee (painted straw panels, and many other crafts that are used everyday by locals.
Like much of Mongolia, the number and quality of shops have grown exponentially over the last 3 years. Three years ago, there was a few small general stores selling candy, flour, and cheap vodka. Today there are several supermarkets, cashmere shops, specialty stores for computers, home appliances, and fashionable clothing. The availability of particular items can still be inconsistent, but is still good considering the isolation.
Most prices are in Mongolian Tughrik , though tour guides and tourist activities will be priced in dollars.
Bazaar is a sprawling collection of small shops, kiosks, and street venders in the center of the city. Meat, vegetables, fresh dairy, and packaged food can be bought next to Chinese clothes and goods, next to local crafts makers and souvenir shops. Outside the market, you can find shared jeeps to various villages and neighboring provinces, outdoor billiards tables, and small cafes. The bazaar serves as a central gathering place for commerce in the province, and is a must see place in Ölgii. Safety or theft is not a big issue in the market though there may be drinking near the billiards tables. As of 2013, all parts of the market are free to enter.
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.
Kazakh Craft (+976 9942 9906)facebook.com/KazakhCraft is an Ölgii based maker of traditional Kazakh embroidery and eagle hunter accessories. Their main shop is on the main road. Though most of the actual embroidery is done at one of the 40 women sewers' homes. During the summer they have a shop in a trailer in front of the museum. Their products can also be found in Ulaanbaatar and Kazakhstan. Their products are more expensive than most due to better sewing machines and use of high quality thread and leather.
Elaman Chee Maker (+976 8842 8092)Elaman is a local artisan of decorative straw panels used to cover the inside walls of Kazakh gers. These panels are made of painted wheat straw tied together in a slow laborious process. They make smaller panels for placemats, hot plates, and wall decorations. They do not speak English, so you will need a translator.
The dining choices in Ölgii are limited, but generally more tasty than Mongolian food elsewhere in the country. Most of the food here is Kazakh or Mongolian, though Turkish, Uighur, and International options are available. The biggest difference between Kazakh and Mongolian is that Kazakh meals have Halal meat (without blood) and more spices. Kazakh food is delicious and usually slow cooked over several hours with lots of meat, potatoes, noodles, and spices. The best dishes are bisbarmak ("5 fingers", slow-boiled mutton), sirne (grilled mutton), and kaz (smoked fatty horse sausage).
Mongolians and Kazakhs rarely eat meals without meat. Vegetarians should stick to the large restaurants and tourist camps. Though, the bazaar and some supermarkets have decent selection of fruits and vegetables. There is a regular supply of bananas, apples, pineapples, carrots, bell peppers, cabbage, oranges, and watermelon throughout the summer and fall. A much more limited selection is available during the winter due to the nearby Chinese border closing.
All restaurants, other than those at tourist ger camps are located in the city center near the apartment blocks and the Bazaar.
Ölgii has several small guanz (cafes) are located in the center which have mutton pancakes (hoshuur) or manti (dumplings) for cheap, usually served only with milky tea.
Pamukkale (located northeast of the square near the police station)  is a nice Turkish-owned restaurant, serves Turkish, Mongolian, Kazakh, and some western dishes and salads. Its prices are reasonable at (4000-9000T) a dish. Most dishes include meat, carots, and french fries. Serves coke products, juices, coffee, and desserts. (UPDATE AUG 2013) The have free wifi. I consider this to be some of the best food I had, not just in Olgii but in Mongolia (outside UB), they even had a proper salad (for when you've had enough of Mutton!).
Arvins, a small Mongolian restaurant, that opened up facing Pamukkale but a couple of blocks down, which is a little more expensive (5000T+) but has nice food.
Blue Wolf Cafe (located in front of their ger camp, 500 meters south of the square on Road to Hovd) serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They can make Kazakh, Mongolian, and western dishes at a reasonable price. Though most people eating there have their meals included in the cost of their room or tour package. Only open during the summer, has live entertainment.
Kazakhs, like Mongolians, drink milky tea, though Kazakhs use less salt and more tea. Shops carry Coke, Fanta, juices, instant coffee, and alcoholic drinks, usually at room temperature. A few stores sell wine, imported beer, and whiskey (at very high prices). Restaurants and bars usually serve beer and coke cold.
Friday is officially a dry day with no alcohol legally sold in respect for the Muslim majority. Bar and Nightclubs are closed on Friday, though some restaurants and shops will still sell to foreigners. Be aware that you should not openly carry alcohol on this day or be visible drunk. Public drunkenness on any day is not common like other parts of Mongolia, and could result in a visit by the police.
There are about a dozen bars and 3 or 4 nightclubs in the city. Bars typically include karaoke and VIP rooms with small selection of beers and hard liquors.
Kumiz is similar to Airag and is made from fermented mare's milk. Kazakhs drink it during the summer until it runs out in late winter. It has a fizzy sour taste, and is small alcohol content. Several restaurants serve it, and there is one Kumizhana, or 'kumiz place.'
There are several hotels and ger camps in Ölgii. Hotels are open year round and cater to locals most of the year, while ger camps are only open during the main tourist season from May to October.
Tavan Bogd Hotel ☎ +976 7042 3046 , has 12 hotel rooms in simple (shared bathrooms), semi-deluxe (separate bathrooms), and deluxe (seperate bathroom and sitting room). Located across from the Kazakh Theater in the center of town. There is a restaurant and WiFi throughout. All bathrooms have hot showers. Prices are 30,000T for simple, 45,000T for Semi-lux, and 60,000T for Lux.
Duman Hotel has moderately priced rooms (30,000T and up).
Bastau Hotel, Near the town square (From the south side of the town square head east about 50M, its on your right just before the Tavan Bogd hotel), ☎ nope. checkout: 12. Very basic rooms from 15,000MNT have a shared bathroom with squat toilets and Cold showers... however, for 30,000MNT you can get either a Twin or Double ensuite room with its own boiler. If the boiler is not heating up, ask the staff or head to the west end of the corridor and play with the breakers in the fuse box. The double bed was comfy, the bathroom is very basic but at least the water will be hot! The staff are super helpful compared to the Tsambagarav hotel (which is horribly overpriced). There is no official wifi but from room 203 my Mac just about picked up a "D-link" network which worked intermitently15,000+.
Blue Wolf Tours ☎ +976 7042 2772 , has 2 ger camps; one in Olgii and another in Sagsai (27 km west of Olgii). It has free Wifi, hot showers, laundry, and a small restaurant at the ger camp in Olgii. Gers come in single ($20), double ($10), or 3+ beds options ($5-7) in Ölgii, or $12-15 per bed in Sagsai.
Altai Expedition Ger Camp ☎ +976 9942 7003 , is located 8 km outside of Olgii. It has 10 gers with 2 or 3 beds each. There is a restaurant located in a large ger serving international and Kazakh cuisine. The camp has modern indoor restrooms, clean showers, and WiFi in the restaurant. There is live entertainment and Kazakh art available also. Price of the stay and meals are included in tours.
Bear Valley Ger Camp ☎ +976 9942 6311 +976 9966 2324  A tourist camp located 8 km from Olgii and 3 km from the airport with ten gers and a restaurant that serves local and international fare. The camp has hot showers, indoor toilets, WiFi internet and computers, and laundry service. Meals are included in the price of rooms.
It is possible to camp along the Hovd River flowing through town, though you will want to stay away from other homes or gers to avoid dogs that guard homes and livestock. Water from the river should be filtered before drinking since livestock graze near water during the summer months. Some families welcome travelers into their home for the night. Go to Ger-to-Ger to find families in Ölgii. Ger-to-Ger
For a longer stay, it's possible to rent a local apartment for around 150 to 250,000T a month, if you can find someone to translate and advocate for you.
Getting money or using the internet is surprisingly easy for such an isolated place. There are around a dozen ATMs that take Visa, Mastercard, and UnionPay from foreign banks. There is also Western Union at XAAH Bank in the square, and MoneyGram south of the square at Capitron Bank. Additionally, all banks exchange major currencies and can do wire transfers. Some business accept payment by credit card.
Internet cafes are all over, including the ger district. Payment is usually around 500-600T/hour and prints and faxes available. Internet quality isn't great, and viruses are common. WiFi is available in several hotels and Pamukkale Restaurant.
Public Shower House is West of Kazakh Theater in a fenced lot with trees (rare). Showers are 1500T, haircuts start from 2000T, and massages 10,000T. Operating hours are 10am to 10pm everyday, though Sundays are very crowded. Stalls aren't very clean, but the will wipe it down if you ask, and it is almost always hot. Going early (10am) results in no lines and clean(er) stalls.
Kazakh is the primary language spoken, though everyone should understand Mongolian. Russian is also common especially among older people. Turkish and English are understood by many educated adults, but not usually conversationally. Children will say 'hello' to anyone that looks foreign, though that is often the only word they know.
Nearby destinations include several-day excursions into other areas of Bayan-Ölgii province to see the beautiful mountain scenery, Kazakh herders, and ancient petroglyphs. There are around 60 deer stones, over 1,000 Turkic Stone Men and a million petroglyphs (pictures carved into stone) in the surrounding region. There are around 250 Kazakh eagle hunters living outside of the city that hunt for prized Corsac foxes with captured golden eagles released from horseback. These hunters are often followed by documentary film crews during the winter months.
Bayan-Ölgii is home to 5 national parks and protected areas. The most popular are Altai Tavan Bogd National Park and Tsambagarav National Park with lots of wildlife, mountains, glaciers, lakes, and archeology. Sillkemiin Nuruu National Park and Kokh Serkhiin Nuruu National Park have large populations of Argali Sheep and Ibex and archeological sites. Devliin Aral Strictly Protected Area and the nearby Achit Lake serve as an important rest stop for millions of migratory birds.
Altai Tavan Bogd National Park is a 630,000 hectare park on the border of Russia and China, containing the Tavan Bogd Mountains ('5 Saints', highest in Mongolia at 4374m), the Pontuninii Glacier, the UNESCO World Heritage Site: Petroglyphic Complexes of the Mongolian Altai, and several large lakes. This is the most visited park in Western Mongolia, and famous for mountain climbing, fishing, archeological sites, and eagle hunters living inside the park. Park Permit is 3000T from the Visitor Center in Ölgii (southeast corner of square), and border permit (Chinese border permit at army barracks in Ölgii, Russian border permit at Tsagaannuur village north of Ölgii).
Shuttle services to the park are provided by 2 tour companies to the park on regular days to the base camp of Tavan Bogd Mountains. This is usually part of an unguided tour package with additional fees for tents, food, and extra services.
Blue Wolf Travel  provides transfers to the Tavan Bogd on Wednesdays and Sundays and from the park on Mondays and Fridays.
Kazakh Tour  has shuttles to the both sides of the park each Sunday, the Tavan Bogd Mountains Ranger Station and the bridge between Khoton and Khurgan Lakes (hiking or horse ride between these two places is a popular trek). The van is $214 divided by each passanger (up to 8). Shuttle begins on June 22nd.
Tsambagarav National Park is a 110,960 hectare park surrounding the sacred Tsambagarav Uul Mountains. The 4208m snow-capped mountain (2nd highest in Mongolia) towers over archeological sites, glaciers, lakes, waterfalls, and beautiful lush valleys. The park is supports many rare and endangered species like the Argali Sheep, Ibex, Snow Leopard, Rock Ptarmigan, and Altai Snowcock. During the summer nomadic Kazakh and Uriankhai herders live inside the park. Blue Wolf has a shuttle to Tsambagarav is on Wednesday and Saturday and from the park on Wednesday and Sunday.
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