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Western Mongolia : Ölgii
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Ölgii is the capital of Bayan-Ölgii province, and is also spelled as Ulgy or Ulgii.


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.

Ölgii serves as the starting off point for visiting Altai Tavan Bogd National Park and Tsambagarav National Park and the beautiful snow-capped mountains, glaciers, plentiful wildlife, nomadic herders still living felt tents called gers, and eagle hunters just outside the city. Official Tourism Website

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.

By Plane

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) [1], 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.
  • Eznis ☎ +976 11 331111 (Ulaanbaatar) +976 7042 7337 (Ölgii) [2], 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.

By Bus

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.

Get around

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 (The exchange rate as of 1/25/2013 is 1395 togrog to $1). 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.

To the Soums

There are shared jeeps on most days, except Monday, to the various Soums or villages in Bayan-Ölgii. Below are approximate prices in togrogs of transport to each Soum;

  • Altai, 8,000T
  • Altantsogts, 4,000T
  • Bayannuur, 12,000T
  • Bugat, 500T
  • Buyant, 7,000T
  • Deluun, 15,000T
  • Nogoonnuur, 6,000T
  • Sagsay, 4,000T
  • Tolbo, 7,000T
  • Tsengel, 6,000T
  • Ulaankhus, 5,000T


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).
  • 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.


  • Naadam 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.
  • Eagle Festivals are held in late September and early October. The first, the Altai Kazakh Eagle Festival in the nearby town of Sagsai is the last weekend of September. Then, the Golden Eagle Festival just outside of Ölgii is billed as the largest gathering of eagle hunters (hunt with eagles) in the world with 70 participating in the event. Both events feature skills competition among eagle hunters and traditional Kazakh horse games.
  • Nauryz 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.


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.


There's a small bazaar, mostly filled with cheap imported stuff from China, but also some local stuff, as well as fresh produce and meat. This is the best place to buy fresh fruits and vegetables.

There are lots of small shops in the center of town that also sell food and odds and ends, plus many expensive cashmere shops.

  • 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)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 be found in Ulaanbaatar and Kazakhstan.
  • Elaman Chee Maker (+976 8842 8092) 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. Elaman


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, serves Turkish, Mongolian, Kazakh, and some western dishes and salads. Its prices are reasonable at ($3-7) a dish. Most dishes include meat, carots, and french fries. Serves coke products, juices, coffee, and desserts.Pamukkale
  • Arvins, a small Mongolian 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.
  • Blue Wolf Cafe has a good restaurant at their ger camp that 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.

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 bisbarmak (Kazakh traditional food - lamb and noodles) or kuz (fat mixed with dark lean meat - very tasty!). Kazakh cuisine always has lots of slow cooked meats, potatoes, and flour with seasoning.

You'll probably find it difficult to eat well as a vegetarian, as Mongolians and Kazakhs rarely eat meals without meat. 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.


You can find Coke, Coke Zero, Sprite, and Fanta in most shops, though only a few keep it cold. Juice and sweet tea drinks like Fuze are also in most shops.

Most stores sell beer and vodka, though usually hot. You can also buy wine and whiskey at some of the larger supermarkets, although you may find it difficult to buy alcohol on Fridays because of religious observance. Many Kazakhs will drink alcohol, even though they will say that it isn't appropriate according to Islam, but they may not drink on Fridays. Restaurants almost always serve cold beer and cokes, though it will be difficult to get on a Friday. The best way is to get a VIP room at a bar or restaurant. Also, only a few smaller stores will sell alcohol on Friday. You should bring a backpack to put the beer in.

There are about a dozen bars and 3 or 4 nightclubs in the city. Bars typically include karaoke and VIP rooms.

  • 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 [3], 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.

Check out the Duman hotel for moderately priced rooms ($20 or so a night).

Ger Camps

  • Blue Wolf Tours ☎ +976 7042 2772 [4], 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, double, or 3 beds options.
  • Altai Expedition Ger Camp ☎ +976 9942 7003 [5], 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.

Camping/ Homestay

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 $150-200 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. There are around 60 deer stones, over 1,000 Turkic Stone Men and a million petroglyphs (pictures carved into stone) in the surrounding region).

National Parks

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 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 park 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. The shuttle to Tsambagarav is on Wednesday and Saturday and from the park on Wednesday and Sunday.
  • Kazakh Tour has shuttles to the park also. Contact their website for more information.

Tsambagarav National Park Centered around the Tsambagarav Uul Mountains.

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