One of the most unique and interesting parts of our recent trip to Asia was the experience of staying in a ger in Mongolia.
A “ger” is the traditional type of housing used by Mongolian nomads. Structurally similar to a yurt, a ger is a circular tent outfitted with all the necessities of a home.
The structure can be taken apart (and assembled) in less than one hour and with the help of some camels (or, in modern times, a pickup truck) transported to a new location.
Gers are not unique to Mongolia and can be found in many other parts of Central Asia. But while urbanization is leading to a decrease in the use of gers in other countries, in Mongolia, the tradition is alive and well.
What surprised us the most was that ger living wasn’t limited to the countryside only. Every year, harsh winters and tragic loss of herds bring more and more Mongolian nomads to Ulaanbaatar in search for opportunities that simply don’t exist in the countryside.
Few of them choose to trade their gers for the comforts of concrete apartments. And even fewer can afford to make the switch. So today the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar are dotted with hundreds of gers and some of them are starting to open their doors to visitors.
Types of Gers in Mongolia
Our experience staying in a ger in Mongolia differed based on the type of gear and its amenities. As we quickly discovered, not all gers in Mongolia are the same.
A true family ger consists of one ger that serves as a kitchen, living room, and sleeping quarters for a family. The toilet is an outhouse, with nothing more than a hole in the ground. Water from a bucket is likely used to shower and do the washing. It’s tight but very efficient and is a true representation of the way that most Mongolians live in the countryside.
Staying in a ger with a family essentially means sleeping on a mattress on the floor of their ger. Families that are a bit better off may have two gers, one used as sleeping quarters and one that’s used as a living room/kitchen. These gers are more likely to be able to accommodate visitors in their living room ger, allowing for a bit more privacy for everyone.
An opportunity to stay in a real family ger is rare and we didn’t get a chance to experience it on our trip. But we have heard accounts from other travelers who booked this type of stay on Airbnb.
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A tourist ger is a family-owned and run accommodation popular in the Mongolian countryside. The set up usually consists of a family ger (a place where the family lives, sleeps, and cooks) along with 5-10 additional gers for visitors.
The visitor gers are pretty simple, featuring nothing more than a few beds (usually 4-5) with the thinnest mattresses you’ve ever seen, a small table with 4-5 miniature chairs, and a single lightbulb hanging in the middle of the ger.
There are no plugs inside and the light bulb is powered by one big solar panel shared between all gers. The beds come with no bedding or blankets. These types of gers are some of the coldest, as they are put up hastily without much concern for insulation. Sleeping bags are highly recommended! In some Central and Northern parts of the country, each ger also has a wood stove used for heating. Ultralight backpacking cot is is perfect for backpacking adventures.
You can expect an outdoor drop toilet and no shower facilities. Meals can be ordered but the selection is limited to whatever the family is eating that evening. Soup and fried noodles are most common. For breakfast, expect a piece of bread and yak milk tea.
If you are traveling independently and are spending a few nights in a tourist ger, we recommend bringing some food supplies with you instead of depleting the family’s stores.
Tourist ger was the most common accommodation option that we had during our time in Mongolia. Tourist gers were particularly popular in the Gobi, where lack of infrastructure and proximity to civilization make it hard for locals to set up any other options for visitors.
Almost all of our time in the Gobi was spent in tourist gers, but our favourite tourist ger set up was at the White Lake in Central Mongolia.
The views were beautiful, the surroundings – serene, and the lovely family welcomed us into their ger with a cup of yak milk and some homemade bread. Their gers were just as basic as the rest, but it was their warm hospitality that left a lasting impression on our stay.
Tourist Ger Camp
Tourist ger camps are the most comfortable type of accommodation in the Mongolian countryside. The camps are usually managed by a group of locals.
Sometimes it’s a family, who are hired by the owners to look after the camp for a season. But more often, it’s a group of individually-hired employees in charge of overseeing various operations of the camp.
Tourist ger camps are much larger than tourist gers. Most contain permanent facilities and usually feature shared bathrooms (with proper toilets, sinks, and showers), kitchen/restaurant facilities, and even a common room space.
These ger camps are also usually quite nice. Most (although not all), come with comfortable beds, real mattresses, and even sheets/duvets/pillows. They are well-insulated and those in the north come with a wood burning stove. These gers also have power and electricity. Some, even have wifi!
Those looking for a comfortable way to see Mongolia, tourist ger camps are definitely the way to go! Those looking for a comfortable way to see Mongolia, tourist ger camps are definitely the way to go!
The only thing missing from Tourist Ger Camps is interaction with the locals. Although, it’s definitely available to those that are willing to go the extra mile to seek out that type of experience.
While staying at a tourist ger camp in Northern Mongolia, we asked the family running the ger to allow us to join them for their early morning yak milking routine. They laughed a little at first, explaining that we would have to wake up very early, but happily promised to tie up their herding dogs to allow us to join them and their herd.
The following morning, we got up at the crack of dawn and walked over to the family’s gers where two women were milking the yaks. We hung around them for quite some time, watching the milking process, taking photos and videos of the herd and enjoying the beautiful morning light.
We had no idea what to expect from our stay in a ger, but to be honest, the experience wasn’t much different from staying in a guest house. But there were a few things we wish we had known to better prepare for this experience.
Tips for Staying in a Ger in Mongolia
1. Bring your own bedding
Whether you are planning to stay in family gers or tourist camps, it doesn’t hurt to come prepared with a sleeping bag and liner. Even if some of the gers provide blankets and sheets, it’s hard to guess how often they wash their bedding. After all, many of the camps don’t have running water, so laundry would be a challenge.
2. Carry your own food
For the most part, families were happy to make us dinner and some even offered breakfast, but there were a few occasions when lunch or dinner wasn’t available and we had to rely on our own supplies. Luckily, we carried a supply of groceries (purchased at local markets and grocery stores) and were never stuck without anything to eat.
3. Carry your own utensils and cups/plates
If your meals are being prepared for you at every camp, you don’t have to worry about packing cutlery, cups or bowls. But in the event that you are planning to make a few meals yourself, packing some dishes and cutlery would not be a bad idea. None of the camps/gers we stayed at had a shared kitchen or any spare dishes.
4. Bring your own toilet paper and toiletries
While you can definitely purchase these in every town and there is no need to lug supplies all the way from home, they are necessary for the countryside. Very few of the gers we stayed at stocked toilet paper in their bathrooms and none of them offered any type of toiletries.
5. Pack a towel
Out of 12 ger camps, only one provided us with towels for the shower. You definitely need these for your trip.
6. Bring a portable gas stove
Butane is really cheap and easy to find in Mongolia, and this type of stove will be essential for those staying in ger camps where meals aren’t included. We used ours daily to boil water for tea.
7. Get out of your ger and meet the family!
It’s tempting to stay in your comfort zone in the ger, but your experience will be so much richer if you just get out. It can be awkward, especially since families rarely speak English, but anytime we approached their tent, they were always incredibly welcoming and happy to have us come in, watch them cook, take photos and try to interact with them with our silly charades.
8. Bring a solar charger
As mentioned before, power wasn’t readily available in the gers, but sunlight was plentiful, making a solar charger a great accessory to bring on the trip.
Staying in a ger in Mongolia is one of the most unique and interesting experiences. It’s a great way to stay and eat local, and do your part in supporting the local community and economy during your visit to Mongolia.
And while we can give you lots of reasons why we loved staying in a ger, the truth is, if you want to explore the country and get off the beaten path, there really is no other option but to stay in a ger!