MongoliaEarth > Asia > Eastern Asia > Mongolia
Mongolia in Asia is good for hitchhiking in terms of the rate of people stopping for you; it is bad in terms of the actual number of drivers (some roads are very isolated) and road conditions. Like in Iran, there is a culture of using private cars like taxis (especially in the capital, Ulaanbaatar), so most drivers will expect to be paid at first. Before entering the car make it clear that you have no money, unless you don't mind shelling out a few bucks for every ride. Some will just turn forward and continue driving, leaving you in the dust, but most will say or gesture not to worry about it and tell you to get in anyway. Also expect a jam-packed car, packed with amazingly friendly people, food and house invitations!
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In Mongolia, half of the population lives in Ulaanbataar and the other half has a very good reason to go to Ulaanbataar. Therefore, it is common to find direct rides to Ulaanbataar from all parts of the country. From Ulaanbataar to elsewhere however you will have to put up with village to village hitchhing.
- Ulaanbaatar (capital)
Due to the extreme weather differences between summer and winter, hitchhiking in Mongolia seems to be a completely different experience depending on the season. Instead of talking about hitchhiking in Mongolia, it would make more sense to talk about hitchhiking in Mongolia in the summer or in winter as if it were two different countries.
Expect also flat tires and very occasional overheating. The distances covered are considerably higher since vehicles don't get stuck in mud, the frozen ground provides a good riding platform. It is common to hitch 1000 kilometer rides, especially if you are going to the capital.
Due to the economic situation in the country, everyone with a car in Mongolia is a taxi driver. Always ask if the ride is free before getting in! I assumed one of my rides was free and had a rather large Mongolian woman tugging on my left arm refusing to let me go at a toll booth when I got out.
Expect flat tires, overheating cars not much more than a couple of hundred kilometres per day, due to the lack of traffic, and extremely poor condition of the roads. The easiest place to find rides in small towns is in the local markets, where locals look for shared rides and trucks are picking up and delivering supplies, though there, you will probably have to pay. Otherwise just stand by the road anywhere (even in the middle of absolute desolation) and stick out your thumb when a vehicle comes by. The classical hitchhiking method works just fine, though they don't always know that you mean you want a free ride, so before you get in the car you should make it clear that you are looking for a free ride by saying "monk bahgui" (sounds like "munk bachko, "ch" is very sharp, "no money" in Mongolian). However, if you get too bored, or worried that you might not get a ride before dark, you can always just madly wave down whoever is passing. They will stop (no need for a sign), though they will probably expect money when you do it like that. Asking the locals is also a good way to get information on rides and routes, if you can find a local that speaks English. Be warned you probably won't be able to leave before endless cups of tea and milk cookies.
Hitchhiking in the far west: Bayan-Ölgii, is very hard to hitch. It took Worldhitch 2 weeks from the Russian border in Bayan-Ölgii to Ulaanbaatar. Getting a Chinese visa is easy in Ulaanbaatar, Russian is not so easy – like in any other place.
In september 2019 Worldhitchhiker hitchhiked from the border in the West (near Ölgii) to Ulaanbaatar. But with a big detour to the Gobi desert. It took me 9 days (2400km). My experience: basically I took this route: over the main road from Russia > Ölgii > Bayankhongor > leaving the main road southwards to Sevrei (you can hike up the Gobi desert sand dunes around here) and from Dalanzadgad via a main road northwards to Ulaanbataar. My experience: if you stay on the main roads it's pretty doable (I did 1000km in 2 days). Main roads are often unpaved, but there is some traffic, not much. People are friendly and interested, they often didn't understand me and/or the idea of hitchhiking, but eventually they were often happy to take me (for a short ride). Once you leave the main road it gets super quiet. After the first car that brought me to a small village, I waited for 9 hours divided over two days, to get a car. I had to pay a bit to bring me to the next small village instead of the middle of nowhere (230km in 2 days). There I waited 7 hours again. Then I got lucky because two tourists took me in their rented car for a few days. The best impression from this trip you might get from my Mongolia hitchhike video.
Hitchhiking in the east: Similarly, the further you are from the capital, the harder things get. It is very very difficult to hitch after Khentii, where the paved road ends and random parallel dirt roads begin. It took a few days for User:Canaydemir to reach Choibalsan and it was impossible to go to the Russian border at Erentsav by means of hitchhiking.
Hitching up north to the Russian border: A great place to hitch from UB was the Dragon Center bus station. It took me a while but eventually I got a ride with on a bus to Darkhan. I also tried hitching on the street for nearly two hours before that but didn't find anyone who was going that far north, most of the street traffic is still local.
Hitching trains: I was able to hitch a train from Darkhan to Sukhbaatar (about 20km from the Russian border) in November 2015.
Ask people Talking to people trying to fill up their cars works but Mongolians will have trouble understanding that you want to go for free. However, they usually accept you in the end. Not as common as in Iran but even the taxis may take you without charging. In some cases though, your success might depend on whether somebody is willing to pay for your ride. This is likely to succeed in villages for short distances (<200 km).
Money In the countryside, money is very strongly expected whereas in more "densely" populated areas it is not. When hitching in the countryside, you should prepare yourself for a discussion and a series of explanations that you really don't have money, no tugriks, no dollars, no whatever. They might ask you an insane amount of times. It can get tiring but even though some people will look like they will only take you for money, do not give up until they actually ride away. Mongolians are kind and helpful people, if you do not have money, they will take you for free.
There is an effective way how to get rides in Mongolia. However it is not a way anyone should recommend. In Mongolia, it is very easy to put yourself into danger. If you really want a ride, especially a free long one, walk to the middle of nowhere and wait for someone to drive by. It is very easy to stage your suicide in Mongolia, be careful to make it make-believe only. There are thousands of Yurts spread across the countryside, especially by the main roads. Position yourself somewhere a few kilometers from such yurt and wait. If someone drives by, you will appear as an irresponsible stupid tourist who will die if not save. And the Mongolian people will save you. Be careful with this tactic, you should always consider the risks when you play with your life. Unexpected weather conditions may occur, temperature can drop very fast, what you thought to be make-believe may become reality very fast. So be very careful!
Be even more careful if you try these stunts when approaching the Chinese border. While you can almost be sure that Mongolians will help you, the Chinese will not. The same stunt performed in a Chinese-influenced region may just leave you to freeze in the desert with nobody caring. Also, do not mistake Inner-Mongolia inhabitants for Mongolians, they are not! Inner Mongolia is more China than Mongolia and such a mistake would be a fatal one.
An aimless hitchhiker wrote about her experiences of hitching in Mongolia here. Worldhitchhiker wrote tips and his hitchhiking experience in Mongolia here
Jeeps are the preferred, comfortable and only transport means that is adapted to the Mongolian terrain. However the Mongolian drivers are skilled and can drive pretty much anything through pretty much any terrain. Do not ignore that small car that wouldn't dare to take a dirt road, would it have been in Europe. The Mongolian will successfully take it through the worst of mountain passes. The speed you can expect is 60 km/h, this is a good average. Jeeps should be able to hold that average but also some classic cars.
There are many paved roads in Mongolia. When there are no paved roads, there are also very good dirt roads. You should not be worried about road quality if you are going from UB to Teserleg (North-West), Bayankhongor (South-West) and Zamiin-Uud (South). Further west, the quality of road varies from "OK" to "just disastrous or inexistant". Sometimes you just drive through snow tracks. However vehicles do not get stuck in snow that often. Expect a flat tire every 400 kilometers, even on paved roads. From Ölgii (in the West) to the direction South-East there was a pretty new paved road in 2019 for the first bit.
There are just a couple hundred km of paved road from Ulaanbaatar in every geographical directions (exactly one per direction) and that's it. No roads, no signs. The trunk roads out of Ulaanbaatar are paved and reasonably trafficked. Be careful if you walk out of the cities, along the roads so you don't get lost, and take water with you. Confusingly, names of cities equal names of states, so make sure city and state match.
There is next to no traffic on the major thoroughfare across the southern part of the country. People are mostly, quite willing to pick you up, but there just aren't that many people. Walking sometimes staves off the boredom of just sitting and waiting.
The road to Ulaanbaatar after the Chinese border is to the left of the first fork in the road. GPS apps like MapsMe get this wrong, you should not be going through Zamiid-Uud to get there.
Source and detailed information for this section: here and here
The main highway from the Chinese border to Ulaanbaatar is a rather modern, two lane road. Driving with a guy in a Toyota Prius we completed it in around 7 hours during a snow storm.
Nothing to be alarmed from this side. Mongolians drink occasionally; however they are peaceful drinkers at least compared to their neighbors. It is difficult to refuse a drink though as most Mongolians will insist and think you are being rude or wussy if you don't accept.
Most Mongolians, in the south, don't speak English, and only have the slightest understanding of Russian, but you can get along with hand gestures and correct pronunciation of the name of the place you are trying to get to (if you know how to pronounce it correctly). However not so few Mongolians speak either English, German or Russian so if you know those languages you should find common speakers quite often.