Ölgii (also spelled Olgii/Ulgy/Ulgii) is a small windswept town located on the banks of the Khovd Gol. It is the capital of the Bayan-Ölgii Aimag (province) and is located fairly centrally in the region. It is often used as an entry point and base of activities in the west. Surrounded by dry rocky mountains and ger districts it has a certain quiet charm to it.


Accessible either by road or air, the town draws its biggest crowds during the Golden Eagle Festival. Therefore there are only a couple of handfuls of small hotels and restaurants. I would thus advise that accommodation is booked beforehand during this event or other busy times of year, however I hadn’t but was lucky to find a last-minute bed at the Traveller Guesthouse (a small ger camp located in the town).

The population of the town (and the Bayan-Olgii province) is predominantly Kazakh, that speak Kazakh and not Mongolian (an important factor to consider if using a guided tour through the country – making sure that they also speak Kazakh for when they guide you through this area).

I didn’t spend a lot of time here but it was enough to stroll around town and visit their black market and aimag museum. The Black Market is great! It is similar to the Black Market in Ulaanbaatar but smaller and cuter. Squeeze down narrow alleyways to view and purchase anything from beautiful scarves, to fur-lines leather boots, piles of tea, to stoves and they even have entire stalls selling nothing but aaruul. Aaruul is dried milk curds, packed with vitamins. In the east I can’t say I was the biggest fan of it, but here in the west it has a different flavour (not as sour) and it wasn’t too bad to snack on. It is a fun market to stroll through and it is mostly directed at the locals. The stall owners do not hassle you at all to check out what they have which is really nice (compared to how tourists are treated in Egypt, that I am currently exploring – it is a little intense!). Fancy a game of pool? You can join the locals for a game.


The main square



So much tea! I realised why tea was needed in such great quantities when I spent some time living with a Kazakh family. 


The stove section


The aimgag museum is a must see, even if all you do is pay the 5000T entry fee to see the most terribly terrifying taxidermy you have ever seen. Photos weren’t allowed in the museum, and I wouldn’t want to ruin the experience for you anyway 😉 But imagine bad posing, horrifying grimaces, red eyes, and some bodies being held together by sticky-tape. The rest of the museum has some interesting pieces on the history of the region, photos of the first Mongolian astronaut and a really nice display of traditional outfits and a beautifully decorated Kazakh ger. My favourite item was probably a tiny rug for a baby camel made out of wool!


There are also a few Mosques in the region as the people here are predominantly Muslim, and the call for prayer rings through the town several times a day.

The nitty gritty:

  • How to get there:
    • Plane – Aero Mongolia and Hunnu Air fly to Olgii from Ulaanbaatar. You can book these flights directly through their respective websites. In the days surrounding the Eagle Festival the prices can increase a lot. But as I flew there a week before and left a week afterwards they were reasonable.
      • There are rarely any taxis at the airport (which the security guard found very amusing when I asked – he just chuckled and shook his head), but I managed to get a lift into town with a very kind tour company.
      • Getting back to the airport I found a taxi on the main road for 5000T.
    • Bus – be prepared for a 40-50+ hour bus ride from Ulaanbaatar. This is why I flew 😉
    • Private car or tour. There are many tours that start in the east and make their way through the country to the western regions.
  • Where to eat:
    • Pammukkale – delicious Turkish food
    • Arin restaurant – a random selection of different cuisines. Be prepared to have a few choices in mind as they don’t always have everything available.
    • Most of the small hotels have a restaurant attached to it
    • Buy food from the local fruit/veg markets or the several reasonably sized supermarkets and cook your own feast
    • There are a couple of small cafe’s tucked away in buildings if you know where to look (because typical Mongolian style, there is no/very little/very tiny signage, and you have to enter another store/restaurant to find the door to where you actually want to go).
  • I stayed at the Traveller Guesthouse and it was great! I shared a warm ger with several other likeminded travellers, there was hot water in the shower, and the owner is really lovely, spoke great english and was super helpful. She even had a bus organised to take guests to the Golden Eagle Festival for 20,000T for both days (as it is located 8km from the town). The guesthouse is open from May-October. When I stayed one night there before I flew back to Ulaanbaatar they were in the process of packing up the gers for the winter. It is best to call for reservations as her email doesn’t always work (+976 9942 9696).
  • It was quite cold in October with occasional snow.

For more on my Mongolian adventures check out: