Bayan-Ulgii, Mongolia’s westernmost province on the border with Russia and China, is a truly unique and unforgettable place.  While Mongolia is a relatively homogeneous country of ethnic Mongolians, Bayan-Ulgii, with a population of over 100,000 people, is 90% ethnically Kazakh.

According to Lonely Planet, Bayan-Ulgii is the last “bastion of traditional Kazakh language, sport, and culture.”  In other words, it is home to the most culturally Kazakh communities in the world.  In Ulgii, you can interact with the famed Kazakh eagle-hunters, you can peruse and purchase exquisite embroideries, tapestries, and carpets, and you can sample traditional Kazakh delicacies including “kaz” (horse sausage), “koumiss” (fermented mare’s milk), and the national dish of “beshbarmak” (a meat plate served with root vegetables and steamed flour).

Ulgii City

Boasting a population of over 30,000 people, Ulgii is the capital of Bayan-Ulgii province.  It is very much an up-and-coming town and it serves as the base of operations for exploring much of western Mongolia.

More than 1,700 kilometers from Ulaanbaatar, Ulgii can be reached by plane, jeep, or bus.  Overland, the journey takes approximately three days.  By plane, the trip is only three hours.  Two domestic airlines (Eznis and AeroMongolia) operate several direct flights to Ulgii every week.  Please visit their websites ( and for more information regarding flight schedules and fares.

Ulgii is definitely not the backwater outpost it used to be.  It is increasingly turning into a bustling town boasting hotels, restaurants, supermarkets, a lively outdoor market, internet cafes, and ATM machines.  It is a great place to stock up on supplies before venturing out into the more rustic countryside.