Hövsgöl - FAQ
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FAQ

How is all this pronounced?

On this website, we have used a somewhat pedantic transcription, in order to take the nuances between the different 'o' and 'u' sounds into account. The 'o' is pronounced roughly like the 'a' in 'call', the 'ö' like the 'oa' in 'boat'. Our 'u' should sound like in 'bull', and the 'ü' like the 'oo' in 'school'. In any case Mongolian ö's and ü's sound quite different from their German pendants.

The 'z' is actually pronounced like a 'dz' or 'ds'. The 'h' is always pronounced like the 'ch' in German 'Woche' or the 'kh' in 'Khrushchov'. The 'r' should sound like a genuine Russian 'r'. If there are no double vowels, the stress is usually on the first syllabe, otherwise on the first syllabe with double vowels. Thus, the stress in 'davaa' is on the second syllabe.

For more exhaustive remarks on Mongolian pronunciation, see for example Lonely Planet's Mongolian Phrasebook.

Learning Mongolian - is it worth it?

The answer is a definitive 'Yes'. However, it's not quite an easy language for most Europeans, and usually you will get along well without. Older Mongolians often speak Russian, and nowadays kids learn English at school. However, at least learning the cyrillic alphabet is a very good idea. This should not take longer than two or three hours and will enable you to read locally-made maps (see below), shop signs and the like. Learning the traditional Mongolian script, on the other hand, will certainly impress your Mongolian friends but is otherwise of little practical value.

Where can I find food and fuel?

All soum centers have petrol stations. However, there can be shortages with no fuel available in a hundred kilometer radius, for example when petrol vendors anticipate price hikes. Therefore, it makes sense to always keep some reserve.

Hövsgöl's best shopping opportunities are in Mörön. Soum centers and the southeastern shore of Hövsgöl nuur have small shops, but they definitely do not offer as much choice as Mörön's market does. In the countryside, the only choice is usually between meat and milk products.

How do I pay?

Mongolia's official currency is the tögrög. As a tourist, most of your transactions will be in this currency. Only large transactions, like renting a car or booking a tour, might be more practical to be done in foreign money, unless you want to carry around a brick of small tögrög notes.

Most Mongolian banks can change euros or dollars into tögrög. Changing tögrög back into foreign currency is completely uncomplicated, too, at least in Ulaanbaatar. Credit cards and ATMs are not yet very common in Mongolia.

Should you run out of money, at least in Mörön it is possible to have money from your relatives wired via Western Union.

Where can I make phone calls?

Mörön and the other soum centers have post offices with telephones. At least the office in Mörön also offers telephone cards for cheaper international connections. Some years ago, such cards cost 3000 tögrög for a 10 minutes connection to Germany.

Hövsgöl's cell phone network has been steadily expanded over the last years, and nowadays the network not only covers Mörön, but also places like Hatgal and Renchinlhümbe. International phone calls from and to Mongolia are, however, quite expensive, especially if you use a foreign SIM card. Possible alternatives are communication per SMS or a Mongolian SIM card, which (via special predial numbers) might be cheaper to call to from abroad.

What about electricity?

Just like the cell phone networks, Mongolia's power grid has been expanded a lot over the last years. Still, there are a number of soum centers not connected to the grid. Places that are connected have 220V/50Hz alternating current. The sockets are most often of the Russian kind, which means that the plugs used in Central Europe more or less fit.

Larger tourist camps often have their own generators. Also, solar cells have become very popular in the countryside, they are often combined with 12V car batteries. If you spend a lot of time on the road, you could also try to use the car's power supply for recharging batteries etc. Japanese cars usually have the standardized cigarette lighter plug. Russian cars, however, might not.

Is it dangerous?

Hövsgöl and Mongolia are not particularly dangerous when compared to other popular tourist destinations around the world. But maybe some of the dangers tourists might face in Hövsgöl are different from those in other places, which is why we will give a short, completely subjective, overview.

We believe that the greatest risk is posed by traffic accidents. Although Mörön, quite unlike Ulaanbaatar, is safe for pedestrians, the bad road conditions in the countryside mean that even 4x4 vehicles can be thrown off the track. If the car has technical problems, for example with the brakes, the gears or the lights, the risk of an accident gets even higher.

Infectious diseases also can pose a certain threat. To avoid brucellosis, milk should only be drunk after boiling. It is also no good idea to handle raw beef if there are fresh wounds on one's hands. There is rabies in Hövsgöl, therefore one should be careful when encountering wild animals or ownerless dogs. In case of a bite, you should go to the next doctor or hospital immediately.

Hepatitis A and B are quite common in Mongolia, but against these diseases one can have vaccinations before the trip, just like against tetanus, diphteria and polio. Generally, it is a good idea to ask your doctor about what vaccinations you might need.

If you visit a lot of yurts along the way, you will probably have to deal with traveller's diarrhoea sooner or later. Generally spoken, the worse the yurt looks from the outside, the riskier the food. Mongolian marmots sometimes carry the bubonic plague, but the consensus at least among German travel guidebooks is that unless you hunt marmots yourself, you do not run a high risk of getting infected.

Crime is not a big problem for tourists in Hövsgöl. Mörön's open-air market has pickpockets, so visitors should not take much more money than they need and exercise some caution. Generally it is a good idea to stay away from intoxicated men or women.

When hiking or riding alone one should be aware that in the case of a broken leg it might be impossible to call help with your cell phone, and be a bit more careful than at home.

In any case we definitely recommend buying sufficient health insurance before travelling to Hövsgöl. If you happen to get seriously injured, the doctor's bill will not be very cheap in the first place, and when your sickness or injuries are so serious that you need to be evacuated to Ulaanbaatar, Beijing or your home country, the bill can easily reach a five-digit number (in USD). A travel insurance that covers such emergencies only costs a few dollars.

(All information above is given without any liability.)

Where can I find useful maps?

Maps of Mongolia that are available in the west often are not particularly useful for navigation in the country. Sometimes cross-country-tracks are marked as 'highway', and quite often soum centers are marked with names that the locals simply do not use. Some maps mark monasteries that have been in ruins since the 1930s, but leave most soum centers unmarked.

However, within Mongolia locally-made maps of good quality are not hard to come by. It often helps if one can read cyrillic, but as mentioned above, this should not be too big a problem. A few semi-useful maps of Hövsgöl are also available with latin letters.

There are several websites that offer scans of soviet-era topographic maps in a 1:200,000 scale. Even if the location of roads, rivers and even settlements might have changed in the meantime, such maps probably can still be very useful for hikers.

Are there any books about Hövsgöl?

There are now several English-language travel guides to Mongolia, and most of them dedicate a few pages to Hövsgöl.

We are not aware of any English-language travel literature about Hövsgöl, except Henning Haslund-Christensen's "Yabonah". Henning Haslund-Christensen was a Dane who, together with five comrades, in the mid-1920s tried to establish a farm in what is today Erdenebulgan soum. The leader of this entreprise was Karl Krebs, who in 1919 on the escape from the Russian civil war had passed through Hövsgöl and fallen in love with the area. Unfortunately their plans failed due to the political climate in Mongolia at the time, and the last to leave was Karl Krebs in the late 1930s.