Money & Expenses

Mongolian currency. At the time of this writing, ₮1,000 equals 37 cents American.

Prices, unless otherwise stated, are in US dollars.

I purchased my plane ticket and booked my hotel through Orbitz at the beginning of May, five months in advance of my trip. Khuvsgul Lake HotelI chose an airline which which I was familiar–Korean Air–and that had flights that had the fewest stops and shortest layovers, which upped the ticket price a bit. I also chose a four-star hotel, the Khuvsgul Lake Hotel, because it was centrally located and, since this was my very first visit to Mongolia, I wanted English-speaking staff. Both upgrades increased the base price of my trip by about $200. Well worth the money.

Lastly, I added trip insurance, something I have never done before. I didn’t know much about Mongolia, didn’t know anyone who had ever been there, and with all the unknowns, I thought it would be a good idea. Trip insurance added about another $250. In retrospect, probably not worth the money.

Hotel, airfare, trip insurance, taxes, and fees: $1,448.46

Off-airport parking was $97.66.

My day tour itineraryI decided on a budget of $500 for the week. I wasn’t planning on buying any souvenirs other than a t-shirt (I live in a tiny house!) or renting a vehicle, so my only planned expenses were meals and admission fees. Breakfast was included with my hotel, which left lunch and dinner as my only meal expenses.

Also, my needs are not great. If meals were expensive, I would be perfectly happy eating peanut butter sandwiches in my hotel room and just walking around the city, enjoying the sights. Five hundred dollars should be more than enough. On the other hand, I did have more available, should I need it or choose to use it.

Orgil Center grocery store receiptThe first thing I did after going through Mongolian customs is exchange US$100 for ₮266,400 Mongolian (tugrik, or togrog with two dots over each o). I used my Visa card for a cash advance because I couldn’t remember my ATM card PIN. This is the cash I used during the week, which was spent mostly on souvenirs and admission fees. I paid the rest of my expenses using my Visa card, which was widely accepted. Like, everywhere. Seriously!

The ₮266,400 was more than sufficient for my five-day visit. By Thursday afternoon, I was paying for almost everything with cash, just to get rid of it. I left the country with ₮2,300 (US$0.85). (I did bring back an additional ₮16,610, but as “souvenir” cash, so I consider it a souvenir purchase. The extra ₮2,300 was unplanned unspent cash.)

Stack of museum ticketsTotal credit card charges were $411.44, including the $100 cash advance I used to purchase my Mongolian currency, putting me almost $90 under budget. My biggest single expense was my day tour, which ran me $154.15. Total trip cost was $1,957.56.

The breakdown of expenses is as follows:

Hotel, airfare, taxes, fees, trip insurance, breakfast: $1,448.46
Parking: $97.66
Mongolian currency purchase: $100.00
Meals: $86.03
Soda, snacks, water: $6.82
Day tour: $154.15
Souvenirs: $60.34
Hotel shuttle to airport: $3.80

Total: $1,957.56

Caffe Bene receiptMy most expensive meal was at Modern Nomads in Ulaanbaatar on Tuesday night. Soup, main course, beverage, and desert: $16.44. My second most expensive meal? A sandwich and soda at the SeaTac Airport prior to departure: $16.36. The average cost of meals in Mongolia: $5.91. My least expensive full meal was $5.29 for lunch at the City Tower Hotel.

A 900ml of CocaCola Zero (Diet Coke) was sixty-seven cents. Touristy t-shirts were $7.44 each.

Interesting fact: There is no tipping in Mongolia.

Cash expenditures from the US$100/₮266,400:

Children’s Palace Theater admission: ₮20,000
National Museum of Mongolia admission: ₮10,000
Mongolian Theatre Museum admission: ₮2,000
Museum of Mongolian Dinosaurs admission (₮5,000 x 2): ₮10,000
Modern Art Gallery of Mongolia admission: ₮2,000
Bogd Khan Palace Museum admission: ₮8,000
Street art souvenir: ₮60,000
Unspent cash: ₮19,910
Street art souvenir: ₮20,000
Orgil Center (900ml CocaCola Zero): ₮1,810
Orgil Center (Pastry): ₮1,980
Caffe Bene gelato: ₮3,900
Orgil Center groceries (water, soda, snacks): ₮14,100
Piece of cake: ₮3,900
Map souvenir: ₮1,000
Taxi from airport to hotel: ₮40,000
Three bottles of water (hotel): ₮9,000
Souvenir history book: ₮25,000
Miscellaneous: ₮13,800

Total: ₮266,400 (US$100.00)

For the most part, prices were incredibly inexpensive. My biggest consideration with any purchase was 1) how to get it home, and 2) where to put it when I got home (that tiny house thing). For the budget conscious, it would be possible to do this trip for probably 2/3 this cost. I didn’t need the trip insurance; I could have saved $200-$250 if I had not purchased it. Mongolia is a modern country with a stable government, and Korean Air is a reputable airline. Moreover, I could have reduced the cost of my airfare with more stops and/or longer layovers. And, I could have stayed at a hostel for significantly less.

Touristy Mongolian t-shirtHowever, I was very, very happy with the Khuvsgul Lake Hotel, and I will stay there again. The $250 or whatever I paid for the week is more than reasonable, especially since it included breakfast.

And then, of course, I didn’t need to do the day tour. Ulaanbaatar had plenty of things to do within walking distance of my hotel. However, once I got there and discovered what a bargain everything is, how could I not have gone? And I’m glad I went. I had the time of my life!

Lastly, Mongolian diets are heavily meat based. I found that I was less hungry while I was there, so I didn’t need three meals a day. Usually, I ate only two: breakfast, which was included with my hotel, and either lunch or dinner, but rarely both. Some days, I carried an apple with me, and that’s all I had for lunch. It was more than sufficient.

Mongolia is definitely an excellent destination for the budget conscious traveler!

Art purchased from a street vendor in Sukhbaatar Square. The scene is painted on leather.