Snapshot of Mongolia

At the time of writing, Mongolia is sitting 34th in the 2012 Olympics medal tally. Judo champ Nyam-Ochir Sainjargal beat Dex Elmont of Netherlands to take home Mongolia's first bronze medal.

We thought we'd celebrate Sainjargal's win and shine a spotlight on this mysterious, exotic, fascinating country that many consider as being one of the last untouched places on earth. If you're heading out of Ulaanbataar and into the countryside, this is a snapshot of what you can expect:

Where you'll sleep

Mongolian hospitality is legendary, and perfect strangers are welcomed with open arms. Nobody will bat an eyelid if you turn up out of the blue hoping to stay the night (well, it's not like you can exactly call up in advance!) 

A Ger (or yurt as it is sometimes called) is the traditional, circular, portable home Mongolians have been using for over three thousand years. They're designed to withstand the harsh winters and allow plenty of fresh air and sunlight to stream in during the warmer months.

The interior of every ger is the same, and it's truly delightful to step in from the sometimes bleak landscape to a colourful, warm and inviting family home. 

Around half of Mongolia's population still lives a nomadic life, roaming the neverending plains and moving their herds of sheep, goats, horses, yaks and camels. While it's a hard life, it's not one without rewards. Don't be surprised to find many families have a satellite dish and a TV to keep them entertained. 

Just remember to mind your manners. They'll insist you get the best bed, so don't overstay your welcome. One or two nights is enough. And remember to bring along some useful gifts as a thankyou - batteries, cigarettes, toys and rice are common.

What you'll eat

Vegetarians might want to skip this part. Because the truth is, the main source of life here is meat. And even then, it's not exactly going to be a roast beef smothered in gravy.

Out in the countryside, the Mongolian diet is chock-full of meat and milk. It's the best way for people to keep warm in the freezing cold temperatures. Don't expect anything fancy. A basic meal is usually rice or pasta with lamb, a few vegies, loads of onions and lashings of oil.

It might be a good idea to prepare yourself before you arrive, by switching to a protein-heavy diet. Nothing worse than a sore tum combined with a language barrier.

Popular snacks are all dairy based, like dried milk curds or fermented mare’s milk (called airag). Yum! But a good house guest will always accept what's being offered. So take a deep breath and dive right in. The good news is there's bound to be some potent vodka (arkhi) to wash it down with. 

How you'll spend your days

As the fourth least densely populated country in the world, why not use your time in Mongolia to really switch off? Take things down a notch, and throw yourself into the traditional lifestlye. 

If you're staying with a local family, offer to pitch in and help. They'll refuse at first, but after a while you'll find yourself working up a sweat alongside men, women and children. Some of the activities you can get involved in include milking the cows, goats and sheep; learn how they produce airag, the popular fermented mare's milk drink; observe women making the colourful Kazakh embroidery or spend time with a legendary eagle hunter and learn about how they train and hunt with their eagles.

A really popular activity is to go riding with the men as they tend to their livestock. Horses are deeply embedded within Mongolia's culture and this is definitely an experience you don't want to miss. 

After dinner, you might find yourself caught up in a lively game of Knucklebone. Using pigs' knucklebones, you roll them like a die and click matching knucklebones together. After a few glasses of arkhi you might find this is a game that could go on for hours!

Have you been to Mongolia? Tell us about it in the comments section below. Or head to twitter and Facebook to share your images.

Take a look through all our trips to Mongolia, and find out how you can experience the traditional homestay experience. 

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