If you thought Mongolia was nothing more than the land of Genghis Khan, think again. This nation of undisturbed nature and rich cultural heritage has so much more to offer the intrepid traveler.
Mongolia, the most sparsely populated country in the world, is a vast and wondrous oasis from an increasingly crowded world. Indeed much of the landlocked nation is covered by steppes, with mountains to the north and west and the great Gobi Desert to the south.
Clinging to a rich heritage that dates back to the days of Genghis Khan, about a third of the nation remains at least semi-nomadic -- this, in the face of increasing modernity in the capital.
In the new Mongolia of Ulaanbaatar, herders gossip on cell phones as an international set frequents karaoke bars and vegetarian cafes.
Since the fall of communism, Mongolia has done everything in its power to open up and invite the world in. Yet, despite all its efforts to lure international investment, it remains one of the poorest countries in Asia.
Tourism, along with mining and cashmere, are key pillars of the economy and a growing network of ger camps cater to international travelers seeking eco-tourism adventures. Mongolia is ideal for horse trekking, long distance cycling, hiking, fly fishing, star gazing, and yak carting.
Though its tourist season is small -- generally from May to September -- the legendary hospitality of the Mongolian people keeps tourists coming back time and again.
What's to see? Envision vast open desert, towering snow-capped mountains, and deep craggy gorges. Picture Buddhist temples, mysterious ruins, felt homes, and the caw of an eagle. Sprinkle on top of all of that the legend of a man who started with nothing and drastically changed the course of history.
This is Mongolia. Have a look:
There are daily flights into Mongolia's main international airport, Ulaanbaatar's Chinghis Khaan, from Korea, China, Russia, Germany, and Japan with carriers including MIAT (Mongolian Airlines), Aeroflot (Russian Airlines), Korean Air, and Air China. By land, take the Trans-Mongolian train from Moscow or Beijing for an exhilarating entry into the country. CLICK HERE for more information.
Elik Hamchvay poses with his hunting eagle Khana in front of his home near Sagsay village in Altay montains in western Mongolia's Bayan Olgiy Province. Local Kazakhs use eagles to hunt for animals during the winter time. REUTERS
A 'ger' camp is seen near Kharkhorin in Mongolia. 'Gers' can be erected in about an hour and are traditionally used by nomads. About half of all Mongolians live in one. The door always faces the south as a protection against the northern winds. The felt used to make the 'ger' is traditionally made by the herders themselves from the wool of their flocks. REUTERS
A hunter takes part in a camel race competition during the Altai Eagle Festival at Sagsai village in Bayan Ulgii province, Mongolia. REUTERS
A woman throws rice into the air as a traditional farewell to tourists at a campsite in Bayanzag in Omnogovi province. REUTERS
Tourists camp under the stars on the steppe near Hashaat in Mongolia's Dundgovi province. REUTERS
A mine worker sits in a traditional Mongolian tent located at a mining camp around 250km (70 miles) south-west of the Mongolian capital city. REUTERS
Houses and shops can be seen in a small township located on grasslands around 200km (62 miles) south-west of the Mongolian capital city. REUTERS