Mongolia is a vast nation, with not so much population and not a very good road system. Roads connect only main cities. Public transportation is available but not in abundance and does not connect all the parts. If you really want to travel to Mongolia, it is essential to find a vehicle and a driver (note, you cannot drive in Mongolia, unless you have a Mongolian driving license and this rule is for your own safety, so do not think about bypassing it). Also, it is essential that vehicle is a good one which can take on the absence of roads in Mongolia, preferably a 4WD.
Before travelling to Mongolia, I did a lot of research on hiring a vehicle and I know how confusing it can be. So I thought of putting some information and a few tips here and hope it is useful to other travellers.
Following are the average costs quoted by different travel agencies to me for a decent 4WD or a Russian Van:
Vehicle rental per day: USD 80-100
Driver’s salary: USD 15
Driver’s food and accommodation: USD 10 (You can negotiate this with driver)
Fuel: USD 1-1.5 per Litre and any vehicle needs between 15-20 litres per 100 kms
So the conclusion is that it is quite expensive and not affordable for most of travellers, unless the group is big.
But when I actually went there, I was surprised the ease with which we found a driver and a vehicle for a very cheap cost (may not be always that easy). We found a driver just strolling through the town of Tsetserleg. An owner of a 4WD approached us and asked us if we would like to hire him. Within half an hour’s of negotiations, following was the agreement:
Vehicle rental: None (No agency involved, car was owned by the driver himself)
His salary and food: USD 25 per day
Fuel: As per the distance
So, we ended up removing the rental from our costing entirely and this is what you can do too.
1. Do not approach a rental agency directly
2. Wait in the town/city for at least a couple days to find a driver. Be patient.
3. There are always a few drivers roaming around in Mongolia and can approach you or you can approach them
4. If they ask for rental, refuse and pay salary, food and accommodation instead. You can give him a USD 5 more and he will be happy.
5. Ask around to locals or other travelers if they know a driver. If there are any expats or travelers who have settled in Mongolia, they would surely know one.
Advantages of having a vehicle:
1. Total flexibility. Go where you want, when you want. Change the plan whenever you want.
2. Usually driver knows the roads and has a lot of mechanical experience too and hence you do not have to worry about breakdowns (our car did not break down a single time in spite of so many warnings given on internet)
3. You can camp in the middle of nowhere. That is what its all about!
4. The costing turns out to be very cheap if you don’t go through an agency
5. Usually drivers are good singers 🙂
6. Ask around at your guesthouse for travelers to join you. More the people, lesser the cost per head.
Hope this helps travelers planning a trip to the steppes. Here’s the contact of the driver we used: