Naadam in Mongolia

Lonely Planet Travel Editor Tom Hall is on a mission to discover 52 of the most awe-inspiring places to visit across the world. This week he delights in the Mongolian Naadam games.

Naadam, Mongolia

Mongolia is out there. With a capital further from the sea than anywhere else on earth, a train service (the legendary Trans-Mongolian Railway) crossing a fifth of the earth to get here and an utterly unique culture, there are few more truly unusual places to visit.

When is the best time to visit Mongolia?

Though sunny year-round, the best time to be here is in July. The weather is warm compared to frigid winters, there are plenty of travellers to make up the numbers on jeep tours into the steppe, and best of all, the whole country gets very excited indeed about wrestling, horse-riding and archery.

What is Naadam?

Pretty much every settlement larger than an individual ger (tent) hosts Naadam (the games of men) on 11 and 12 July. Best-known is the massive one held in Ulan Baatar. In the capital, hundreds of sportsmen compete – in rural areas it may just be a few local heroes. Naadam is always accompanied by song and dance, feasting and lots and lots of vodka.

How can I get tickets for the games?

You can see the games in Ulan Bataar by scoring a ticket through your local guesthouse. In other places you’ll simply need to turn up. Beware though – it’s not unheard of for organisers of smaller Naadam to draft in foreign spectators to beef up the numbers.

Remember: wrestlers are large and Mongolian saddles were designed in Genghis Khan’s time to be sufficiently uncomfortable to prevent soldiers falling asleep while riding.

Planning your trip to Mongolia

Official information at Mongolia Tourism is interesting but limited.

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