Despite its ability to provide breathtaking, culturally out-there experiences, Mongolia has escaped the mass-tourism radar to a certain degree. All the better for those keen to go somewhere a tad more wild.
Experiencing a Nadaam festival and its colourful traditions – wrestling, horse racing, archery and throat singing among them – will make you feel as though you have really arrived in a foreign land.
The sheer emptiness of the place will also inspire that feeling. This is most sparsely populated independent country in the world, inhabited largely by nomads living traditional lives. Across its huge landmass the country ranges from the Gobi Desert in the south to cold, mountainous regions in the north, so there are plenty of natural pleasures – volcanoes, hot springs, lakes and sand dunes – to be enjoyed.
The past of Mongol hordes, ruling Chinese dynasties and a peaceful Democratic Revolution mean there are lots of palaces, monasteries and museums scattered across the country. Spend a night or two in a traditional ger (round tent), soaking up the locals’ hospitality and eating Mongolian barbecue. It’s a long way from Ulaanbaatar, the country’s capital, with its insane traffic, mix of cultures – business people, monks and nomads who’ve had to head to the city – and crazy energy.