Mongolia

Lying almost slap bang in the middle of Mongolia, it’s in the scenic Orkhon Valley where the sacred mountain-forest of Otuken was believed to be. Ruling over the place where the ancestor spirits resided granted the ruler the divine right to rule on Earth. This meant that its possession was considered to be absolutely crucial to each Turkic state that rose, ruled, and declined amongst the steppe. Consequently, a wealth of interesting historic sights and cultural landmarks litter its mountainous terrain. The eighth-century Orkhon monuments and the Tuvkhun Hermitage are the most impressive of the lot, alongside the ruins of Karakorum and Erdene Zuu Monastery. There is something quite spiritual about traveling through the endless empty landscapes surrounding the valley; you barely see another soul for days other than the flocks of livestock and the herds of horses that meander across the steppe in between the occasional yurt.

Simply breathtaking, the gigantic statue of Genghis Khan atop his horse glimmers in the light as he imperiously looks out over all the steppe and mountains surrounding the complex. Towering to a height of 40 meters, the statue was built in 2008 to honor the 800th anniversary of the founding of the Mongol Empire. Its sheer size and scale are certainly fitting of the man who rose to rule such a huge swathe of territory and is a national hero in the country. The Genghis Khan Statue Complex lies around 50 kilometers outside of Ulaanbaatar. Once you arrive, you’ll find souvenir shops, a restaurant, and an archaeological museum for you to check out. From the top of the horse’s head, you can enjoy some awesome views out over the surrounding countryside, and a close-up view of Genghis Khan gazing out towards the horizon.

Home to almost half of the country’s population, the sprawling city of Ulaanbaatar is Mongolia’s capital, as well as its cultural, administrative, and commercial heart. Located in the delightfully named Valley of the Golden Cradle, at the point where the Selbe and Tuul Rivers meet, the city is a strange yet intoxicating mix of urban and nomadic lifestyles. While its downtown is a bit of an eyesore, with Soviet-era buildings lying alongside modern monstrosities, there are some enchanting old monasteries scattered about here and there: Choijin Lama and Gandantegchinlen are the best of the bunch and tucked away in the endless sprawl, you can still find a yurt or two. When it comes to its museums and art galleries, Ulaanbaatar is truly blessed. It is well worth spending a couple of days trawling its extensive collections and artifacts: the Bogd Khan Winter Palace and Mongolia National Modert Art Gallery are particularly delightful to peruse.

Covering a vast expanse of territory that includes everything from the Tavan Bogd massif to the glittering lakes of Dayan, Khoton, and Khurgan, Altai Tavan Bogd National Park will delight nature lovers and outdoor aficionados alike. Located in the western corner of the country, the national park is home to some of the most spectacular scenery in Mongolia. The towering Tavan Bogd Mountains loom over the three large freshwater lakes that lie among them. Due to its remote location, there is a very untouched and unspoiled feel about the place, with lots of wonderful fauna and flora to discover. You may be lucky enough to see ibex, brown bears, and grey wolves, with majestic golden eagles swooping overhead. Besides the many stunning landscapes that lend themselves perfectly to hiking, rock climbing, river rafting, and skiing, the park is also a fantastic place to head if you want to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for nomad life: there are many Kazakh and Tuvan families that you can either visit with.