Driving in Mongolia
Having now lived in Mongolia for three years, I have been asked on occasion if I would ever try to get my Mongolian driver’s license. My response:
“Only if I can drive a tank.”
First off, getting a driver’s license is a royal pain in the rear.
Step 1- Have all of the required documents
Valid driver’s license from your country of origin
Official translation of your driver’s license
Letter requesting a driver’s license in English from your employer explaining why you need a driver’s license
Translation of your request letter
Insurance– 33,000 turgiks(13.20USD) annually
Fee– 37,500 (15USD) turgiks
Step 2- come back a week later and fill out an application
Step 3- come back another week later and receive the license
Now for the cars, and there are lots of cars in Ulaanbaatar, far more than the city can probably handle. (At least in my opinion) You won’t see any American brands here either; the vast majority of cars are Asian makes and models, including Nissan, Hyundai, Subaru, Honda and a whole bunch of ones I’ve never seen or heard of before. I think they might be Chinese. I did see several Range Rovers, but those things are everywhere, and one BMW. As for the type of cars, they are predominantly 4 door sedans, followed by larger SUVs, and a smattering of crossovers. Pickup trucks do exist in Mongolia, but they are few and far between, and most of them are stuffed to the gills moving what looks like deconstructed Gers (Mongolian Teepee).
Common tourist van for going into the countryside
Another common sight on many cars is the snorkel, which is used to forge small rivers as it allows for fresh air to reach the engine preventing the water from swamping it.
I think they are common because the Mongolians living in Ulaanbaatar love to get out to the countryside away from the pollution, and off-roading really isn’t a thing in Mongolia. This is because the Mongolians don’t really make a distinction between types of roads or even if there is a road at all.
School Field Trip
Case in point is the field trip I took my students on to a nearby wind power generating station at Salkhit Mountain outside of Ulaanbaatar.
Ok, we must be getting close
Apparently there is no road
Well we made it
Since then I have discovered the true extent of roads in Mongolia.
Dirt tracks- everything else
Roads in Ulaanbaatar
The road by my apartment I call the Mogul slope because of all the pot holes. PenDot could take a few lessons from the Mongolians as it was fixed over the summer between my first and second years.
This, of course, brings up one of the more interesting facets of living in Mongolia, which is the sidewalk counts as part of the road, since the Mongolians will drive on it to avoid the potholes. The state of the roads is not entirely their fault, because what roads would last in weather that ranges from negative 40C to 35C?
Mongolian Rules of the road (Official Version)
This does not include the unofficial rule of “if my car is in front of yours I have the right of way” when turning or merging, nor the unofficial language of honking. In spite, of this I think the Mongolians are good drivers and I’ve never felt worried taking a taxi, even when bouncing across the countryside. Yes, bouncing, the rides are never smooth due to the state of the roads and cars. Mongolia is a mechanic’s dream, with the pounding a car takes out here. Suspensions must be constantly being replaced.
The last topic I must mention is traffic, and in Ulaanbaatar it’s pretty bad. The main issue is that the city was built for maybe a third of the population it has now (1.5 million). There are no ring roads, highways, or other major thoroughfares. Stoplights are few and far between as well. When going to quiz night downtown, my coworkers and I must leave 3-4 hours ahead of time in order to make it on time.