GETTING THERE: From Washington to Ulan Bator, you can fly United or Northwest, then Korean Air or MIAT Mongolian Air via Seoul; fares start at about $1,300 round trip for summer travel. Air China flies via Beijing for about the same amount, but due to flight times, it's more of a hassle (an overnight stay in China is often required).
Another option: Fly to Beijing and take the China-Mongolia train to UB. The ride takes at least two days, and fares run from about $50 to $250 per person one way.Travel agents who specialize in Mongolia include Boojum Expeditions in Montana (800-287-0125, www.boojum.com) and Off the Map Tours in the U.K. (telephone 011-44-116-2402625, www.mongolia.co.uk).
WHEN TO GO: June through August is the best time to visit, as Mongolian winters can be brutally cold. Summer temperatures average about 75 during the day and can drop to around 40 at night. Even during high season, Mongolia rarely attracts more than 1,000 visitors per week. During the second week in July, UB hosts the Nadaam Festival, which celebrates Mongolia's warrior history with martial arts contests. Thousands of men gather to wrestle for three straight days, and children ride fiercely wild horses in exhausting races of more than 35 miles.
WHAT TO TAKE: Medical items and some foods, including fresh fruit, are still hard to find in Mongolia. Stock up on fruit in Beijing or Seoul, or, if you take the train, at the Chinese border towns while you wait to clear Mongolian customs. Bring a medium-size first aid kit with all the essentials.
WHERE TO STAY: UB boasts several top-quality hotels. The Bayangol Hotel (28 Chingis Khan Ave., telephone 011-976-11-312-255 , http://bayangolhotel.mn) is probably the best, with efficient English-speaking service, an in-house tour operator and full facilities in a choice location in the middle of town. Rates range from $72 for a single to $280 for a suite. The Chingis Khaan Hotel (Khukh Tenger Street 5, 011-976-11-313-380) also is well located; rates run from $80 to $200.
WHERE TO EAT: Millie's Cafe, in the Aero Voyage Building in UB, is probably the best choice for a light meal, with burritos and other Mexican dishes costing between $3 and $8. Khaan Brau, across from the central post office, is best for dinner; recommended dishes include Russian salad, chicken schnitzel and pizza. Dinner for two, with a couple of beers, runs around $12.
RECOMMENDED READING: "Lonely Planet Mongolia" offers a comprehensive overview of the country. "The Secret History of the Mongols" by Paul Khan (Harvard University Press) may be the most famous nonfiction book on Mongolia.
INFORMATION: Mongolian Tourism Board, 011-976-11-311-102, www.mongoliatourism.gov.mn. Other sources include Visit Mongolia, a tour operator, at www.visitmongolia.com, and the Mongol Messenger, the country's English-language newspaper, at www.mongolnet.mn/mglmsg. -- Joshua Kurlantzick