I love sharing stories about my month in Mongolia– driving for days across the desolate Gobi Desert + horseback riding for a week on the vast green steppe. My friends listen patiently, + ask in a hushed voice: where did you go to the bathroom?
Meanwhile, my women friends often hint around the subject of menstruation. Soooo, lets talk about Mongolian toilets + prepare you for a fantastic Mongolia trip! Because, really, who likes bathroom surprises? Answer: nobody!!
Mongolian Toilet Styles + Feminine Hygiene
Mongolian Toilets in Cities
My Mongolia travel included 1 week total in two cities:
- Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaan Baatar; and
- Tsetserleg, a regional capital and small city.
Ulaan Baatar, the Capital City
In the capital, Mongolian toilet styles are identical to those in the United States: sit-down flush toilets. I did not see any squat toilets, although I’m sure they exist in the gers (round houses similar to a yurt).
I visited restaurants, the airport, a fancy hotel, + a traveler’s hostel. All the public toilets were just like those in restaurants or movie theaters in the United States– stalls or doors with locks + toilet paper. My hostel bathroom was a toilet + bath in 1 room, just like my bathroom at home in California.
However, in two homes I visited, the bathrooms were what we call a ‘split bath’ in the USA. The toilet is in one small room + the bath + sink are in another small room next door.
Mongolian toilets are western style, + flush with water. I didn’t see any Japanese toilets that wash your bum. The only toilet I had problems with was at my friends’ house in Ulaanbaatar. You must flush it exactly right, but that’s an embarrassing story.
Tsetserleg, Capital City of Arkhangai Province
Fairfield Guesthouse in Tsetserleg has toilets just like those in the capital or in California—flush toilets western style. They also have hot showers!!!! I started + ended a 3-day horse trek here, and it was wonderful coming back to a hot shower. My 8-day horse riding trek was from the Red Waterfall near Batul Zii. There were no public western-style toilets.
Countryside Mongolian Toilets: Steppe + Gobi Desert
Three weeks of my month was spent in the countryside. I encountered various toilet styles, and they did not vary between the verdant steppe and the desolate Gobi Desert. If you require particular toilet styles, please read your guidebook or speak with your guide. There are certainly places with western toilets near all the major tourist destinations, but you’ll pay extra for the convenience. (Since I traveled solo for a month, I spent more on gas / petrol than the average tourist. For my budget, I offset the extra cost be selecting less expensive lodging and no English-speaking guide.)
In case your guide doesn’t speak English, take a phrasebook! I was
surprised totally shocked that none of the tourists I met carried a guidebook, or even a map. Maybe it’s just me, but I really enjoy communicating with the locals I meet. While gestures are wonderfully helpful, they only take you so far. Plus, this phrasebook includes advice on local culture, food, animals, + more.
For those of you who haven’t yet read my other articles, drivers speak minimal or no English, which is why many tourists hire both a guide + a driver. Guides are available in many languages, including French, German, + English.
For calculating distances, I highly recommend a map, as a guidebook won’t always provide hours between countryside locations. And, unpredictable hours… like the time we got stuck in mud for a few hours forcing me to stay at a fancy hot springs one night—oh, tragedy!
Toilets are not inside the gers, as a ger (similar to a yurt, but Mongolians call it a ger) is just one room. So, bring your headlamp for nighttime. I’ve used mine around the world for years, and it’s useful for anything in the dark, including searching for keys fallen between car seats. They pack small and light.
Toilet Type: Flush Toilet with Septic System
At hot springs, toilets are the same as in any city hotel: western flush toilets.
The hotels at these hot springs often have amenities like massage. And, showers are a required before entering the hot springs pools. This is great! Especially if you happened to have spent the day before helping dig your transportation out of a mud hole.
Toilet Type: Outhouse Building
An outhouse offers the most privacy. Just like an outhouse in the United States, it has 3 walls, a roof, and a tall door making the 4th wall. This was my favorite type of toilet in terms of privacy. Sometimes they were really nice with a wooden structure to sit on, instead of squatting. Often though, the floor simply had 1 or 2 boards missing in the middle making a gap over which you can squat. Waste goes into a hole in the ground. I recommend using it in the morning, when the air is cool and the
stench odor is less pungent.
These were often the dirtiest toilets, when in an area with many tourists. Apparently tourists don’t know about throwing their used toilet paper completely down the hole. Yuck!
Toilet Type: 3 Low Walls
Toilets with 3 low walls about waist height quickly became my favorite style of toilet. Offering privacy, but no smell or bugs, the floor of wood boards has some boards missing in the center. Enter by walking walk in from the 4th side with no wall. Turn around 180 degrees and face the opening, keep your feet on either side of the hole, formed by the missing boards. Then you squat and ‘use’ the toilet. While squatting I was low enough, so no one could see my bottom (I hope).
Toilet Type: Open Space at Ger Camps
Some family-run ger camps or family home areas in the countryside do not have toilets; just toilet areas. This is my favorite type of toilet for peeing, but not pooping. Walk a short distance into the forest or over a low hill and go to the bathroom on the ground. This system works well where there are very few people.
Toilet Type: Horse Trekking + Yogurt + Boulder
We took breaks from horse trekking at someone’s home, every few hours. I usually received delicious yak yogurt. At departure time, we mounted our horses and took off trotting. It seems that the Mongolian horses I rode don’t walk. If you aren’t familiar with horses gaits, trotting is the bumpiest of the 4 (walk, trot, canter, gallop).
Obviously, the yogurt in my stomach liquefied after 2 minutes of trotting. I’d say “toilet” and my guide, T., would turn around and come back for my horse while I dismounted and got myself behind the biggest boulder in the area. [[ I am not a wimp, it’s just that getting on and off the horse is the riskiest time, so your guide will often insist on holding your horse. ]]
I always went for the biggest and tallest boulders (of knee-high height), so not really useful in terms of privacy, but it made me feel better. And, of course T. would avert his eyes, sometimes even dismounting his own horse a bit ahead of me and going to the bathroom, too. Of course, he’d turn his back to me. Privacy standards in the USA + Mongolia are similar—everyone avoids awkward moments the best they can.
Toilet Type: Roadside
Private Car: We pulled over alongside roads for toilet breaks, similar to driving on long, lonely country roads in the USA, Europe, Australia + Kenya. Everyone exits the car + walks off a short distance to pee. Folks avert their eyes, and that’s that. Not a big deal.
I never saw anyone use toilet paper for peeing, which is good, since there’s nowhere to put the garbage. For pooping, we generally had a real toilet stop at least once a day, whether in a small town or a ger camp.
A ger camp is a group of gers and tourists can rent one, like a hotel room. Ger camps on roads with vehicle access have an outhouse or 3-walled structure at a minimum.
Public Buses take lunch breaks at restaurants. There is a public toilet which is available for free or a small fee. Often, you can also purchase snacks or meals at these locations.
Once, on a long bus journey a mother approached the bus driver with a kid that obviously needed a bathroom break. When we stopped, men, women, + monks scattered along the flat land. Women hold up a shawl-scarf or their deel for a bit of privacy. Little kids stay with their parents for assistance with their clothing.
I noticed that Mongolians in the countryside wash their hands + face every morning upon waking up. Also, handwashing before eating was standard. Some gers have a small handwashing sink inside the ger, + if not, there are buckets of water available outside. Pour water over your hands + scrub them together with soap.
I took sanitizing gel for my hands, but used it only a few times. The gel doesn’t clean off dirt, so I felt it left my hands sticky with gelled dirt. Hand washing with soap + water was my preference.
My trekking guides were men with limited English, so I did not ask what to do with tampons and pads— I was 100% uninterested in having that conversation with them.
However, I got my period during a 3-day horse trek after which I would be returning to a small city. So, I used the pack-in pack-out method, same as I do for camping. I had a plastic bag with me and kept used items in the plastic bag, which I threw in the trash upon returning to town.
This wasn’t hard, and I had some baby wipes on-hand for cleaning up, since water is sparse (no showers while on a horse trek). All over Mongolia I saw Dove brand moist wipes for sale, even in the smallest villages. My Mongolian friend used them for wiping Gobi Desert dust off her face at the end of a long day of driving, but they are useful for any body cleaning purpose. They come in thin flat packs of about 25, so don’t take much space.
I highly suggest purchasing tampons or pads in your home country or in Ulaan Baatar, so you have exactly what you want. Small cities feminine hygiene items, but options are very limited.
Save space packing individually wrapped tampons and pads by removing them from the big box or bag, so they fit in a more flexible space. I pack mine in a plastic ziploc sandwich bag, so I can squeeze the air out and then seal the bag and squish it between my socks and underwear.
If you’ve read my other articles, you’ll remember that water is very limited almost everywhere in Mongolia. During my first 2 weeks in the countryside I bathed twice. Both times were in glacier run rivers. Now you can understand my excitement for an accidental visit to hot springs!
Tampon and Pad Alternatives
‘Reusable tampons’ like Luna Cup, Diva Cup: I have read reviews by women who love these, and I imagine they could work really well in Mongolia. Just rinse with bottled or boiled water and re-use. I didn’t know these existed until after my trip, so did not use them myself.
Underwear with Built-In Pantyliners
Products like ThinX: I love these for travel generally, but would never recommend them for travel in Mongolia’s countryside, due to the lack of water for a daily rinse. Also, moving from place to place daily, means there isn’t time for drying them. The pantyliner portion is a thicker piece of cloth which does not dry quickly in cool or damp weather.
Also, many tourist women won’t hang their underwear to dry in public, and in Mongolia all laundry done in the countryside is hung in public—either in the sun on the outside of the ger or from the roof inside the ger if the wood burning stove is lit for heating the room. Your ger will be shared with members of your tour group. Solo travelers are atypical.
In cities you can certainly pay to have your laundry done. Advise your hotel or guesthouse and they will assist.
In the countryside, you can also pay to have your laundry done. If you stay in a fancier hotel, they might have laundry machines. However, with most homestays laundry is done by hand + the whole world will see it hanging while drying. So, if you’re self conscious about your underwear or other items, take enough to last until you get back to a city.
Less Smell, Faster Drying
The summer weather on the steppe was never very hot, so I never sweated noticeably. Therefore, I wore my jeans many times without washing them. For shirts and base layers, I took wool items that don’t smell as much.
The advantages of this wool clothing is that the thinner items dry very quickly, they’re very light weight, and pack tiny! So, unlike cotton or jeans they can be washed frequently, even if I’m moving from one location to another, since dry time is fast. I use these items when traveling with carry-on luggage only to other destinations. I also don’t have to take as many items, since I can wash them often, and they barely add to my luggage weight.
Mongolia Packing List
If you’re heading to Mongolia, you should now feel comfortable packing for your toilet + feminine hygeine needs, but let me know if you still have any questions.
Soon I’ll write a packing list for everything I think are helpful for Mongolia travel.
By the way, some links in this article will earn me a small percentage of your purchase price. This is at no additional cost to you, but I’m required to notify you.