When we think of Mongolia, we imagine rugged wilderness: the Gobi Desert. The Mongolian Steppe. Eagle hunters in the Altai Mountains and nomadic herders near Lake Khövsgöl. But there is a new face to the country. Spurred on by wealth from recent mining projects, Mongolia now also boasts an array of luxury accommodations. We’ve picked out the most impressive high-end design hotels for a visit to Mongolia—the best places to hang your hat after long days of camel riding in the Gobi, horseback riding in Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, or trekking in Vulture Canyon. Whether or not you try airag—a Mongolian staple consisting of fermented mare’s milk—at any of these spots is completely up to you.
Three Camel Lodge, the Gobi Desert
Opened in 2002, Three Camel Lodge is the gold standard by which all other ger camps are measured. Each of the lodge’s 40 exquisitely designed gers (also known as yurts) opens right onto the Gobi desert, where horses roam in the distance. The gers are handmade using a latticed wood structure, then overlaid with canvas and felt. Each ger contains wood-burning stoves and hand-painted wooden furniture, with en suite bathrooms and luxuriously hot showers. Living up to the highest ecological standards, Three Camel Lodge utilizes both wind and solar energy and works with local authorities to promote sustainable development and conservation. There’s even an organic greenhouse from which much of the lodge’s cuisine is sourced. Guests can enjoy horseback riding, camel riding, massages, and Mongolian cooking classes, as well as Mongolian-focused films in the lodge’s private screening room.
Shangri-La Hotel Ulaanbaatar, Ulaanbaatar
Located in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar, the stately five-star Shangri-La Hotel opened in 2015. Its opulent design features 290 rooms, many of which overlook the Great Chinggis Khaan Square. Drawing from its surroundings, the Shangri-La’s lobby contains decorative glass lights in the shape of hunting horns to represent the nomadic culture of Mongolia, and the suites feature traditional Mongolian carved patterns. The hotel also boasts three impressive restaurants and a 7,000-square-meter fitness club with swimming pool and dedicated spinning room, as well as the largest presidential suite in Mongolia.
Terelj Hotel & Spa, Gorkhi-Terelj National Park
Originally a summer camp for Soviet holiday-makers, the Terelj Hotel underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation and reopened in 2008. A 150,000-square-foot neoclassical design located on the banks of the Terelj River in scenic Gorkhi-Terelj National Park (40 miles from Ulaanbaatar), the Terelj Hotel features 52 tasteful suites, all outfitted with Mongolian cashmere blankets and stocked with regional antiques. There’s a cigar lounge with a private balcony, a colonnaded pavilion-style pool that evokes Budapest’s famed Gellért Baths, an elegant library with Mongolian-themed reading, and even a traditional ger located within the hotel’s walls for educational purposes.
Perched on the western shore of idyllic Lake Khövsgöl (the “Blue Pearl of Mongolia”), Ashihai Tourist Camp opened for business in 2009. The camp features 15 elegant gersperched on wooden platforms and stocked with locally made furniture. Two multifloor chalet buildings provide an additional 20 rooms for guests. The lodge itself is a beautifully constructed wooden affair with a dining room and bar to make all carpenters envious, and a nearby lakeside bonfire area provides stunning sunset views. Guest activities at Ashihai include yak riding, boating, and even scuba diving, with an on-site dairy providing instruction in the art of Mongolian cheese- and yogurt-making.
HS Khaan Resort Hotel, Hui Doloon Hudag Valley
This Japanese-owned resort an hour west of Ulaanbaatar features 25 dazzling ger suites, each able to sleep up to four people. Fully completed in 2008, the gers are all outfitted with canopied beds, Jacuzzi-baths, and even massage tables for in-home treatment. The main lodge opens onto an outdoor dining porch overlooking the vast plains below, and a telescope provides sensational stargazing opportunities. Horseracing aficionados take note: the hotel becomes a prime viewing spot during Mongolia’s annual Naadam Festival (July 11–15), with its gers in close proximity to the festival’s horseracing site.