Gift Ideas for When You’re Visiting a Mongolian Ger (Home)

You should always offer a small gift when you enter a family’s home when traveling in Mongolia. Read more about this unique tradition as well as my recommendations on what makes the perfect gift.

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If you plan to spend anytime in the Mongolian countryside, you’re bound to visit or stay with a nomad family. Or, at a minimum, eat a meal in a traditional Mongolian ger. That means you better brush up on proper Mongolian ger etiquette, beginning with offering a small gift to your hosts.

Tourists and travelers often get confused about this tradition. And rightly so. While there are many nuances to Mongolia’s cultural traditions, especially inside the Mongolian ger, this is one of the most basic. It’s not mandatory to bring a gift for your hosts, but a gesture as small as giving out some chocolates or candies can go a long way. Especially after you understand how warm and welcoming your Mongolian hosts will most likely be.

Giving a small gift to your host is a sign of respect. It’s a simple gesture that lets them know how thankful you are for their willingness to open their home to you – a total stranger.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stopped into a Mongolian ger unannounced and been treated to a feast. It really is amazing how welcoming Mongolia’s nomads are, especially given everything a family owns fits inside a five-walled Mongolian ger.

What Happens When You Enter a Mongolian Ger

No matter where I am in Mongolia, or who I’m with, a typical visit to a Mongolian ger usually goes like this.

First, you greet your hosts and politely offer them a small gift. Your greeting will depend on how well you know your hosts, but usually a handshake or simple smile and ‘sain baina uu’ are enough if you’re meeting them for the first time.

Then comes offering the gift to your hosts. This is essential. Among locals, gifts typically consist of small grocery bags filled to the brim with candies, breads, Coca-Cola (or other drinks), and other small edible goodies.

For tourists and travelers, offering a gift as small as a box of chocolates or bag of local candies is usually enough.

From there, the host will offer you inside their ger for suutei tsai, or salty milk tea. This tea is as sacred as it gets in Mongolia. It’s one of my absolute favorite traditional Mongolian foods and it’s something uniquely Mongolian.

Grab the bowl offered to you by your host with two hands and drink up. Most families already have their tea made, but if your host makes you a fresh pot of suutei tsai, you know you’re a very honored guest. Hold the bowl from the underside where the ceramic is thicker so you don’t spill or get burned, this tea will be very hot.

As part of the ‘white foods’ that are always offered first, a bowl of aaruul and other dried curds will make its way around to you. Be mindful of your teeth, some of these curds are hard enough to crack a molar.

These unpasteurized curds are high in calcium and strong in taste. They’re also why Mongolians living in the countryside have such straight and white teeth. Something I’m always jealous of!

Following tea and aaruul, your host will ask if you’re hungry. Freshly made soup may soon appear and a shot of vodka together is never out of the question.

With this sort of hospitality, you soon understand why bringing a small gift is always a good idea.

Mongolian Ger Tea

Yurt versus Ger and the History of the Mongolian Felt Home

Since you’ll be spending a lot of time in a Mongolian ger during your visit to Mongolia, there are a few essential things you should know.

First, most tourists don’t know the difference between the word yurt and ger. While both words mean the same thing, ger is simply the word for home in Mongolian language. Yurt is a Russian word, and it’s what these felt homes are mostly known as in other cultures around the world.

Mongolian gers have been in use since the Paleolithic era. They’re lightweight in structure, made of felt and wood, and consist of a conical roof and walls. There’s an opening in the center of the roof to allow smoke from cooking over a fire to escape, as well as to provide light inside the ger.

The Mongolian ger is designed to be easily dismantled and transported when necessary. This makes them ideal for nomadic life. Most families can tear down their ger, transport all of their belongings, and reassemble their ger in one day.

They are quite sturdy and capable of handling Mongolia’s drastic temperatures, from +40 C to -40 C. They can withstand rain, snow, and brutal winds. In the summer, the bottoms of the ger can be lifted to allow a breeze to blow through.

The door, which is typically orange, always faces south. The orange color represents the sun, or more importantly, fire. Both of which are sacred.

A ulzzi, the Buddhist infinity knot, is usually seen decorated on a ger. This represents the connection of everything in the universe.

Mongolians are very spiritual and believe in karma. If you are a bad guest in someone’s ger, the universe will make sure you know it.

Mongolia’s Gift Giving Culture

As a guest in someone else’s home, the tradition in Mongolia is to always pay your respects to your host by bringing a small gift. This is the biggest mistake most tourists make when visiting a Mongolian home – they don’t bring a gift!

Not to worry though. Mongolian families understand this is a concept that’s unique to their culture and they won’t be hard on you if you forget.

Bringing food or other small gifts is customary and a sign of respect for your hosts. Practical gifts are always recommended, including food (flour, noodles, meat), pocketknives, and solar lights.

Gifts don’t always have to be so overthought either. Maybe you have an ice cold Coca-Cola in a cooler in your car. Or a few pieces of hard candy stashed away somewhere. It’s the thought that counts.

Giving a gift to your new local friends is also a quick way to break the ice. Mongolians are famously – and sometimes painfully – shy. Handing them a gift and explaining what it is or how to use it is a great way to get a conversation going.

When deciding on what gifts you’ll be giving in Mongolia, remember these two things: the nomads on the steppe don’t have running water or electricity. Be mindful of giving anything that requires a charge, batteries, or has many small pieces that could end up as litter.

Gift Ideas Mongolia Travel Blog

When is it appropriate to give a gift in Mongolia? And when is it not?

The right time to give a small gift is at the beginning of your family visit. This is when you’re being introduced and welcomed into their ger. Hand your host your small gift before walking into their home.

Appropriate welcome gifts include:

  • Chocolates
  • Candies
  • Breads, noodles, and other food goods like Coca-Cola
  • Once your visit or family stay comes to an end, this is the time to give bigger gifts. But only if it feels appropriate. There’s no need to give a bigger gift if you’re simply stopping in for lunch. These gifts are only appropriate after you’ve gotten to know your host. That could be after spending the night in their ger, going for a long horseback or camel ride, or something more substantial.

    In those instances, any of the gifts listed below are appropriate.

Gifts I Don’t Recommend Giving in Mongolia

Having spent a lot of time getting to know nomadic families across the country, there are a few things I don’t recommend giving as gifts in Mongolia.

Personally, I don’t recommend giving these items as gifts in Mongolia:

  1. Alcohol.
  2. Toys that require batteries or charging.
  3. Toys with small pieces that will end up as litter.
  4. Money or other currency.
  5. Nothing too large or bulky that can’t easily be stored or moved.
  6. Perfumes and lotions (these may imply something you don’t mean them to).
  7. Medicine in large doses.
  8. In my experience, giving medicine in large doses can be a huge issue.

    Why? Well, in most instances the family won’t be able to read how to take the medicine properly (unless it’s written in Russian or Mongolian). That means they won’t know how to use it or take it. I won’t go into detail on how I’ve seen Mongolians take medicine I’ve given to them, but let’s just say they have wildly creative imaginations!

    This is through no fault of theirs. It’s just not something they’ve had a lot of access to until recent years.

    Unless you are there to apply and distribute the medicines first-hand, I don’t recommend leaving these items behind.

Gift Ideas for When You’re Visiting a Mongolian Family’s Ger (Home)

Below I’ve put together a list of useful and practical items that make great gifts for the people you’ll meet in Mongolia.

Besides these gifts, don’t be afraid to ‘trade’ or leave behind whatever gear and goods you won’t need once your trip is over. Waterproof hiking boots, warm jackets, rain gear, wool socks – all of these items will go to good use with whoever you leave them with.

Gift Ideas for When You’re Visiting a Mongolian Family’s Ger (Home)

Gifts for Men

From hats to multi-tools, these gifts are great for giving out to the nomadic herders you meet in Mongolia.

Hats

Mongolians love hats. Baseball caps, beanies, cowboy hats, fedoras, you name it, they love it. Since they spend long hours outside in the sun, and in all different temperatures, hats are a fun and practical gift to give. Find one with your favorite sport team’s logo and bond with your new nomad friend as you tell them about your hometown team.

Solar Lights

Find a solar light that charges on its own when left in the sun. This means the family won’t have to worry about charging it and fussing with it during their busy days. If possible, find a light that has a red light setting, the herders like to use this kind of lighting to fend off wolves from their herds at night.

Knives and Multi-Tools

I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve gladly handed over the knife in my pocket to a herder who has helped me out in a tricky situation.

Binoculars

It didn’t take me long to realize the importance of binoculars and monoculars to herders. This is how they find and keep track of their herds in the distance.

Portable Waterproof Speakers

Now this is the ultimate gift for any of the men in the under 25 age range out on the steppe. Hold onto this gift until the end of your trip and give it to someone special. This will make their year.

Gifts for Women

Whether it’s for mom or gran gran, these gifts are thoughtful and heartwarming.

Oils, Grains, Vegetables, and Other Foods

Practical gifts like gallons of oil, fresh vegetables, rice and other grains are always appreciated in Mongolia. This means they don’t have to go to town so soon and since they’ll likely be feeding you, this won’t deplete their on-hand food supply.

Buy these in town at the local mini mart and support a local small business while you’re at it.

Spices from Your Home Country

Gifting spices is always a fun way to tell your host family about where you’re from. Be sure to tell them how to use the spices and how they can integrate them into their cooking. Bonus points if your spices go well with meat, noodle, or dairy dishes.

Tea

Suutei tsai, the salty milk tea I mentioned above, is the one thing you’ll find in every Mongolian ger. Replenish the family’s stock or bring tea that is special to you to share with them. The gesture of offering and sharing tea is one of the best ways to show respect in Mongolia.

Copper Bracelets

I like to bring small, beaded bracelets for the younger women and children in the ger.

For mom and grandma though, a beautiful necklace, bracelet, or earrings is one of the most thoughtful gifts you can give. If you plan to stay with your host family for some time, hold onto this gift and give it to them at the end of your stay.

Copper bracelets are another thoughtful gift to give. Copper is thought to help absorb bad energy in the body and help the wearers overall health.

Gifts for Kids

These are fun gifts to give, for obvious reasons.

Chocolates and Other Candies

Pick up some chocolate bars and bags of hard candy when you’re in the local market. Or, pack a few bags of your favorite candies from home and watch their faces as they try your favorite bars and candies. Chances are they’ve never tasted a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, Jelly Belly Jelly Bean, or Tootsie Roll before.

These are great gifts to hand out to everyone – not just kids. Although kids will probably be the most excited to take these items off your hands.

Hair Ties and Headbands

Don’t let life out on the steppe fool you – the little girls out here are as stylish and girly as they come.

Bringing hair clips, hair ties, headbands, or even a pair of ‘high heels’ is the fastest way to becoming their favorite person ever. (And yes, I know what I said about things with small pieces earlier. Sometimes you just can’t help yourself.)

Books in Mongolian

Stop into Internom and grab a few books for kids before starting your trip out to the steppe. Be sure to find books that are written in Mongolian and then have the kids read them to you!

More Gift Ideas for Tourists Visiting Mongolia

Get creative with what you give in Mongolia – that’s half the fun and the best way to start a conversation with anyone.

Maybe your country is famous for a sweet that you can carry easily in your backpack and share with families along the way?

Or you live in a place where tea is also a major part of your cultural heritage.

No matter what you choose to gift in Mongolia, it’s the gesture that counts.

Author: Breanna Wilson

Hi! Sain uu! I’m Breanna, an American travel writer and adventurer living in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia for more than 5 years. I’ve written for and been featured in Condé Nast Traveler, CNN, Forbes, and the New York Times, among others. Read more of my Mongolia travel articles here.

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SandyT
SandyT
26 days ago

Thanks for the information. I am going to the shaman festival end of May. I am a Cadillac, (no wheat!). How do I not offend if I cannot eat what they offer?

April
April
13 days ago

I am lactose intolerant. Is the milk /tea being offered with lactose?