Terelj - Ulaanbaatar
Just 90 km outside of Ulaanbaatar, the Terelj valley offers travelers the first opportunity to see the real Mongolia. The valley is breathtakingly beautiful, with large rocky mountains littered with boulders balanced in precarious stacks along ridge lines that look like they have been designed for a Hollywood fantasy.
The valley is not untouched, but it is genuine. The nomadic culture of the Mongolians is well suited to hosting tourist camps, which dot the valley in picturesque nooks and offer visitors the opportunity to live in a Ger and interact with the locals in the same fashion as the natives have for centuries. Dropping in is a time honored tradition here, and the nomads that stop in the valley are usually interested in the entertainment of visitors, even if the language is a problem.
Accommodations are spartan, much like camping. Most visitors will want to stay in the traditional Ger, a large round tent like structure that is descended from Teepees. The structure is covered in felt and furnished with a stove, wooden beds, a table, some cabinets, and increasingly, a TV. You may be able to pay extra and get an indoor bathroom, but why ruin the experience? For those who are less inspired, there are a few western style hotels in the area, but you may be more comfortable staying in Ulaanbaatar and driving out to Terelj if you want hotel life.
There isn't much exciting wildlife in Terelj, due to the higher human density, but there are plenty of domestic animals including Bactrian Camels, Mongolian horses, Yak, Cow, CowYak (use your imagination), sheep, goats, etc. The locals still herd their cattle in the traditional fashion, and their close relationship to the herds is obvious.
One of the pleasures of the Mongolian countryside is visiting the locals. If you go, read a book to brush up on your Mongolian manners, and bring a small gift, or money as a traditional thank you for their hospitality. The nomads love to tell and hear stories and share food, vodka, tea, etc... The nomads love photographs, so a polaroid or other instant printer is a great thing to bring.
Between the stunning landscapes and the unique and warm lifestyle of the Mongolian nomads, the experience in Terelj valley can really change the way you look at the world. It's an easy day trip from UB, but worlds away from the urban life.