Do you know the legend of Genghis Khan? It is told that Genghis Khan was born with a blood clot in his hand and therefore destined to lead Mongolia to become the world’s largest empire. Genghis Khan’s vast empire was founded upon Mongolia’s nomadic steppe life and horses. It was this legend that captured my imagination and lead me to catching a train from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

On the Bucket List: Naadam Festival, Mongolia | On the Bucket List: Naadam Festival, Mongolia |

Mongolia’s history and heritage drew me in, but it was its unique charms that won my heart. I found the nomads wonderful and their lifestyle fascinating, with their yurts, horses and cattle. The country felt raw and authentic being off the beaten track and it was cloaked in mystery to the Western eye. I was eager to discover its treasure trove of culture and natural beauty!

As I had been working in Tianjin, China, I decided to catch the train from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar. As my train drew into Ulaanbaatar in the beginning of July, I arrived just in time as the country was gearing up for the annual national Naadam Festival.

On the Bucket List: Naadam Festival, Mongolia | On the Bucket List: Naadam Festival, Mongolia |

What is the Nadaam Festival?

During the Naadam Festival, Mongolians celebrate their ancestral history and culture by boasting their talents in The Three Games of Men:

  • Jaw-dropping wrestling
  • Unbelievably accurate archery
  • Spine-tingling horse racing

Mongols participate in these events to prove that they’re man or woman enough to be descendants of their notorious and illustrious hero Genghis Khan.

A week before the festival, Ulaanbaatar was buzzing with Naadam fever and reached a bewildering climax during the 4-day festival period. There were ubiquitous amounts of drinking, eating, dancing, music, parades, parties and dressing up. Everyone was in high spirits and wearing their best deel, a traditional cloak of Mongol nomads. It was terrific to visit at this time of the year!


On the Bucket List: Naadam Festival, Mongolia |

Don’t go solo, bring a friend

I was travelling solo and made friends with a group of Australians on the train who were working in Mongolia and coincidentally lived opposite my hostel. Experiencing Naadam with a group of people definitely put the cherry on top of my experience and I would highly recommend travelling with at least one friend for the festival.

Being part of a group made the festival come alive for me, as it meant I could fully embrace the festivities. I felt safe staying out till the early hours experiencing the jovial atmosphere in the main square and enjoying the city’s parties. Two of my favorite events were the ‘Evening of Ulaanbaatar 3D Show’ projected across the government building and a white rave in the city’s amusement park.

Of Wrestling and Archery

Watching the Mongol men wrestling in the arena was fantastically bizarre. The most successful wrestlers chose their opponents; therefore, gargantuan muscle-clad wrestlers dismissively picked off their feeble competitors with ballistic behavior. The wrestling was very theatrical as they wore heavy leather boots, a plush black velvet domed hat with a gold steeple, tiny royal blue silk briefs and a ruby red chest-exposing silk jacket.

SWOOOSH! I was left speechless when I first watched a line of archers dressed in opulent deels fire their arrows. Virtually every one hit a bullseye. The adjudicators threw their arms up as the stacks of tin cans at least 30m away tumbled down. Each archer possessed astounding accuracy. I now understood why the Mongolian archers were both infamous and feared, especially on horseback!

On the Bucket List: Naadam Festival, Mongolia |

Mongolian Horses

However, it was the horse race that blew me away. Mongol horses aren’t as graceful or prim as their Western relatives, but don’t let their small and stout appearance deceive you. They possess extraordinary qualities; they’re tough, fast, powerful, courageous and have remarkable stamina.

The horse race takes place about an hours drive outside of Ulaanbaatar on the immense undulating grassy green steppe. A city of white yurts spread extensively across the widespread valley and at its epicenter was the finishing line, surrounded by stalls selling food, horse gear, toys and games.

Jovial Mongols surrounded us as we watched the Soyolon (5 year old jockeys) horse race, which was a staggering 60km long. Around us was a sea of iconic Mongolian deels, while some Mongols observed the race from their saddle, others enjoyed a picnic and there was a circus group boasting their acrobatic skills.

On the Bucket List: Naadam Festival, Mongolia |

Suddenly a glint on the horizon of the gently rolling hills appeared. Then before we blinked, a long train of galloping horses and precariously perched jockeys were cascading down the valley and thundering passed us. The crowd became extremely animated, waving and cheering the participants on! It was amazing; you could feel the electric energy of excitement surging through the crowd!

Lilly Wild | Soyolon Horse Racing

I recommend adding the Naadam Festival to your bucket list, because it’s spectacular and provides you with a glimpse into Mongolia’s enigmatic history and marvelous culture – but then I’m biased! I also felt safe in Mongolia as a solo female traveller.


My Top 5 Tips for Hacking the Festival:

1. Tickets are hard to get hold of and I recommend buying them through a travel agent.

2. Visit with a group of friends – the more the merrier!

3. Book your hostel in advance, but check the reviews on Trip Advisor.

4. Plan a day to watch the horse racing, hire a taxi for the day and leave early in the morning.

5. Theft-proof your wardrobe.

On the Bucket List: Naadam Festival, Mongolia |

Have you ever been to Mongolia? Share your stories with us – we’d love to hear from you!

This is a guest post by Adelaide Goodeve.

unnamed Adelaide is a 24 year old British entrepreneur and is currently transitioning from a travel blog to building a new adventure lifestyle brand for women, called Lilly Wild. She is on a mission to inspire and empower women to live a happier, more fulfilled and adventurous life. You can usually find her exploring the English countryside with her dog Rolo, who is under adventure dog training! Discover her brand here; and follow her progress on Facebook, Twitter @LillyWild13 and Instagram @lilly.wild.