Olgii (Өлгий)has been a predominately Kazakh settlement since before the creation of an independent Mongolia in 1911. It was the center of the local Kazakh community with the largest mosque in the region. However, this mosque was destroyed during religious purges in the 1930s. In 1939, Olgii was made the seat of government of the newly created Bayan-Olgii Aimag (Баян-Өлгий, “Fertile Cradle” in Mongolian). Since this time,
schools, apartments, factories, a hospital, and a theatre have been built in Olgii. Despite all this construction, Olgii was much less developed than the rest of the country when Communism fell in 1991, with no paved roads or railroads connecting to neighboring cities or to neighboring China and Russia. This was mainly due to the lack of mining and difficult terrain in Bayan-Olgii. After the fall of communism and the break-up of the USSR, about 25% of the population moved to the newly created Kazakhstan, though many later came back allowing the population to largely recover. A small building boom in recent years has resulted in significant increase in apartments, shops, restaurants, and hotels (about half of the town center has been built since 2005).
The city of 30,000 people is the center of trade and industry for Bayan-Olgii. There is a large wool factory and many smaller animal related factories to process products from the 2 million animals in the Aimag. Tourism and local handicrafts have become increasingly important in the past few years. The unique Kazakh embroideries made by several local companies and cooperatives are now sold in at least 6 countries and employ over 100 local women.
Open from 12pm to around 6pm Tues- Sun. Admission is free. The sprawling market offers fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy products, and meat (Halal compliant horse, beef, goat, and sheep), as well as a Chinese made goods, clothes, and traditional Kazakh embroideries and hand crafts. Small venders and shops surrounding the market sell everything from high end cashmere to construction supplies. Just past the entrance to the bazaar are about 20 outdoor billiards tables. There are several small cafes (гуанз) selling бууз (steamed mutton dumplings) and хуушуур (fried mutton-filled pancakes) and a Uighur café near the main entrance to the Bazaar. Also near the main entrance is the main meeting area for shared jeeps and vans going to soums and to Hovd (the other area is beside the Kazakh National Theatre for buses going to Ulaanbaatar). The Bazaar is northeast of the Central Square, east of the museum.
This three story museum provides a great starting point for trips through Bayan-Olgii with displays on local culture, history, and nature. The top floor offers displays of local tribal culture and life, as well as a full size Kazakh ger with photo opportunities. The second floor provides a brief look at the local history, especially the Communist era from 1924 to 1991. The ground floor has a wide variety of stuffed wildlife and a gift shop with traditional Kazakh handicrafts. Outside, you can see a broad selection of standing stones including deer stones and Turkic image stones and another shop selling Kazakh embroideries and handbags. Almost all the displays in the museum have been translated into English. Admission is 5000 MNT. Operating hours are 9-12 and 1-5pm Mon-Fri, and 10-5pm on Sat.
The main mosque in Olgii was built in the early 1990s. This mosque was the first mosque in Olgii since the old mosque was destroyed and local imams (Muslim religious leaders) were killed during Stalin-backed purges of religion during the 1930s. Today there is at least 5 mosques inside Olgii, plus more in the small towns in Bayan-Olgii. The call to prayer can be heard several times during the day. The beautiful blue mosque and its minarets (prayer towers) help give the city a Central Asian feel. Visitors are allowed, though you are encouraged to be respectful of customs including showering before entering and removing shoes before entering. Women are also asked to cover their hair. The main mosque is located behind Tsambagarav Hotel. From the museum, walk north, and then turn down the first street to the left. Another large mosque is located half kilometer west of the square. From Tsambagarav Hotel, walk west until you see a large minaret.
Visitor Information Center
The Visitor Center shares a building with the Protected Areas Administrative Office. Inside the office, you can find information for visiting any of the National Parks or protected areas. This is also the place to purchase permits to enter the parks as well as fishing licenses. The center can also help with hiring a jeep or finding a guide. Hours are 9 to 12pm and 1:30 to 5pm Mon-Fri. It is located on the southeast corner of the Central Square in a 2 story building.
• Bayan-Ulgii Theatre
The theatre hosts concerts, plays, and various performances throughout the year including traditional concerts during Nuaruz and the Golden Eagle Festival. This massive red walled building is easily the tallest building in the center of town, located just southwest of the Square. Buses going to Ulaanbaatar leave from here. Tickets can be purchased in the basement to the right of the main entrance.
• Post Office (Монголын цахилгаан холбоо)
There is an internet café located on the first floor with printing and faxes available. There are 3 ATM machines inside next to the internet café, plus one outside the door. Post office can mail packages and postcards, though packages mailed outside the country will require customs and health inspector stamps.
• Naadam Stadium
This stadium, used mainly for Naadam, is located north of the road to Sagsai, 2 km west of the center of Olgii.
This shallow, cold river provides a nice place to fish during the summer and go ice skating during the winter. Locals will advice you not swim because of the strong current and cold glacial temperatures even in July and August.
• Border Patrol Office
Located between the river and the Naadam Stadium, 2 km northwest of the center of town, border permits for entering the national parks (except Tsambagarav) can be purchased here. Operating hours are 8 to 11am and 2 to 5pm Mon-Fri.
• Internet Cafes and Print Shops
There are numerous internet cafes located around the center of the city. Most will say ‘Интернет’ or ‘Game Center’ in English and charge between 500 -1000 MNT per hour. Some will offer print and fax services. Printing can be done at any shop called ‘Канон’ or ‘Фото.’ These can also a great place to get a photo taken in traditional Mongolian clothing. For those with smart phones or laptops, most restaurants, coffee shops, hotels have WiFi internet.