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After living in China and teaching English for a little over a year, we learned a lot about Chinese customs and ways of life. We loved living there and since then have also enjoyed a month spent traveling Mongolia.

Even though these two fabulous countries are neighbours, they are light-years away from each other.

We’ve made some observations about Mongolia and have discovered many differences between the Chinese and Mongolian cultures, people and customs.

Here’s a list of a few differences that stood out for us:

1. Physical Appearance

A major contrast between the two countries is the appearance of the people. Chinese people tend to be quite small-framed, slight and short’ish.

The Mongolians are a hearty breed of people, the men are muscular and stocky, while the women are voluptuous and curvy. Also, the Mongolians have darker skin and aren’t as concerned with being fair-skinned, as Chinese people are.

mongolian people
I wouldn’t wanna run into this guy in a dark alley…Mongolians are a hearty people

2. Chinese Food is Much Better

We’re all about eating the local cuisine of a country we’re in and even though there are some seriously strange street-foods in China, that cuisine is one of our favourites!

During our time in China, we dined on dumplings, tofu dishes, fried pork, cold noodles, stir-fried rice, and much more.

Mongolian food is centered around meat and dairy, as that’s what the nomadic people on the steppe have at their disposal. It seems that Mongolians (in the countryside anyways) eat out of necessity rather than for enjoyment.

chinese hot pot
Chinese food is so flavourful, diverse and delicious!

3. No Smoking in Mongolia

In China, it seems like every man smokes cigarettes. Whether in a restaurant, shop or on a bus, they all light up. In Mongolia, there are “no smoking” signs everywhere and the rules are obeyed.

4. English is More Widely Spoken in Mongolia

Apart from when we were in major cities like Beijing or Shanghai, English wasn’t readily spoken in China. Things are changing these days, however, with more and more Chinese people learning how to speak English — either in class, or online.

Travelling to China is more for the intrepid traveller, and it was great to try to learn Chinese and fit in with the local people. But, sometimes it’s nice to have people understand what you want and need (or what they want and need!).

chinese train station
The language barrier was really difficult in China, much easier to understand one another in Mongolia

5. Chinese People Have Their Own Sense of Fashion 

The people in Ulan Bator (the only major city in Mongolia) dress quite trendy and have a very western sense of style. Out in the countryside, they don their traditional, beautiful, clothing.

The men and women of China have a very distinct, funky and fashionable style of dress, which makes them different from what we’re used to seeing in the west.

shoes in china
Chinese women love their funky high-heeled shoes

6. The Air Quality is Better in Mongolia

This goes without saying. There are about 1.5 billion people in China compared to only 3 million people in Mongolia. Travelling through Mongolia has definitely been a breath of fresh air.

china air quality
The air quality in China can be really bad some days

7. China Has Many Cities

Mongolia only has one true city, Ulan Bator. The rest are considered small villages, called sums. Other than that, Mongolia is nothing but expansive, natural landscapes. 

Compare that with the more than 800 cities in China — 65 of which have more than 1 million people. Because of these numbers, our experience in Mongolia was far more peaceful, and we enjoyed the less chaotic, less polluted country.

shanghai skyline
One of the most famous cities in China, and in the world – Shanghai

8. Mongolians Are Nomadic

Mongolians in the countryside live in gers and pack up their homes to move to greener pastures 2-4 times per year. This is one of the most fascinating aspects of the Mongolian culture and lifestyle. 

mongolian ger
Traditional Mongolian gers

9. Chinese People Eat Fish, Pork and Chicken

Mongolians do not.

While the Chinese enjoy lighter proteins like fish, pork and chicken, Mongolian people love their red meat! They typically eat sheep, goat, yak and horse. Hearty meats for hearty people, a must for keeping warm in the freezing cold winters.

Plus, these are the animals that are available to them.

mongolian food
Mongolians love eating red meat!

10. Chinese People are Fascinated by Westerners

I can’t count the number of times we were the main attraction at a particular touristy site in China.

We had our photos taken numerous times while living and travelling there and almost caused a few car accidents because of people staring at us, rather than the road!

In Mongolia, they would give a quick glance at us and carry on about their business — no staring and definitely no photos.

chinese people
Chinese people are fascinated by westerners…even when they’re at a famous site, they wanted to take our photo!

Even though there are many, many differences between these two neighbouring countries, there are a few similarities that stand out as well:

1. For non-native speakers, both languages are extremely hard to pronounce and learn.
2. Buddhism is a prominent religion.
3. Mongolia and China have very family-oriented cultures.
4. Chinese and Mongolians are both extremely hospitable and friendly people.

chinese people
The people in China and Mongolia are some of the kindest in the world

We miss living in China so much! The experiences we had there were life-changing and unforgettable.

Even though it was hard to say goodbye, making the choice to travel to Mongolia after completing our teaching contract in China was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.

We had a blast travelling through Mongolia for 30 days. The off the beaten path moments we had and the nomadic families and ways of life we encountered are some of our fondest memories, ever.

For more information on travelling to these two intriguing countries, check out our Backpacking Guide to China and our Guide to Backpacking Mongolia.

Have you ever been to China or Mongolia, or both?! What do you think of the culture and the people? Tell us below!

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China and Mongolia- What’s The Difference-!

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Nick Wharton & Dariece Swift

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Nick Wharton and Dariece Swift are the owners and founders of Goats On The Road. Together they have been travelling and working abroad since 2008 and have more than 20 years of combined experience in online business, finance, travel and entrepreneurship. Their expert advice has been featured on the Lonely Planet, CNN Money, Business Insider,  WiseBread and Forbes and they also spoke at the World Tourism Forum in Istanbul about the business of travel blogging.

Learn more about Nick Wharton and Dariece Swift on their respective author archives on this site and on the Goats On The Road About Us Page.

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36 thoughts on “Travelling China and Mongolia: Differences Between The Countries

  1. No smoking in Mongolia?! Awesome! I hate smelling like an ashtray travelling in countries where everyone smokes and it’s so normal that there is no ban in indoor places or if there is, it’s just ignored.

  2. I haven’t been to either but I would love to have the chance to get to both. I had no idea Mongolia was so simplistic with the nomadic lifestyle and only one major city. Sounds like a very different pace from China.

  3. You guys should definitely try to check out one, or both, of these countries 🙂 Mongolia and China are both so different from on another, but both are so amazing.

  4. And it’s free to use internet in mongolia I mean like everybody can search and use whatever they want on internet.

  5. I so agree with your points! I love your site and the information you put on here is valid and in my opinion, true.

  6. Hi! Where did ya’ll go in Mongolia? Tours, backpack the country, or transit? Hostels, tents? What did you do! Thanks!

  7. Hey, you can see all of our Mongolia articles and info here: https://www.goatsontheroad.com/category/blogs/asia/northeast-asia/mongolia/ Cheers!

  8. the country that hates china most is Mongolia. Most countries think that mongolia and china are same. But truth is very different

  9. Great article! Mongolia is an amazing country, ive been there last year and i had the time of my life. What a beauty their nature is- nothing like ive seen before. hospitable people, beautiful girls and so easy to go around because ive met a lot of people who spoke basic english. really had this western feeling, yet still has their mongolian uniqueness. would love to visit again

  10. I’m astounded that you thought the air in Mongolia was clean. It’s the second most polluted city in the world. The particulates in the air are twelve times higher than the maximum recommended by the World Health Organization. The air in UB made me sneeze and get headaches, and that’s been in May/June, when it’s pretty good (not in winter, when they burn coal fires). I have been in Mongolia for a month and love it, but I wouldn’t want to spend much more time in Ulaanbaatar. I live in a rural area on Canada’s west coast by the Pacific Ocean and believe me, our air is clean there.

  11. Hi Heather,

    You’re right, the air in UB is awful! But in the rest of the country, out on the steppe, in the middle of nowhere, it’s fresh – especially compared to China. We were in UB for a couple of days, but the rest of the time was spent at lakes and out of towns. Of course, the air is better in Canada (which is one of the best in the world 🙂 ) – but between the two countries, overall Mongolia’s is better.

  12. Hi Marcus!

    We agree, Mongolia is amazing! I’m glad you had such wonderful experiences 🙂

  13. In mongolia they dont always eat meat they usually eat meat when the weather gets cold so that way they can be healthy (winter) and in summer they eat vegetables and uses diary they hardly eat meat in summer. And in the city people eats just as same food as the other people around the world like starting from sushi to lasagna pizza soup etc

  14. Ub is the only air polluted city in mongolia. and if you compare it with chinese cities it is small city. and mongolian dish and other things are so differend from other asian countries.

  15. I lived in China for three years and am now living in Mongolia. Been here one year, will be here for one more. Overall, this is a good article but a couple of my thoughts: 1) most Mongolians, especially in countryside, dont speak english. I actually think its easier finding english speakers in china-at least in the cities. 2) true, mongolians dont stare at westerners/ have as much curiousity of their appearance because there have been Russians living here for many years. Many Mongolians think a westerner msy be Russian when they see them. But once they find out they are a westerner, they often are curious. I have had mongolians want to have their pic taken with me, though maybe not as often as in china.

  16. Hello everyone! I’m from Mongolia. I really appreciate it. Thank you for wrote! Of course, we are veeery different from chinese. We dislike to chinese. i don’t know why. Maybe this feeling is from our blood.

  17. I have been to Mongolia for 2 weeks. I would say that some of them look alike Kazakh or half Russian and Mongolian. it is an amazing place. Recommend you guys

  18. mongolians are much shorter than northern chinese you moron. rhey jusr grow side way but they are shorter than han chinese

  19. It is true, the northern chinese are
    usually much taller than mongolians,
    especially in the north east region of
    China.
    However mongolians tend to be
    stockier regardless of height.

  20. lol if u been to china now. people in eastern shandong southern parts of northeastern liaoning province r the tallest around 178cm. many old men are very tall like 180. followed by young people in shanghai whose diets are westernised and traditionally above avg height. almost all girls are over 165 these days. the regions in guangdong and some southern regions are much much shorter even for young people around 170 for men

  21. lol if u been to china now. people in eastern shandong southern parts of northeastern liaoning province r the tallest around 178cm. many old men are very tall like 180. followed by young people in shanghai whose diets are westernised and traditionally above avg height. almost all girls are over 165 these days. the regions in guangdong and some southern regions are much much shorter even for young people around 170 for men

  22. I taught English in South Korea, but traveled in China, Japan, and Thailand. Koreans and Japanese were similar (from my perspective), in that they were more passive and reserved. The social rules are also very similar. The Chinese were more bold, this was especially evident with the vendors. China is multiethnic, whereas Korea is very monoethnic. I loved trying the various types of foods in Beijing.

  23. Mongolian air and sky are way better than any other country. Believe me. Every tourist that visits to Mongolia agrees with it.

  24. Mongolia, beautiful country to go. I never forget the moments, i want to be a mongolian in the next life!!!

  25. Mongolians are more muscular and stocky when Chinese are skinny. Traditional Lifestyle is also different: Mongols have nomadic , Chinese have urban lifestyle. Both languages are so different, written and spoken.

  26. Thank you for this article. It paints a very true picture of the stark difference between Mongolian and Chinese people and culture.

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