Travelling China and Mongolia: Differences Between The Countries

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-!

Written by

Dariece Swift

Dariece is a co-founder of Goats On The Road, and an expert in saving money, finance management, building an online business and of course... travel. She loves meeting new people, trying new cuisines, and learning about the unique cultures of our world. She has over 10 years of experience helping others to realize their travel dreams and has worked in numerous jobs all over the world to help pay for travel. Her advice about long-term travel, remote work, and location independence has been featured on the Lonely Planet, CNN Money, Business Insider and Forbes. Learn more about Dariece Swift on the Goats On The Road About Us Page.

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