When it comes to Mongolian culture, you have to understand that we don’t specifically talk in numbers nor street names when pointing for directions, but rather landmarks and in relational space.
For example, it would be common for a Westerner to point to a specific direction like “Go north 5 blocks and once you are at Francois street, take a right for 3 blocks and the building should be on your right”
However, if you ask a Mongolian, they will most likely answer in such a manner “Walk straight until you see a red 3 story building, then turn left where you will come across a playground. There should be a billboard that says State Department Store”.
Do people know how to use Google Maps?
Some do and some don’t depend on how technologically savvy the person you are talking to is, you are betting on luck.
Digital technology though has been rapidly developing, is still an issue for older people. The fact that the Mongolian address and postal service are still underdeveloped does not help. There have been campaigns to improve address and location mapping for the past few years by What3Words, so hopefully, things will change in the future.
Related: How to get around in Ulaanbaatar?
Aside from some younger generation, you won’t see people using GPS or Google Maps. Since taxis don’t have any GPS, sometimes you will have to just tell the driver a specific landmark or a place that everyone knows or guide him/her every step of the way on the road (which is annoying).
Asking for general directions
Now that you know some of the cultural aspects of it, let’s get into basic phrases that will help you.
Where is X? OR Where can I find X?
X haan baidag ve? X хаана байдаг вэ?
Which way is X?
X haashaa ve? Х хаашаа вэ?
How far is X?
X endees her hol ve? Х эндээс хэр хол вэ?
Hol, хол = far
Oirhon, ойрхон = close
Are we at X station?
X buudal deer irsen bol u? Х буудал дээр ирсэн бол уу?
Are we here?
Bid irsen bol u? Бид ирсэн бол уу?
Is this X station?
Ene X buudal mun u? Энэ Х буудал мөн үү?
Telling people where you want to go
You can omit the “bi” part if you prefer since it will still make perfect sense, but it’s up to you.
I want to go to X
Bi Х yavmaar baina. Би Х явмаар байна.
I am going to X
Bi X yavna. Би Х явна.
The most common responses you will get
In some cultures, people will walk with you to your destination, but in Mongolian culture, we expect people themselves to find their way, so unless you come across a really nice Mongolian, don’t expect them to guide you to your destination.
Usually, they will point towards the general direction and say “teeshe”, meaning “that way” if they assume you can’t speak Mongolian that well. If however, your Mongolian is decent, they might answer in a bit more detail as described above.
Want to learn the proper pronunciation?
Give the Mongolian language course a try. It’s specifically for tourists and language enthusiasts who want to grasp the basics of the language in a short span of time.