The highlights of shopping in Mongolia are its cashmere products and the huge Black Market in Ulan Bator, one of the largest street markets in Asia, attracting 60,000 vendors and customers over the summer period. Its name is a translation from Mongolian rather than a description of the goods and activities – although smuggled goods and illegal currency exchange are an undeniable feature. It’s the only shopping venue in town where bargaining is allowed, with discounts of up to 60 percent common, but don’t even think about negotiating unless you’re serious about buying. The market’s undercover area is great for clothes, including traditional Mongolian costume pieces, purses, leather goods, shoes, and boots.
Ulan Bator’s State Department Store could be considered a tourist attraction in its own right, with a great selection of the capital’s favorite products squeezed into five floors. You’ll find everything from fashionable and traditional clothes to an extensive collection of cashmeres, leather and homewares. For souvenirs and unusual gifts, head to the fifth floor where you’ll find traditional musical instruments. The morin khur (horse-head fiddle) brings good luck to those who have one in their home. The Argasun workshop on Partizan Gudamj also has a good selection of the charms.
Mongolian antiques are an increasingly popular buy, although be aware that some were obtained illegally and its impossible to tell. Reputable stores will produce a certificate of authenticity and can help with export permits. Favoritess include massive Buddhist sutras, bronze or carved images of the Buddha and other religious figures, traditional headdresses, jewelry, and antique weaponry. Buddhist items are in the Tibetan style and include thangkas, ritual objects such as vajra-gantas, and beaten copper gilded statues. Silver snuff bottles inlaid with coral and turquoise are charming, while painted boxes and small furniture in the Tibetan style are also popular. It’s best to only buy from top of the line stores unless you’re an expert in Mongolian art and antiques, as Chinese and locally-made reproductions are increasingly common.