Traditional Costumes

Naadam is the festival that takes place in July of each year in Mongolia. This has taken place for over 700 years in one form or another and probably began as a festival within each of the different Mongolian tribes.

Naadam In The Beginning

The games have three parts, archery, wrestling, and horse racing. These are the three things that were an integral part of the Mongolian lifestyle and survival. In the beginning, the best men with the bow became the archers in the Mongolian Army. The best riders became the cavalry and the best wrestlers were the elite in hand to hand combat.

Naadam now, in its present form, the Mongolian Olympics if you will. It is carried on in every part of Mongolia. The greatest wrestlers, fastest horses, and best archers are invited to attend the games in UB. It is from the smaller festivals that the best of each category are chosen, so the smaller festivals are also very important for each area.

UNESCO added the games to its List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010.

More people watch the festival than any other event in Mongolia. The festival in UB is held from the 11th to the 13th of July each year. It now is used to commemorate the 1921 revolution where Mongolia gained its independence from China.

Naadam Ceremony in Ulaanbataar

It is a huge honor for the members of the three sports, that are the best that Mongolia has in each category, to make it to the games. These athletes and horses that were invited to attend, are all part of an opening ceremony parade. The parade also has both men and women wearing the traditional clothing of the Mongolians and there are Dancers also. Then, the games begin.

We chose to attend one of the provincial games where we would be able to see and photograph the contests. In UB these are held in huge stadiums, while in the country you are only a few feet away from the action.

Naadam Wrestling

Naadam Wrestlers and Judges

The wrestlers wear traditional costumes and each does a historical routine before the contest which mimics the flight of the falcon. They have two elders to officiate the match. One is the judge and the other is an encourager trying to give each of the contestants the energy and drive to persevere and win the match. A win occurs when any of the contestants’ body, other than feet or hands touch the ground. There are no weight classes and you may see a person who is outweighed by 50 or more pounds combating this much larger opponent. The outcome can be surprising since technique sometimes is more important than size.

Naadam Horse Racing

Best Horse at Naadam

The second part of the games is the horse racing, unlike western racing these are either 15 or 30-kilometer races. They are designed not only to test the speed but the endurance of the Mongolian horses. The jockeys are young men usually less than 14 years old and each of the races is broken down by the age of the horses. The top 5 finishers are given medals and awards and are the highlight of the games. For Mongolians, their horses are their past, present, and future of their nation. They have been an integral part of their lifestyle since the time of the great Khans and before.

Naadam Archery

The last part of the games is the archery competition. In this competition men and women are allowed to compete. There are teams of ten people and each is given four shots to hit a target that is 75 meters away. They put up three targets stacked on top of each other and if you can hit and knock the center target out of a stack you gain extra points. When a target is hit the judge yells uuhai which means “hooray”. The target is replaced and the next archer is allowed to shoot.

Mongolian Heritage

These games are the high point of each year for the Mongolian nomad families. They work and practice for an entire year to win a place in the UB festival. Each of these was a cornerstone of the life if a nomad for over 1000 years and the families will go home and begin training, shooting and wrestling the day the games are over to be ready for Naadam the following July.

As always, our photos are posted at A Road To Photography.


  1. Oh Wow!!! i never thought that there’s this special NAADAM Olympics in MONGOLIA… this is such great info… i’d let my friends read about this then… this might be a reason for us to go and check this country out… iv been so sick of the city life… and whenever i go out of the country… i choose places that are more ORGANIC… so i can be in one with nature and all… such great facts of mongolia… i really wanna see this NAADAM OLYMPICS live… yey

  2. Wow!!! Now this is another solid reason on why we all should go visit MONGOLIA… it’s actually one of those places that I wanna go visit before I die… Be in one with the locals… learn some of their language… have a taste of their local cuisine… I am actually surprised to have bumped into this blog… such nice and interesting info about MONGOLIA!!!

  3. Like all those who previously commented this post, I have little knowledge of Mongolian culture, more so, its people or tribes. It’s so nice to know that they are no different than their Asian neighbors when it comes to entertainment and cultural heritage.

  4. Naadam Olympics is such a culture-rich event, which I think serve as a very great introduction to the Mongolian culture. I really with to go there and see it for myself one day.

  5. Now uncle visited here years ago once and I remember he did mention the naadam olympics. I really have to plan a visit to go see this myself. It seems like it would be a trip worth taking!

  6. This is a very educational post, I have never heard much about Mongolia – especially not any Olympics there. Is it free to attend these events once in Mongolia?

  7. In wresting you are right that technique is oftentimes more important than size, but I’m still surprised that they don’t have a weight class to at least try to equally match opponents. Oh well, guess it’s something they know about each opponent that we don’t. Or they just decide to let them go at it regardless.

  8. I used to wrestling in highschool, so I would very much be interested in seeing the wresting portion of this olympics. I sure it’s super exciting!

  9. Hi

    I wish you had some pictures of the archery! The information on the wrestling was really interesting, I like the notion of the “encourager” working to support both contestants. It was also very interesting that women are allowed to compete in the archery. Is that new, or have women always been allowed to be part of this competition?

  10. Firs of all, I do feel this experience is something you should be so proud of to assist. Indeed, it’s such an honor to assist and be part of a Mongolian tradition as this one. I’ve always been fascinated with the Mongolian culture and steps. Maybe it’s because it’s so unknown of I, and I’ve curious by nature. Furthermore, I’ve been following your trip to Mongolia recently and that’s such an amazing experience! I mean, you just took the best shots and being able to share it with us is quite a gift tho! Thanks!

  11. Wonder why they don’t show this on TV….or perhaps it is. I’ve never even seen this on the world channel or travel channels. Is this one of those “best kept secrets” that you only really find out about one you actually visit Mongolia?

  12. Well this just goes to show how much I know, I have never even heard of the Naadam. Never even knew it existed. Boy have I been missing out on a great experience. Than for introducing me to a who new world! I will definitely revisit and share your posts in some travel forums!

  13. Wow just wow! This just goes to show that there are so many great things going on beyond our limited surrounding. But in all reality, there really is no limit if we just take some time to unwind from technology, step away from our computer screen, and get out and explore the world!

  14. John, I was following your trip to Mongolia on your Instagram and I must admit you have taken some unique and amazing shots. Mongolia is still a rare travel destination and I really appreciate that you went to a province to shoot and told us about your experience.
    Of course, provinces are always more authentic everywhere. And that wrestling looks very powerful.

    1. Thank you for watching Veronica. I do the same where ever you travel to as well. I will be in your portion of the world next March for about 18 months. Back to run with the bulls in Pamplona again and others things as well. Will always be watching you and thanks again.

  15. It’s so fascinating how they really kept their culture alive. I don’t blame them though, since this festival sounds super cool. I wish our country had something like this. I would totally do the horse racing.

  16. With all the tech that’s available nowadays, it’s a wonder why not enough cultural info is being shared. This is good learning stuff for kids!

  17. If I have the chance to go to Mongolia I will definitely consider going during this time of the year. I am happy to know that it is a tradition for 700 years and the yearly event is a showcase of their pride for their culture and heritage there were only few photos and I do wish there were more. Thanks for sharing this.

  18. This is really an interesting post. As a traveler and travel writer, such stories of different cultures from these countries always make for an intriguing read. I saw a documentary on NatGeo on Naadam last year so I could connect to this post quite well

  19. So interesting that they put the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan so close to these Mongolian Olympics. I am sure there were some cross-overs in the athletes. So awesome to see these sports surviving the test of times!

  20. The Mongolian version of the Olympics is definitely news to me but perhaps that is because of Mongolia being under the radar for the longest time. That wrestling thing looks a mix of Sumo and a luchador base on their gear.

  21. Didn’t know that there is also Olympics in Mongolia and its 700years old! Naadam wresting looks more fun, like Sumo in Japan ☺

    1. You’re not the only one who didn’t know. This is all new to me too and I was just thinking the same thing that it reminds me of Sumo wrestling too:)

  22. This is such an amazing festival! I have visited Mongolia a few years ago and loved every single bit of it. Unfortunately, I didn’t got the change to take part in any festivals but I did notice how traditional the Mongolians are. I would have loved to see the Naadam Olympics!

  23. Amazing that you were able to witness this. I have marked it down as something I absolutely have to see at some point in the future. I only wish there were more photos of the action!

  24. My husband is so jealous. He’s always wanted to visit Mongolia but I’ve always been hesitant. Don’t ask me, I don’t know why either. This might be the push I need to make hubby happy and tick this off his bucket list!

  25. I saw this on tv once! What a privilege to be able to witness such a spectacular display of a country’s culture. You guys are so cool.

  26. I love places that strive to preserve the cultural heritage of their race. Mongolia has a rich culture, and it is great that the present generation continues the tradition of their ancestors. Another great thing is that the Naadam olympics can also be witnessed by those who are looking for a new cultural experience.

  27. Thank you for giving us a glimpse of Mongolia. Oddly, I do not know anyone who lives there or who has visited. I’m going to have to put this in my bucket list!

  28. Sounds like some vigorous competition. I think it’s good the archery includes both genders. I’m game to try the falcon wrestling. Suit me up.

  29. Beautiful article! I love to travel, not only to see places, but also to experience different cultures. Mongolia hasn’t been on my radar due to security concerns, but I think it is probably due to my lack of knowledge about the place too. I will now seriously consider visiting this beautiful country!

  30. Some thing that has been going on for so long and has been listed with UNESCO speaks a lot for itself. I really had no idea about this but this has been a good addition. Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to many more.

  31. Your blog posts on Mongolia are always so informative and interesting.Love that UNESCO has this festival listed. Interesting that they have regional games. I am most interested in archery tried it a few times and love so would be keen to watch this.

  32. How interesting! Mongolia is a wonderous nation full of history and culture. I love the headwear that the locals are sporting in the olympics. The horse who was decorated with so many medals, I hope was okay as the weight of all that recognition looks slightly uncomfortable 🙂

  33. It seems like a very nice way to get the best soldier from each category! It’s impressive though how rural and “petit comité” all feels. You witnessed the true Mongolia there..!

  34. So now I have to carefully time my Mongolia Visit with this festival 😉 I have this place on my Bucketlist since years and being allowed to watch that event must be simply glorious =D So are the provincal games at the same date then the big ones in UB?

  35. I was not aware about the Mongolian culture before I read your post. Its always great to learn about a new place. Olympics , the mian one , has taken so much of our time that we people are not aware of these reat competitions being held in other countries.

  36. My only critcism on this story is there’s not enough of it! I wanted to read more. I’d also love to see more photos here though I see you have a seperate link. Good introduction; just wish you would keep going.

  37. This is a totally interesting travel post! Mongolia is a very exotic country for me, I don’t know much about it except a little bit of its history, the Huns and Genghis Khan. I would love to visit the country someday, but I guess it will take a while. SO I really appreciate you sharing a piece of Mongolian culture through this blog entry. The Naadam Olympics sounds intriguing, with the mentioned sports mentioned. It provides a glimpse of Mongolian culture, the sports they like and enjoy, and how they hold these events. I’m curious as to what kind of prizes they get after winning. Are there male and female categories? How is gender viewed in the this local olympics?
    Maerose JS recently posted…ROTTERDAM: The Gateway to Europe (A tour to the River Maas, Maastunnel and Erasmus Bridge)My Profile

  38. These are all interesting. Every photo depicts the beauty of the people in Mongolia. Would love to visit it and see these amazing activities myself. So much culture to learn.

  39. I can use this blog post in my student’s lesson. I was researching more on Mongolia before. I find a lot of interesting things. However, I didn’t got to read more on their Olympics. This post made the country more interesting.

  40. Thank you for this. It was my first time to learn about Mongolia. Got to read as well their interesting culture and tradition. Would want to see an actual wrestling and archery someday.

  41. I don’t know anything about Mongolia and it’s my first time to read about this tradition. And I’m so entertained on how they do things in this event. They practiced for the entire year, whoa! Aren’t they joining the real Olympics though? And does every family have a representative something? 😊

  42. It is really nice to witness events like this especially if it has some cultural value. I find it interesting that Mongolia have its own Olympics. In my place, archery isn’t really part of games or sports but it would be nice to see that. Another thing that caught my attention is the way the people are dressed and the horse medals! It is just so creative! Thank you for sharing this one. To be honest, it is my first time to learn about this.
    Kareen Liez recently posted…Valuable Points on the Importance of Oral HealthMy Profile

  43. Mongolia has such an Interesting culture! It was nice to read something like this, a short article about culture and tradition, i learned a lot from here. People nowadays are putting too much value on what’s in and what’s modern. I still love seeing and hearing about events that are so traditional. And i hope more people like you will continue to spread the unique features of a certain culture. This shouldn’t die and must be passed on to the next generations… I love the horse with the medals!
    Mommy Queenelizabeth recently posted…WHEN IN BATANGAS: Where do broken hearts go? HUGOT CAFEMy Profile

  44. That’s quite an honor to witness an activity that’s already part of Mongolian culture. I like the idea how the medals were presented over to the horses. Seems like a change of something that’s usual. Nothing beats a country who gave an importance to tradition, good thing this is still being practiced. 🙂

  45. Hey, this is such an interesting read. First time I read something about Mongolia. Being of Chinese ethnicity, it just occurred to me how intertwined the history of Mongolia and China are, and yet I know nothing. The Naadam Olympics is fascinating as I can see how the event can bring a nation together for 2 or 3 days during its staging. While I may not be a fan of wrestling, horse racing and archery, I can certainly appreciate the symbolism and its significance.
    ROBERT LEE recently posted…Women’s Health: Cancer, Heart Disease, Osteoporosis and Stroke PreventionMy Profile

  46. Hello John and Laurel,

    Firstly, many thanks for your visit to my blog post about “Smart Ways to Promote Blog Posts” and for taking the time to add value to my post with your comment. Please check the email address you used to leave your comment as I have a surprise for you.

    I’ve never been anywhere near Mongolia but your post and the superb images have awakened an urge in me to travel again. I’d love to see the Nadaam horse racing – hard to imagine 30-kilometer races. Sounds awesome!

    Thanks for sharing your travel expertise guys

    Best wishes from the remote Thai village marketer

    Peter Beckenham recently posted…5 Tips for Marketing to Baby BoomersMy Profile

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