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Naran Tuul, Mongolia’s Massive, Quasi-legitimate Black Market (3)


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Elyse Lough



Naran Tuul, located in Mongolia’s capital city of Ulaanbaatar, is a massive, quasi-legitimate black market that has become an iconic symbol of the country’s unique trade culture. Known as the “Black Market of Mongolia,” Naran Tuul is a bustling hub of commerce where locals and tourists alike can find an array of products ranging from traditional crafts to electronic gadgets.


The origins of Naran Tuul can be traced back to the early 1990s, following Mongolia’s transition from a socialist economy to a market-oriented system. During this period, the country experienced a rapid influx of imported goods, leading to an increase in demand for a marketplace where these products could be bought and sold. As a result, Naran Tuul emerged as a spontaneous gathering of small-scale traders who set up stalls and makeshift shops, transforming an empty field into a bustling marketplace.


What sets Naran Tuul apart from traditional markets is its unique nature. While it operates in a gray area of legality, with some vendors lacking proper permits and tax documentation, it is widely accepted as a vital component of the Mongolian economy. The market provides income opportunities for countless small-scale traders and entrepreneurs, and it has become a major tourist attraction, drawing visitors from both within Mongolia and abroad.


Furthermore, Naran Tuul is not merely a place to buy and sell goods; it is a vibrant cultural hub that reflects the colorful diversity of Mongolian society. The market is a melting pot of different ethnicities, with vendors from various regions of Mongolia and neighboring countries coming together to showcase their unique products and traditions.


While Naran Tuul has its fair share of challenges and controversies, it continues to flourish, adapting to changing times and evolving consumer demands. In recent years, the advent of e-commerce has added another dimension to the market, with many vendors expanding their businesses online, allowing customers to purchase products from the comfort of their own homes.


In this article, we will delve deeper into the history, significance, and impact of Naran Tuul, exploring the factors contributing to its development, the products available, the challenges faced, and the government’s efforts to regulate this massive black market. Whether you are a curious traveler or an avid shopaholic, join us on this journey to uncover the secrets and allure of Naran Tuul.


Brief History of Naran Tuul

Naran Tuul, which translates to “Black Market” in Mongolian, has a fascinating history that mirrors the economic and social changes experienced by Mongolia over the past few decades.


The market began to take shape in the early 1990s, following Mongolia’s transition from a socialist planned economy to a market-oriented system. Prior to this change, the country operated under strict state control, with limited opportunities for private enterprise and foreign trade. However, the economic liberalization that accompanied the political reforms brought about a newfound openness to international markets.


As Mongolia repositioned itself on the global stage, the demand for imported goods surged. People craved new products and experiences that were previously inaccessible. It was during this time that Naran Tuul began to emerge as a place where Mongolians could find a vast array of goods from different parts of the world.


What started as a modest gathering of small-scale traders quickly evolved into a sprawling marketplace. Initially, vendors set up stalls and makeshift shops on an empty field, attracting customers from all walks of life. As word spread about this emerging center of commerce, Naran Tuul expanded to accommodate the growing demand.


By the late 1990s, Naran Tuul had become a well-established black market, serving as a primary destination for those seeking a wide variety of products, including clothing, electronics, household items, and even livestock. The market was not limited to local goods; it also offered a gateway for international trade, with products from neighboring countries such as China and Russia finding their way onto the stalls.


However, the growth of Naran Tuul was not without its challenges. With rapid expansion came concerns about legality and regulation. While some vendors operated with the necessary permits and documentation, many others did not. This led to a gray area in terms of legality, with the market existing in a quasi-legitimate state.


Over the years, the Mongolian government has made efforts to regulate Naran Tuul and bring it closer to the formal economy. However, due to its sheer size and complexity, complete regulation has proven to be a daunting task. The market continues to thrive, attracting both locals and tourists with its unique blend of chaos, authenticity, and bargains.


Today, Naran Tuul stands as a testament to Mongolia’s entrepreneurial spirit and its ability to adapt to changing times. It has become an integral part of the Mongolian experience, attracting visitors from all corners of the globe who are eager to explore the fascinating world of this massive black market.


Factors Contributing to Naran Tuul’s Development

The development of Naran Tuul as a massive black market in Mongolia can be attributed to a combination of economic, social, and historical factors. These factors have shaped the market and contributed to its growth and prominence in the country.


1. Economic Transition: The transition from a socialist planned economy to a market-oriented system in the early 1990s played a significant role in the development of Naran Tuul. With the liberalization of trade and the influx of imported goods, there was a growing demand for a marketplace where these products could be bought and sold. Naran Tuul emerged as a spontaneous response to this demand, providing a space for small-scale traders to showcase their products.


2. Foreign Influence: Naran Tuul’s proximity to neighboring countries has also played a significant role in its development. Its location near the border with China and Russia allows for easy access to a wide range of goods from these countries. The presence of foreign vendors and the availability of imported products have contributed to the market’s diversity and appeal.


3. Entrepreneurial Spirit: Mongolians have a long history of entrepreneurship and trade, which has greatly influenced the development of Naran Tuul. The market attracts individuals with a strong entrepreneurial spirit who are willing to take risks and seize opportunities. It has become a platform for small businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs to showcase their products and connect with customers.


4. Cultural Significance: Naran Tuul’s development is also intertwined with Mongolia’s rich cultural heritage. The market serves as a hub for traditional crafts, artworks, and cultural artifacts. It has become a meeting place for artisans and craftsmen to showcase their talents and preserve traditional skills. The cultural significance of Naran Tuul has attracted both locals and tourists who are eager to experience and appreciate Mongolia’s unique cultural offerings.


5. Accessibility and Affordability: Another key factor contributing to Naran Tuul’s development is its accessibility and affordability. The market offers a wide range of products at competitive prices, making it an attractive option for budget-conscious shoppers. Additionally, its central location in Ulaanbaatar ensures that it is easily accessible to both locals and tourists, further boosting its appeal.


6. Tourism Impact: Naran Tuul has become a major tourist attraction in Mongolia, drawing visitors from around the world. The market’s unique atmosphere, variety of products, and cultural experience make it a must-visit destination for travelers. The influx of tourists has contributed to the market’s growth and provided opportunities for vendors to expand their customer base.


Overall, the development of Naran Tuul can be attributed to a combination of economic liberalization, foreign influence, entrepreneurial spirit, cultural significance, accessibility, and the impact of tourism. These factors have shaped the market’s evolution and have solidified its place as a renowned black market in Mongolia.


Naran Tuul’s Role in the Mongolian Economy

Naran Tuul, Mongolia’s massive black market, plays a significant role in the country’s economy, contributing to employment, trade, and cultural preservation. Despite operating in a quasi-legitimate state, the market has become an integral part of Mongolia’s economic landscape, impacting various sectors and benefiting both consumers and vendors.


Employment Generation: Naran Tuul provides income opportunities for countless small-scale traders, entrepreneurs, and artisans. It serves as a platform for individuals to showcase their products and skills, allowing them to make a living and support their families. The market’s vibrant ecosystem supports a network of suppliers, wholesalers, and retailers, creating a ripple effect that generates employment at multiple levels.


Trade Facilitation: Naran Tuul serves as a vital conduit for trade within Mongolia and with neighboring countries. It acts as a distribution center for imported goods, allowing Mongolians to access a diverse range of products that might otherwise be unavailable or unaffordable. Additionally, the market provides a platform for local producers and craftsmen to reach a wider customer base and promote their products, boosting domestic trade.


Tourism Boost: Naran Tuul has become a major tourist attraction, drawing visitors from around the world. Its unique ambiance, cultural offerings, and array of products attract tourists seeking an authentic Mongolian experience. The influx of tourists contributes to the local economy, generating revenue for vendors, hotels, restaurants, transportation services, and other supporting industries.


Social Welfare: The market’s accessibility and affordability make it an important resource for the local population, particularly those with limited financial means. Naran Tuul offers products at competitive prices, catering to budget-conscious consumers and providing them with essential items at affordable rates. This accessibility to affordable goods contributes to improving living standards and helps meet the basic needs of the Mongolian population.


Cultural Preservation: Naran Tuul plays a crucial role in preserving Mongolia’s rich cultural heritage. The market is a hub of traditional crafts, artworks, and cultural artifacts, showcasing the skills and talents of artisans and craftsmen. By providing an avenue for these cultural expressions to thrive, Naran Tuul contributes to the preservation and promotion of Mongolia’s cultural identity.


Tax Revenue: Although Naran Tuul operates in a gray area of legality, the government endeavors to regulate the market and collect taxes from vendors. The revenue generated from taxation can be used to fund public services and infrastructure development, benefitting the wider population and contributing to the country’s economic growth.


While Naran Tuul may face challenges in terms of regulation and formalization, its undeniable economic contributions cannot be overlooked. The market’s role in generating employment, facilitating trade, supporting tourism, improving social welfare, preserving culture, and contributing to tax revenue exemplifies its significance in the Mongolian economy. Naran Tuul stands as a vibrant and influential marketplace that continues to shape and contribute to the economic development of Mongolia.


Products Available in Naran Tuul

Naran Tuul, Mongolia’s massive black market, is renowned for its vast array of products that cater to diverse consumer needs. From traditional crafts to modern electronics, visitors can find a wide range of items at competitive prices. Here are some of the products commonly available in Naran Tuul:

  1. Traditional Mongolian Crafts: Naran Tuul is a treasure trove of traditional Mongolian crafts, reflecting the country’s rich cultural heritage. Shoppers can find intricately handcrafted items such as cashmere clothing, felt products, traditional costumes, leather goods, and traditional musical instruments like the morin khuur (horsehead fiddle). These crafts showcase the traditional skills and craftsmanship of Mongolian artisans.
  2. Clothing and Accessories: The market offers a wide range of clothing options to suit different tastes and budgets. From trendy clothes to traditional Mongolian garments like deels (robes) and delguur (belts), visitors can find unique fashion items. Additionally, accessories such as jewelry, hats, scarves, and bags are also available, allowing shoppers to complete their outfits in style.
  3. Electronics and Gadgets: Naran Tuul has become a go-to place for affordable electronics. From the latest smartphones, tablets, and laptops to cameras, speakers, and headphones, visitors can find a wide range of electronic gadgets at competitive prices. It’s a paradise for tech enthusiasts looking for both branded and non-branded electronic items.
  4. Household Items: The market offers an extensive selection of household items, including kitchenware, utensils, home decor, and small appliances. From traditional Mongolian cookware such as the buuz maker (dumpling mold) to modern kitchen gadgets, you can find everything you need to equip your home.
  5. Food and Beverages: Naran Tuul is not just about tangible goods; it also offers a variety of food and beverage options. Visitors can sample traditional Mongolian snacks, dairy products like airag (fermented mare’s milk), dried meats, and even traditional fermented beverages like arkhi (distilled liquor). The market is a great place to experience Mongolian culinary delights.
  6. Art and Souvenirs: Naran Tuul is a haven for art enthusiasts and souvenir hunters. Visitors can find beautiful paintings, carved wooden sculptures, and intricate handicrafts that make for unique and meaningful souvenirs. The market is a great place to immerse yourself in Mongolian culture and take home a piece of its vibrant artistic scene.
  7. Books and Music: For those interested in delving into Mongolian literature and music, Naran Tuul offers a variety of books, both in English and Mongolian, covering a range of topics from history to folklore. Visitors can also browse through a selection of traditional Mongolian music CDs and cassettes, offering a glimpse into the country’s rich musical heritage.

These are just a few examples of the products available in Naran Tuul. The market’s ever-changing nature means that new items are constantly being added to its diverse selection. Whether you’re looking for a traditional Mongolian artifact, a trendy fashion item, or the latest gadget, Naran Tuul is sure to satisfy your shopping desires.


Challenges Faced by Naran Tuul

While Naran Tuul has undoubtedly thrived as a massive black market in Mongolia, it also faces several challenges that impact its operations and future sustainability. These challenges include:

  1. Regulation and Legality: One of the primary challenges for Naran Tuul is its quasi-legitimate status. The market operates in a gray area of legality, with some vendors lacking proper permits and tax documentation. This poses challenges for the government in terms of regulating and formalizing the market, as well as ensuring fair competition and consumer protection.
  2. Counterfeit and Substandard Products: Naran Tuul’s unregulated nature increases the risk of counterfeit and substandard products entering the market. It can be challenging for consumers to determine the authenticity and quality of the goods they purchase, leading to potential dissatisfaction and loss of trust in the market.
  3. Competition with Online Retail: The rise of e-commerce and online retail poses a significant challenge to Naran Tuul. Many vendors have expanded their businesses online, reaching a wider audience and offering greater convenience. This shift in consumer behavior requires Naran Tuul to adapt and find ways to remain competitive and relevant in the digital age.
  4. Infrastructure and Space Limitations: Naran Tuul operates in a physical market space that has its limitations. The market’s immense size and crowded nature can lead to challenges in terms of infrastructure, including issues with sanitation, waste management, and general organization. There is a need for proper infrastructure development and space management to improve the overall shopping experience.
  5. Taxation and Formalization: As Naran Tuul operates in a quasi-legitimate state, collecting taxes from vendors can be challenging. The government’s efforts to regulate the market and ensure proper taxation face obstacles due to the sheer size and complexity of Naran Tuul. Striking a balance between formalizing the market and maintaining its dynamic nature is a constant challenge.
  6. Intellectual Property Protection: Protecting intellectual property rights within Naran Tuul presents a significant challenge. The market’s unregulated nature makes it difficult to enforce copyright and trademark laws. This puts both local and international vendors at risk of having their creative works and brands copied or infringed upon.
  7. Perception and Reputation: Despite its economic significance, Naran Tuul still faces challenges regarding its perception by the wider public. As a black market, there can be negative connotations associated with Naran Tuul, leading to skepticism or hesitancy among potential customers. Enhancing the market’s reputation and dispelling misconceptions require concerted efforts from both the vendors and the government.

While these challenges pose obstacles for Naran Tuul, it is essential to recognize the resilience and adaptability of the market. Naran Tuul continues to thrive and evolve, finding ways to overcome these challenges and remain a vibrant part of the Mongolian economy and culture.


Government’s Efforts to Regulate Naran Tuul

The Mongolian government recognizes the need to regulate Naran Tuul, the massive black market in Ulaanbaatar. Efforts have been made to address the challenges associated with its quasi-legitimate status and ensure the market operates within legal frameworks. Here are some of the government’s initiatives to regulate Naran Tuul:

  1. Licensing and Registration: The government has implemented measures to encourage vendors in Naran Tuul to obtain proper licensing and registration. This helps to formalize their businesses and ensures compliance with regulations, including tax requirements. By requiring vendors to register, the government aims to create a more transparent and accountable marketplace.
  2. Taxation and Revenue Collection: To regulate the financial aspects of Naran Tuul, the government has taken steps to improve tax collection from vendors operating in the market. Various mechanisms, such as issuing tax identification numbers and conducting regular tax audits, have been implemented to ensure that vendors fulfill their tax obligations. This helps generate revenue for the government and contributes to the formalization of the market.
  3. Infrastructure Development: Recognizing the need to improve the physical infrastructure of Naran Tuul, the government has invested in infrastructure development projects. This includes initiatives to improve facilities, waste management systems, and overall organization within the market. Investments in infrastructure aim to enhance the shopping experience, ensure proper sanitation, and create a safer environment for visitors and vendors.
  4. Intellectual Property Protection: The government has acknowledged the importance of protecting intellectual property rights within Naran Tuul. Efforts have been made to raise awareness among vendors about the significance of intellectual property and the legal consequences of infringement. The government works alongside international partners and organizations to provide education and support regarding intellectual property rights enforcement.
  5. Consumer Protection Measures: To protect consumers, the government has implemented measures to ensure fair trade and consumer rights in Naran Tuul. This includes regulations on product quality, labeling requirements, and enforcement of consumer protection laws. The government cooperates with relevant agencies to conduct regular inspections and take action against vendors who engage in fraudulent practices or sell substandard products.
  6. Collaboration with International Organizations: Recognizing the need for international cooperation in regulating Naran Tuul, the government engages with international organizations and partners to exchange best practices and expertise. This collaboration helps to strengthen regulatory frameworks, improve market governance, and enhance the overall reputation of Naran Tuul.
  7. Promotion of Tourism-Friendly Environment: The government realizes the importance of Naran Tuul as a tourist attraction. Efforts have been made to create a tourism-friendly environment, including improving visitor services, enhancing safety measures, and promoting the market’s unique cultural offerings. These initiatives aim to attract more tourists and boost the local economy.

While the challenges of regulating Naran Tuul persist, the government’s efforts reflect a commitment to formalize and improve the market’s operations. By implementing licensing and registration processes, enhancing tax collection, investing in infrastructure, protecting intellectual property, ensuring consumer rights, collaborating with international partners, and promoting tourism, the government aims to create a balanced regulatory framework that benefits both vendors and consumers in Naran Tuul.


Social and Cultural Impact of Naran Tuul

Naran Tuul, Mongolia’s massive black market, has made a significant social and cultural impact on the country. Beyond its economic contributions, the market serves as a vibrant cultural hub, celebrating diversity, preserving traditions, and fostering community connections. Here are some of the social and cultural impacts of Naran Tuul:

  1. Promotion of Cultural Heritage: Naran Tuul plays a crucial role in preserving and promoting Mongolia’s rich cultural heritage. The market is a hub for traditional crafts, artworks, and cultural artifacts. It provides a platform for artisans and craftsmen to showcase their talents and preserve traditional skills. The celebration of cultural heritage enhances national pride and awareness of Mongolia’s unique traditions.
  2. Diversity and Cultural Exchange: Naran Tuul is a melting pot of different ethnicities, attracting vendors from various regions of Mongolia and neighboring countries. The market offers a remarkable blend of products and cultural experiences. Shoppers can interact with vendors from different backgrounds, learn about diverse customs, and engage in cultural exchanges, creating a sense of unity and appreciation for cultural diversity.
  3. Tourism and Global Exposure: Naran Tuul has become a major tourist attraction, drawing visitors from around the world. Its unique blend of chaos, authenticity, and bargains captivates tourists seeking an immersive cultural experience. Through tourism, Naran Tuul brings global exposure to Mongolia’s culture, arts, and crafts, creating opportunities for cross-cultural understanding and economic growth.
  4. Community Building: Naran Tuul fosters a sense of community, both among vendors and visitors. The market provides a platform for vendors to interact with each other, exchange ideas, and collaborate. It also serves as a gathering place for locals, creating social connections and a sense of belonging. The vibrant atmosphere of Naran Tuul cultivates a strong community spirit and a shared sense of identity.
  5. Preservation of Traditional Skills: Naran Tuul serves as a marketplace for traditional Mongolian crafts and skills, such as embroidery, leatherwork, and felt-making. By providing a platform for artisans to sell their products, the market supports the continuation of these traditional skills. It encourages younger generations to learn and appreciate traditional crafts, ensuring their preservation for future generations.
  6. Economic Empowerment: Naran Tuul offers income opportunities for local entrepreneurs and small-scale traders. The market allows individuals to start their own businesses and support themselves and their families. This economic empowerment has a ripple effect, improving livelihoods, raising living standards, and supporting local communities.
  7. Celebration of Identity: Naran Tuul not only serves as a marketplace but also as a space for self-expression and celebration of Mongolian identity. The market showcases traditional attire, music, and cultural performances, highlighting the unique aspects of Mongolian culture. This celebration of identity reinforces a sense of pride and strengthens the cultural fabric of the nation.
  8. Social Interaction and Exchange of Ideas: Naran Tuul serves as a meeting place for people from various backgrounds to interact and exchange ideas. The vibrant environment encourages conversations, connections, and the sharing of experiences. Shoppers can engage in cultural dialogues, learn from each other, and gain a deeper understanding of different perspectives.

Naran Tuul’s social and cultural impact goes beyond being a marketplace; it acts as a catalyst for preserving traditions, fostering cultural exchange, community building, and economic empowerment. The market’s vibrant atmosphere, diverse offerings, and celebration of identity contribute to the social fabric of Mongolia and create a unique and enriching experience for both locals and visitors alike.



Naran Tuul, Mongolia’s massive black market, stands as a testament to the country’s dynamic trade culture and entrepreneurial spirit. It has evolved from a spontaneous gathering of small-scale traders to a vibrant marketplace that plays a significant role in the Mongolian economy and society.


With its unique blend of chaos, authenticity, and bargains, Naran Tuul has captured the imagination of locals and tourists alike. The market offers a wide range of products, ranging from traditional crafts and clothing to electronics and household items. Its cultural significance goes beyond being a marketplace, serving as a platform for preserving traditions, fostering cultural exchange, and celebrating diversity.


Despite the challenges that Naran Tuul faces, such as regulation, competition from online retail, and infrastructure limitations, the market continues to flourish and adapt. Efforts by the government to regulate Naran Tuul, such as licensing vendors, improving tax collection, and investing in infrastructure, reflect a commitment to formalize and enhance the market’s operations.


Naran Tuul’s impact extends beyond its economic contributions. The market fosters community connections, empowers local entrepreneurs, and promotes cultural heritage. It acts as a hub for social interaction, where visitors can engage in cross-cultural dialogues and gain a deeper appreciation for Mongolia’s rich cultural fabric.


As Naran Tuul continues to evolve, it is crucial to strike a balance between formalization and preserving its dynamic nature. The market’s ability to embrace change, adapt to consumer demands, and maintain its unique charm is key to its future success. By leveraging its cultural significance, promoting sustainable practices, and embracing technology, Naran Tuul can continue to thrive as a prominent symbol of Mongolia’s trade culture.


Whether you are a curious traveler, a bargain hunter, or an enthusiast of cultural experiences, Naran Tuul beckons you to immerse yourself in its bustling atmosphere, explore its diverse offerings, and embrace the spirit of Mongolia’s massive black market.