Founded: 1639 as a nomadic Buddhist center, 1778 in permanent location.
Ahh Mongolia. Well, what can we say. It was a fascinating experience – we have never seen a country with so many jarring contrasts all coexisting, intertwining so peacefully. We learned a lot, in a short time period, and overall really glad that we made the stop. Unfortunately, we had more than a few down moments so by the end of the week, we were more than ready to leave for Beijing,
We spent three nights and two full days in Ulaanbaatar (or UB as the locals call it), and on the whole found it more enjoyable than the steppe. The one thing that everyone always mentions about UB is the insane traffic – Sergey thinks its because people don’t know how to drive. I am not sure what the cause is – the cars or the people – but I do know that rush hour like traffic is persistent throughout the day. Also, the smog is intense! I wore a scarf on my face for better part of walking around UB. As if those two weren’t enough – crossing the street is a bit like playing Tetris, only here the stakes are quite higher.
The Parliament building at the end of UB’s Sükhbaatar Square; Presiding – in statue form – is none other than Chinghis Khan himself. Fun fact – most things in Mongolia are named after the great conqueror — from vodka to cookies to streets.
But all in all, UB is good fun. Lots of restaurants, cafes, and beautiful people everywhere. Seriously, UB under 30 population (which seems to be the majority out and about on the street) can fit right in into any megapolis around the world – at least the ones we’ve been to – London, New York, Moscow. Hipsters, model-like women in high heels, skateboarders, all doing their thing. Downtown area has several parks and town squares where we would sit and take it all in. Big contrast to steppe, which is everywhere else in Mongolia.
We also did a couple of tourist sights: we saw the giant Buddah on the outskirts of the city; climbed a rather steep hill to view the monument to the friendship between Soviet and Mongol people as well as the panorama of the city; and visited the Gandan monastery catching the end of morning prayer ceremony. I would highly recommend all three.
This was our first (of many to come!) giant Buddha sighting. A monument to the friendships of the people of USSR and Mongolia, and the panoramic view of the city and the giant Buddha from the Friendship monument (Zaisan Monument), a must visit!
Cash money: Majority of the ATMs didn’t take our US cards. But once we found the ones that did, you can make multiple withdrawals). Side note, do not exchange money on the border, your train car will be swamped with money-changers, but because they pressure you and there is A LOT of tugrik cash you will get for dollars and euros, you should avoid it, unless you are confident in your skills. Here is how $500 looks like, imagine counting all of it while there is a man/woman standing over your head..
Transport links: Train station is fairly easy, but the tickets for onward trains are sold in other buildings. The international ticket sales are maybe a 5 minute walk, crossing a major intersection. The lady spoke some English and some Russia, but be ready to know your dates and what exactly you want, written down on a piece of paper. Here is the map:
We booked our train tickets 5 days in advance, and got the last two seats. This wasn’t even peak travel season. If I knew, I would have tried to book the tickets via this site (though I haven’t tried them, so can’t comment on reliability).
Sleep: We stayed at Mongolian Steppe Central Hostel – which we liked quite a bit. The location is very easy to find, it’s right in the center of UB and opposite the main post office building. Since our windows came out on a back alley we didn’t get the noise from the street. The hostel is inside an apartment building, which is old, with tall ceilings, giant windows and doors – just what I like! We had a private double which was a nice size, with shared bathroom and shower. Never had a problem waiting though, and shower was hot! (bring flip flops though). There is a living room with a fully equipped kitchen(which we used) and a balcony. Laundry is $5 per load. Wifi signal and speed is excellent!
Bonus: If you want to check out a neat view of the city, walk to the monument to the friendships of the people of USSR and Mongolia (Zaisan Monument), you can walk or cab from Peace Avenue and it is definitely worth it. Check out our 4 o’clock video from the top to see what you might be missing out.
For all photos from UlaanBaator, check out our flickr set