So after spending a day in Kyrgyzstan, we continue our journey to Ulaanbaatar (UB) in Mongolia. The plan was to spend a few days in UB before heading south for the Gobi desert. And even with a few days there, I feel as though I was able to take in quite many impressions… So without further ado, here are some of the main take-aways:
1. Everyone drives a Prius
It’s unexpected. Unexpected but true. The Toyota car make really has a stronghold in Mongolia’s capital. Every taxi (albeit unofficial) you jump into is a hybrid. Every intersection is swarmed with the electric vehicle. It’s like you’re in the midst of a Prius commercial. But why is this? Our guide insisted that the main reason is that Mongolians are very keen on caring for their environment. This, along with the fact that people still live in gers in the middle of UB (for more info on ger life in Mongolia and what it’s all about, see this post). Gers are like huts, and they’re usually heated by camel doodoo. Hence, a lot of pollution. Funny, that a thing like camel doodoo could be the reason for a single car make’s market takeover.
2. Mongolia’s version of Walmart is a “Ger”mart
With the many gers in the city, the nomads certainly need to get their shopping in and what better way to do it than at a “Ger-Mart”?
3. Hello, Mr. High rise, meet Mrs. Ancient temple
UB is a city of contrasts. Modern sky scrapers mushrooming up around the city right next to ancient Buddhist temples…. against a backdrop of snowcapped mountains. Crazy! Walking down the streets you’ll bump into traditionally dressed nomads, Buddhist monks, and your fair dose of people in Western brand knock-offs like “The Big Face” (instead of “North Face”) jackets.
4. Korean kraziness
The strong influence is real. Korean restaurants and Karaoke bars populate every street corner and radio stations blast their fair share of K-Pop hits between traditional Mongol tunes. I never got a full understanding as to why this was the case. The countries don’t even boarder each other.
5. It. Is. Cold.
Piece of advice: bring a windbreaker, scarf, hat, gloves… heck, the Michelin man should really be your outfit of the day inspo when visiting arguably the coldest capital city in the world. And if you’re like me (aka. your body almost shuts down when there’s strong icy winds), avoid crossing the much too open Sükbhaatar Square as much as possible, take the backstreets.
6. People are crazy for Chinggis Khan
Speaking of Sükhbaatar Square. You should go there. Why? Because it features the main (there’s a reason I used the word “main” here) Chinggis Khan statue in the city. The Mongol Emperor/ creator is almost seen as a god around the country. People are crazy for him. You’ll likely catch statues, monuments, paintings of him left and right along with the occasional ad for Khan Vodka, or an ATM for Khan Bank. He. Is. Everywhere.
7. Soviet influence quietly lingers in the air
The Cyrillic alphabet is no joke. Solution: get a cheat sheet when navigating the city. If you’re like me (completely flabbergasted with the Cyrillic alphabet and stricken at how amazingly difficult the Mongolian language is to pronounce), you’d do best at asking people to write down street names of your hostel (which will likely be in a run-down looking part of the city with façades that look like they’ve sure seen better days). Or maybe you need to get groceries, or go shopping? Fear not! The “State Department” store has your back! This is the biggest shopping mall in UB. And isn’t the name just lovely? Really sets the tone for a fabulous shopping experience, no?
“Cool story, bro. But how much did it cost?”
Hostel: ₮42,000 per night
Taxi from airport to hostel in central UB (one way): ₮30,000
Chojin Lama temple entrance fee: ₮8,000
Grand total: ₮40,000 per person