Ulaanbaatar

Ulaanbaatar (Улаанбаатар), also Ulan Bator or simply just UB, is the capital and, with a population of around 1,200,000, also the largest city in Mongolia. In fact, according to recent estimates, this means approximately 41% of the country lives here. It is located just east of the center of the country.

Understand

Ulaanbaatar (Urga) in 1913

Ulaanbaatar has a long history, and is only now undergoing an industrial revolution. UB is one of the most drab looking cities on the face of the planet, a travesty really, considering it's the capital of one the most beautiful and hospitable countries on earth. Still, as traditionalists, Mongolians love their capital. They understand that it is not an Asian beauty, but in their hearts they are aware of the city's history, culture and many struggles. Foreigners who take the time to get to know the faces that are hidden behind the gray walls will discover a hospitable and warm-hearted people. Explore the city from different angles, while at the same time do not ignore the abject poverty of many of the ex-nomads who in recent years have come to the city to find work after severe winters have killed their livestock. In this way, you will learn to unlock the city's many secrets and discover an Ulaanbaatar that is not initially revealed to the casual visitor.

Peace Avenue (Enkh Taivny Örgön Chölöö) is the main street and it stretches from east to west through the center. It's the main shopping street and many of the restaurants are along it. The street also passes by the southern edge of the central square, Sükhbaatar Square. Tourist information office is located in the south flank of the town hall in the western corner of Sükhbaatar square.

History

Ulaanbaatar's history as the capital of Mongolia dates back to the founding of a ger monastery in 1639 called Örgöö or Urga which means "palace-yurt" near the ancient Mongol capital of Karakorum some 250 km west of the current site of the city. In 1651, it became the capital of the first Jebtsundamba Khutughtu, Zanabazar, when he returned from Tibet. The mobile monastery gradually became a mobile city, moving every few years as needed. Urga was moved 25 times between its founding in 1639 and settling in its current location in 1778. By this time, it had several thousand tents and temples and was served by trade routes from China and Russia. It was also estimated to have about 10,000 monks. The Gandan Monastery was established in 1809 and became the center of learning for all of Mongolia, and one of the most important monasteries in Tibetan Buddhism. The city continued to grow as a provincial capital of the Qing Empire and a center of religion and trade through the 19th century. In 1911, the 8th Bogd Khan declared independence from China, leading to a long unstable period in the city's history including an occupation by a Chinese warlord in 1919. However, the Chinese were kicked out by the White Russian, Roman von Ungern-Sternberg, aka the "Mad Baron", in 1921. This forced the Soviets to intervene and set up a puppet state in what was then known as Outer Mongolia. In 1924, the city's name changed from Urga to Ulaanbaatar ("Red Hero"). Many of the monasteries and temples were destroyed in the religious purges of the 1930s. Following the end of the 2nd World War, the old ger districts were largely cleared out for Soviet-style city apartments, offices, and factories. The Trans-Mongolian Railway was completed in 1956, connecting Ulaanbaatar to Beijing and Moscow. Gandan Monastery was reopened during a visit by US Vice President Henry Wallace in 1944 when he asked to see a monastery. Since the democratic revolution in 1990, the population of the city more than doubled to over a million with thousands moving in from the countryside. The commercial and residential real estate sectors have boomed since 2000, though large factories have closed and much of the city still lives in ger districts.

Climate

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 
Daily highs (°C) -16 -11 -2 8 17 22 23 22 16 7 -4 -14
Nightly lows (°C) -27 -24 -15 -6 3 8 11 9 2 -6 -16 -24
Precipitation (mm) 1.1 1.7 2.7 8.3 13 42 58 52 26 6.4 3.2 2.5

NOAA (1961-1990)

Although summer temperatures are around 20°C, the city shivers in sub-zero temperatures for five months of the year, with January and February being the coldest months with temps hovering between -15°C to -30°C. As a result of these prolonged periods of intense cold, the city has an average annual temperature of -1.3°C, giving it the dubious distinction of being the world's coldest capital.

If you have breathing problems, be aware that Ulaanbaatar has high levels of air pollution during the winter, But the countryside air away from the cities is gorgeous.

Get in

By plane

The majority of visitors arrive in Mongolia through Chinggis Khaan International Airport (IATA: ULN), which is located 18 km to the southwest of Ulaanbaatar. Many locals still call the airport by its old name "Bouyant Uka". The airport was reconstructed in 1990, and the immigration, customs formalities and luggage delivery are relatively efficient. The airport does have a high number of canceled or delayed flights because of difficulty landing when wind is blowing from the south, which luckily is not very often.

Getting to the airport can take as long as an hour during morning or evening traffic. Shuttle bus are available from Chinggis Khaan Airport to Bagshiin Deed ( Opposite of Mongolian State University of Education bus stop that is near to Ulaanbaatar Hotel in the city center) departing every one hour. The first shuttle bus departing from Bagshiin Deed at 4AM and the last bus departs at 22:00pm. It costs 4,000MNT one way. The sign on the bus says "Чингис Хаан Нисэх Буудал”. Local Bus #11 and #22 also go to the Airport. Taxis to and from the airport should cost 15,000 to 20,000MNT, though you should agree to the price before getting in or you get charged much more. The drive can take 30 minutes, or up to an hour during the day.

AirlinesCarrierDestinations
MIAT Mongolian Airlines Flag Carrier Beijing Capital-Beijing, Seoul, Erlian, Hong Kong, Berlin, Moscow, Osaka, and Narita-Tokyo
(Due to its use of older foreign pilot, it has the fewest canceled flights in and out of UB.)
Turkish Air International Istanbul, Bishkek
Aeroflot International Moscow- daily
Air China International Beijing -multiple daily flights
Korean Air International Seoul- multiple daily flights
Hunnu Airlines Mongolian/Domestic international- Bangkok, Hong Kong, Shanghai
domestic- Altai, Bayanhongor, Choibalsan, Dalanzadgad, Hovd, Mörön, Ulaangom, and Uliastai
(changed name from Mongolian Airlines to reduce confusion with MIAT)
AeroMongolia Mongolian/Domestic international- Hohhot, China and Irkutsk, Russia
domestic- Altai, Dalanzadgad, Hovd, Mörön, Ölgii, Ulaangom, and Uliastai,
(Charges foreigners double the rate for Mongolian citizens)
Eznis Airways Mongolia/Domestic International- Hailar, Domestic- Choibalsan, Mörön, Ölgii, Tavan Tolgoi, Ulaangom, Khatgal (Lake Hovsgol)
(Though the website has a purchase option, it rarely works. Its best to buy over the phone or at the office.)
Sky Horse Aviation Domestic/Air Taxi Scheduled service to Baruun-Urt and Tsontsengel
(Air Taxi Service is $2,000 an hour total for up to 9 passengers.)

By train

Ulaanbaatar Train Station

Direct (but long) journeys are possible from destinations between Moscow, Russia and Beijing, China on the Trans-Mongolian line of the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Trains from Beijing run once a week (on Tuesdays) and seats can only be reserved at the International Hotel in Beijing (a ten minute walk north of the main Beijing rail station). The journey takes about 30 hours. Packing a face mask might be a good idea as sandstorms in the Gobi desert may cause difficulty in breathing. Trains also run to the Chinese border towns of Erlian and Jining 3-4 times a week.

The weekly Trans-Mongolian departs every Wednesday morning from Beijing (30 h) and Tuesday evening from Moscow (100 h or little over 4 days) and in addition there are two weekly direct trains from Moscow (departing We and Th). There's also a daily train to/from Irkutsk in Russia, which can also be reached from Vladivostok at the eastern end of the Trans-Siberian.

By car

As there are barely any paved roads in Mongolia, the few ones that exist, lead to Ulaanbaatar. Navigating in Mongolia on a paved road is very easy because you just have to follow that ONE road (compared to driving on tracks, where there are hundreds of possibilities...).

Coming from the north the paved road starts at the Russian border at Suhbaatar. Coming from the south (the Gobi) the paved road starts at Chinese border at Zamiin-Uud (Completed in 2013). Coming from the north-east the paved road starts at Bulgan. From the west, the road starts in either Bayanhongor in the southwest or Tsetserleg further north.

By bus

Once in the country, it should not be difficult to find a bus going to UB, at least from larger towns. However, bus stops are difficult to locate, with buses usually just stopping in populated areas. Furthermore, Mongolian buses are notorious for being late and on some routes for not even arriving on the scheduled day. Domestic buses usually go to Dragon Center, Teevriin Tovchoo (near Main Railway Station ) and the Botanical Gardens.

Get around

Realize that street names are rarely known by Mongolians, and street names usually only appear on maps and official addresses. Official addresses list the district, micro district (usually a large block bound by major streets), and the building number. However, since blocks can have dozens of buildings, with more continuously being squeezed in between existing ones, addresses are not very helpful. It is best to have directions for major landmarks using lots of descriptions (i.e. turn right at the 1st traffic signal west of the state dept store). Some major streets to know are Peace Ave (East to west, in front of Sukhbaatar Sq, is the main road in UB), Chinggis Blvd (North-south on east side of Sukhbaatar, turns west toward airport in front of Bogd Khan Winter Palace), and Seoul Street (runs west from Chinggis Blvd just south of Sukhbaatar, crosses in front of the Circus).

By taxi

Taxis are cheap, charging around T900 per kilometer, but a foreigner will get overcharged easily. A ride from the airport to the city center should cost you no more than T20,000, but most drivers will try to charge you a minimum of T30,000. You may get a better and more reliable deal by seeking out older drivers in their own cars, rather than the official yellow cabs, now there are new white cabs with large square meter LCD on the dash. Younger drivers can sometimes get extremely opportunistic and try to hold you or your luggage at ransom until you pay them extraordinary amounts of money. Always negotiate the fare in advance and don't be fooled by tricks like "I meant 3,000 for each of you." or random cars offering taxi services.

By bus

Buses are regular and have a fixed charge of T500. Electric trolley-buses cost T200 but are slower and run fewer routes. Smaller buses (really just vans), called micro-bus, are equally accessible at T300-500. These have someone who hangs out the window at each stop shouting the name of the destination in rapid Mongolian. A bit hard to understand.

Many of the city buses go out to the edge of the city. Route 22, goes southwest to the Bird Farm along the Tuul River. Catch the bus at the Ard Cinema bus stop, the Cinema has been replaced by an Anod Bank. This bus stop is located on Bagatoiruu Street, from the central Post Office walk west along Peace Ave. At the intersect with the traffic lights, cross the street and turn right (north) half a block and you will reach a small square with the bus stop.

As in any city, be wary of pick pockets on the buses, especially when the buses are packed.

By foot

Walking is also an option as the city center is quite compact. Having only one main Avenue, Ulaanbaatar stretches from east to west and it's also easy to draw a mental map. but getting around ger districts can be puzzling. Get a good city map at the Mongolian Government Map shop. Located on Ih Toiruu Street. West from the State Department Store three blocks, the first intersection with traffic lights, turn right (North) about one half block, on the east side of the street you will see a yellow and blue Elba Appliance store, the Map Shop is behind and inline with the North wall of the Elba. But purchasing map from the airport would help save you a lot of time. finding specific places or offices by address is quite challenging because locals will usually tell you the places by nearest landmarks such as West Junction (supposed to be Undsen Huuliin gudamj) and Urt Tsagaan (which is Tourist Street1) and along the department store (Peace avenue) sometimes locals will not know any better than you as they too never seen some street names put on the streets. specially when you buy guide books, look for books with pictures printed so that it would help you ask locals about places rather than only showing written addresses with postal codes.

See

Megjid Janraisig temple, Gandantegchinlen Monastery
Akshobhya by Zanabazar

Note that most tourist sites have a separate camera/video fee (typically T5000-10000) in addition to the entrance fee.

Monasteries

Museums

Bogd Khan Winter Palace
Dinosaur in the Natural History Museum

Art Museums

Venues

Other Places

Zaisan War Memorial

City Tours

Do

Naadam festival in July

Learn

Work

Buy

Exchange rate of Mongolian tögrög (T) to USD is (1990T= 1USD).

While Mongolia remains a mostly poor country, the booming economy has brought with it a whole host of high-end fashion by any definition. Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Armani, Tommy Hilfiger, and many other luxury brands have stores in the city center in shiny new shopping centers.

Major Shopping Centers

Souvenir Shops

UB has a host of souvenir shops aimed at Western and East Asian tourists. While the quality of the goods varies, the price is usually high. They sell traditional clothes, boots and hats, cashmere garments, jewelery, leather wall hangings, miniature gers, bow and arrow sets and paintings. Most are located along Peace Ave west of Sukhbaatar Square. One of the better ones is Mary and Martha Fair Trade Shop between the Flower Center and State Dept Store just north of Peace Ave.

Foods

Books

How to get cash

Tellers at the Golomt Bank can give up to USD500 per day cash advance on MasterCard and Visa.

The only ATM machine to accept CIRRUS cards is the one at the airport.

It is relatively easy to find an ATM with a VISA logo to withdraw cash. As long as your ATM, debit or credit card has the VISA logo, you can withdraw tögrög, the local currency. Other card types are also accepted, simply not as widely, for example, the machines in the central Post Office and main street will not accept foreign MasterCards although they bear the logo. Golomt Bank and TDB Banks are the most reliable. Golomt also accepts American Express. All ATMs should accept foreign credit cards as long as you informed your bank you are going to Mongolia. The more expensive shops take credit cards, but almost everywhere else runs strictly on cash. Note that most credit card companies will pass on the 3% "foreign currency conversion fee" to you.

There are many exchange offices in the center along Peace Avenue to change your currency into tugrugs. One is on the ground floor of the State Department Store. Better rates are at the Exchange Center on the second floor of the Flower Center. The Flower Center is located on Peace Ave. one block west of the Post Office. At the corner with traffic lights between the Post Office and State Department Store. Large Hotels like the Ulaanbaatar Hotel one block east of Sükhbaatar Square will exchange money 24/7 at the reception, which may be your only option if you arrive very late in the day.

Eat

Nobody travels to Mongolia for the food, but Ulaanbaatar has a good range of Western, Asian and Mongolian options. Even better, meals here are quite reasonable. You can get perfectly reasonable pizza for 5,000T, even a night out at a fancy French cafe shouldn't pass 30,000T. Consider splurging on a couple good meals here, especially if headed out for a long trek into the country. Be aware that fresh vegetables, especially in winter, are hard to come by and expensive outside of the city. New and better-quality restaurant are opening all the time to serve the rapidly growing wealth of the capital city. International chain restaurants have started to appear as of 2013 with places like the Coffee Bean, KFC, Round Table Pizza, and Cinnabon all opening.

Korean (solongos khoolnee gazar) and Chinese restaurants are plentiful in the city. As Asian restaurants in America tend to tailor their menu to the American palate, so in Ulaanbaatar do the East Asian restaurants tailor their menu to the Central Asian palate.

Budget

Throughout Ulaanbaatar are many small Гуанз and Цайны Газар's. Try one of these for cheap Mongolian food. Buuz usually costs from 400 to 600 Togrog. Most universities have a good cafeteria for cheap eats starting from 1800 MNT (1.4 USD) ~ 2500 MNT (1.7 USD). Mongolian National University and Mongolian University of Science and Technology (both near the North East block from the Parliament Building) have good cafeterias. All university cafeterias have nutritionists so at least you know you are getting all the basic nutrients when you eat there.

Mid-range

Splurge

Outside of alcohol, it is hard to spend outrageous sums of money in Ulaanbaatar. The most expensive meals in the city will be around 40,000 a person. Whiskey or any other non-vodka liquors can be a bit pricy.

Drink

Nightlife in Ulaanbaatar is surprisingly wild, but is best not experienced alone — try to get a local to join you. Most of the night clubs play Trance, Techno, Electronic and House music, few clubs play hip hop music. The small clubs in the 3rd district and the Sansar micro district are best avoided. Be sure to apologize if you hit someone or step on their feet accidentally, because some Mongolians can be offended by it.

Beer in clubs costs about 3500 tögrög ($3), other drinks such as vodka depend on measurements, for example a 100g Vodka costs about 4500 tögrög($4) The club life is very active on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. On Fridays it is very hard to find a seat in a club. According to state law all clubs and pubs (bars) must stop serving alcohol after midnight, and close at 3AM, but some clubs keep serving until 4 o'clock in the morning. Never go alone in the dark, especially on Fridays. Also never walk by yourself when you are drunk, or you may be arrested and end up in the drunk tank, not a pleasant place to be.

You can also find some nice pubs in the capital.

Sleep

Nowadays, budget accommodation in Ulaanbaatar tends to give the best deals for a traveller. Usually a bed in a clean dormitory costs about $5-10 and a double room should be under $30 a night. Good mid-range options are sparse. Note that during the annual Naadam festival it is almost impossible to get any kind of accommodation in UB without prior reservations.

Budget

It's possible to spend your night in a Ger, even in Ulaanbataar - here it's inside a rooftop Ger of Gana's guesthouse

Mid-range

Splurge

Tallest building in Mongolia, the Blue Sky Tower and Hotel

There is a Shangri-La being built towards the Embassy district that will open in 2014.

Connect

Cell phone operators offer both prepaid GSM sim cards and handset rentals (Currently Mobicom) as well as extensive roaming options for your convenience.

Stay safe

The center of Ulaanbaatar has become much safer and cleaner over recent years, though many problems are still very common. Security guards are in most big buildings, though they are mostly there to keep drunks and the homeless out. The most common crime against foreigners is pickpocketing, while muggings, assaults, and taxi scams also occur. The places where pickpocketing is the most frequent are buses and the Naran-Tuul market, (or Black market), specially the entrances of them. The bus stops close to the State department stores are hot spots for this activity. If you've been attacked or pick-pocketed, please take time to make a deposition at the district police station, and to say it to your embassy if you have one.

Walking on the streets at any time is a hazardous affair as one needs to contend with ice from about October to March, open manholes and extremely chaotic and wild driving habits. Thankfully, the center is now well lit with new streetlights. Drivers (including buses and police) pay no attention to pedestrian crossings and will not reduce speed, but simply sound their horns. The automobile culture in this city is too new to have developed safe driving systems and habits. Even when you have a green walk signal, you should pay attention when crossing the street.

Unmarked taxis are common and shouldn't be feared. Locals simply stick out an arm and hitchhike anywhere around town. However, it is wise to get a local to interpret if possible and explain the fare system. You should also pay attention to where it is going. Sometimes unmarked taxi drivers will try to take people, especially drunk tourists, down a dark alley and demand your cell phone or cash.

There are numerous individuals posing as "hotels" in UB (even operating on major websites like booking.com). You may not find a front-desk even if there was one in the website pictures, and if anyone answers the phone after you arrive then you may discover they are renting out their apartments, which may or may not be empty. A common scam is to demand a deposit and then refuse to return it, and the scammers can get very aggressive when you offer to explain the situation to the apartment complex management or the police. If you end up booking a place and the owner has misrepresented themselves, just walk away before the situation gets worse. And don't forget to report the listing as fraudulent!

Child beggars are common and persistent on the streets, but watch out for groups of them, as one may be trying to pick your pocket. Also be aware that any money you do donate will often go straight to their teenage "pimps", and so you may not be helping them as much as you think.

Walking at night in company shouldn't be too great of a concern, it isn't for the locals. But stick to areas where you can see lots of locals (especially women) and major streets. Coming out of Bars late at night is a little dangerous if you are alone, try to have several males in your group. Also, it is best to avoid the ger districts at night due to drunks, stray dogs, and lots of dark alleys.

Cope

Publications

Embassies

Go next

Except for those just passing through on the Trans-Mongolian Railroad, most people come to Mongolia to see nomadic descendants of Genghis (Chinngis) Khan and the beauty of endless steppes and deserts of Central Asia. Ulaanbaatar is an excellent starting place with its many museums, monasteries, and cultural experiences, but no trip here is complete without going to the countryside for at least a few days. You can spend a day or two in the nearby Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, a 3 hours bus ride from UB, with its scenic forested mountain valleys, or go to Bogd Khan National Park, located a few hours south of the city, has the world largest horse statue of Chinngis Khan and the ruins of a large Buddhist monastery destroyed by the communists in 1937.

For longer stays in Mongolia, the ancient capital of the Mongolian Empire, Karakorum, is a day bus ride to the west in the beautiful Orkhon River valley. Or go to Hövsgöl Lake to see reindeer herding tribes, or the Gobi Desert and see nomadic camel herders and dinosaur fossils, or travel to the far west in Western Mongolia to meet Kazakh eagle hunters under the snow-capped Altai mountains.

Routes through Ulaanbaatar

Irkutsk Darkhan  N  S  Sainshand Beijing


This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Thursday, March 17, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.