We have gotten to know the city of Ulaanbaatar reasonably well because Susanne stayed here more than two months and Martin almost six weeks. It is a city of contrast.
We both felt very comfortable in Ulaanbaatar. Maybe even too comfortable. For us it was the first city in a long time where everything was available although still with some quirks that we had also come across in Central Asia. Ulaanbaatar is definitely a city that gets under your skin.
The history of Mongolia is very interesting, from the time of Chinggis Khan, the development of Buddhism, the Soviet era and the democratic revolution. It is a country that is developing itself at a rapid pace, being confronted with all the hurdles that are a part of this process. Then there is the strong nomadic heritage and taking easy innovations not for granted in many areas, such as running water and heating. Traditions and superstitions are still very much evident. We were very lucky to celebrate Tsagaan Sar in UB where the old traditions became even more clear to us.
The streets of Ulaanbaatar show a modern and traditional Mongolia. Youngsters wear modern clothes, makeup, nice hair and dine in hip restaurants. At the same time people walk around in their heavy and colored beautiful deels, the traditional clothing. It really shows pride and heritage. In the center modern buildings rise up, but only two kilometers out of the center people live in gers or their simple houses without the luxury of running water, heating and with a drop toilet outside. Soviet remembrances are apparent in the city and luckily still a few temples remain (after the soviets destroyed almost all in the country). Life is hard work, but the people expect it to be. Regretfully alcoholism is also seen on the streets.
We could really see a difference when on one of our last days in the city the weather changed and it became a lot warmer. People that have no home live out of sight during winter. They go in search of heat and very often end up in the heating system of the city underground. The so-called manholes. When it was warmer you could definitely see more people deciding it was warm enough to leave these hide outs and be part of the street life.
Many people have warned us for pickpockets on the streets and we know they are there. We have never felt in danger or uncomfortable though, if you take precautions. Although a friend of us did have her phone stolen.
By the way, the similarities with Central Asia have been there quite a bit: from dairy products to meat, the soviet influence, the markets, etc. But mainly if you have found a product you like, do not hesitate to buy the whole rack, because next time you come it might not be there anymore… (We experienced this with coconut milk, a luxury that was a first in a long time and with pesto!).
All in all we are very positive about UB and would like to give some of our personal favorite spots:
- Cabbage Patch apartment: our lovely home that we shared with Richard a German, Nisarg an Australian, Mongolian sisters Tseegi and MG and multiple couchsurfers and friends that stayed over. The kitchen was lovely and there was an oven! We had great parties and neighbors that would call the police… Really nice to have a home away from home.
- Cafe W: our favorite place to be during the day, just around the corner from our apartment. Nice quiet cafe to use the WIFI. They also have nice dishes to eat. We liked the pumpkin soup, burgers and lunch specials.
- Namaste Indian restaurant: UB has its fair share of Indian restaurants and Namaste is a favorite at both locations (Baga Toiruu and Flower Hotel). Lovely Indian food although a bit heavy sometimes.
- Other nice restaurants are: Gangnam Korean just underneath our apartment. Rosewood, Mexikhan, burgers at Ruby Room, California. And Sri Lankan restaurant Ceylonta. We have been very lucky to have been invited out for dinner by quite a few people during our time here.
- State Department Store: for retail therapy, books and souvenirs on the top floor, Cinnabon cinnamon buns, computer accessories, contact lenses, grocery shopping and random acrobatic shows.
- Orgil supermarket: close and good for grocery shopping
- Black market: great to look around and see the cool Mongolian boots, antiques, beautiful fabrics and an idea of local life.
- Zaisan area: for a different atmosphere, a soviet monument, a Buddha statue and a stroll on top of the Tuul river when it’s frozen.
- Bicycle shops for nice service. There are two shops in the same street and Atilla bike shop is one of them. They even bought our winter tires from us.
Last but not least, Ulaanbaatar is a great city to meet people and make friends. There is a bicycle community and an active expat community. We would like to thank everyone for the time together!: Richard, Gary, Eric, Rafa, Nyam, MG, Tseegi, Nisarg, Afroz, Gokce, Jongsoh, Annabel, Soko, Chris, Ben, Ian, Jon, Shari, Heather, Tseegi, Julie, Miriam, Muugii, Gansooj, Bayraa, Gaby, Teja, Claire. And everyone we have not mentioned here.
So this is a short roundup of our time in UB. If you have any questions you can always ask! Also if you have found any other interesting places that should be on this list let us know.