Tag Archive: Ulaan Bataar



The best sights are outside the capital. Raw, unspoiled, rugged. But if you’re stuck in the city, why not play the life of a tourist visiting the Square, a couple of museums, some temples and memorial shrine?

 

 

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One of many temple doors in Bogd Khaan Palace Museum

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The climb towards the Memorial honoring Russian soldiers who helped the Mongolians during the war.

 

 

Wherever you are in the city, it’s a breeze to combine a trip to the Winter Palace or Bogd Khan Palace Museum ( check this link ) and Zaisan Hill. The latter is a memorial honoring Russian soldiers built on a hill overlooking the city and is a very popular site among locals especially the younger set. Best time to visit is right before sunset. Be prepared to climb up the stairs to the circular Shrine. It can also get crowded and windy late afternoons.

 

 

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Atop Zaisan Hill is this open air Memorial Shrine. Popular with locals. Typically crowded around sunset time.

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From the circular Shrine, one has a 360 degree view of the city.

 

 

Another “combination trip” is the Sukhbataar Square and the National History Museum.
The Square gets more vibrant and festive on weekends when locals set up stalls around the Square. Right across the Square is the Blue Sky Tower Hotel, a very modern building wrapped in glass. The Museum introduces one to the grandeur of the Great Mongolian Empire. Mongolians take pride in this and understandably so. And if you still have the energy, a few minutes and few blocks away from the Square is the Ulaan Bataar State Department Store. Along the way are many eateries from Cafe Amsterdam to Mongolian Barbecue eateries to Korean restaurants, as well as many souvenir shops.

 

 

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Sukhbataar Square. Sukhbataar means “Red Hero”.

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The Square and the Blue Sky Tower Hotel, wrapped in glass, blocking a good view of the mountains from the Square!

 

 

My best meal in Mongolia was in one of these Barbeque Buffet eateries. You stuff your bowl with all sorts of veggies and meats, then make your own sauce concoction, and let this guy cook everything for you on a hot round stone table. Watch him as he cooks your meal. Quite a performance, plus it’s really a good meal. Not a bad deal.

 

http://youtu.be/UJZr-D3-42A

 

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Cafe Amsterdam. Coffee House. Wifi and Toilet Break. Same street from the Square towards the State Department Store.

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Good coffee and cheesecake too!

 

 

The cheesecake in Cafe Amsterdam was good. Good coffee, free wifi, great ambience and clean toilets! It’s a good stop between the State Department Store and the Square. If you skip this Cafe, no worries as the Store has a fast food area though frankly I didn’t enjoy my lunch there. Instead, I enjoyed the sandwiches and coffee in the tiny coffee shop beside the supermarket within the same building.

 

 

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The Food Court at the 5th floor of Ulaan Bataar Department Store. No like. Try something else. I tried the tiny coffee shop (good sandwiches) on the same floor as the supermarket within this store building. Better!

 

 

As we walked back to the Square, we found burger stalls which looked popular among locals. It’s the same stall we found in Zaisan Hill but at the time, they ran out of burgers. (We got lousy corn dogs instead) Further on, one finds the Ulaan Bataar Hotel, the Opera, and a small park.

 

 

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The equivalent of McDonald’s in Ulaan Bataar?

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You’re not too far away from these sites from the Blue Sky Tower and the Square.

 

 

Finally, the Gandantegchinleng Buddhist Monastery requires at least an hour to go through the temples spread across a square in this bustling city. A pair of golden feet, a lovely Temple in Tibetan architecture (looks like a Bhutanese Dzong to me), many prayer wheels, a few pagoda temples, and monks chanting in between their mobile calls! The place where the monks pray and chant can do with some repair and sprucing up. If you’re not joining an organized tour, hail a cab to bring you here. You can ask the cab driver to wait up and later drive you to the Museum of Natural History (I’d blog separately on this) and if you hanker for more, go visit the Intellectual Museum and be puzzled with many Mongolian puzzles!

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A Bhutanese-looking Dzong in the Buddhist Monastery Complex?

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Chant Break: I wonder what these monks are chatting about.


Back in the city, I lamented how so many high-rise buildings now block the background of some of the lovely Buddhist temples and museum-palaces. I saw no effort in trying to make everything “fit”, aesthetics-wise, with drab architecture spoiling many otherwise lovely sceneries. I am no expert but my simple mind reminds me of the sheer vastness of this land. Certainly unnecessary to “cluster” them modern structures at the back of, beside, or in front of historical treasures like temples and palaces. Neither do I comprehend why there is only ONE road leading to and from the international airport. Surely, there is no issue of where to line the highways across any part of Mongolia?

 

 

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Bogd Khaan Temple Complex includes the Winter Palace of the last Mongol King.

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A relatively better shot minus the obstructions.

 

 

In Bogd Khaan Palace Museum, the old temples need a lot of TLC and could have been given lotsa space for a truly unobstructed view. Same is true with the Gandantegchinleng Temples. The place where the monks prayed and chanted (in between mobile calls, mind you!) needed some sprucing up.

 

 

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Those modern buildings shouldn’t be there. So much space around, why here?

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Gandan Monastery Complex. Right in the middle of the bustling city.

 

 

While 70% of the 2.7 million population continue to live in gers, I am curious who’d occupy all the high-rise buildings under construction in the capital where 1.2 million live. With all that construction, the city is likely congested. More so with more tourist arrivals. I cannot imagine that lone airport road being clogged any further. Perhaps they could build a new airport in any of those huge vacant spaces around the city and build an express road? I’m sure they will.

 

 

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Old and new buildings within the city.

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Sukhbaatar Square.

 

 

That skyline will soon change. And I’m glad we got here before all these changes. It’s NOT exactly RAW, but a vibrant tourism industry sometimes cast a curse on long-preserved traditions and customs, burying with it a culture with so much more character.


Just 80 kilometers south of Ulaan Bataar, the capital of Mongolia, lies Terelj National Park. You don’t find the red sands and sand dunes of Gobi Desert here, but it’s a good introduction to the hard life of nomads here in Mongolia. Treeless slopes and if you’re not careful, sands on your eyes and tongue. It takes a good and long bath to shake off the sands and dirt.

 

 

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Turtle Rock. One of many. Nature left on its own. Created by Wind and Water.

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2.7 million Mongolians. ONLY 15 million livestock. Plenty of meat to eat!

 

 

Badlands? Desert? Outback? Wilderness? I honestly don’t know how to call it. The thoughts that really cross my mind is that big question mark on how the Mongolian nomads and their livestock survive living here. It’s a hard life. Both for men and animals. Depending on the season, both move their “gers” — that circular tent which serves as housing — and their livestock pens from place to place. Amazing how they can disassemble such “gers” in a flash, and reassembled in just 3 days.

 

 

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A day with a nomadic family. This lady welcomed us, cooked for us, ate lunch with us.

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Circular tents housing Mongolian nomads. Yurts to some, GERS to them.

 

 

Nature seems to have been left on its own, to do as it pleases, in this corner of the world. Rock formations abound…… Forces of wind and water forming caves, monuments and “towers” in vast fields likely rich in an assortment of human and animal fossils. I asked the guide to bring us to Turtle Rock. The rock didn’t disappoint. Neither did Monkey Cave, also called Monks Cave since many monks took refuge here.

 

 

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Care for a ride on any of these wild horses? Just remember. Do Not Stroke. Do not Scream. me? DO NOT RIDE.

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MONKEY between the stones. See it? Monkey Cave is called Monks’ Cave as well.

 

 

It would have been a truly exciting day to go horseback riding around the park. Call me Chicken but these “DON’Ts” were enough to keep me from that saddle — DON’T STROKE THE HORSE. DON’T SCREAM. There were more, but these 2 “DON’Ts” will do. Now, there’s the camel too. And TWO-HUMPED CAMELS at that! The one we found looked real tall and pretty. But I’m reminded of my ONLY camel ride in Egypt years before and knew this TALL camel won’t do. Yes, call me Chicken with a capital C. Better safe, than sorry.

 

 

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For the BRAVE. Choose your horse. Free rides!

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Two humped camel! Only in Mongolia and China?

 

 

Around Terelj National Park, one finds many tourist ger camps. The nightly rate approximates what you’d otherwise pay for a hotel room. Cheaper if you stay with a real nomad family. It’s good for those who wish to retire at night in the wilds, listening to animal sounds while making a trip to the toilet which is housed in a separate wooden structure, watching the stars if the weather permits, and sleeping around a fire log stove that warms the tent. Us? A day trip will do. We fancy soaking ourselves in a bath tub after a sandy, windy day in the wilds. 😉

 

 

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Tourist Ger Camp. Feel,sleep LIKE A NOMAD, if you like. But your toilet is still a walk from your ger. Common facilities too.

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The Ger. The Nomadic Family. The livestock pens. The Visitors.


To Ger or Not To Ger? It was a no brainer for us city folks. We love Nature, we’re quite open to new adventures, but…….

 

 

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A REAL nomad family lives here. Spent time with them and had lunch in this ger.

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This is LUNCH. Milk tea, homemade bread, biscuits, dumplings.

 

 

No sleeping in the “ger” for us. These circular tents are meant for nomadic families. About 70% of Mongolians still live in them. They’re used to it. It suits their lifestyles. Us? We’d stay a day with a nomad family, watch them cook, eat lunch with them, check their livestock grazing somewhere in the field, and pray to God our bladders will hold till it’s time to head back to our hotel in the city.

 

 

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Homemade dumplings, STEAMED. Then the same boiling water was used to make our coffee. No kidding! More…… the excess hot water was used to clean the dishes.

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Lone horseman herding the livestock. Busy on his cellphone!

 

 

Say what you like, but sleeping in a ger is out of the question 🙂 I can’t imagine myself walking out of the tent in the middle of the night just to pee. That wooden structure they call “toilet” does not suit me. And I do need my hot shower so forget it. Come to think of it, neither would it do for “during the day” pee breaks. One of us checked it out, described it, and the idea “locked our bladders shut” till we got back to our hotel.

 

 

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They call her “something” which sounds like Kirle, or Girle. Whatever. She cooked lunch for us, and charmed us with her simplicity.

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This is Kirle’s ger. A small circular tent with 3 beds around the stove which serves to warm the residents inside. Outside are the makeshift livestock pens.

 

 

There are other options. Around Terelj National Park, we found many tourist ger camps where “modern gers” are available. The toilets are still outside the tent, but you can sleep inside while possibly listening to animal sounds just around the camp. Could that be a yak, a fox, a horse or a goat? Once you grow tired of “feeling and sleeping like a nomad” there’s the tourist hotel right outside. You like the idea? Suit yourself. Different strokes for different folks. 😉

 

 

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The “modern” way to stay and sleep inside a ger. Western toilets but still outside the tents. And a modern hotel just a few steps away.

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Another tourist ger camp. I expect more tourist camps to sprout out in the vast Mongolian plains.


On our first full day in Ulaan Bataar, we visited the Winter Palace Complex of the last Monggol King. The Palace itself was built in 1893, looking more Russian than Chinese nor Mongolian nor Buddhist. Around it though are temples in the style of Chinese pagodas complete with “Spirit Shields”, a standard feature of Buddhist temples in Mongolia. The king assumed the title Bogd Khaan in 1921 when the Chinese were expelled from Mongolia, and ruled as religious leader along the likes of the Dalai Lamas of Tibet. But not for long. The last Bogd Gegen died in 1924 and soon after, many of his personal possessions were auctioned off by the next ruler of communist Mongolia.

 

 

 

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The Bogd Khaan TPalace Complex

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There are several temples and gates around the Winter Palace. From here, one can walk towards the Zaisan Hill to view the Memorial Shrine honoring Russian soldiers.

 

 

The two-story wood-framed Winter Palace — home to the 8th and last Mongol king and his consort Dondogdulam for 20 winters  — was then turned into a Museum. On display are the royal chambers, the elaborately decorated thrones, and a plethora of art and cultural relics as well as gifts to the Mongolian kings since the time of Zanabazar from all over the world. One such gift was an incredible “ger” (a circular tent used by Mongolian nomads) covered with the skins of 150 snow leopards given on the occasion of the Bogd Khaan’s 25th birthday in 1893. Imagine that – 150 leopards! Yes, that elusive animal…. snow leopards. All 150 of them. Do I hear environmentalists howling?

 

 

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150 Snow Leopards to keep you warm? Whoa!

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They could have found a bigger space to put this on display.

 

 

How I wish this incredible gift is displayed in a bigger space, rather than cramped in this corner. One can’t even take a photo of the entire ger, nor go around it. The birthday gift is from a certain Sangilig Dorj, a man from the old Setsen Aimag (somewhere east of the capital). Who’s this guy? Must be someone who needs some favors big time then. 150 snow leopards? Quite a monumental effort, don’t you think?

 

 

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80 foxes’ fur on your back?

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A royal throne — gift from a Chinese emperor in Beijing. Must have been transported on the back of a camel for that lonnnng walk over desert sands.

 

 

There’s more. How heavy could this fur coat be? This time, imagine 80 foxes. Another gift from the Qing emperor of China for Zanabazar, the 1st Monggol monarch. For some reason, I am reminded of the movie 101 Dalmatians. Cruella De Ville must have descended from these monarchs. My apologies. But I just can’t reconcile peace-loving Buddhists accepting these gifts which smack of animal cruelty. Neither do I find kings draped in such garments a pretty sight. 😦

 

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A typical Buddhist (or Chinese?) gate.

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Don’t you think this Winter Palace looks Russian than Mongolian, Chinese or Buddhist? Well, it was built by a Russian architect. So there……..

 

 

Well….. Those were the times. I hear Mongolia runs tours to see snow leopards in their habitat. Not for me. Winter time, I’d likely find it a chore walking around draped in thick winter clothes. And should one of them elusive leopards decide to attack, I’d be dead meat as running would be next to impossible in such wardrobe. That said, I’m content visiting Museums. There are no heaters here but walking around here with our coats on our backs is certainly more comfortable than searching for elusive animals in the wilds where one can literally see their “breaths”.

 

 

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A pair of royal thrones to take care of those royal posteriors.

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Quite an interesting Museum, really.


Yesterday, I’ve packed for yet another trip to strike off my bucket list. I’ve always wondered about this once-upon-a-time biggest ever empire. Think Genghis Khan. Or do I say Chinggis Khan? The capital is Ulaan Bataar….. or do I say Ulan Bator? Hopefully, I’ d know which is which in the coming days.

 

 

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Direct flight via Korean Air Lines from Incheon Airport to Ulaan Bataar, Mongolia

 

Caught the connecting flight in Incheon Airport but flight was delayed. It was midnight and cold at 9 Celsius by the time we landed in the coldest capital of the world. The handle of my luggage broken as I lifted it off the carousel, my bag and I survived the trip. Flying in is my only option. Trashed earlier ideas of riding the Trans-Siberian Train from Moscow, stopping by Ulaan Bataar, on its way to Beijing, China. After all, I can’t imagine what I’d do on 5 days of train travel other than reading books on the longest railway in the world.

 

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Chinggis Khaan Airport in Ulaan Bataar, Mongolia.
All those repetitive letter AA’s!

 

Our hotel in the financial and transport hub of Mongolia smacks of Soviet “efficiency”. Super duper big-sized beds in an equally big-sized room which provides the smallest complimentary bottles of water. The big beds complete with duvet and lamps at every corner do not match the old, unstylish tables, chairs and sofa. And the rooms don’t come cheap at US$220 for this very new hotel with a sofa looking like it had seen better days. Days old, and we must be among the first (complaining) guests. 😦

 

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Just a couple of days old, Corporate Hotel is huge. Lotsa space for a standard twin room. $220. Big beds, big toilet, poorly styled tables and chairs and closets.

 

Fact is, it ain’t cheap in Mongolia. We’ve checked the transport system and decided to forego all DIY plans. Hotels are expensive and taxis and buses are hard to come by. Once we went to check out the Museum and asked the taxi to wait to ensure we get back to our hotel before the chill hits us. The temp goes from warm 32C down to a chilly 9C in a few hours. Walking is an option. But mind the temps.

 

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The UB skyscape is fast changing……….ongoing construction everywhere. High rise buildings for a country where 70% of population still live in gers.

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Sukhbataar Square. Literally means “Red Hero” for the guy who proclaimed independence for the country back in the 1920s.

 

Thing is there isn’t much to see within the capital. There seems to be a construction boom within the city as many high-rise buildings threaten to mark the skyline. I wish they build more roads especially the SINGLE 2-way lane to and from the airport! I remember arriving nearly midnight in Ulaan Bataar and getting a tad impatient with the midnight traffic on way to our hotel. The way back is another story. It was another near-midnight flight out of UB , same midnight traffic and a driver from hell! The man from Fiji riding in the same van with us said he’d never said the “S” word so many times in a single hour. He went further and said they’re under a million in their island country and felt he’s an endangered specie. At one point, he screamed and begged “Ladies, please start praying…..” Thank God for this man’s sense of humor, the hellish drive to catch our flight slipped by easily on the nerves.

 

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Visit a couple of temples, if you like.

 

Outside of the Museums, a couple of temples and Sukhbaatar Square, your best bet is to hire a private car or van or join an organized tour to visit the must-see destinations outside the city. We’ve checked out those tours on offer, but learned the interesting sites are coupled with way too many stopovers at gem, cashmere and souvenir shops. So we decided to compose our own itinerary with the hired van, and do the city tour, museum visits and shopping activities on our own.

 

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National Museum. But we enjoyed the old Natural History Museum with those dinosaur eggs and skeletons more.

 

Watch this page for blogs on the following. Or better still, just click on any of these links!

 

Terelj National Park

A Day With Nomad Family & Meditation Temple

Chinggis Khan Giant Statue

Chinggis Kuree Ger Camp & Mini Naadam

Gandantegchinleng Monastery Complex

The City Life

Natural History Museum (Dinosaurs!)

Zaisan Hill & Memorial Shrine

Winter Palace of the Last Monggol King

Mongolia!