Ulaanbaatar Travel Guide
Chinggis Khaan Airport is clean, modern and surprisingly efficient. There is a Tourist Information office but everyone misses it because it’s located in the immigration hall where everyone is just trying queue up and get through quickly. Don’t worry too much about missing it; there is another tourist office in the Central Post Office (as well as the train station).
Arriving at either the train station or the airport, you’ll get lots of offers from taxi drivers and guesthouse owners. From the airport, never pay more than US$10 for a ride into town, and if you bargain you might get the price down to $5.
From the train station, you should only have to pay $1 for a ride to the central square. Never get into a cab at the train station, walk across the street and up the road a little bit.
A good place to start out if you just want a guesthouse is the State Department Store. Ask the driver to take you to the “Ikh Delguur”. There are several guesthouses in the area, all listed in the Lonely Planet.
You may have to pay a little more for luggage but keep in mind that a taxi is a fixed rate of 300 tugrik per kilometer. Another tip, don’t put you luggage in their trunk, the driver may hold it hostage until you pay up exorbitant amount of money. Note that many guesthouses will give you free ride if you stay with them, a good deal considering that a ride into town is the same price as one night in a dorm.
The Mongolian currency is the tugrik, abbreviated as MNT. The largest bill is 20,000 MNT. Changing money is easy in UB. Have some US dollars on hand to make a quick exchange at the airport or at a money exchange office in town. Changing $20 to start out is fine. There are banks and exchanges office all over the place, including the State Department Store. Rates are pretty similar everywhere, but the best rates seem to be at the exchange offices near Ard Kino on the Little Ring Road. Once you’ve sorted things out, you can go to a bank get cash from your ATM card. The Trade and Development Bank and the Golomt Bank are both handy.
As of November 2010, the exchange rate was US$1 = 1,175 MNT
Ulaanbaatar is surprisingly cosmopolitan. The Mongolian capital has micro-brew pubs, shopping malls, Japanese sushi bars and an Internet cafe on every block. There are interesting museums and sights, varied accommodation and a laid back vibe. You’ll find enough to keep you busy for two or three days before heading off to the countryside.
The major sight is Gandan Monastery, the biggest monastery in the country with over 500 monks. There are several temples to visit within the complex, but the highlight is the Migjid Janraisig Sum, an enormous structure containing a 60 ft tall statue of Avalokitesvara. The original statue had been carted away by the Russians and the replacement was completed in 1996. It’s best to visit the monastery in the morning when services are held. Watch your pockets here; there are plenty of stories of travelers getting their wallet stolen here.
The Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan, is one of the most interesting sights in the country. Home to the 8th Bogd Lama is contains his eccentric collection of stuffed animals and turn-of-the-20th-century modern wonders, like a motorcar and a gramaphone. You can combine this with a visit to the Zaisan memorial, the old Soviet war memorial on a hill just across the Tuul River.
The National History Museum provides a great overview of Mongol history, with everything from ancient coins and weapons to an exhibit of the 1990 democratic revolution. The nearby Museum of Natural History has a collection of fossilized dinosaur bones. Just behind the History Museum is the Mongolian KGB Museum which is also worth a look, except that its often closed.
Ulaanbaatar is surrounded by mountains and the Terelj National Park is not too far away. Pristine nature is a just a short cab ride away. Another good day trip is to Manzshir Khiid, a ruined monastery on the south side of Bogd Khan mountain. A great short trip is to hike from Manzshir Khiid over the mountain and back to Ulaanbaatar.
STUFF TO DO
PLACES TO DRINK
These come and go but there are a few standbys that are worth visiting. Once you’re on the ground you’ll find plenty more than the ones listed here.
• Dave’s Pub – This very expat bar might remind you of Cheers, everyone seems to know each other. On Thursday at 8.30pm there is a ‘quiz night’, not to be missed. If you make it, say hi to Dave for us. (east side of Sukhbaatar Square, Tel 9979 8185)
• Dublin – Your classic Irish pub in the middle of Mongolia. This crowded little place serves up good beer and decent pub grub. It’s seems pretty popular with expat miners. (Seoul St, opposite the Circus. Tel 328 626).
• Grand Khaan Irish Pub – This is one of several brew-style pubs in town where you can get a big meal and drink lots of beer. This one has live music, a really loud atmosphere and lots of smoke. It’s OK if that is your scene. It also has an attached café with Wifi. Other similar places where you may wash up include Ikh Mongol, Khan Brau, Brau Haus or the Chinggis Club. (Seoul St, Tel 336 666).
UB has dozens of nightclubs, but like the bars these go in and out of style. It’s best to ask around when you get there to see what is popular. Try one of the following to start.
Metropolis – The newest club in UB is a big, modern place with a freaky crowd. It’s located next to the Sky Shopping Centre
Face Club – This small downtown club attempts to re-create a South Pacific theme. This one is hit or miss. It can be going really good or may be totally dead. (Juulchin Gudamj)
Ismuss – Decent dance place, but the real reason to come here is to see the enormous statue of Stalin, which once stood in front of the library.
Theater is Ulaanbaatar is good quality and cheap – a ticket won’t cost more than $5. Unfortunately the productions are not well advertised and there probably won’t be much info in English. If you are interested in seeing a performance you can just turn up at the Drama Theater, Cultural Palace or Opera House (all located near Sukhbaatar Square) and inquire about tickets. In summer there are frequent Mongolian song and dance routines at the Cultural Palace – don’t miss this. Another good place to see traditional theatre is the Tsuki House, which hosts the Moonstone Song and Dance Ensemble. Its located next to the circus.
Ulaanbaatar is a good place to buy cashmere sweaters. There are lots of cashmere shops downtown, mainly along Peace Ave. For a genuine shopping experience, go to the Naran Tuul Market, a huge outdoor bazaar where you can find anything under the sun. Consider it a place to browse – there are lots of pickpockets here and you’d be wise to keep you money stash in your hotel.
• Camping supplies – You can buy European quality gear at Seven Summits, a camping store opposite the Post Office. Cheaper Chinese made stuff can be bought at Northland, opposite the State Department Store.
• Groceries – You’ll need to stock up on groceries before taking a jeep trip. The best place to do this is at the Merkuri Market, located west of the circus. The State Department Store also has a grocery store, but it’s more expensive than Merkuri.
• Electronics – Computerland is the best place for tech stuff. It’s a shopping centre with lots of little private computer shops inside. It’s tucked off Peace Ave behind the Canon showroom. Other options include the State Department Store and the Sony shop, on the west side of the Department Store.
• Horse Tack – If you are looking for supplies for a horse trek, try the Naran Tuul Market. Shonkhor Saddles also sells stuff, but its hard to find on your own. First call them at: 311 218.
Posted by: pktan
Having spent a few months in the amazing Mongolia for the past few years, PkTan is fascinated with this beautiful, complicated country. He love advising travellers to Mongolia and have developed this site to share all his knowledge of Mongolia with everyone.