Day 10: Ulaanbaatar
Ulaanbaatar Travel Blog› entry 11 of 34 › view all entries
When we were awoken by the attendant early in the morning the scenery outside had changed completely. Gone were the Siberian forests, and they had been replaced by golden hills of Mongolian steppe. Precisely how we had envisaged the country!
The train arrived precisely on time - six days after it had departed Moscow, it arrived precisely on schedule, 5500 kilometres further. That's something else the Dutch railways could learn from!
Culture shock is definitely one way to describe our arrival in Ulaanbaatar. Heaven would be another. From the moment we set foot on the Ulaanbaatar train station we were greeted by smiling faces and people, wishing us a good morning and welcoming us to Mongolia. Ahhh... I got a lump in my throat from the unexpected hospitality of these people. After a week in Russia it is amazing how you can miss such a thing. And I don't care that all these people were guest house owners and tour operators, hoping to pick up some customers, these people were friendly and welcoming and not the least bit pushy.
As part of our train ticket we had the first and last night already pre-booked in a hotel (including the mandatory transfers) so we were picked up by a girl from the state tourist board and she explained us some facts about the country during the 15-minute drive to the hotel.
Once in the hotel we decided to fully utilise the early morning arrival by taking a nap for at least three more hours - trying to sleep off the hangover which was forming after last night's party.
We had just gotten into bed when the phone rang, and the receptionist told me in broken English: "Hello? we would like to bring you your breakfast to your room now please.." Aww, I LOVE this country. We'd only been in the country half an hour and I'm already in love.
After our power nap we took a well-deserved shower, and went out in search of an even more deserved coffee. Two things of Ulaanbaatar became immediately obvious: firstly there is absolutely no possible way of calling this city pretty. The city was just backwater when soviet rule took over in the thirties of last century, and as a result the city has been built almost entirely in ugly soviet style. Secondly the amount of tourists were a bit of a shock. Mongolia may still be an undiscovered gem for mass tourism, it appears to be firmly on the backpacker map, with Ulaanbaatar resembling what Bangkok must have looked like 20 years ago.
We met up with Maciek in the streets, and later we bumped into the English girls of last night's party. The five of us went for lunch in something which looked Mongolian, but turned out to be Korean instead. No matter, it was delicious.
Not wanting to make the same mistake like we had in Irkutsk, we decided to start our search for a travel agency for tours a bit earlier this time. We need not have worried - where in Irkutsk facilities for non-Russians are far and in between, in Ulaanbaatar you find Internet cafes and travel agencies virtually on every street corner.
In the end we opted for the guest house where both Maciek and the English girls were staying, the UB Guest House. This guest house is the current backpacker's favourite - very professionally run, clean, good facilities and a great selection of tours on offer. We met up with the German couple who had shared Maciek's compartment on yesterday's train, and together we compared our itineraries and possibilities. We came up with the idea to take off together with the five of us, as five is the maximum number for a jeep tour (and thus the cheapest, as you share the price for car and petrol by five). The Germans had about 20 days to spend in the country, Robbel and I 15 and Maciek only 8, so this was not as easy as it may seem. However, we managed to find a seven-day itinerary to the Gobi desert, which we could all agree on. We will be back in Ulaanbaatar next week, then Maciek will continue to Beijing, and the both the Germans and ourselves will be going on a different tour to another part of the country.
The owner of the guest house asked if we could leave the following day, because she needed the beds in the hostel for new guests, and the offered discount was enough to made us agree. This did mean however we had only the evening left to do all our preparations. The way the UB Guest House tours operate is that you pay for the driver, car and petrol in advance, a set price per day, and you sleep and eat at local nomad families, which you pay directly to the nomads every day. A very good construction, as this means you will know the money paid actually goes to the right people, plus you know exactly how much money you pay for what aspect of the trip (and it was dirt cheap, I must add!)
Lunch was not included, so we went out to the supermarket to buy 7 days' supply of lunch and water, as this would not be available for most part of the journey.
The five of us went for dinner in a Korean restaurant (we'd be having plenty of Mongolian in the coming days) before retiring to bed early.