Day 25: Ulaanbaatar
Ulaanbaatar Travel Blog› entry 28 of 34 › view all entries
Our last day in Ulaanbaatar. And, in a way, also our first day, as during our previous visits to the city we didn't do much sightseeing (with the exception of our half-morning trip to the monastery). And while Ulaanbaatar is an ugly place, it certainly merits a visit.
But first we had to move hotels. As part of the Trans-Siberia train tickets we had had to book the first and last night in Mongolia in advance, including transfers to and from the train station (apparently too often tourists take the wrong train, so they've made it mandatory for foreigners to be accompanied to the compartment). Yesterday we had considered to simply leave our reservation in the Kharkoroum hotel for what it was and stay in the UB Guesthouse.
A good choice, as it turned out, as the Kharkouroum hotel gave us a warm welcome back by not having a reservation for us and the only room still available was their bridal suite. The irony of spending the night in a bridal suite as brother and sister aside we were happy to be staying in such a large room, because this enabled us to hang up our still wet (but clean) laundry.
This being our last day in Ulaanbaatar we had a lot of ground to cover with all the things we still wanted to see and do. So Robbel and I drew up a schedule how we could take the most efficient route through town to do all these things.
The Museum of National History was our first destination. This ramshackle building of a museum contains some surprising gems of exhibitions. There's a stuffed example of virtually every endemic species of mammal, bird and fish on display, with room after room literally stuffed (pun intended) with dead animals. The rooms are divited into the different geographical regions (desert, steppe, mountains) displaying the animals in a simulated natural habitat, which makes it all the more worthwhile to visit. Only the dedicated camel exhibition seemed a bit weird to me, as it focused solely on the domesticated aspect of the animals, rather than the very few herds of wild Bactrian camels that still roam the Gobi.
However, as interesting as the dead animals may be, the highlight of the museum is their exhibition on the extinct species which put Mongolia on the map in the first place: Dinosaurs!
Room after room was filled with fossilized dinosaur eggs, bones and a few reconstructed skeletons. While the most special fossils have moved to museums in London and New York the Mongolian Museum of National History still keeps one of the most famous fossils every found on display: a velociraptor and protocerotops which were buried alive in the midst of mortal combat. It is thought that the two were buried alive by a sand dune collapsing on top of them.
All very interesting and nice to see, and we were already on our way out when we noticed on our map of the museum that we had completely missed the absolute highlight of the museum: the two-story high dinosaur room, which contains several fully reconstructed dinosaur skeletons including the complete fossil of a 3 metre tall tarbosaurus.
After the museum we strolled around Sükhbaatar square for a while. Like any other communist country in the world Mongolia too felt the urge to built a huge square in the middle of its capital, with the main governmental buildings scattered around it. Though nowhere near as big as the Red Square in Mosco, or the Ba Din square in Hanoi (or Tiananmen square which we would visit several days later) it is still an impressive slab of concrete, and remarkably sterile in an otherwise chaotic and dirty city.
Damdin Sükhbaatar is the *other* hero in Mongolian history. While Chinggis Khan is known throughout the world, Sükhbaatar, the hero of the revolution, is equally reverred for declaring Mongolia's independence from the Chinese in 1921. Old Sükh is honoured with a pink granite statue in the middle of the square.
The overblown shiny modern parliament building to the north of the square is a depressing explanation of what happens with the millions of dollars in aid money the country receives anually.
After the square it was time for a quick coffee break, a trip to the post office to send some postcards and our last e-mail check until Beijing. After that we visited the same Mongolian fast food restaurant we had eaten in last week for another helping of those delicious Mongolian dumplings. Mutton or not, these are really tasty and definitely one of the highlights, well, the only highlight really, of Mongolian cuisine.
We spent the rest of the afternoon shopping souvenirs in the State Department Store. Perhaps not the most authentic place to go souvenir shopping, but this place definitely has the largest selection and is equally good for buying genuine Mongolian art, traditional instruments, tiny statues or the obligatory been there done that T-shirts.
At the end of the afternoon we went to see a movie in Mongolia's only real cinema, the modern but ugly concrete Tengis theatre. Like getting a haircut a visit to a cinema is also always a mandatory item on my travel itinerary. And what better movie to see in a country like Mongolia than the latest Indiana Jones? (well, ok, the Chinggis Khan biopic Mongol would have been an even better choice, but that one wasn't playing).
The movie itself was ok (which is a polite way of saying it sucked) but sitting in a theatre packed with chatty Mongolians was a fun experience. The audience was very talkative, but also very enthusiastic and animated about all that happened on the screen. The best 1.11 euros we spent all trip!
As we were still stuffed from the late lunch we didn't really bother about dinner, and instead ended up in a little bar near the hotel where we spent the rest of the evening drinking cold beers and reminiscing on the great past two weeks in Mongolia.
This is definitely one of the best trips Robbel and I have done together (if not *the* best) with Mongolia firmly securing a spot in both our top 5 favourite countries list.