Ulan Travel Blog

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Arrived into Ulaan Baatar around 6am and were met by our new honcho Elmira, after an ATM stop it was straight to our hotel. All got checked in and either napped, showered, watched the news! (Quite the luxury), emailed etc. a few of the guys were going out for breakfast so I tagged along just to have a coffee. It was a pretty uneventful breakfast apart from Jay’s choice of drink. He got a ‘milk tea’. When it came out it just kind of looked like a cup of hot milk so we assumed that was just the way it was done here….then we tasted it. My instant reaction was that it was worse than you could ever possibly imagine. It was fatty milk heated with salty water!! WHY!!?? It was disgusting!! We met up again at 11.30am. Dropped off some laundry and got some tickets to Mongolian wrestling for some of the guys then wandered into the main parliament square. The parliament building is beautiful and had a massive statue of Genghis (pronounced Chenngis) khan. We were all freezing by this stage so off for lunch. Elmira took us to a gorgeous restaurant called the black pearl.

 Eating nice meals has not at all been part of the trip so far so I think we were all a bit chuffed. A few glasses of wine, a salad and a traditional dish of meat and noodles then Jay, Anna, Helen and I had to make a bit of a dash for it as we were meeting a lady who is the owner of an orphanage that a friend of Jays has connection with. We meet here and hopped in a taxi for about 15mins to the orphanage. It was amazing how much different the area was to the city. It really resembled a gravel pit, with a lot of rubbish thrown in and then made into a residential area. There were a few shanty type shacks but the majority of the housing were Gers, the round tent style thingees that I had always associated with nomadic Mongolia.

Didi took us in to one of the buildings and we got to see the 3 wee babies first, they were gorgeous. Basic story about the orphanage is Didi runs it, she is an Aussie but had been here for 15 years and we got the impression she is a Buddhist nun, she has around 100 children of all ages, some are abandoned, some are brought to her by police or hospitals or parents. Some are there just until the get well, some are there until they are old enough and equipped enough to get jobs and move on. Some have disabilities, some mental health issues some neither. They are housed in a mix of gers and buildings, about 10 children to one room mother. Kindergarten and Primary school are taught there but they go out to a local high school.

There really is so much I could say about all the amazing things that are being done here but this is becoming an epic novel already so if you are interested look up The kids really are amazing, they sung us songs, we played a bit of football, they loved having cuddles and their pictures taken. It was a little bit of a sad place in a way but so touching as well. We decided to get on our way and Didi sent some of the kids to show us where the main road was and to get a taxi, one of the many dogs came with us too. It became a pretty stressful situation with 5 kids a dog and a main highway so we told them we could manage and said goodbye.

Back to the hotel to meet the guys who had been at the wrestling and then out to a Mongolian BBQ for dinner….COOL!!!! It is kinda set up just like a big salad bar but with meat, veg, tofu, pig fat! etc. you choose your raw ingredients and choice of sauce and take them to the cook. He has a massive metal plate with a hole in the middle he cooks on and 2 sword like things as his utensils. I was pretty lucky because I got a bit of a show! I had a raw egg so he cracked it between the swords then juggled it on the ends….COOL!! Then he managed to flick about 6 pieces of broccoli off the end of a sword onto my plate. Was great fun and a chance to try horse meat. Not to shabby at all. Finished off with a vodka martini and then back to the hotel for a quiet cognac or 2 and some team time.

Monday 8.12

Up and straight down to meet our guide, into taxis to Gandantegchenling Monastery. It is a Mahayana Buddhist monastery with 10 temples and 900 monks. It is really beautiful, I think the snow and cold made it even more so. First we went into a temple where monks were chanting and then played some instruments. Then we went on to another bigger temple that has a statue of Buddha that is copper but gilded in gold that is 26.5 metres tall. In one hand she has a mirror which reflects the bad away and a pot of water in the other to heal the people, she has another set of  hands in prayer in the centre. We walked around the room spinning golden canisters that contained special books and plants etc and by spinning the canisters it was like you read the books and used the plants, some of them also had names and years of life of people who had passed away.

Then we went off to a monumental hill that was a commemoration to the relationship between Russia and Mongolia in battle in the past. After walking up 650 steps (the most exercise I have had in quite some time!!) we got to the top, great view over the city, but it defiantly emphasised the amount of pollution!!! There was a very visible layer of smog sitting on the city. Down we went and up the road to another statue of Buddha that was gifted by Korea to protect the city. We then hopped on a local bus and went back into town for lunch at a restaurant called Silk Road. I had read about it in the lonely  planet, it was supposed to be great  and it was. More aloe juice and tandoori chicken, yummmo!

A quick stop in at the post office and then back to get our bags and make our way to the ger camp. Stopped in at a supermarket to pick up some supplies, as many of you know supermarkets are right up there with my most favourite places so I was having  ball deciphering the many unknowns. Then a 70km, hour long bus ride to our camp. It is beautiful out here. Totally feels like being in the middle of no where with just these little clusters of button tents.

Got settled in to a ger with Anna and Jay, a cup of tea and bickies. It is about minus 21 outside but soooooo toasty inside due to a little pot belly type stove in the middle. We even have solar electricity for a light bulb! The toilet situation however is a bit more grim. I have no problem at all with squat toilets but when it is into a pit about 10 metres deep and the planks you are standing on are slippery and so wide that I could actually fall down into the hole then I start to become a wee bit nervous. Hope for the best I guess huh!!!

Went down and had our dinner in the dinner tent, I just had a wee cabbage salad as I think the sheer volume of food I have consumed over the past few days is catching up on me, the guys all had dumpling and a couple of the girls had paste soup (flour meat and hot water) everyone came back to our ger for a few drinks and a pow wow. Then we found another vodka train group that is going the other way so went and terrorised them until it was time for sleep

Tuesday 9.12

Breakfast of sausage and eggs at 10 and then it was time to learn a new game. You have about 40 ankle bones from sheep and goats. You pick them all up and scatter them on the table, one of them is orange and you need to flick that one into other ones tat are resting on te same side, if you hit one and no others then you pick that one up. If you miss then the next person picks up whet is left and has a turn. Whoever has the most at the end wins. Was fun for 2 games but then I retired to postcard writing.

A bit later we got in the bus and went to see turtle rock. It REALLY looks like a turtle!! We walked up into it and squished through a teeny wee rock space, took some pictures and came back for lunch. Potato salad today. A bit of spare time then everyone went out on a horse ride. I didn’t think my lungs would be up for it so I flagged.

About an hour later I went by bus to a nomadic families ger where the others finished their ride. We went in and learnt a bit more about the way their culture works and how their traditions etc. She had made us the milk salt drink but it was more sweet and less salt so consumable. Also had little donut like nugget and other stuff that was dried yoghurt…not so good. It was sort of like a cross between yoghurt, strong cheese and that hard piece you normally cut off when you don’t wrap your cheese well enough in the fridge.

Wednesday 10.12

After a night of a mixture of freezing cold and stupid hot because our fire kept going out, we thought it would be a really good idea to get up and take a small trek up a hill to  see sunrise over the Ger camp in the morning. It started of as fairly pleasant but after about half an hour we were becoming frozen solid and the sun was not looking like it was going to play the game for quite some time. I decided to cave and avoid massive kidney failure, so went back to our Ger. Just popping my head out the door every few minutes to see the progress sufficed the other guys managed another 35 minutes or so until the sun finally arrived.  Omelette for brekkie and then back to Ulaan Bataar. Sarah was not in a good way after throwing up all night so first priority was to get her back to our hostel and into bed, second was to defrost our numb toes and various other pieces from our below zero, hour long drive back!!

We checked into our rooms where someone had left me a wee pressie………a used condom on my window sill… keeping is obviously well attentive!!!!

We split off into a few groups and did various stuff. We went to find a few souvenirs and post some postcards. Ulaan Bataar is a bit hairy on a good day I think but it’s a hassle being followed around and harassed by beggars. On goes the ‘I cant hear you’ face but it is still a pain. Found a café for lunch attached to a Buddhist centre. Super yum and cheap lentils. Then tried to find a supermarket to find some food for the following day’s train trip. Didn’t find any food but did find that all the supermarkets only have 3 sections. Meat, olive oil and candy of every possible description….handy.

Back to the hotel to meet Elmira, and off to the local markets. She wasn’t really happy with taking us because it is pretty unsafe, but she did anyway. We were mostly looking for the leather boots that they wear in the Mongolian wrestling which are very cool. Unfortunately we couldn’t really find what we were after. The markets were massive and had everything….but we just headed through fairly quickly because we obviously stood out in the mass of Mongolians. We were ideal targets for the pick pocketing/robbing gangs. Went back to the hotel to pick up the others then off to a grill for dinner. To be fair I was so meated out I didn’t even want to look at any more so opted for onion and mushroom soup in a bread bowl!!

Thursday 11.12

Up at 6am for a 7am pick up and off to the train station for 8am departure. I ended up in our 3 person cabin again and it was a girls cabin with Melleah, Helen and i. Just faffed around for the morning, did a bit of napping then went down to the dining carriage. As I had been a smarty pants and put some Mongolian money in my money belt for safe keeping (about $50 US) I was now stuck with it as you can’t change it outside of Mongolia… the milky bars were on me!!!! Went back to our cabin and had another nap until about 7pm when we got to the boarder, much quicker to start with and by about 9pm we were crossing over to the Chinese side.

They got straight on and took our passports and then sent us off to the garage for a bogie (the wheelie bit) change. Mongolia’s trains run on a 5ft gauge which is slightly wider than the gauge used in the rest of the world. They lift the whole train up (With us in it), take off the old set, put the new set under and then lower the train back onto them. It takes quite some time and I am sure it is more complicated than that but it is pretty cool!! I fell asleep around midnight and we were still there but I think we left around 1am

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