Ulaanbaatar Travel Blog› entry 56 of 125 › view all entries
Ulaan Bataar is a crowded, noisy, dirty city with infernal traffic, people sleeping in the street and children begging, but somehow I have grown to like it. Coming from Russia the first thing one notices are the many English signs and international restaurants and cafes.
I`ve never seen so many backpackers outside of the major European cities as in UB. Also quite refreshing after 2 months in Russia (I`d met 8 foreigners since leaving Novosibirsk). There are many guesthouses that offer cheap dorm beds and can organise trips into the countryside as well. It`s a great place to meet likeminded people, not just to travel with but also to go out for drinks or food or sight-seeing, or just talk. As Mongolia is in the heart of Asia, one meets people who`ve been or are planning to go just about anywhere.
One of the most interesting sights is the Bogd-Khan-winterpalace, half an hours walk outside of the centre. Bogd Khan was head of state and head of Buddhism in Mongolia from 1911 to 1924, so at the time of the revolution (Mongolia was the world`s second communist state). On display are Buddhist artworks as well as furniture and other possessions of the Bogd Khan, and the buildings themselves are wonderful too.
Nearby atop a hill is the Zaisan memorial, a typical Soviet monument, from where you get a great view of the city. Right next to it is an ovoo, a shamanist construction of which there are thousands in the countryside, a heap of rocks with blue ribbons, around which you are supposed to walk 3 times in clockwise direction and then throw on a new rock (or an emty vodka bottle, or a skull, or money).
Also a bit out of town is the black market, an enormous market where you can buy just about anything very cheaply. Mind your stuff though, because when I went there I got my bag slashed, as well as my finger (I was carrying it in front of me with my hand on it). He didn`t take anything, and I wasn`t seriously injured, but it was still a bit of a shock of course.
A completely different sort of attraction is the colourful Gandan-monastery, one of the few monasteries not destroyed by the communists, though the enormous statue of Buddha that stood in the main temple has vanished without a trace and was recently replaced by a replica. In the morning there are ceremonies, most impressive are the monks chanting and making music.
Naturally there are many museums here as well, unlike most Russian ones with English captions. I had been told the natural history museum was the most interesting one, so that`s where I went first. There were some interesting parts, dinosaur skeletons, 1,5 meter long mammut tusks, meteorites, etc., but otherwise it`s mostly 3 floors of stuffed animals.
The historical museum I found far more interesting. It offered a great overview of Mongolian history from prehistory to today. I learned quite a lot there too - did you know Genghis Khan was a democrat, and that contemporary Mongolian democracy is in part based on his 4 principles: government is participatory - rule by law prevails - all are equal before the law - personal freedoms are honored ? Pretty cool, huh.
Another museum worth a visit is the Zanzabar museum of fine arts, which also gives a good overview of Mongolian art history. I couldn`t find the ticket office so I just walked in and left some money in the donation box. Za (=Mongolian, means oh well or whatever you want it to mean)