Sunrise over Ulaanbaatar

TransMongolia_20090802_0747_0340To say Ulaanbaatar is ugly would be quite right. The influence of Soviet architectural and town planning is evident. It seems that very little thought has been given to people and the environment. Factories, probably unregulated, are only separated by waste ground and opportunistic housing. Even the Mongolian ger makes a sporadic appearance. Whether or not they were here before the factories is doubtful.

Arriving at yet another station, a quick look at the map in the lonely planet it should only be a short walk to peace avenue. As it’s 6am, why not – doubt anything is open and it’s unlikely that my room will be ready.  Joined by Camile, Gregoire and Morgan we set off. A few minutes later and it becomes obviously that the cartographer for the lonely planet has never been to Ulaanbaatar or there’s been significant tectonic activity as things are further away than they seem.

45 mins later, several offers of rides, hostels and we’re at Subhadra sq. Quite impressive given the mainly Russian style buildings along the route. The Swiss trio decide to look for a place to stow gear while I try to find some coffee – but before we can go our separate ways we’re joined by a karate teaching American expat by the name of Thamous (one day he’ll be famous-his line, not mine) who offers some help and whisks the Swiss off!

Most of the places for eating are close to the Sukhbaatar square.  Silk road bar and grill- off the main road down from Sukhbaatar sq., serves a variety of euro style food but also have shish kebabs on the menu. Good, but you could probably find better. The view if the “temple” is of a brick wall. Don’t come for the view. California is a good lunchtime spot given the outside gazebo – very welcome shade when it’s pushing 34° C, and it has an extensive western menu but the beef steak salads are best. Good sized lunch for around 15,000 mint. For a great curry, I’d recommend trying the Taj Mahal in the Ulaanbaatar Hotel (The only five-star hotel in Mongolia – so they say!)

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Taj Mahal in the Ulaanbaatar Hotel

Drinking out is a little bit easier unless it’s the first day of the month as no alcohol can be purchased! So, either buy it the day before or raid the mini bar! In summer, there’s quite a few marquees up in the town in an around Sukhbaatar sq. and along Seoul St. It seems such a waste to venture into an underground bar given the weather so I stayed outside.

After relaxing in Ulaanbaatar for a couple of days, I’m headed off to Terelj National Park.

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There are a number of travel agencies around that can organise anything from a simple walk around Ulaanbaatar or for a full-on desert expedition across the Gobi.  I opted for a more classical trip into the middle of nowhere and a stay in a traditional Mongolian Ger. One thing travelling by train that is great is the general feeling of safety – one thing you don’t get in a Mongolian transfer! Quite simply, they all have a death wish!  On arrival, I’m greeted with a traditional airag (fermented horse milk) and shown to my Ger.

One must have accessory for traveling by train and ger is a solar panel – otherwise you will not be able to charge your camera’s, phones etc!

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