Some practical information.
Before starting with description of second half of Ulaanbaatar’s sights I would like to provide you with some hopefully useful information. First of all let’s start from public transport. As I mentioned in my previous post, using local buses requires ownership of a specific smart card. Is not possible to pay cash and or to buy in advance just a single ride ticket. Card or nothing. Then card… Where to buy it? I took my own in a kiosk close to Chinggis Khan square but I’m sure there are more places. Card costs 3.000 Tugrik and this amount is just for the card itself, then is needed to put on some money for tickets. Keep in consideration that average cost of a bus ride is between 300 and 500 Tugrik. I got this info at tourist information office where I suggest you to go as soon as you can. They also give free map of the town. Internet in town is broadly available in hotels, guest houses, cafes and restaurants. However if you prefer to have a local sim, as I did, I suggest to use Unitel one. It worked pretty fine also outside the town, at more than 100 km distance. There are several shops selling all kind of sim cards along Peace Avenue but I’m quite sure they don’t speak any English. I went to an official Unitel store located at Peace Avenue, 20, and I didn’t have any issue in communication with employees. Find the best plan for you among the several available. I want to spend last part of this introduction talking about problems in communication with people in Mongolia. More educated young people speak English and definitely also who works in tourism field. Older people, more often, speak Russian. Basically there is a large remaining share with who is very hard to communicate. My perception, and of course I could be wrong, is that Mongolians are in some way inwardlooking with no much interest on other countries and cultures. I guess they’re very proud of their own culture and don’t want to put it in danger. Now let’s move to second part of tour of Ulaanbaatar and I can tell you by now that I’m going to tell you about best sights of the town.
Away from Peace Avenue.
In this article I will talk about most interesting places located a bit far from Chinggis Khan square and Peace Avenue. In spite of distance I walked to most of them but public transportation (bus) is available and there is always the chance to take a taxi. By the way, it could be useful to know that in UB any car is potentially a taxi. People in the street, when they need a lift, just flag a car with hand, palm down and shortly someone stops. For a foreigner it is probably more difficult because of the language barrier that would make difficult to deal and clarify destination but you can always try.
Gandan Khiid monastery or, being more precise, Gandantegchinlen (meaning “Great place of ultimate joyfulness”) is certainly the most beautiful religious sight in Ulaanbaatar. It is a Buddhist monastery in Tibetan style located north-west of the town. It includes several temples. Few other more modern temple can be found also in the street leading to the monastery. After crossing the gate of the monastery, you will see on the right Vajradhara Temple, my favourite one. It is rich in colours and has a lot of “Mani wheels” all around. Turning these wheels should allow to accumulate good karma (wisdom) and clean bad karma (negativities). Most important temple of the monastery is Avalokiteshvara containing a 26-meters high statue of Buddha, a gift to Mongolia by Nepal and Japan. Within the monastery there are also other buildings including a library and a Buddhist University, that’s why there are many young monks going around in their orange dress. Even if I’ve visited the monastery under an intermittent but heavy rain, I could say this is the place to visit if you have to choose only one in UB. Leaving the site in the direction South, almost at the intersection with Peace Avenue you will find a copy of the iconic Robert Indiana’s Love monument. I’ve seen one of the original in the marvelous Yerevan’s Cascade.
Winter Palace of Bogd Khan
Let’s move from a Buddhist monastery to something very similar. I’m talking about the winter palace of Bogd Kahn, a Tibetan Lama (the third highest person in Buddhism Hierarchy) that was also king of Mongolia until his death. It should be noticed that during last two years of reign he cohabited with the newborn Republic obviously symbolic role. In the complex there is the king’s palace and six temples. It is a nice place to visit also for the interesting mix of secular and religious buildings. Price for taking pictures around is quite expensive for Mongolia: 18 Euros. The palace is 3 kilometres from Chinggis Khan square so most of visitors get here by bus or a taxi. I actually walked and this way I had the chance to see a glimpse of UB’s suburbs that is a mix of some depressed area next to modern districts with big buildings and modern malls. Walking in the direction of the palace complex I saw a bizarre monument representing a caravan with many camels. It is the right celebration for a town that once, it was called Urga at that time, it was in the middle of caravan routes connecting South (Beijing and other town in China), West (Samarkand, Bukhara and Central Asia) and North (Irkutsk and from there all Russia).
Golden Buddha & Zaisan Memorial
From Bogd Khan Palace, keep going South and you will reach two other interesting sights. Well, to be I liked only one of them. The one I didn’t like is the big Golden Buddha statue. It is a tall one, I think about 30 meters but, in my opinion, is not very well designed and what is even worse is that the overall effect is spoiled by the presence of taller buildings all around. Visible from the Buddha statue’s basement is the Zaisan memorial, 300 stairs up. This is a testimony of strong friendship between Mongolia and Russia. The memorial honours Russian soldiers fallen during World War II but it has also a lot of reference to event in the history seeing Mongolian and Russian side by side, like for example Mongolia’s independence in 1921, battles against Japan in 1939 and first Mongolian man in space (on Soyuz) in 1981. Friendship with Russian is real, this is what I felt talking with people and it is counterbalanced by a “lack of passion” for China. The Memorial is a great place to have a fantastic view over the town. Tuul river flows nearby and is beautiful. Northern to centre there are ger districts made mostly by tents. By the way is not so rare to see also ger, the Mongolian circular tent, on the roof of buildings or on terraces. I hope that in this post and in my previous one on the same matter, I’ve reviewed all most important sights of Ulaanbaatar. Other than visit them, I suggest to walk around the town without a defined destination just enjoying the many possibilities of taking gorgeous pictures of locals, especially children. Little girls are incredibly photogenic and it seems they have majority over little boys. Another interesting subject are wall paintings. There are many especially in the suburbs.
Before ending my posts about Ulaanbaatar few remarks about food. I’ve said already something in one of my previous post, when I’ve described Tsuivan. Now I would like to add something about the different kind of dumplings in Mongolia. There are basically three different ones but made with same ingredients. I’m talking about Bouzes, steamed, popular also in Ulan Ude; Bansh, boiled in water and finally Khuushuur that are fried in mutton fat, the latter is probably most famous street food in Mongolia. On the roads you will see dozens of small restaurant and kiosks selling them. In a proper restaurant what is more likely to be offered is grilled meat. Mongolians are proud of their barbecue ability. In general, I have to say that I liked food in Ulaanbaatar. However if you are bored with local food, you can find some international alternative, mainly Russian and Central Asian and even some “fusion restaurant” aiming to contaminate local recipes with foreign influences. Surely you will not starve in UB. In the end of this post you can find the usual gallery. If you like to see more pics take a look also at Facebook gallery.