- Place or Religious Monument
- Place or Historical Monument
Ulan Bator is an ugly city, where dull Soviet-style buildings sit next to sky scrapers and yurt camps fill the suburbs. In its relatively small centre you'll find the usual amenities - restaurants, guest houses, internet cafes, and shopping centres. It's surrounded by depressing neighbourhoods that basically suck. The roads are in a terrible condition and you'll even come across people who live in large sewers. Stricken by poverty, they're forced to find shelter in sordid conditions.
The yurt camps that surround Ulan Bator resemble shanty towns. They're inhabited by nomads who, after a severe period of drought, were forced to settle in the city in the hope of gaining some financial security.
Ulan Bator is unavoidable if you want to tour Mongolia. Unless you've hired a chauffeur driven Jeep, have a motorbike or camping car, you won't be able to get from one town to the other. All buses leave from and return to the capital. Which is an annoying time-waster. Do take the time to visit its museums, which will give you a great insight in to a country that was once a powerful empire ruled by the ferocious Genghis Khan. You should also check out the Gandan Monastery, the largest in Mongolia.
One thing's for sure, Ulan Bator is not the prettiest place you'll visit during your trip to Mongolia. But that doesn't matter - this isn't a country that people visit in order to tour its towns. Tourists come here for another reason.
At the same time, make the most of the capital, as it's here you'll find information and services that are lacking once you hit the steppe. Permits for natural reserves, cash points, trek passes... you'll be able to deal with practicalities.
We had enough time to visit the Gandan Khild Buddhist monastery, which has sprung back to life since the fall of Communism, as well as a wander around parts of the town. Make the most of the capital by having a decent meal (there's food from all over the world), as you'll be limited to typical Mongolian canteen dishes once you're out of town, which can get repetitive.
Having arrived and spent my first night alone in a building near to the Black Market, I won't forget my first day in Ulan Bator, a chaotic city that can be disconcerting.
After 8 days in this urban hub, I still haven't got bored. I keep exploring the same market, wandering around stalls that sell horse tackle, breathing in the smell of leather, weaving between fishing nets made from guts and cords made from hair. I've tried numerous yak wool jumpers and multi-coloured dels, before being tempted by the wafts of meat cooking in canteens that serve, invariably, mutton ravioli...
I'll buy myself a single cigarette, wait for a bus to eventually turn up and squash myself in, not really knowing where I'm going to end up. I've day dreamed in front of Mongolian princesses' robes in the National Museum, strolled through dusty neighbourhoods around the Gandantegchinlen Monastery and Tuul River, been to see the National Song and Dance Ensemble as well as a match at the Wrestling Palace, where I cheered on musclemen dressed in their habitual blue and pink garb. I'm not tired of watching military parades on Sükhbataar Square, where soldiers in traditional dress proudly go through their paces, nor of heading to one of the city's subterranean nightclubs... In short, there's loads to do in UB (its nickname) and, as for Nadam, it's certainly worth a tour!