Our second city stop on the Trans-Mongolian was Ulan Bator, Mongolia. The whole reason we decided to take the route we did was to stop in Mongolia. It is the least densely populated country in the world, with over half of its population residing in the capital. Ulan Bator is centrally located.
The station in Ulan Bator is a classical train station with vaulted ceilings, marble columns, wooden benches and old style ticket windows. Our first stop in Ulan Bator was to the money exchange, which is located right outside to the right of the station. This was the least official money change, you hand them your currency, they hand you the equivalent. No need for a passport or to sign any paperwork. Nate had to change money, Matt just used the ATM, whereas Carmen and I had exchanged money in the Beijing airport.
Our hotel was less than a mile away from the station after we had completed the transactions, we headed over. The Best Western Gobi's Kelso is a great and affordable option for people who are getting off the train and need a nice rest. Apparently, the hotel is usually full during the week and empty on the weekend. Matt chose another hotel across town and after getting us situated in our rooms, he wandered off to his hotel. His hotel was in the downtown area of Ulan Bator.
Our first night here was very relaxed, we walked around a few miles to the city center to find some food, Burger King. I would just like to say that chicken fries are not as good in Mongolia. We walked back to our hotel to get a good night’s sleep so we could get a full day of Mongolia the next day.
I had booked us a car at Sixt Rental, a company I had never heard of before this. We walked over to Matt’s hotel and then on to the pickup location for our four wheel drive. We planned to drive out to Terelj National Park and then to the massive Genghis Kahn Statue and eventually to a Ger we rented. Unfortunately, the Ger fell through, so it was just a day of the previous two items.
Driving in Ulan Bator is a chaotic event, lanes are disregarded, traffic lights just a suggestion, and people drive whatever speed they want. It only took about thirty minutes to get out of town and onto Terelj. The road to it was one lane each way and through very desolate country. Before we got to Terelj, we saw three large birds on the side of the road, so we stopped. It was a roadside stand selling coins and handmade leather goods and other trinkets. For a small fee, you could also hold one of the huge birds. Nate bought a coin; we shot some photos and then headed to the park.
We arrived at the park only to find that it was mostly open country with some huge rocks in various places, a yak or two somewhere, and a monastery. While I did really enjoy the time we had here, a whole day was not needed, everything is extremely easy to find, and the few things we did do, like the walk around Turtle Rock and the hike up to the monastery only took a short time. We had been advised that navigating the park was difficult, which was not true. The few things we wanted to do were easily located; the signage was very good.
Our next stop was the Genghis Kahn statue. , about an hour drive from Terelj. Like everything else in Mongolia, it was in the middle of nowhere. The statue is the largest of its kind. Inside there is an extensive history of Genghis Kahn’s family and life, as well as the largest boot in the world. I thought this was well worth the trip out of Ulan Bator.
We returned to Ulan Bator to look for some food, Carmen had found a vegetarian restaurant, unfortunately we weren’t able to find it and just got Pizza Hut. We also stopped at a photography store we found while walking about.
Our final day in Ulan Bator was spent walking around looking for a tattoo shop for Nate, he wanted to get something done while he was there. The receptionist at our hotel spent the entire day with us, too. He was great, calling everyone he could think of for a tattoo place, he took us to an Indian place for lunch, which Matt covered. He also let us check out right before our train, around 7:00 pm, which was amazing. He was, without a doubt, the best hotel receptionist we have ever encountered. The day wandering around Ulan Bator was fun.
The whole reason we took this train was to visit Mongolia and it was worth it. I do not think I would visit Mongolia again unless I was buying a horse and riding it across the country. Three days in Ulan Bator with a car was enough time to see what we wanted. The rest of the photos from this trip are in a gallery below. Next stop, Irkutsk.
Here is my wife's take on Ulaanbaatar.