Why is Ulaan Baatar so ugly? I shall ponder this for a moment…because the Russians forgot to share their great architectural secrets with the Mongolians. The buildings resemble some fine engineering feats and architecture genius reminiscent of the USSR from the 50s-60s. Socialism = equal = crap!
Mongolians are nomads – herders and farmers not builders. They also under planned. They designed a city for 600,000 people and currently about 1.6 million people reside in Ulaan Baatar. Mongolians drive Japanese cars (second hand – some have driver right others driver left), they sit in hours of traffic with limited public transportation (in the cities) and they drink vodka like the Russians. The drinking age is 21. Don’t look for McDonald’s here although KFC is making a run for it. Crime is limited to pick pockets but it must be enough of a problem that signs abound. There is a Louis Vuitton but it’s next to the Parliament building (hmmm). Mongolians enjoy sports – archery, horse racing and wrestling all dating back to ancient times. Historians believe the Mongolians were successful warriors because of their weapons – makes sense.
I sipped salty milk tea – butter, milk and tea. It tastes like it sounds buttery and milky. Mongolians eat horse, camel, goat and lamb. I tried the mutton skipped the horse. Mongolians think the Chinese are weird for eating chicken feet and pork. I agree. They marry between the ages of 18-20 and have about three children. Nomadic families marry younger at age 16. Men buy rings in gold, silver or diamond depending on their income. They pay for the wedding and dress too. My guide is in the silver category but at 28 he is an old single man. He thinks the young women are liars and wants an older woman. Sorry I am waiting for the Shanghai husband.
They love them so karaoke. It’s on every block. They sell and buy camel wool and cashmere clothes and carpets. I went shopping. I love me so cashmere. I might need DHL and Capital One texted me a fraud alert. Oops.
My taxi driver will not mess with single American women ever again. He followed me into the store spying on me and it made me uncomfortable. I gathered he wanted to receive a commission when he passed me his phone and his “friend” spoke in broken English (thought it was the hotel first). With the help of a local Israeli lady who now lives here (why on earth), he learned to stay far away from me. She informed him I wanted him to wait in the car and that I would insist no store paid him anything. I understand he is trying to earn money but my hotel hired him to drive me and lurking near the dressing room first alarmed me and then pissed me off. It’s not fair to the stores and I would not have him abusing the system.
Mongolia should not be judged by its cities but rather its vast countryside. Visit the Gobi desert and ride a camel, travel to Khuisyn Eight Lakes, the fresh water lakes in the center of the country, hike one of the many beautiful national parks, attend a horse show, step through time in Karakorum, the capital of the Mongol Empire and capture a glimpse of wildlife at Ugii Lake. Go in July and be generous. You will be most welcome.
…And from Mongolia, you really can see Russia. It is 372 miles from Ulaan Baatar.
I’m back to Beijing by air for a brief stopover before I fly to Myanmar. Where did I hide that damn visa for arrival? The woes of a traveler on the move. Don’t worry my back is completely scar free and ready to test out the Burmanese technique.