If we expected to arrive to a sleepy Ulaanbaator at 5am in the morning we were very much mistaken – a swarm of touts and taxi drivers descended on the incoming train. Taxi drivers were looking to bundle us into their cars as quickly as possible – after rejecting a ridiculous rate proposed by one woman we got a fare of 7,000 Mongolian Tugruk to our hotel. When we arrived the taxi Tim gave him 10,000 expecting change only for him to run to his car and pull off quickly without giving change. Not a great introduction!
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Mongolia but Ulaanbaator seemed like another Asian city although one possibly on the up given the number of Lexus 4x4s going around. Later we learned that mining has been a boom industry what with the demand from China next door and with a population of only 2 million a commodity boom goes a long way.
We had a look around the Mongolian National Museum which was a bit dusty but attempted to put a positive spin as possible on the Mongolian conquests. Needless to say Genkhis has a better reputation inside the country than outside – though in fairness he couldn’t have much worse reputation outside!
Of course no self-respecting city would be complete without an Irish bar – seemingly this was a bit of a thing recently and quite a few had opened. Quite a bizarre experience walking around inside I have to admit but in my defence I didn’t stay for a pint.
The next morning we met Eugene arrived from Biskek in Kyrgyzstan and he said he noticed an issue with our flight booking to South Korea. They had been booked for the 29th but of the wrong month! A rebooking involved a trip to Mongolian Airlines offices and us losing a day in Mongolia but figured that was better than finding out when we tried to checkin to a non-existent flight.
We then headed out of the city east toward the Terelj park to stay in a traditional Ger with a nomadic husband and wife team of Yadmaa and Davasuren
Inside the ger was basic enough with a set of bed, low table and a wood fired stove which required constant attention. In fact over the two days we never quite managed to get the measure of the stove. Inside the temperature would swing from tropical to freezing. This was made especially difficult as the temperature outside would range from 17c at day to -4c at night.
All around were open rolling hills with no fences or barriers. Horses, goats and sheep just grazed away at various levels of the hillls and other gers were dotted around the valley. You can see how the Mongol armies simply burst across the steppes as their homes seemed extremely portable and there are few if any big natural barriers.
On the second day we tried our hand at horse-riding in the morning with some of the horses being more minded to doing what they were told than others!
The scenery was stunning and all around were signs the seasons were on the turn – ice covered rivers, spray of snow in patches and the leaves various shades of orange, yellow and red.
After being on the move for so long it was welcome relief to be off the grid and have nowhere to be.
Our stay in the ger finished with a 0500 start to catch flight to Korea. Settling down to sleep took a while especially as all of the dogs in the valley were barking at one point, at what we knew not. Then we heard a howl at the full moon and realised there were wolves about! We decided it would be wise to check the door.
We were amazed when the lady of the house came in with warm lamb stew for breakfast which was most welcome as the temperature had plummeted overnight and our stove had gone out. We felt awful that they were up so early but we were told the family get up at 0400 normally so they probably thought we were having a lie-in!
We then headed off to the airport passed grasslands and slumbering gers in the suburbs to fly to one of the biggest metropolises on earth – Seoul.