Firstly, it is beautiful countryside. Secondly, the people have a fairly free state of mind. Lastly, the land ownership laws are basically none existent – it is the worlds biggest camping ground! In fact it is an adventure camping ground with so much to do.
Sure there are still typically Asian (or is it developing country) characteristics. We arrived at the train station, secured a taxi, complete with meter, and then proceeded to be ripped off at 10x the going rate……but the meter worked well, just a little more rapidly than it was supposed to.
Arriving at hotels is interesting in Mongolia as well. As usual, I wandered around quite a few whilst the girls looked after our bags and had morning tea. I tried my luck at about 6 hotels ranging from 2 star to 5 star (apparently). We settled on the 3 star for US$120 a night! But the Asian part was the welcome I got at each reception – indifference, rudeness, silence and quite a bit of “please come back when I finish my shift”! That doesn’t mean Mongolians are rude – just not finessed at receiving guests in hotels.
Yet when you arrive at a Ger in the country, you can walk straight in, grab a seat, take some tea and warm yourself by the fire without any question.
So based on taxi rides and hotel prices and receptions, our first impressions of Ulaan Bataar were mixed. It is surrounded by mountains, many covered in Alpine forest, and has a great central square with an impressive statue or five, demonstrating the strength of Chinggis Khaan and the Mongols in general.
To add to the charm of UB, the overnight temperatures were 3 degrees with upcoming forecasts of minus 3………….Julia was not impressed with the itinerary of her “follow the summer season tour”…….and this was her Birthday!
So before booking a tour, organizing future accommodation or worrying about where to get our washing done cheaply, we headed out to find a suitable establishment for birthday celebrations. Lesson 18 in UB – don’t bother with addresses. We couldn’t find anything by street sign (are there any?) and businesses don’t seem to bother much with advertising where they are – after all, once you find them, you know where they are!! Right?
So we found a place called Silk Road Bar & Grill – good wine list, good menu, pretty waitresses (uh, wait, not relevant!) and great service. We wined, dined, wined a little more and then Molly produced a hand made birthday card for her Mum. No tears (despite what Take 5 would have you believe) but a big grin and Julia rather deliberately left the card on the table. One free bottle of Champagne later, the gesture appeared to have paid off.
So UB was a mixed experience but mostly positive and a good introduction to Mongolia.