If Mongolia’s yin is its pristine countryside, then Ulaanbaatar (UB) conforms nicely to its yang. An enormous city of pulsating commerce, heavy traffic, sinful nightlife and bohemian counter-culture, the Mongolian capital stirs as much shock as it does excitement.
UB is a cauldron of concrete and dirt. New buildings are thrown up on any available patch of ground, while Humvees battle Landcruisers and yellow taxis for right of way on pot-holed boulevards. On the high street, tourists and new-moneyed Mongols look for bargains in European fashion shops and Mongolian cashmere boutiques.
Between these chaotic scenes are islands of serenity – quiet monastery courtyards, public squares and the odd beer patio. The river, the Tuul Gol, offers a cool respite to the south while the four holy mountains surrounding the city provide its backdrop. Ever-expanding ger (yurt) suburbs still surround the city, offering a glimpse back to before Soviet urban planning.
As Mongolia’s cultural, political, economic and social hub, Ulaanbaatar is the logical base for excursions into the countryside. As you’re planning your plunge take the time to explore its excellent sights and museums, fill up at some great restaurants and soak in the eclectic vibe. This ever-changing city may be the biggest surprise of your Mongolian adventure.
Best places to stay in Ulaanbaatar
Naadam: a guide to watching the sports of the Mongolian steppe
'Mongolian Archer - Naadam Festival, Mongolia - 2001' by Mark Heard. Creative Commons Attribution Location: Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia Dates: 11–13 July Level of participation: 3 - play a round of Shagai and sink a bowl of airag Mongolia’s major festival is a celebration of ‘manly sports’.
Ulaanbaatar destination guides
The world's coldest places
If the chills give you thrills, these destinations will suit you right down to your woollen-socked toes: Vostok Station, Antarctica Located near the South Geomagnetic Pole, and at the lofty height of around 3500m above sea level, the Russian research station at Vostok is perpetually cold, but never more so than on 21 July, 1983.
Trans Siberian Adventure Naadam Festival
A spectacular train journey from Beijing to experience the wonders of Mongolia during Naadam Festival, Siberia, Moscow and St Petersburg
Trans Mongolian Express
From the Great Wall of China to the Hermitage in St Petersburg, travel halfway around the world in three incredible weeks. Board one of the world’s great trains and ride the rails on this once-in-a-lifetime trip across the grassy steppes of Mongolia and through the taiga forests of Siberia.
Mongolia: travel books to read before you go
This excerpt from Lonely Planet’s Mongolia guide provides a selection of travel literature to get you in the mood for your trip. Dateline Mongolia: An American Journalist in Nomads Land, by Michael Kohn, is a memoir and travelogue written by the author of this guidebook.