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 Festival Mongolia
Wander the land that gave the world Genghis Khan and experience the rich pageantry and intense competitions of the legendary Naadam Festival. Witness giants wrestle, archers hit impossible targets and horses race across grasslands to glory. Travel the region’s steppes and sand dunes to uncover storied Buddhist monasteries and cultural treasures on this unique adventure.
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’...
Long after the reign of Genghis Khan, nomadism remains a way of life in modern Mongolia. But with so much to see and do here, it’s only natural that people would want to move about and explore.
Best places to eat in Ulaanbaatar
Up to 4 million people visit Mongolia annually and many of them are looking quizzically at menus or asking really loudly where the toilet is. But with this phrasebook you needn't be one of them. With this, you can be the urban ...
Trans Mongolian Adventure
Epic doesn't begin to describe this overland journey from Russia to China. From the cathedrals of Russia to the imperial palaces of Beijing, you'll encounter the best of St Petersburg and Moscow before boarding the legendary Trans-Siberian Railway en route to Lake Baikal.
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...