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Introducing Ulaanbaatar

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.