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Health & safety

Dangers & annoyances

Ulaanbaatar is a fairly carefree and easygoing city and it’s unlikely you’ll experience any problems but there are a few concerns to keep in mind, chief among them are pickpockets and dangerous traffic.

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It could be the warrior-like bloodlines from Chinggis Khaan, a penchant for wrestling or habits from the communist days where demand always exceeded supply, but Mongolians rarely queue – they bustle, huddle and scramble. You will often need to sharpen your elbows, learn some appropriately argumentative phrases in Mongolian, and plough headfirst through the throng. Being polite won’t really help, nor will getting angry.

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Pickpockets and bag slashers are a recent and growing problem, although theft is seldom violent against foreigners, just opportunistic. One guesthouse owner reported that 5% of his guests are ‘picked’ while in Ulaanbaatar.

Crowded places are the trouble spots: getting onto a bus or getting held up in human traffic at the Naran Tuul market. The worst time is around Naadam Festival when pickpockets lurk around the Square and stadium – keep close watch of your camera. Beware of pickpockets who masquerade as coin sellers.

Pickpockets often work in teams; two or three will block your path and push from the front while another dives a hand into your pockets. During winter, the pockets of bulging coats are popular targets.

At Gandan Khiid, unsuspecting tourists, mesmerised by enchanting ceremonies, have been relieved of their money and passports. The same goes for foreigners engrossed in computer screens at internet cafés. When possible, leave valuables in the safe in your hotel. If you must take valuables on the street, use a money belt, and on public transport carry your bag in front of you. You can even get a temporary safe-deposit box at one of the 24-hour Golomt Banks.

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While you're there

Medical services

While Ulaanbaatar may be a fairly healthy city, its hospitals are abysmal and best avoided. The only really reliable place is SOS (listed following) but full-blown emergencies are sent to Seoul or Beijing. Pharmacies (aptek; ) are common in Ulaanbaatar, stocking Mongolian, Russian, Chinese and Korean medicine. Check expiry dates carefully.

Russian Hospital No 2 (450 129, 450 230; cnr Peace Ave & Tokyogiin Gudamj) This is the best Mongolian hospital in town, though it’s hardly the place you’d want to visit for a critical ailment. It’s 200m west of the British embassy. Consultations cost US$10 to US$20.

SOS Medica Mongolia Clinic (464 325; 4a Bldg, Big Ring Rd; 9am-6pm Mon-Fri) This clinic has a staff of Western doctors on call 24 hours (after hours call9911 0335). Its services don’t come cheap (examinations start from around US$195), but it’s the best place to go in an emergency.

Yonsei Friendship Hospital (310 945; Peace Ave; 9am-4.30pm Mon-Fri) This South Korean–sponsored clinic is fairly reliable and reasonably priced. English-speaking doctors are sometimes on hand and the prices are very reasonable (less than T5000 for a consultation). The hospital is located close to the Selbe Gol bridge.

The best place for dental work is at Ceramo Dental Clinic (464 330, 9666 0670) in the same building as SOS Medica Mongolia Clinic. An optometrist is located on the 1st floor of the State Department Store.

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