Ulan Bator or Ulaanbaatar is the next stop on the Trans-Mongolian train. The trip during the night went from the Mongolian border to the capital of Mongolia. I stay a couple of days in the city before taking some time to discover the inland.
Yesterday evening, I was not the only one on the train who was hungry on the train after passing the borders. A little after midnight, more travelers started to come to the restaurant wagon. The traveler plate was very much in demand. Our exchanged Tugriks came in handy immediately. It’s funny how even after a few days you know some faces in the train. Some people you speak to, but some you just give that friendly nod when you meet them on a platform in the middle of the night, or in the restaurant wagon on an early morning.
First Class Self Service
The Chinese train attendant wakes up all of us who get off at Ulan Bator over an hour before we arrive in the station. With so many passengers leaving (and getting on after we will have left) he has to make sure his train is ready again. Where the Russian ladies on the first leg of the Trans-Siberian Railway were taking care of getting the cabin in order, here we had the guy giving orders to the passengers. So we combined packing our backpacks and following the instructions of the attendant. Entering Mongolia happens in chaos.
A Rainy Day in UlaanBaatar
The rain was getting worse every minute we went closer to Ulaanbaatar. By the time the train got to Ulan Bator, the rain was falling out of the sky by the buckets. The streets surrounding the station were now converted in rivers. Sneakers weren’t the best choice to start my visit here.
When I got on the platform I saw Khongor, my local guide for Mongolia already waiting for me. He invites me for a breakfast in a place he’s sure to be open. When we arrive at a KFC however, I object, and we end in an American-inspired restaurant.
Getting settled in Ulan Bator
My first place in Ulan Bator is an Airbnb. The host isn;t in town, but his mother in law is helping me to get installed in the 1-bedroom-apartment. When I go out that evening to the supermarket, I find out how complicated life will be in this country. No one who I meet here speaks more than a couple of words of English, and the Google translate app on my phone has all the trouble in the world in distinguishing the Mongolian from the Russian, and becomes pretty useless. Finding eggs and bacon in the supermarket proves to be a challenge, and the milk I thought to have bought turns out to be yogurt. We travel, we learn…
These shoes are made for walking
With the streets still pretty much inundated, I take Khongors advice to get me better shoes for the trip in the inland serious, and go on the hunt in the city. The one store that I can find for outdoor gear has prices that are more elevated than the prices I’d pay in New York, so I feel other alternatives. Another issue is the weight. With some air travel in my future, I try to add as little weight to my luggage as I possibly can. So I end up with a couple of overpriced Nike’s.
In the weekend leading up to the discovery of Mongolia inland, I get me a local sim card. The State Department Store, a relic from the darker communist times, hosts all local carriers. But on my 2nd day in UB, the one that can provide a data sim card has a computer defect in the client-system. It will take me a visit to several of the shops and the best part of a morning to acquire the card. I charge 10 US$ on it, and I’m connected, at last. A local number means a second WhatsApp for a couple of days, so hello confusion…
Traveler meet traveler – backpack meets backpack
The coffee places in Ulaanbaatar are very much designed with the tourists in mind. During my stay in Ulan Bator, I went to a couple of them, where the backpacks were most of the time standing next to the stools. The prices are pretty high when you go to a Caffe Bene. 5900 Mongolian Tugrik is over $US2.5, a lot compared to the half dollar espressos you’ll find in the local places. But wifi, speaking English en engaging in conversation with other travelers comes at a price.
I’m still not sure on how the name of the city is written in English. I find sources that mention Ulan Bator, but I find at least as many that talk about Ulaanbaatar. If you can shed any light on that, there’s a comment section below the blog!
Koen Blanquart is a strategy consultant, journalist, and author.
Wanderlust is one of his driving factors, and he shares his travels here on Boarding Today. Koen is also the skipper of SV Bagabonda, a sailing vessel making a slow circumvention of the globe..
Koen recently published a book on how to manage a remote team: The Suitcase Office.