“Ulaanbaatar?” a Russian girl shuddered by the baggage carousel. Reading her face seemed to have genuine distaste or disgust at the idea. I tried to explain that going there didn’t mean I just spent my time in there. In fact I spent a lot of time in the countryside but it didn’t seem to register. I don’t know whether she has been there or not but Ulaanbaatar isn’t regarded as the most interesting city in Asia to visit and it is the coldest capital city in the world!
True also most visitors to Mongolia would rather visit the countryside. But Ulaanbaatar isn’t that bad at all in fact I have been too far less interesting cities and I enjoyed my visit and would like to visit again.

This visit was to meet my penpal since 2009 Zula. A visit is always made special when you meet a longstanding penpal for the first time. Zula and her family were extremely kind and the fact I had such an enjoyable trip is mostly due to them. Zula planned my trip and her and her mothger and Soko also welcomed me witha birthday cake. I had flew on my birthday.

Back to Ulaanbaatar, it is not the oldest of cities. Meaning “Red Hero” The city was founded as Urga in 1639 and its current location is 1778. Its name in 1924 the result of the Soviet influenced communist administration.
It is the population of at least one third of Mongolia. And while the soviet style apartment blocks do appear as blight on the city, the many gers shows the traditional face of Mongolia. The main focal point of the city at least tourism wise is the attractive Sükhbaatar Square. The square is named after the national hero who regained Mongolia’s independence from the Chinese. There is a statue of him on a horse there. Also in the square is the other more famous internationally Mongolian national heroes Chinggis Khan (or Genghis Kahn), Ögedei Khan, and Kublai Khan. The square is quite serene for a major focal point with an absence of coffee shops and restaurants etc.
There was some kind of festival or at least an event where a Khoomei (throat singer) was performing. Zula, her cousin and also a friend of mine Soko, and Zuka’s mother visited the square as the National History of Mongolian History. Ulaanbaatar actually has quite a few museums in easy reach of the square.

Chinggis Kahn

“I am the punishment of God. If you had not committed great sins, god would not have sent a punishment like me upon you.”- attributed to Genghis Kahn

Chinggis Khan known as Genghis Khan was unquestionably a military genius.
A national hero in Mongolia there is a sense of pride of his role in establishing Mongolia as a world power that under successive generations was to grow into the largest empire the World had ever seen. Only surpassed in size by the British Empire I would argue the Mongolian Empire was a greater feat. It was continuous and the Mongols swept across anything in their past. Using skilful military technique, and bravery.
The fact that Mongolia is now small and weak means the past glory days are held on to with pride.

Travel guides warn about not questioning the legacy but the Museum of Mongolian History also touches on the subject that a popular view of Chinggis Khan, outside Mongolia, is of him being a blood thirsty ruler. As the Mongol Empire is estimated to have reduced the Worlds Population by 11% as massacre, plunder and rape. So the difference in evaluation can be big. However not even this China’s revisionist history is claimed to be trying to claim Chinggis Khan as their own. Chinggis is known to have promoted former enemies he respected into top positions Jebe, after he admired Jebe’s boldness at proclaiming it was he who had shot at the great general. He promoted people my ability rather than hereditary.

Mongol Empire mapHe was proclaimed universal ruler or Great Khan and saw it as his duty to submit the world.
He said to his also military successful son
“With Heaven’s aid I have conquered for you a huge empire. But my life was too short to achieve the conquest of the world. That task is left for you”

Attributes and for more reading:
Mongol Map Attribute 

The highlight of Ulaanbaatar is possibly the Zaishan memorial. Built by the Soviets it offers attractive panoramas of UB and its surroundings and worth the visit.

I also visited the large statue of Genghis Khan Чингис хааны морьт хөшөө. There is a museum which in my opinion is more interesting than the National Museum of Mongolian History. It is located on the outskirts of UB and can be visited on the way to Goorkhi Terelij park, which I visited with Zula, her mother and a friend of Zula. One site there is the 100 lama cave which it is said up to a hundred Lamas hid from the communist authorities (they were eventually tracked down and killed). The cave itself is quite small.

Ulaanbaatar also has more modern entertainments and I stayed a day by Masha of AirBNB. A kind host (as the rest of her family) and now friend I though thoroughly recommend. We visited the UB Jazz club, which interestingly is an Armenian food themed restaurant with Armenian influenced dishes and chefs. The food was nice although excessively salty – well the dish I ordered. The live entertainment was good and the settings. Tea with cognac (Armenia is known for its Cognac) is available which I tried.

The city itself is not perfect and some care needs to be taken. Particularly at night and if visiting some nightclubs.
Tensions and nationalism has meant that foreigners and particular foreign man / Mongolian woman couples could be antagonising to some nationalists and has partially led to the absurdity of Mongolian Neo Nazis. I never saw one but was told of the nationalistic aspect. In addition to this there is an alcohol problem (not just confirmed to the city) and the day I stayed in an apartment (not at Zula or Soko) there was a drunk Mongolian apparently thinking the apartment was his and banging the door violently hurling obscenities in Mongolian as I was told by others (not directed at me whom he never saw).

Also there are numerous reports of bad treatment at hostels if one does not use their tour services. This complaint is rampant and can be found all over the internet. The conduct of many a hostel shame as it goes against traditional Mongolian hospitality. Fortunately through Zula, Soko, Masha and their families I was able to avoid this and experience real hospitality.

Finally whilst in UB I attended liturgy at the Russian Orthodox Holy Trinity Church. The only Orthodox Church in the country which has a very welcoming priest and congregation. The Church itself is in attractive settings.