(This summer Andrew Killeen traveled around Mongolia with his wife and two children: Noah, 10, and Joseph, 7. In this series of posts, he shares tips and tales from their adventures. Check out his first part in the series here.)
“Have a good time in Ulaanbaatar,” my colleague said to me as I was leaving the office. “Don’t get mugged, like I was.”
“What?” I had been halfway out of the door, but this brought me back. “You were mugged?”
“Yes, in broad daylight.”
Other colleagues then chimed in with their experiences. “Everyone gets mugged in UB.”
But we weren’t, nor did we ever feel threatened. It’s hard to deny though that Mongolia’s capital is a rough and ready place: drinkers passed out on the street are a common sight, and to reach one shop we had to pick our way nervously past a pack of feral dogs.
Anyone who has become used to the relative safety of Beijing may need to resharpen their street smarts.
However it has charm too, with oddities such as a monument to the Beatles: John, Paul, George and Genghis – no, actually, it seems they have no connection to the city whatsoever. The statue though is a popular place for young people to hang out.
The National Museum of Mongolia is well-organized and interesting, but the Natural History Museum has been closed for several years (despite which it continues to receive glowing reviews on certain online travel sites…).
Its dinosaurs though, including a huge and impressive tyrannosaur, have been moved to the Central Museum of Mongolian Dinosaurs, located, with acute historical irony, in the old Lenin Museum. Apart from the two big skeletons the other exhibits are unimpressive, but it’s still a must for dino-loving kids.
A visit to the city’s Buddhist temples is more exciting for children if you go when the ceremonies are taking place at 9am. The chanting, droning trumpets, and ringing bells create an extraordinary atmosphere. Gandan Khiid is the biggest and most impressive temple, its ongoing development testament to the way Buddhism survived decades of repression in Mongolia. Nearby is the splendidly named Centre of Shaman Eternal Heavenly Sophistication, its physical reality a much less impressive camp of grotty gers. We wandered in for a look but were chased off by a barking dog and a shouting woman; we could only conclude that the shaman himself was not at home.
We found plenty to keep us entertained during our stay in UB, but our main purpose in being there was as a base for exploring Mongolia, and to see the Naadam Festival, which will be the subject of my final two posts in this series.
Photos: Karen Killeen, https://mongolia.usembassy.gov