What not to miss: a guide to Ulaanbaatar

The capital of Mongolia offers a unique experience. It’s a city where the old and new lifestyles are mingled together in total harmony.

I didn’t know what to expect. I was feeling excited and curious, but also the awareness was lifting its head up high. The language barrier was big and the Mongolian customs unknown for me.

Our border crossing from Russia is a crazy story for another time. But from the border, we arrived safe and sound to the capital with a shared lift. We shared the ride with friendly locals and I felt welcome and safe arriving in this far-off country.

Ulaanbaatar, located in the North-west of Mongolia, is not only the biggest city (roughly half of the country’s population live there) but also the hub no traveller can avoid. All the roads and trailways connect in here, it is the economical, cultural, industrial and political heart of the country.

Ulaanbaatar has a very unique vibe that I could not compare with any other place I’ve visited. The city is a mix of old and new. A mix of Soviet-style concrete buildings and modern skyscrapers with Buddhist temples and traditional gers hidden between.

Navigating in Ulaanbaatar was challenging at first – most of the roads don’t have names so you have to navigate by names of the buildings.

Most fascinating places for me to visit was the old monasteries. Gandan Khiid is one of the country’s most important Buddhist monasteries. The name translates to “Great place of Complete Joy”. It is one of the few monasteries that wasn’t destroyed in the religious purifications by communists who ruled the country roughly from 30’s to 90’s.

Another interesting monastery was Choijin Lama Monastery right in the heart of the city. Turning it into a museum probably was the reason it was safe during the communist era. Unlike Gandan Khiid, Choijin Lama is not an active place of worship anymore.

Photographing isn’t normally allowed inside the monasteries except in a few by paying a fee.

The statues of Genghis Khan and his sons in Sükhbaatar Square

Mongolia is a country full of interesting history and culture. I enjoyed the rough countryside on horseback more but Ulaanbaatar is definitely worth a visit. Besides, it’s quite impossible to even skip it if you are planning a trip to this land of the nomads.

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