Published: April 14th 2012April 14th 2012
I am writing to you now in an absolute fury seen as I just wrote 2500 words and for some rage-inducing reason, it decided not to save what i had wrote, so if the tone of the blog is rather angry, don't take it as a reflection on Mongolia. It will probably be a lot shorter as well cos I cant be arsed now.
Left Irkutsk Monday night, got the train to Ulan-Ude at about 10.30pm, arriving at 0630 the next day. Took a hike from the train station to the bus station, about half an hour, saw a ridiculously sized statue of Lenin's napper in the middle of the town. Was awaited at the bus stop by a young Mongolian woman who had our tickets ready for us, who said travelling is difficult?
The bus was scheduled to take about 12 hours, and we left at 0730. After a few hours we arrived at the Russian border. A customs officer came on board and checked our immigration stamps, then everyone had to get off and get their luggage out in order for in to go through customs control. After about 45 minutes of tedium, we were done with
Russia and onwards to Mongolia. For about 2 minutes until we had to stop at the Mongolian side and repeat the same process. Yawn. However, we had heard that this process can take anything up to 11 hours on the train, so the 1 1/2 hours wasn't too bad.
Another 5 hours later, and we were pulling into Ulaanbaatar (UB). On first glances it is a bit of a dive, ramshackle buildings are everywhere on the outskirts of town, cheap looking pubs and hotels, but once you get into the centre it really ain't so bad.
One of the first things you realise when you step out into UB, is that all the drivers are mental. Christ knows how anyone passes their test here without suffering grievous injuries. If they spent as much time actually indicating once in a while, or looking where they are going, instead of having their hand attached to the horn, I wouldnt have to fear for my life everytime we cross the road.
We made it to our hostel some short time later, its pretty much slap bang in the middle of town, but we had to have a helping hand from
some yanks in order to get there. Got settled in, booked our trip to the countryside for Thursday, then headed out for some grub. We headed round the corner to a place that had plenty of English on the boards outside, and played it safe seen as we were all hungry and tired. It was one of the only places that didnt have a sign for karaoke which the mongols are mad keen on.
Pleasantly surprised by the price of beer and food, we all had a couple of pints and a cocktail, and 3 big meals, which all told only cost £40. Result.
Craig had a nice moment with some local youths who tried to sell him some chewing gum outside. He politely declined, only for the little boy to run away, then turn round saying "hey, mister" and giving him the finger. Nice touch. The sign on the back of our hostel entrance asks us to kindly "not go out after midnight, it's not so safe outside!" so we sauntered back in at around 11.
We headed out early on Wednesday morning, not before one of the hostel lackeys told us to watch out for
the abundance of pick pocketers that roam the street. Safe to say I have been keeping valuables in my inside zip, and if anyone gets too close they get the old "dont you dare stick your hands in my pocket" face.
We followed a Lonely Planet walking guide which started off in the City Square opposite the Government Building which is adorned with statues of Ghengis Khan, before heading to the National History Museum. That was probably the best museum we have been to so far, God knows we have been to loads, as everything was written in English and the story of Ghengis Khan is a good one.
After a couple of hours there we went to a Buddhist centre which had a recommended cafe. Rosie was cheesing as it was a vegetarian place. All told it cost us a fiver for lunch and drinks which was ideal. I had been struggling to work out why 500 ml bottles are so much cheaper than 330 ml cans. Turns out the bottles of fanta we had were from 1999. Still drank them though.
After that it was off to a dodgy electronic centre, where all manner of
appliances were being sold, phones for a tenner, PSP for £40. Took a wee pitstop at a cafe for a beer after this before heading on up to the Buddhist monastery. We must have taken a wrong turn somewhere into Shanty Town, the highlight of which was a woman dropping her kegs for a leak, cheered me up no end. Made it to the monastery which was alright, but had too many pigeons kicking about for my liking. I'm sure the ones in Asia will be of a better standard.
Finished off the tour by walking down the main drag called Peace Avenue, which must be taking the piss as you can hardly hear your self think for all the honking going on. Although i will give the mongols some credit for their variations on carn horns, some of them go on for 30 seconds I kid you not.
Went home for a sly couple of Tiger tinnies, before heading our to a Thai/Mongolian joint for dinner. Avoided ordering the "Sea Garbage" soup, and went for some Mongolian ribs which me and Craig shared. Headed off to a few bars in the centre before calling it a night
as we had our trip to Terelj National Park to look forward to early next morning.
Got in a car with our driver at 9.30 the following morning for our 1 1/2 hour drive to Terelj. The scenery is pretty special. Huge rock formations just out of the earth all over the shop and it is pretty much endless plains of greeny brown. We rocked up to our little ger, past a golf course no less, and were introduced to our host Octo(thats what it sounded like). He showed us into our ger, which was absolutely roasting hot, it has a central wood stove for heat and for cooking, definitely comes in handy at night. He told us that lunch was at 1, horseriding at 5, and we just had to amuse ourselves in between.
We were also greeted by an absolute legend of a dog, who we christened Ghengis, he took up residence outside of our ger. We went for a walk up what seemed like a pretty modest sized hill, but by the end we were shadows of our former selves, red faces all round, fitness was lacking. Was worth it though for the pics and
the special views.
Lunch was an amalgamation of pasta and mutton stew, some carrots and tatties for good measure. Was pretty tasty to be honest. Went for another walk after this with Ghengis, spotted a camel, and by the time we got home, Octo's lad was willing us to go horse riding. It was good fun, would have liked a bit more freedom, but when they picked the pace up it was all you could do to hold on. Watching Rosie bounce up and down like nobodies business while her horse hared off into the distance was a real crowd pleaser. Next time i'll definitely be sure to wear a cup.
We got back, with sufficiently sore arses, and built a fire as the ger was getting nippy. Tea came along at 7, this time it was noodles instead of pasta, and a single solitary candle. Gets real dark out in the wild at around 8, so we were all huddled around this candle trying to keep ourselves occupied as it was rather boring.
It was a lot of fun during the day, but i was expecting a bit more interaction with the family as I had
heard a lot of stories about other people who had tried this experience.
Got back to the hostel the next day around noon, dropped our stuff and went to a little mongol cafe just up the road. I opted for Mongolian tea with dumplings and jerky, which I presumed would be on the side. Turns out it was a big bowl of tea with beef dumplings on it. Was pretty good though, I always said I was gonna try the delicacies or local dishes in each country, and I'm glad I did.
Went to the Natural History museum after this, was ok, plenty of dinosaurs so that was a plus point. Got speaking to an American chap called Travis who was here working at the US embassy, ended up going for a pint with him, which he purchased which was nice.
We decided to do a pub crawl, but sadly after about the 3rd pub, Rosie was starting to feel a bit sickly, so me and Craig quickly got something to eat and walked her home. She insisted we go out though, so went for a quick nightcap at the local pub before coming back home.
During the night, at first what I thought was a constipated yeti, turned out to be another hostel stayer losing the contents of his stomach so we fear Rosie may have picked up a little stomach bug along the way somewhere.
Today, as such, has been pretty much a write off. Settled our bill with the hostel and got stocked up on some provisions for the train, but apart from that, just a little recuperation day.
We leave at 0715 tomorrow morning for Beijing, due to arrive Monday at 1405. Mongolia has been worth the visit, especially the countryside, but I don't imagine I'll be back here again. Absolutely buzzing for China though.
Hope all's well back home,
There are more photos below