Day 25 – Trains to Ulaanbaatar/Ulaanbaatar

Nomad / Day 25 of 64 / 03 June

I woke up at 7.30am, in preparation for our 8.45am arrival at Ulaanbaatar Railway Station [Улаанбаатар өртөө, Ulaanbaatar Ortoo]. As the train pulled into a station on the outskirts of UB, the woman in my cabin grabbed her pack of cigarettes and left the cabin. Wanting to grab a smoke since Zamyn Uud, since Mongolian trains are non-smoking, I followed her. She got out of the train and smoked on the platform. I pulled out my cigarettes too, and she gave me a smirk: finally, we both had a smoke break.

Mrs. Smoking Aunty is the one in pink at the end of the video.

The train finally reached UB station at around 8.45am. The team at my hostel, Camel Track Guesthouse (8 SGD/night), were kind enough to offer pickups from the station. I got into the SUV and they drove me to the guesthouse. The guesthouse is located near Peace Avenue [Энхтайваны өргөн чөлөө, Enkhtaivany Orgon Choloo], the central artery of UB, with most points of interest located along this axis. The guesthouse was also near the State Department Store, a huge and famous department store in UB, which sort of serves as the unofficial “centre” of Peace Avenue.

Looking west along Peace Avenue.

After checking-in, I stayed in my room till about 12pm to settle my Trans-Siberian train tickets and Russian accommodations.

My first stop after leaving the hostel was the State Department Store. I checked it out for about 20 minutes, but there wasn’t much to see there: it was just like any other international department store. I then left to find some lunch along Peace Avenue. I eventually settled on a Mongolian canteen-style place, and ordered giant Mongolian “curry puffs”. The puffs were filled with what I assume was lamb, and the puff shells were deep fried in oil. It wasn’t the healthiest meal, but it was definitely a satisfying one.

Malls truly look the same in all countries. This could as well be Century Square or Bugis Junction’s BHG.

No curry inside, sadly.

I finished lunch at around 2.30pm, and left for the Victims of Political Prosecution Memorial Museum: a museum dedicated to the victims of the purges during Mongolia’s time as a communist state.

Unfortunately, when I arrived, I discovered that the museum was closed for renovations. So, I went to my next stop, the nearby Genghis Khan Square, instead. The square is enormous. At one end lies the Mongolian Government Palace, an enormous building that also houses a statue of Genghis Khan. In the centre of the square, there is a large statue of Sukhbaatar, one of the key figures of the Mongolian struggle for independence in the 1920s.

One interesting thing about UB is how hard it is to find cigarettes. Although people smoke openly, it seems that cigarettes are traded like some kind of illegal good. After visiting Genghis Khan Square, I walked around to find some cigarettes. Many shops had cigarette racks, but no cigarettes. And many shop owners said no when I asked them if they sold any. Eventually, I found a shop that sold them. They weren’t openly displayed though: I had to ask the shopkeeper for them. She then smiled and took out two packs from an unmarked plastic box. The whole transaction was shady and strange.

After strolling the streets of UB a while more, I returned to my hostel at 4.30pm. There, I sought refuge from the cold weather until dinner time. I had dinner at a corner restaurant where I ordered some Goulash, a seemingly popular Russian dish in Mongolia. I then went to a coffee shop nearby to relax and watch the sun set on UB. Turns out, it was a long wait in the coffee shop as the sun only started to set around 9pm.

I found lots of cool graffiti along the streets of UB. Graffiti here isn’t just tags and vandalism: here, they’re almost like murals.

Once it had gotten dark enough, I started to walk back to my hostel, and along the way, I explored the Seoul Street Light Street which was a pedestrian night market. The Light Street was pretty lively, and there were buskers, food trucks, and even an amateur judo exhibition. I walked the street for about 30 minutes before returning to my hostel for the night.

– Ryan

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