I was surprised at how modernized the city was. English is spoken almost everywhere and many signs are in English as well. Its a strange juxaposition of old/traditional and new/modern; monks walk side by side with women flaunting designer jackets. Yet, it seems that everyone exists in harmony and is respectful of variations in lifestyle choices.
UB traffic is insane! The streets seem to be continually congested and there appears to be a lack of general traffic laws. Its the first place I’ve ever been where cars literally do not stop for you; everyone runs across the street (even in crosswalks).
Mongolians like to drink; from Chinggis beer to shot after shot of vodka. Living in close proximity has bred an extremely social culture that has no problem letting loose. (I think the subzero winter temperatures have something to do with it too!)
Karaoke, in private basement rooms, is another Mongolian favorite (and often goes hand-in-hand with drinking).
Our guesthouse was conveniently located across a courtyard from a karaoke club and we spent several nights belting out everything from Proud Mary to Gold Digger while listening to our neighbors sing hits from Mongolian boy band Camerton.
Air Quality -
Is less than desirable. While the city center is modernized, those living on the outskirts of town live a much more traditional lifestyle. People still live in Gers (circular, felt lined dwellings) and burn wood and dung to heat them. As such, the sky is quite cloudy and a thick layer of smoke cloaks parts of the city.
The State Department Store is a UB shopping fixture. Its like a mall (with designer duds, toys, groceries, cosmetics, etc.) but none of the stores have walls, its just one big open space.
The act of shopping there is unlike any shopping experience I’ve ever had! You cannot move items from one department to the next without getting a written note from a sales clerk and paying first – a lesson I learned the hard way.
I wanted to purchase a big, warm, down jacket for the Gobi and also a beanie (located in a different department). As I wandered over to the beanies, with the jacket in hand, I was followed by two saleswomen saying, “Excuse me…excuse me.” About the same time, I noticed that Conor was surrounded by security and sales staff – he had taken a shirt to an entire different floor and they weren’t having it!
The Naran Tuul Market, located east of the city center, is a one stop shop for knock-off goods and flee market finds. While we didn’t have time to get over the market, several other travelers at our guesthouse informed us that the place is a huge, crowded maze of stalls selling everything from fake Rolex watches to yak fur seat overs.
As the National Sport of Mongolia, wrestling is wildly popular among all generations. Giant arenas are scattered across the country and little boys idolize top wrestlers.
UB provided the perfect setting for gathering supplies and preparing for our week-long caravan into the Gobi and our hostel, Khongor Guesthouse, proved an invaluable resource as well…