Ulaanbaatar has beautiful temples, fascinating museums, a huge market, and picturesque life on the streets. Take this tour through Mongolia's exotic capitol.
Narantuul Market is one of the largest markets in Central Asia. It has two inside market buildings surrounded by countless stalls, and the variety of goods is endless. In addition to modern goods, the market sells everything for traditional Mongolian life. There are nomad boots and deels (traditional robes) with their mystical designs. There is everything needed to build a ger and the brightly painted chests to furnish it. There are saddles, horse tack, and warm felt underclothing. You can even buy the brass gods for the household shrine.
Narantuul Market is always busy and crowded. It is a great place to connect with the Mongolian people and understand their culture. If you need anything for your packpack, you can buy it there too.
Narantuul Market is a forty minute walk south-east of Sukhbaatar Square. Take the first boulevard east of Sukhbaatar Square off Peace Avenue. Follow this boulevard south for twenty minutes to a traffic light at a main cross street that is just before railroad tracks and a bridge across the Dund River. Turn left onto the cross street and walk east for another twenty minutes to reach the market. You could also take a taxi.
Sukhbaatar Square is the heart of Ulaanbaatar, and it is really a fun place to be. People sit around the statue of national hero Sukhbaatar or pose for a picture in front of the statue of Chinggis Khan.
It is a good idea to stay in a hotel near the Square. It is centrally located to Ulaanbaatar's museums, and you can watch for events in the Square as you go about your day. There is often live entertainment in the Square.
Tibetan Buddhism came to Mongolia in the 16th century when it played an important political, as well as religious, role in Mongolian society. During the Soviet Era, religion was suppressed, and most monasteries were closed. Mongolia's Democratic Revolution in 1990 brought a revival of religion and rebuilding of monasteries. Today, Tibetan Buddhism is Mongolia's primary religion, although it exists alongside indigenous shamanism.
The northwest part of Ulaanbaatar has many temples. They contain beautiful religious art and offer the visitor a good look at Tibetan Buddhism. All of the temples are active places of worship, but visitors are welcome. If you visit in the morning, you will find monks at their daily prayers, accompanied by drums and trumpets.
Gandan Monastery is Ulaanbaatar's foremost monastery. It has become a symbol of independance for the Mongolian people. Gandan contains several beautiful temples. When you enter the front gate, Migjed Jansraig, the main temple containing an enormous Buddha, is straight ahead. Be sure to see Vajradhara Temple, the first temple on your right after the front gate. Its pigeon filled courtyard is loaded with atmosphere.
Just south of Gandan Monastery, on the boulevard leading uphill from Peace avenue, there are two other temples - Ikh Khuree Zurkhain Datsan and Lamrin Sum.
Two lovely temples - Gesar Sum and Bakula Rinpoche Sum - are a short walk directly east of Gandan Monastery. Take the dirt road on the east side of Gandan. Walk for ten minutes through a village style neighborhood to the first main street. You will see both temples on your left.
For an interesting look at an ovoo, walk north for five minutes on the road to the left of Gesar Sum. An ovoo is sacred pile of stones that reflects the Mongolian belief in the power of Mother Earth and nature spirits. Tasgany Ovoo is on a hill that offers a great view of Ulaanbaatar
Choijin Lama Temple Museum is a temple that was spared destruction in the Soviet Era and saved as a museum. It contains a fine collection of Buddhist art, includung thankas and tsam masks. Since it is a musem, you have the opportunity to photograph the displays. The photo fee is well worth it.
Choijin Lama Temple Museum is located one block south of Peace Avenue below Sukbaatar Square. Walk south for one block on the avenue on the west side of the Square. Turn left, and about mid-block you will see the back of the temple.
Ulaanbaatar has several interesting museums. They provide an insight into the Mongolian people and their nomadic way of life.
The Zanabazar Museum of Fine Arts has over 500 works on display. Many of them were created by Zanabazar, Mongolia's first living Buddha. The museum contains a fine collection of mystical art and 20th century painting. The hand sewn applique thankas are especially beautiful.
To get to the Zanabazar Museum of fine Arts, walk north from Peace Avenue on the street next to the State Department Store. Turn right onto the first cross street. The museum is mid-block on the left. If you continue on this street for two blocks, almost to Sukhbaatar Square, you will find the National Museum of Mongolian History on the left.
The National Museum of Mongolian History takes you through the story of the Mongolian people, from pre-history to the Democracy Revolution. One floor is dedicated to the many ethnic groups in Mongolia. There is a display about Chinggis Khan and the Mongol empire, a part of history that still plays an important role in the national psyche.
The Palace of Culture is one block east of Sukhbaatar Square. It contains the Theater Museum (you will see the sign from the sidewalk) and the Mongolian National Modern Art Gallery ( a bit harder to find, turn right at the further end of the Palace). Both of these museums are worth a visit if you enjoy the arts.
ULAANBAATAR SURVIVAL TIPS
Central Ulaanbaatar is fairly compact and all the sightseeing is within walking distance of Sukhbaatar Square.
There are two kinds of taxis in Ulaanbaatar - metered taxis and private cars that act as taxis. Traffic is congested and very slow, so you are usually better off not taking a metered taxi, because while traffic stands still, the meter keeps running. Either way, taxis are not cheap.
The bus system only costs 400-500T (40 US cents). Enter the side door and a ticket seller will take your money. They make change for small bills.
The State Department Store has a real supermarket on the ground floor that is an oasis for foreigners. The fifth floor has a good selection of Mongolian crafts. The State Department Store is located on Peace Avenue, two long blocks west of Sukhbaatar Square.
Very few people in Ulaanbaatar speak English or read English writing.When sightseeing, it helps to have your destination written in Mongolian cyrillic. Mongolians are an easygoing people and very helpful to foreigners.
The long distance bus station is called Luu Avto Vaksal, known locally as Luu or Dragon. It is located on Peace Avenue a few miles west of city center. The number 26 bus goes past it. It is wise to buy your ticket the day before departure because buses are usually full. You will get a printed ticket with an assigned seat on a bus that is similar to first class buses most places in the world.Try to experience the country outside Ulaanbaatar.