Ulan-Bator: A Tale of Three Cities

The way I see it (based on my very limited time here) Ulan-Bator is a confusing mix of 3 different identities;

A culturally rich and vivid historical setting…


A chaotic metropolitan hub…


Lastly, a place with lots of property that is out of reach for the majority of its inhabitants…


Ulan-Bator is a strange city. I would describe it as a third/second world country’s attempt to emulate a western metropolis amidst a plethora of temples. Immaculate skyscrapers (many unfinished) placed in what could be described as slums with undervalued heritage.

As you get close to the centre of the city, Sukhbaatar Square, you notice numerous buildings either unfinished or only half-full of tenants. Right next to these gargantuan cement structures lie decrepit old homes and temples that, when in their prime, were probably the pride of the people. Now it seems the money goes towards this aesthetic facelift/nip and tuck of the city. Investing it all towards a western ideal of affluence.

Walking around you can see many people who have lived through the differing incarnations of the city. From the times when Mongolia’s independence was not recognised by China, to when the country became recognised by the UN, moving on to the first democratic elections (where the communist party won), and then the first non-communist party being elected. It’s a crazy history and this is only the last 100 years or so. Yet despite all these changes you see nothing but the desire to push on and just move with the times, embracing more privatised sectors and the changing styles of life.


As you scale the Blue Sky Tower hotel to the Sky Lounge you see the silhouette of a sprawling urban metropolis. The archetypal electric snakes slowly slithering through the streets.


But it is just a shadow. An imitation. As I’ve mentioned, many of the buildings remain unlit, void of life, growing like a tumour.


It is an aspirational city, but I fear they are rushing towards this idyllic image. They should be building from the bottom up. It may take longer to achieve the global status they want, but the style and comfort of living would be less disparate.

But enough about the city and the buildings, what about the people? There is this wonderfully eclectic mix of the older generation in their goat-herder garms and a newer, business armour wearing generation, going to work to talk about stocks and figures.     Whilst socially a very interesting study, I feel my lack of time here has hindered my ability to learn enough about the true culture of Mongolia. From dinosaur eggs in the Gobi desert, to sharing a Ger/Yurt (hide tent) with a goat-herder. The true nature lies outside of the city and with multiple day tours, which I cannot achieve given my short stay.

However, I would love to return when I am older, maybe with children, but fear how the country will have changed.
Mongolian expenses (not including flights and trains)
Tögrög- 165,316

Pounds- £49.59

Per day- £24.80

I miscalculated what I would need so overspent, easily doable with much less money.


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