Week Two in Ulaanbaatar

Trip Start Jun 05, 2011
1
16
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Trip End Feb 28, 2013


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Where I stayed
Green Steppe Guest House

Flag of Mongolia  , Ulaanbaatar,
Monday, August 1, 2011

WEEK TWO IN ULAANBAATAR

Our outing to the UB Narantuul 'black' market was fun. We walked the 4km from our hostel. It is well known to be a haven for pickpockets and thieves so we only took a camera and a little money that we could hold our hand on. The market was difficult to find despite its size of several acres. We spotted the massive blue roofs that were pictured on our map so we knew we were in the right place. 

They charged 100T (8 cents) to get in at the gate.  TVs, clothes, tents, bicycles, saddles, rope, hardware, boots and anything you can imagine is there. Prices are all negotiable and much lower than the prices in regular stores in town.

We found a netted hat to keep the flies off our heads when we ride horses in the buggy mountains and a cheap wide brim hat to keep the sun off. We took a gypsy taxi home and gave him 2000T which we figured was the going rate for the 4km distance we estimated from the gridlines on our map. He took it so it must have been about right.

Walmart has come to UB. Here it is called something like a 'Super Hipermarket'. It is massive like the new ones in the USA. The one in UB is almost as big but has lower inventory and less selection. For this massive store, only six cars were in the parking lot. They must be losing tons of money during this start up phase. It is in an odd location near the railroad tracks. Nomin Group is the big business in town. They own the State Department store, grocery stores, car dealerships, including the one selling a one ton Chevy Silverado for only 60 million Tugrets ($48,000), and boats. The six passenger Silverado would not work out well on most of the Mongolian (dirt) roads due to it extra long wheel base. But for the mining companies in Mongolia who take care of their own roads, it would be great.

UB FOOD SCENE

 Mongolia is vegetarian hell. Any vegetables other than potatoes and carrots are extremely expensive. And once away from the big city (UB), difficult to get. Copious amounts of meat are consumed, mostly goat or lamb.  Here in UB a fair amount of produce, fruits and vegetables can be purchased....at a price. I was eyeballing 3 mandarin oranges in the store and was told by the lady who weighed and labeled them for me that they would set me back $6....ouch. For some reason a few Kirkland food items (Costco warehouse brand) can be found in many markets and stores. Small selections of king size bottles of herbs and spices, shampoo, dried fruit, walnuts, almonds and peanut butter at quadruple the price of at home. But nice to know if you really needed it or wanted it, you could get some of the items from home. I even found my favorite salt licorice from Holland, my vice, and oh so bad for high blood-pressure  Yes, I was bad and wiped the shelf clean. Hey I will need extra salt in the desert!

After a few days of eating the toast and jam for breakfast provided by the hostel, we asked them to quit bringing the white puff bread. We would get a whole grain loaf from Nomin market. They have a number decent bakeries in the stores around town. And we can get fresh eggs and nice imported cheeses.
 
During week two in UB, we discovered UB fast-food. It is more like what we call cafeteria food, not burger stand stuff. For 3000T ($2.50 you can get a decent meal of mutton, soup, salad and a drink. We had fast-food for lunch every day after. Our new favorite place had really good khorhog, a mutton and vegetable stew with big chunks of carrot and potato and sometimes served with pancake of sorts folded on top. Our first plate at our new lunch spot, served the khorhog without much "soup". Instead a side dish was included with what looked like broth.  .. Michelle was ladling the thick layer of fat from that side ‘soup’ and decided to skip it. Then it dawned on us that it was not the soup but the gravy for dipping the pancake with the khorhog. It sucked as a soup but was wonderful as a rich tasty gravy broth. 

We stuck to western food for dinners. American Burger has a good hummus wrap. The pizza at the Brauhause was very cheesy and delicious. Dave’s favorite was the $8.50 BBQ chicken salad at the popular and pricey Gran Khaan Bar and Restaurant. Michelle enjoyed the smoked salmon salad there. Service was slow at the place but it was a delightful change from Mongolian food.

 
The 40k restaurant near the flower market had a good pizza and salad too. Yummy, if you go to the right places. BD’s Mongolian Barbecue is the first American chain restaurant in Mongolia. We went twice out of some sort of homage to Royal Oak, Michigan, its headquarters. BD’s bar is named ‘Detroit Bar’ and we heard it is a great place that serves stiff drinks. Overall BD’s is not as good at the Altai Mongolian BBQ, a copycat nearby. (Yes, we had to try both buffets)

OUTSIDE OF UB FOOD

We were told to forget about getting western style dishes once we leave UB. Just mutton, mutton, mutton. Lucky for us, we love lamb. Don't know if we still will love it after 3 months of nothing but lamb and goat. Once we leave Ulaan Baatar (UB for short) our food selection will drastically reduce.

HITTING THE TOURIST TRAIL

Our BIG tour plan fell through. We were trying to work out a customized plan with a company recommended by a French friend. We sat down with Neomi, a French expat working for a Mongolian/French partnership. We were excited because during our interview we thought she understood the kind of things we liked and she told of us possibilities that sounded real good. She needed a few days to work out the details. To make a long story short, no plan was ever made and when we finally tracked her down, she pulled a standard tour off the shelf, in French,and said that is all they had to offer. She told us to find another agency if we wanted something different. 

... Fortunately we have the time for such delays.

We stopped into the Khongor Guesthouse to look at their tour book that is chock full of short and long tours, They have a 28 day plan that was close to what we wanted. With modifications and another traveler or two to split the fixed costs, we wanted to do it. Two 'must sees' in our plan are the Kazakhs and Tsaatans. We asked the coordinator to come up with a plan to see the Reindeer people in the North and the Kazakhs in the west. Plus we wanted the flexibility to see craftspeople and dairy products being made along the way. TSAATAN (REINDEER) PEOPLE. From June 15 to August 15, Tsaatans live at a place 1 or 2 day horse ride from Tsaagan Nur Sun. KAZAKH; Hidden in valleys beyond the snow-capped western mountain ranges are Kazakh, families that still to this day carry-on the ancient socio-cultural and traditional practices of their ancestors. Kazakh men continue the training of Eagles from an early age for both sport and hunting practices, while the elderly women pass-on the ancient traditional arts & crafts, such as the age old embroidery skills to their daughters. Samarks, Toskigaz are two well know craftworks.

The Konghor trip coordinator said he could come up with a customized plan for us. As we were leaving the office, we began talking to a threesome who wanted to take an overnight to a Terelj National Park about 70 km west of UB. Matthew and Sophie are college house-mates from the UK. Alex (girl) is Matthew’s American girlfriend. They needed additional people to bring the price down on their trip so we said, sure, sounds good. It would also give us experience on a short Konghor tour before we signed up for a longer one.

In the mean time, we contacted another traveler who was on her way to Mongolia who liked the 28 day tour too and we posted a note in Amsterdam Café and on LP Thorn-tree asking for people to join us.  We hope to be back on track once our short trip to Teraji NP is finished.
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Comments

jason on

looks amazing

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