Between Ulan-Ude (the last Russian city visited) and Ulaanbaatar, there are about 8 hours of travel, plus two stops (Russian side and Mongolian side) for the visas check.
As I explained here, since border checks are faster by bus (or so we read around), in Ulan-Ude, I got off the train and got on the bus. After about 2 hours, we were finally on our way to the Capital of Mongolia.
The road between the two cities, especially on the Mongolian side, is not the best one, and even the landscape tends to thin out more and more.
Yurts are often seen in the distance. These are the tents of nomadic families (ger in the local language) with grazing animals all around.
Mongolia is, in fact, a Nation where many people live in tents. Every time they move, they tear the tent down and set them elsewhere up.
Ulaanbaatar in a nutshell
The following is an interactive map, and the red pins mark some of the main points of interest in Ulaanbaatar. The black pins mark the railway station, the Guide Hotel, where I stayed, the Department Store in the city center, where you can find a bit of everything, and a laundry. A laundry service is essential for such a long journey if you don’t want to bring loads of clothes with you.
The orange pins mark two restaurants, one of them is part of the Modern Nomads chain, very famous in Ulaanbaatar. In Mongolia, you eat mainly grilled meat, and here you will find a welcoming atmosphere, typical dishes, and a fast service.
Zoom out the map to see the national parks because they are located outside the city.
Whether if you arrive by train or by bus, both stations are not very central. Therefore you have to move by taxi to get to the city center, but fortunately, they are quite cheap.
The first impression of Ulaanbaatar will be the one that will accompany me throughout my stay here. Very kind, open, and helpful people, living in a city on which it is still necessary to work a lot in terms of public transports and city planning.
Traffic and smog are frightening, and there is definitely the need for an efficient and rail-based public transport service. But the thing that struck me most is that each corner of the city has a half-finished or abandoned skyscraper. For this reason, the architectural and landscape beauties of this place seem oppressed by concrete.
It is the center of Ulaanbaatar and hosts the main attractions of the city. They are partially around the square itself, partly near it.
The statue of the Mongolian politician, revolutionary, and national hero Damdin Sükhbaatar, is located right in the center of the square.
The Mongolian Parliament, with the statue of Genghis Khan at the entrance, is probably the most famous building in the city.
Among the other historic buildings that can be seen in or around the square, there are:
National Museum of Mongolian History
Financial Exchange Building
National Academic Drama Theater
An ancient temple used today as a museum. Unfortunately, it was under renovation and therefore closed on my arrival, but this place is worth a visit.
The Blue Sky
The most famous skyscraper in Ulaanbaatar built in the shape of a sail.
This Buddhist monastery is located in a suburb west of the city, it hosts the giant statue of Avalokiteśvara, the Buddhist deity of compassion. Currently, this over 25 meters high statue is the biggest in a closed building.
Mentioned more out of curiosity than anything else. It is located in a somewhat central square with the State Department Store (a shopping center) as well as several clubs and shops around it.
Other buildings and places of interest
Here I mention some places or attractions that are located a little outside the city center.
A real bazaar with all Mongolian colors and flavors at once.
Winter Palace Museum of Bogd Khan
This museum now stands in the complex of buildings that were once the residence of the Mongolian Buddhist spiritual leader Bogd Kahn.
Golden Buddha Statue
Located south of Ulaanbaatar not far away from the Golden Buddha Statue, it is a monument to the Mongolians and Soviets who lost their lives during World War II.
Near the sculpture, there is a mural showing scenes of friendship between Russian and Mongolian people. Getting here means climbing a few hundred steps, but the panoramic view of Ulaanbaatar from above will be your reward.
To reach the national parks around the Mongolian capital, you need an organized tour or take a rental car. Both things are relatively easy because these tours are offered almost everywhere in the city. Alternatively, you can ask your hotel.
Bogd Khan National Park
South of Ulaanbaatar lies the over 2000 meters high sacred mountain Bogd Khan. The whole surrounding area is part of the Bogd Khan National Park, whose main attraction is the Manzushir Monastery.
Gorkhi-Terelj National Park
This vast national park is probably one of the main attractions of Mongolia and is located about 40 km from Ulaanbaatar. The farthest part of the park is the uncontaminated area, but you need to stay a couple of days to visit it.
The area closest to Ulaanbaatar is full of tourist camps instead. Visitors can stop here for lunch, dinner, or even stay overnight in a traditional yurt (Ger in local language).
You can also book here a horseback riding, different excursions, and experience how the local population lives.
This huge tortoise-shaped rock is one of the main attractions of the park.
Equestrian Statue of Genghis Khan
It is an impressive monument in memory of the great leader who unified the Mongolian tribes and founded the Mongol Empire. The statue is 30 meters high, and the total height of the monument, including the base, is 40 meters.
The monument is made of steel, and a staircase brings you to the crest of the horse.
The statue, opened in 2008, has a long ornamental staircase and is oriented towards the east, to the birthplace of Genghis Khan.
From the top of the statue, you can admire the park in all its size and beauty. The other equestrian sculptures around Genghis Khan represent Mongolian warriors placed there to protect their leader.
After a few days spent in Mongolia, it is time to continue the Trans-Mongolian journey towards Beijing. From Ulaanbaatar, there are only 2 trains per week to the Chinese capital (3 in high season). It’s Sunday morning, and our train is already at the station. Perfectly on time.
It will be a 24-hour journey through the Gobi desert to Jining (also known as Ulaan Chab).
But we have come so close, how could we miss now the wonders of Datong?
Trans-Siberian and Trans-Mongolian Railway – All you need to know
Travel arrangements: General Information
Departure station: Moscow
First stop: Nizhny Novgorod
Second stop: Kazan
Third stop: Yekaterinburg
Fourth Stop: Novosibirsk
Fifth stop: Krasnoyarsk and Stolby Nature Sanctuary
Sixth stop: Lake Baikal
Seventh stop: Irkutsk
Eighth stop: Ulan-Ude
Ninth stop: Ulaanbaatar
Tenth stop: Datong
Arrival station: Beijing