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Be a millionaire in Mongolia!

Ulaanbaater, Mongolia
Thursday, February 7, 2013

We finally arrived in UB at the ungodly hour of 6:30am and not a moment too soon for both of us. After so long on the train it was nice to have our feet on solid ground again. There were 6 of us being picked up by the hostel owner Bobby who has been so helpful from the very first email we sent. As with every person you deal with by phone or email its natural to create a mental image of the person in your mind's eye. Well we can safely say our mental image was way off on this occasion as Bobby turned out to be a she!

We arrived at the hostel still feeling like death warmed up so after checking in we crawled into bed.

If you want to feel flash with your cash Mongolia is the place to go. Apart from Vietnam which has a ridiculous exchange rate (approx. 33,500 to the £1!) Mongolia is the only other country where we could be millionaires. Ross enjoyed withdrawing 300,000 from the cash machine and it feels good to spend 30,000 on an evening meal only to work out you just spent less than £15.

Day 2/3 - Ger Tour

The next day we went on a Ger tour with the two other couples that we checked in with. We were picked up by a big friendly Mongolian man who spoke very little English but his smile said a thousand words. First stop was at the Genghis Khan horse statue. A massive monument built in the middle of nowhere but well worth the visit.

On the way to the Ger camp we stopped at the side of the road for what we all thought was a photo opportunity so we jumped out. After a few piccies we noticed the driver rummaging around in the back of the van. Under our luggage he pulled out a shovel and a large sack before disappearing into the snow. After several minutes he returned with the shovel and an empty sack. He then announced he had just buried his dog. Okay... so how long had a dead dog been in the back of the van?

The Ger camp was a small community nestled at the foot of a hill and the views from our Ger were amazing. Lunch was served which consisted of Mongolian meat dumplings, cold rice and cold potatoes. Yumm... actually not as bad as it sounds and with the cold you want to eat every last bit. You want to but apparently its good etiquette to leave a small bit of food on your plate, if you don't do this it can be considered rude as it looks like you haven't had enough to eat!

After lunch it was supposed to be a 2 hour horse trek but we were told the horses were too far away. So the horse was substituted for a camel and the 2 hours was whittled down to a 5 minute walk. This did not impress Ross so when the owner had gone he blagged himself a bare back ride on the guide's horse. Nothing to write home about but at least he can 'tick the box' to say he has ridden a Mongolian horse. More than 5 minutes bare back and he might have given him sores in places he didn't want them anyway!

Afterwards we took a long walk before an evening meal of more dumpling and cold rice before settling down in the Ger for the night. We were left with a small bag of firewood to keep the Ger nice and toastie and that is exactly what it was approx. 20c until the guide returned later and was extremely cross with us that we hadn't burnt the wood yet. A little confused Ross stoked the fire and the guide demanded Ross keep it topped up. Sonya now happily asleep and dressed for the cold night ahead was none the wiser as to what was going on.

20 minutes later the fire place was glowing red hot and the Ger was so hot it must have been approaching 40c. Ross by this point was stripping off as it was just unbearable. Sonya still asleep was like a ticking time bomb. A little stir and the fuse was lit 10..9..8..7..6..5..4..3..2..1.. blast off like a jack in a box Sonya exploded out of bed before rapidly stripping and headed for the door.... comical!

The Ger was still unbearably hot so we went to sleep with little on. We think this is where the Mongolian just play on the tourists as when its -30 outside it doesn't take long for the temperature to start to drop. Approx. 10 degrees per hour so when you wake up in the early hours you then have to scrabble around to get find all your warm clothes again! By the morning it was so cold inside our water bottle was frozen solid.

Day 4 - UB sightseeing

UB doesn't have any must see sights so after looking at the map we decided to check out those that were in walking distance, which wasn't very far in -30.

First stop The Gandan Monastery. A Chinese style building which compared to other temples and Monastery's we have seen in Asia looked run down. Inside there was a massive Buddha with what can only be described as a scary looking statue known as the Protector. The Monastery was extremely busy as it was approaching the New Year so people were coming to wash away the bad evils of last year and prepare them for the year ahead. Although we have been to many Buddhist temples before this was very different to anything we had seen before and on entering the Monastery people would walk clockwise round what can only be described as a wooden wheel on the left side of the Monastery and before leaving people did the same with one on the right. Inside the Monastery was filled with many bronze cylinders that people would spin when praying all very different to Buddhism we have seen before.

Next stop the Choijin Lama Monastery. Err... where do we start... this was a very strange small rundown monastery right in the centre of the city. After walking around the unheated outbuildings we both walked away feeling very confused about the religion.

Afterwards we headed to Sukhbaatar square in front of the Government Palace. An impressive building and square but by this time we had been outside for long enough!

We ended the day at the National History Museum which is well worth the visit. Spread over 10 halls the museum gives an insight into how Monolgian's lived throughout the ages and a very good overview of the Mongol empire before ending in the modern day with the end of the Communist regime.

We enjoyed our time in UB even if it was blinking freezing. Since leaving home it has been below freezing every day and progressively getting colder and colder and UB was the lowest by a long, long way. Tomorrow we get back on the train and head South East, Beijing is set to be positively barmy at just below freezing. T-shirt weather is on the horizon.

Hotel Review

We stayed at the UB Guesthouse as recommended by Lonely Planet. The hostel is well located within 5 minute walk of the Main Square and main museums, and by 5 minutes we really mean 5 minutes as you don't want to be out for a minute more when it's -30! It's also located near a great restaurant and not too far from the main supermarket to get supplies. This is not the place to stay if you a finicky about running paint, chipped door frames or general shoddy DIY but it is a cheap place to get a safe, warm bed for the night. What the hostel lacks in facilities and features it certainly makes up for in atmosphere. The staff were fantastic and are super helpful even before we arrived they had organised our itinerary in UB. We only paid US$20 per night for a double room and the whole stay for 4 nights including a tour to the national park with an overnight stay in the Ger only cost US$176 approx. £110. We would recommend this hostel but after 5 days on the train you might want to treat yourself to somewhere else. Do not expect anything too much as it certainly not the Ritz!

6/10 - based on the helpfulness of the staff .

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