Thursday, August 9, 2012

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

My first week in Ulaanbaatar (meaning 'Red Hero') or as they say here the "UB" has not been too eventful.  We arrived on a Tuesday and had reservations at the Chinggis Khaan Hotel. The hotel however is not centrally located in the city and we did not love our accommodations so we moved Saturday to the Ulaanbaatar Hotel. On Thursday, I got a horrible cold and sore throat that turned into the flu by Sunday. So I have not done much my first week.

UB is a pretty drap looking city and there is not much to see compared to the rest of the country, which is supposed to be breathtakingly beautiful. A lot of the buildings in UB are run down and you can see the Russian influence with the square, block style buildings. However, all that is changing with some of the newer buildings that are up and there is a ton of construction taking place. Mongolia is a country one-sixth the size of the United States and a population of around 2.5 million.  Most of the people are nomadic, living in wood-framed felt tents (called ger) with no paved roads, cars or general use of electricity. The country is landlocked boarding China in the south and Russia in the north. Ulaanbaatar's population is a little over a million and home to 45% of the overall population of Mongolia.

We are staying at the Ulaanbaatar Hotel, located in the heart of the city.  Currently the hotels outside is getting a well deserved facelift and it will really look nice once it is completed. In front of the hotel is a statue of Vladimir Lenin which was erected in honor of the Russian politician and founder of the Soviet Union.
Sukhbaatar Square is the central square in the city.  It is named after and features a statue of Damdin Sukhbaatar, leader of Mongolia's 1921 revolution. In July 1921, in the center of Ulaanbaatar, the 'hero of the revolution' Damdin Sukhbaatar, declared Mongolia's final independence from the Chinese. The Square was also where the first protests occurred in 1990, which eventually lead to the fall of communism.

The massive building on the Square is the Government House, built in 1951, with several statues including Chinggis Khaan and two of his generals.
Damdin Sukhbaatar monument located in the middle of the square.
A massive bronze Chinggis Khaan statue prominently displayed in the center of the Government House.
Chinggis Khaan's General Ogedei and his third son.
General Kublai and was Chinggis Khaan's grandson.
My first day out exploring I was approached by a bunch of Mongolian students on a "scavenger hunt" looking for foreigners. They had a brief questionnaire for me to answer and asked for a picture.
To the west of Sukhbaatar Square is the Golomt Bank, Central Post Office and Culture Palace.
Post Office
Built by the Russians, this salmon-pink building is the National Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet, better known as the Ulan Bator Opera House. It is located off the southeast corner off of Sukhbaatar Square and was established in 1963. With my love of the ballet, it would be great to see a performance before we leave.  
Located between Sukhbaatar Square and our hotel is Central Tower. The first international standard office building in Mongolia and opened in Spring 2009. In addition to an office building it also has a few floors of luxury retail outlets like Louis Vuitton, Hugo Boss and Omega as well as several upscale dining options.
The Blue Sky Hotel is the newest addition to Ulaanbaatar's skyline, opened January 2012, and really stands out. In addition to the hotel, they also have residential units, office space, several restaurants and a shopping center. It is 25 stories and the tallest building in Ulaanbaatar.
You can pretty much find anything at the popular State Department Store. There is a grocery store, shoes, clothes, electronics and wonderful souvenir shop on the top floor.
On Octoboer 9, 2008, the legendary Beatles were honored in Ulaanbaatar with a monument. I thought it was odd until I read that a lot of Mongolians listened to their songs and made them aware of the dictatorship society they lived in. Apparently, the Beatles had a large role in bringing democracy to Mongolia. 
Another bright pink building which is the Mongolian National Song and Dance Academic Ensemble that was founded in 1945. The ensemble is a professional art organization which perform national folk music and classical master pieces. 
Located outside the Mongolian Youth Federation building, I just thought it was cute.
I have been to a lot of cities where I am thankful I do not have to drive and Ulaanbaatar has been added to this list. The traffic is horrendous here!
This monument commemorates politician Yumzhagiyn Tsedenbal, the first secretary of the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party, chairman of the People's Republic of Mongollia and marshal, who governed Mongolia for 40 years.  
Sanjaasuren Zorig, considered the godfather of Mongolian democracy, was brutally murdered in his apartment on October 2, 1998 and his assassination is still unsolved.  He was also called the "Golden Swallow of Democracy", a prominent Mongolian politician and leader of the student movement in the 1990 democratic revolution.
There are a few museums on my list to see while I am here and I finally made it to one, the National Museum of Mongolian History. Overall the museum is well laid out and gives you an excellent overview of Mongolia's history from the stone ages through the 20th history. There are 10 halls each dedicated to a specific period or topic. I really enjoyed the traditional clothing exhibit, their culture as well as the history of the Mongolian Empire, Chinggis Khaan and his generals. For $4 US it was definitely worth visiting. You can't take pictures inside unless you pay an extra $8 US which I thought was funny.  Have not been to a museum before that charges you to take pictures. 

This statue is also located close to the entrance of the National Museum.
So this was my first full week in Ulaanbaatar. This Saturday we have a tour guide taking us to Terelj National Park which is about 2 hours outside of UB. We are both looking forward to the trip and seeing more of Mongolia.  
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