The overnight train ride through the heart of the Gobi Desert was rather mundane as you would expect of a desert, but as morning approached, the landscape began to change, becoming pastures and lush green fields.
I was amazed at the number of livestock roaming about given the entire nation’s population of 3 million, most of whom live in Ulaanbaatar, the capital. As we approached the outskirts of the city, a collage of traditional and modern houses appeared, all enclosed by livestock fences.
When we arrived at Ulaanbaatar train station, the old man I met gave me his phone number and told me to be careful. The two other foreigners found me and asked what my plans were because they didn’t have any despite borrowing a Loney Planet book from two other travelers whom we had met in Erenhot. I told them I wanted to stay in an authentic Ger, the traditional Mongolian tent house, similar to a Yurt. It wasn’t too far away so we walked toward the city center. We were lucky and got an entire Ger to ourselves.
It was around lunch time so we searched for two vegetarian restaurants (ironic given we were in Mongolia, the land where meat is your base item) because one person was vegetarian. We wandered around for a while and found both places closed despite their “open” sign. Ultimately, we settled on a regular restaurant.
Afterwards, we made our way to the tourist office to get maps and information, then to Sukhbaatar Square, the center of the city containing the Government Palace and a few large statues, including one of Chinggis (Ghengis) Khaan. There was a political rally in progress, including a parade of horses and people carrying banners.
We tried to visit a few museums but they were either closed or had power issues, however we were able to enter the Fine Arts Zanabazar Museum, which featured large displays of cultural, religious and historic artifacts.
For the rest of the day, we wandered around, researched tour options, found a Lego store, and passed by Megjid Janraisig temple while looking for dinner.
I know a lot of people focus on food when traveling, but be mindful that it takes a lot of time to seek our specific famous restaurants or places and you will likely need to reduce the number of sites you can visit in a day. I recommend eating whatever you find whenever you get hungry. It’s a more authentic local experience and it also takes a lot less effort and planning since you will likely pass by numerous options throughout the day of exploring. Planning activities is hard enough. Don’t make it even harder.