13 June 2010

Mongolia: The Capital

(As mentioned previously, due to the Great Firewall of China (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_websites_blocked_in_the_People's_Republic_of_China), posting is a pain, and posting link and photos isn’t possible, so each blog entry will be that bit more plain until Hong Kong (unless I could be bothered posting them somewhere else and putting links to them).)

Ulaanbaatar can be quite crazy, and would be a stressful place to live in. Crossing the street is a nightmare, and traffic barely obey signals, pedestrian crossings etc. The best way to navigate the madness is to make sure you cross when a local is crossing, and make sure they are traffic side, for a buffer, just in case.

It also felt relatively unsafe in comparison to Russian cities. The Russians have a bad press for their country being a dangerous place, but we didn’t get that feeling at all. I think if you want to get into business in Russia, that’s when the danger comes in. The Russian Mafia can’t be bothered with small fry tourists when there is so much more money (with less hassle) to be made elsewhere.

The amount of cops on the street also made it feel safe, typical authoritarian state. The police can be considered dangerous, as many people told us, but again, foreign tourists can be too much of a hassle for them, as they may complain to embassies etc. Better to try and get bribes off the locals.

On arrival at the train station, we met with a guy who’d we’d shared a hostel with in Irkutsk, and the first thing he told us was that him and a mate almost got mugged the previous night after a few beers. The number of people we met with similar stories or bag-slashing/pick-pocketing stories was quite high.

At the hostel, the Golden Gobi, we met a few interesting people (including the other guy who almost got mugged). There was an Aussie who’d biked all the way through China to UB illegally; an American who wanted to bike from UB to Russia, and then onto the Stans (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central%20Asia) (he failed after 4 days, Mongolia is difficult biking terrain, and lonely); a Japanese marathon women (who we guessed is about 65); German couple who bought horses and headed out of town on them; a couple of musicians who played Beatles songs very badly, but in an endearing way.

The hostel owners were simply money grabbing gits. They could be very friendly and charming when they think they can get money out of you, but do a volte-face when there it seems there is no more money to be made. I do have to admit that their hostel was very good though, centrally located with wifi, a good kitchen and a couple of chill-out rooms, and well-priced.

Initially they were very friendly as we wanted to do a tour with them, which is where I think they make their real money (the well-priced hostel may be a loss-leader). After the tour though, they shunted us into a room in a different part of the building, with only a shower. Also, they wouldn’t give us all the info needed to get to the Office of Immigration so that Audrey could extend her visa; eventually we used one of their drivers to take us there, as they said it would be easier to get it sorted. It wasn’t easier, as the driver didn’t know the regulations, and we were able to get a Taxi for half the price when we went back a few days later to pick up the passport.

We bought tickets for a wrestling tournament (lasted 4 hours for £1.50, great value). With 256 competitors being whittled down to 1 winner, it starts off with about 15-20 fights going on at any one time on the arena floor. Battle Royal (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle%20royal)/Royal Rumble (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal%20Rumble) wouldn’t be in it. Some of the match-ups were over in seconds (due to their being no age/weight groups), while others could last for up to 30 minutes. There were a quite few impressive moves and gruelling battles, while all was done with the upmost sportsmanship.

There was also a huge “Black Market” there, where it was possible to buy nearly anything (we heard rumours that the German couple bought their horses there). Was pretty dodgy, but also extremely interesting. The International Intellectual Museum (really a wooden puzzle museum) kept us amused for an hour or so with those complicated wooden puzzles that you can only solve if you know the knack amongst other things.

Food was good; we had an interesting mix of local food, decent western grub and other east Asian dishes. After each excursion, we tended to go for anything that wasn’t local, as there is only so much mutton a person can take.


Unknown said...

Wow! Mongolia was under Chinese web censorship as well? I thought it is an independent country!

pok said...

A mongolian BBQ could have been had on the Ormeau Road - no need to go that far ;-0