Don’t Pay for the City Tour

We slept a little better last night, closing the top flap of the ger to keep the heat in definitely helped, though both of us still slept under two layers of covers.  We woke up around 7 am again to find Yadmaa making us a fire in our stove.  A little later on, after the sleep had worn off a bit, Davaasuren brought us some yogurt, bread, and homemade cream for breakfast.

After packing up our things we set out on one last hike around the hills before Davaa came to pick us up.  There had been a cluster of cabins that we could see from our first day’s hike a bit down the road and so we headed off to go investigate them.  A very dusty mile or so later we reached them and decided from the looks of things that it was a youth camp, though neither of us can read Mongolian so we’ll never know for sure.

We headed back to camp and sat outside watching the dogs and sheep until Davaa arrived.  We said our goodbyes to our wonderful hosts for the past three days and climbed into the van to head back to Ulaanbaatar.  Davaa drove like we were late for something down the very rutted out dirt paths and both of us caught some air out of our seats more than once.

Lynn, Davaasuren, Doug, and Yadmaa
Lynn, Davaasuren, Doug, and Yadmaa

On the drive we asked about doing a tour of Ulaanbaatar for the rest of the day.  This had been in our itinerary from the company originally but every time we asked about it they seemed confused.  This time Davaaa had a more matter of fact answer, no we were not doing the city tour because we had not payed for it.  Lynn did some extensive email checking while Davaa got on the phone with his manager.  It turned out we could do the city tour, his manager had forgotten to charge us for it and we would need to pay $150 extra.  Lynn and I both thought that sounded fine for someone to show us the highlights of the city since we only really had one afternoon and could use some expert guidance to make the most of it.

Davaa dropped us off at our hotel and said he’d be back in an hour to pick us up for the city tour.  With not much time, we both showered and set out to find some quick food.  The receptionist was not very much help so we set out down the street on our own.  We spotted a bakery which we thought would be quick and so we popped in and ate the only real food of substance we found: room temperature miniature pizzas, a sort of doughnut thing, and a mochi ball.

Bellies full (ish) we started out on our tour.  Our first stop has a Buddhist monastery not very far from the hotel we were staying at.  Davaa guided us around and was full of interesting information about Buddhism and the monastery itself (so far well worth the money for a guide).  It turns out he grew up Buddhist and so was a great guide to have along. Inside of the main temple of the monastery was an 80 ft tall statue of Buddha right at the entrance doors, which certainly accomplished the drama and awe they were probably going for.  Unfortunately they charged more for pictures, so you’ll have to come to Ulaanbaatar yourself if you want to be as awestruck as we were by it.

In here is the giant Buddha statue. The wooden column to the right is the only thing left standing after the Soviets tore down the original monastery in the 1930s.
In here is the giant Buddha statue. The wooden column to the right is the only thing left standing after the Soviets tore down the original monastery in the 1930s.
This colorful gate led to another part of the monastery with a library of books all written in Tibetan.
This colorful gate led to another part of the monastery with a library of books all written in Tibetan.

The next stop was the National History Museum which was a lot more of a disappointment.  Here we were simply dropped off, told that they had signs in English and set free to explore the museum while Davaa went and grabbed a late lunch.  He told us he would be back in 2.5 hours so we had ample time to explore.

Lack of guide aside, the museum itself had what seemed like decent exhibits but we both felt like we lacked the context to properly appreciate them.  The traditional clothes were probably the best part while the transition to democracy section was the most confusing.  It was mostly pictures of famous people at various protests and incredibly detailed, esoteric descriptions of what was happening.

We finished the museum in about an hour and a half which left us a good while to explore until Davaa returned.  We poked around the gift shop a bit and Doug considered buying a brightly colored painting but decided we didn’t realistically have a good way to transport it over the next six months.  Feeling like we had spent as much time as we could looking at felt shoes and children’s bow and arrow sets we left the museum to explore Chinggis square and the parliament building across the street.

Capital building and Chinggis square.
Capital building and Chinggis square.

The square itself was full of little children driving around in rented Power Wheels, navigating their way around outside of a bunch of white tents.  Curious as always, we walked around the perimeter until we found an entrance.  It turned out to be a book fair and a celebration of some sporting event that had recently occurred –  what the two had in common we have no idea. Not very interested in buying any books written in Monglian (though Doug is getting pretty good at reading Cyrillic letters) we poked around for a bit, killing time until we headed back the museum to meet Davaa.

At this point we were both feeling ripped off at having payed $150 for someone to drive us from place to place around the city (though we did appreciate the Buddhist knowledge).  The last stop however changed our mood, though not our feeling that we could have done all this way cheaper without needing a guide.  Our final destination was a traditional song and dance show, performed by the Mongolian National Band and Dance Troupe.  It was located in a ramshackle, non-descript building in alley and Lynn and I were both quite hesitant at what we were going into.

Hopefully you can understand our very low expectations for the show held in here.
Hopefully you can understand our very low expectations for the show held in here.

It was amazing!  The show featured traditional Mongolian instruments, expertly played, wonderful singing and dancing and even contortionists (which Doug was really amazed by) and Mongolian throat singing.  The show was a little over an hour long and we were both enthralled for every minute of it and would highly recommend it to anyone who visits.  Again, we weren’t allowed to take pictures but the costumes and talent were spectacular.

After the show we had Davaa drop us off at a dinner spot he recommended and said goodbye to him.  For dinner we ate at a traditional Mongolian restaurant and ordered four different types of meats (pork, lamb, beef, and horse) and a platter of various types of dumplings.  The horse was a lot less exciting than we thought it would be, it kind of just tasted like overcooked beef.

Full on interesting meats and dumplings we walked back to our hotel, stopping at a grocers to fill up on snacks and waters for our six day Gobi extravaganza that began in the morning.  Once back at the hotel, Lynn started laundry in the bathtub while Doug wrote some blog posts.  We finished the laundry together and hung it up on our make shift clothesline strung from curtain rods and closet hooks.  At this point we learned washing machines are a lot more effective at ringing out clothes than hands are and we hung up everything still dripping water onto the carpet and hoped it would be dry by morning when we left at 6 am for the dessert (spoiler alert: it was not).

Daily Walking Mileage: 6

Daily Fun Facts:

  • When Mongolia because a democracy everyone was given ownership of the apartments they lived in for free
  • The traditional Mongolian outfit includes chopsticks and a chopstick holder attached at the belt. However, no one in Mongolia uses chopsticks anymore.
  • Mongolian writing was replaced by Cyrillic by the USSR and the traditional writing is now listed as endangered by the UN.

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