“Longing for, it’s been a long time longing for
To carry the sky away” – Manic Street Preachers.
Dinosaurs chased me down the alleyway asking Lenin what drugs I was on. My heart and soul got the better of me as the mountains gaped in, fooling me that I was back in magnetic Kyrgyzstan. Exactly a year later. Bishkek offered an uncanny resemblance to the beast here, no alarms that my flight out would take me from the most nomadic country in the world (Mongolia), to the second most (Kyrgyzstan). Indeed, I ended up back in Manas Airport in the magnetic capital of Kyrgyzstan just after my Mongolian jaunt.
“Every breath you take. Every move you make. Every bond you break.
Every step you take, I’ll be watching you” – The Peelers.
But as I said, the dinosaurs were after me, near Lenin Square. And then I wound up at Beatles Square just down from the Dinosaur Museum and the Lenin building, and I realised – it was John Lennon they had asked. Or was it? Paul McCartney took his shoes off and saluted his weary head to the long term Northern Irish backpacker. Now was it the Beatles or T.Rex? And who started the revolution if Lenin was already dead?
“Imagine all the people living life in peace” – John Lennon.
“I’m not a backpacker” I said to Paul McCartney, “Ulan Baatpacker so you are”. And with that, I knew something magical was in the air. After all, I just lied to you all on a so called defunct travel blog. But I admitted my lies – you see the difference. You won’t cause suicide or depression if you admit your lies. But it’s better not to tell them in the first place. Infamous liar never came clean – as far as they are concerned, lying is fine. Same goes for wannabe travel writer, Gordon GuruGod who decided to stalk my Mum, my friend Lee Adams and the double brace of cool contacts I made on my real life journey. I cried into a basin, nightly, wishing to be dead, Guru God prayed for it as he delved into other people’s affairs to boost his own ego. I wanted to die, every night. Wishing everything to end. Somehow, I was too strong in the end and I was really really really now in Ulaan Baatar. I was really there.
I was welcomed with a beer quartet and a message from Sue, Hotel Manager at the mid-market Kaiser Hotel in downtown.
This city translates as “Red Hero”, I loved that. I donned my green hat from my Bolivian backpacking days, became a baatpacker for the hat-trick and honed in on some sights.
Even though I didn’t care less, I still toured the sights anyway. I almost enjoyed it again. I almost smiled. No, I lied again. This lying is becoming compulsive – never trust a travel blog disrespector.
“We are friends, Jonny” – My fake friend (they lied – friends help each other and meet up, they don’t get nasty, “what bus should I get??” – I could have died).
Here are my quick fire top 10 sights when backpacking this capital city.
So you say you want a revolution. Just down from Lenin Square, is Lennon Square. This is so ridiculous that I loved it.
In the shape of an apple in a square, double sided monument dedicated to the best band Mongolia never produced. I have no idea if Ringo Starr has even visited here.
“Back in the USSR [not quite]” – The Beatles.
2.Lenin Building, Square and Dinosaur Museum
I was not joking was I? There is a huge dinosaur museum here, it sits by the Freedom Monument and Lenin building in Lenin Square!
Mongolia is world famous for dinosaur fossils in its wilderness.
“Jurassic Park” – Alan Partridge.
My days touring monasteries in China had set me up for this. I ventured the 2 kilometre stroll out of town just to see Gandan Khiid. It didn’t blow my mind but it’s significant enough to Mongolians for you to care.
Original name is Gandantegchinlen, “great place of complete joy” and this was destroyed in the 1937 when the Soviet Union began to ban religion. But many Mongolians practice Buddhism again and its evident here.
A few kids came up and chatted to me here. At first, I was wary as I thought it was another out of the textbook Cambodia/Thailand scammers. But oddly – these are poor kids with religion and they are trying to learn English. They didn’t even ask me for money – they wanted a chat.
There were once over 100 temples here, now less remain but over 500 monks work here. Take your time to dander around and get snap happy.
4.Shaman Centre of Eternal Heavenly Sophistication
Many in Mongolia like to practice the art of Shamanism. Admittedly the capital is not the best place to sample this, as its more for the countryside nomads, but there are lots of yurts in the city, one of them is converted into the “Shaman Centre of Eternal Heavenly Sophistication”. I was using my Lonely Planet Guide to backpack Mongolia. You can see a ceremony here too. I decided against it – my mind wasn’t in the right spirit.
I know you might think that’s odd that I skipped witnessing a Shaman Ceremony, but my mind needs to be right. Yes I fed hyenas mouth to mouth in Ethiopia, stroked an awake crocodile, played football in Afghanistan, showed my penis to dozens of Finns in -15 degrees and sky dived in New Zealand, but this time, I declined and headed for a beer. Next time, baby.
5.Badma Ega Datsan
A quirky temple on the street corner, this one shoots out at you as it is not touristic yet very popular with the locals. I witnessed some praying when I turned up and was made welcome at Badma Ega Datsan.
6.Chinggis Khan Square
The main square is the country’s focal point and my historic knowledge of Mongolia is woeful. At first I expected that the dude on the horse would be Chinggis Khaan! Of course it’s not – it’s the guy who made Mongolia truly free and independent from China as recently as 1921. The legend who is Sukhbaatar.
I smiled to myself when I heard about it though – as Northern Ireland and Mongolia are the same age! Aside from the horse statue, there is a list of all the previous names the city had – Orgoo, Nomlin, Khuree, Ikh Khuree, Niislel Khuree and these days Ulaan Baatar (Red Hero).
You also see the Chinggis Khaan Statue, Parliament House, Mongolian Stock Exchange, History Museum and the Post Office. In fact, most significant buildings are in this area.
The Post Office itself is well worth a jaunt – for souvenirs and more stamps than most Post Offices I’d ever been to.
7.Marco Polo Statue
More proof of Mongolia’s nomadic history is evident from the Marco Polo statue just on the east side of the main square (and across the street in the quiet park).
8.Choijin Lama Temple and Museum
One of the best museums in the country, a great insight into the Buddhist history within Mongolia. You have to pay in and the opening hours aren’t very flexible but worth it, as you won’t be here again.
9.Blue Sky View
Mix up Mongolia’s past and progression with its future at the Blue Sky Hotel. But I didn’t sleep here of course. It’s a swankaday building with an unusual shape that spines into an almost boat sail at its peak and this is where I headed.
To floors 23 and 24 for a beer and the best view of the city! You also don’t need to pay entry even if you are not a guest. Beers are around $2 US too – not bad with this view!
10.Victims of Political Persecution Memorial Museum
This was sad for me as it wasn’t open – I really wanted to visit the Victims of Political Persecution Museum. I went to the entrance three times to check on each day I spent here so I tried my best. My time touring Saddam Hussein’s Amna Suraka in Iraqi Kurdistan, the German Death camps in Poland, the S21 Concentration Camp in Cambodia and the scene of bombings and shootings in Balkh, Afghanistan had me curious.
Alas, I was locked out.
I thought I would leave it for you there as a top 10, as my heart hasn’t really been in banging out “top 54 sights” type posts anymore. Other sights of note are the Winter Palace, the Zaisan Memorial and the Archery Stadium.But thanks for having me and trying to make me smile, Ully B, Ulaan Baatar. My red hero for the man in the green hat.
Here are some videos from my time in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia: