Ulaan Baatar is a flat, windy city made up of rows of Russian-built buildings, large open spaces, wide, dusty boulevards, ger suburbs and construction projects. The capital and only major city in Mongolia, it is situated at an elevation of 1,350 meter and spreads out over a wide area in a valley the Tuul River and among the foothills of the Bogd mountains. Around the city are for four sacred mountains: Tsetseegun Mountain to the south, Songino Mountain to the west, Bayanzurkh Mountain to the east and Chingeleti Mountain to the north. About 1.4 million people (almost half the country's population) make their home here, almost double what there were 15 years ago.
Ulaan Baatar means "Red Hero," the name given it in 1924 and a reference to the great Mongolian liberator Suhee Baatar. Locals call it U.B. There are various ways to spell it. Its residents are surprisingly urbanized. There is a lot of died hair, hip hop fashions among young people as well as men in business suits and people playing Korean smartphone games. Sam Knight wrote in the Times of London, “Across Ulaanbaatar...the sound of the lama’s conch competed with Russian pop music. Teenagers danced with glow-sticks, and herders on horseback took to the pavements to avoid traffic and talk on their mobile phones.” [Source: Sam Knight, Times of London, July 21, 2007]
Ulaan Baatar is nice enough. There are Stalin-era buildings built with Soviet help and new buildings financed with Korean, Chinese and Japanese aid money. The traffic isn’t that bad. The weather is probably the biggest issue. It is the world’s coldest capital, even colder than Moscow and can be surprisingly cool even in August — which can be a good thing. An average of 236 days of the year are sunny and blue skies and sunshine make even the coldest temperatures seem pleasant. Harsh conditions in the steppes have forced thousand of people to move to Ulaan Baatar. In the winter Ulaan Baatar is often engulfed in smog — produced by large coal-fired power plants and tens of thousands of household stoves — that gets trapped by temperature inversions.
People in the central city live in drab apartments. In the peripheral zones and suburbs they live in fenced-off gers (tents) and permanent homes made of concrete, cinder blocks and railroad ties. The suburbs spread out for a long distance from the city center. Some suburban communities are made up completely of gers, and according to one survey, 35 percent of the residents of the city live in tents.
Michael Kohn and William Mellor wrote in the Washington Post: “Many of Ulaanbaatar’s 1.3 million inhabitants live in crumbling concrete apartment buildings from the Soviet era. Others live just outside the city’s center in yurts — known locally as gers — without sewers, running water or, in most cases, electricity. Smoke from their coal fires has turned the capital into one of the world’s most polluted cities, according to a World Bank report. [Source: Michael Kohn and William Mellor, Washington Post, May 4, 2013]
History of Ulaan Baatar
Ulaan Baatar was called Urga when it was established in 1639 as a roving nomad camp long after the Genghis Khan era was over. It has been at its present location in 1778. The Turtle Rock Symbol just opposite the Ballet Theater in downtown Ulaan Baatar marks the center of the original sentiment. Ulaanbaatar ("Red Hero") has been so named since the Socialist revolution in 1921. It was called Ikh Huroo ("Big Circle") when it was ruled by its last non-Communist ruler, the living Buddha Bogda Khan.
Until the Soviets gave the city a makeover beginning in 1920s, the city looked like something from the Mongol era. Most of the structures were gers or mudhouses, with a handful of monasteries and places for the aristocracy. In the 19th century there were 100 Buddhist monasteries serving a population of 50,000 people. After the Soviets purges in 1930s there was only one working monastery left and it was the only one that remained functioning during the Soviet period.
Describing the city in the 1980s, Paul Theroux wrote, "Every apartment block looked like a barracks, every parking lot like a motor pool, every street in the city looked as though it had been designed for a parade. .A cynic might have said the city resembles a prison, but if so the Mongolians were very cheery prisoners—it was a youthful, well-fed, well-dressed population."
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ulaan Baatar has become both poorer and more prosperous. There are now some nice hotels and a surprising number of nice European- and Japanese-made vehicles on the streets. The population increased from 500,000 to 800,000 between 1997 and 2001 and surpassed a million before 2010. According to some statistics more than half the people in the city are unemployed. The poverty is so bad children sleep underground to stay warm in the winter. As for foreigner, for a while there are more NGO workers than tourists but now a lot of tourist stream in the summer, paying the hefty airplane ticket prices.
Orientation and Tourist Offices in Ulaan Baatar
Ulaan Baatar is spread out over a large area and consists of central city, where most people live in concrete apartment blocks, and peripheral zone made of gers and permanent homes made of concrete, cinder blocks or railroad ties. The city is divided into districts, which in turn are divided into sub-districts and extend mostly in east and west directions.
Most places of interest to visitors are located in square-kilometer area centered around Sukhbaatar Square. Peace Avenue is Ulaan Baatar’ main thoroughfare. In terms of getting around landmarks often serve as better reference points than streets signs or building numbers. The Bayongol Hotel, the Zaisan Memorial, the Palace of Culture, the State Department Store and the Trade and Development Bank Building are useful landmarks.
South of the Narni Zam road is the affluent southern part of Ulaanbaatar with luxury apartments lining the Tuul River. Ger districts line the northern part of the city center and stretch seven kilometers north to the Dambadarjaalin Monastery. North of Dambadarjaalin Monastery starts the Zuslan or summer vacation area, where charming summer houses stretch for 14 kilometers to Khandgait.
Ulaanbaatar is located in north-central Mongolia, some 675 kilometers (420 miles) from the Chinese border at Erlian (by train), and 290 kilometers (180 miles) from the Russian border. To the north and south lie the Bogda Khan mountain range, which is trisected in Ulaanbaatar by the Tuul and Selbe Rivers. Train travelers from Russia pass through the valleys of the Selenge River, which empties into Lake Baikhal, and Orhon Rivers, passing through rolling steppe country, covered by wild flowers in the early summer, and larch trees in the valleys and hollows. Those traveling on to China by pass through the Gobi Desert, a predominantly flat steppe of scrubby grassland used by roving sheep and camel herders.
Tourist Information: The tourist information office is located in the south flank of the town hall in the western corner of Sukhbaatar Square. There are also tourist information offices at the Ulaan Baatar Airport, and the at Ulaan Baatar railway station, but they sometimes don't have much stuff.
Ulaan Baatar Changes
Ron Gluckman wrote in Foreign Policy: “ For the first time in as long as anyone can seem to remember, there have been traffic jams in Ulaanbaatar — a place previously known mainly either as the answer to a trivia question (Which capital city has the coldest average temperature?) or as a historical curiosity: Asia’s Timbuktu, the fabled homeland of Genghis Khan. Until recently, the Mongolian capital had more horses than cars. [Source: Ron Gluckman, Foreign Policy, January 3, 2011]
“Twenty years ago, when I first visited Mongolia, it had just emerged from seven decades under the Soviet umbrella. Ulaanbaatar had a shellshocked otherworldliness about it. There were a few grimy hotels fronting Sukhbaatar Square, named for the leader of the 1921 revolution that transformed Mongolia into the world’s second socialist state. After decades of decline, the city looked like a set for an apocalyptic movie, especially in the crush of winter, when the sky was a perpetual charcoal gray.
“Nearly 40 percent of its 2.7 million citizens, however, reside in the capital. That translates into elbow jostling on sidewalks and streets clogged with cars manned by aggressive drivers. “You can’t be nice,” shouted an American expat as I attempted to cross the street with the temerity of a bunny. “They won’t hit you, but they will come within an inch.” Correction: a millimeter.
Entertainment in Ulaan Baatar
Ulaan Baatar has a surprisingly lively nightlife scene. There are some wild bars and dance clubs that techno and trance. A few play hip hop. Cultural opportunities include the opera, ballet, classical music, traditional music, and the circus. The are cafes and clubs with rocks bands and mini-skirted prostitutes, They tend to cater to yuppies and children of the elite. Many locals spend their evening in local saloons getting drunk on vodka or horse-milk vodka and getting into fights. Try to get a hold of the U.B. Post, Mongolia's leading English language news source, and the Mongol Messenger, an eight-page government newspaper that comes out once a week. Also check out the Lonely Planet Books and posters (often written in Cyrillic) put up around town.
Some discos, karaokes and nightclubs are found in the large western-style hotels. Many of the movies shown in Ulaan Baatar are Indian or Hong Kong action films shown in video rooms. Among the modern cinemas, often with Hollywood films are: 1) Urgoo Cinema, in the 3rd micro-district shopping area, west of Gandan Monastery; 2) Tengis Cinema, at Freedom Square, north of the State Department Store; 3) Gegeenten Cinema, opposite Bogd Khan Winter Palace museum; and 4) Hunnu Mall Entertainment, inside Hunnu Mall on the main road to the Chinggis Khan airport.
Circus: The State Circus occupies its own building south of Natsagdorj Street . It hosts spectacular shows with acrobats and contortionist and other acts. There are performances from time to time (the group is often performing abroad) and shows begin around 7:30pm. Tickets cost about US$2. The level of performances has dropped in recent years as performers have gone abroad to seek better opportunities. The old state circus is now a night spot where visitors can eat and drink while being entertained by circus acts.
Sports: Horse races, wrestling archery can be seen during the Naadam. They are sometimes performed at shows for tourist. Naadam is largest and most famous festival in Mongolia. It is held every year in mid July. The National Sports Stadium, is next the main venue for Naadam. Soccer matches and the occasional concert are staged here.
Theaters and Performances in Ulaan Baatar
Tourist shows sponsored by tourist agencies, restaurants and hotels include traditional Khoomi double singing, horse-head fiddle music, dancing, contortionist performances and tsaam religious mask dancing. Cultural events are held at the National Academic Drama Theater and Italian-style Opera & Ballet Theater (Suhbaatar square), which hosts operas and ballets performed with a full western orchestra. Ballet, opera, and symphonic programs are performed by both local companies and by visiting performers. Folk song and dance troupe performs several times a week. The Children’s Palace sponsors a number of events. Rock shows and classical music performances are held at the Palace of Culture. There is also a puppet theater,
Classical music, dance and opera performances are often staged in the fall, winter and spriing but not the summer. Tickets for concerts and performances are cheap, often less than a few dollars. They can be purchased through booking offices, informal booths or tables set up the streets, the box offices at the theaters and concert halls. Hotel service desks and concierges at hotels can help you with tickets. They often charge hefty fees for their ticket services. Tickets bought from informal booths or box offices are considerably cheaper. Information on schedules and tickts can be obtained by contacting the sales offices of the venues. You can also use Easyticket.mn schedule and tickets reservation for many performances. Art Council of Mongolia (Juulchin street) was established in 2002, It is often a good source of information for the town’s cultural events. Tel: 11 319017.
National Academic Drama Theater (in the red Georgian building just south of the Post Office on Chinggis Avenie) mostly stages Mongolian-language drama, musicals and children shows. National folklore operas and dance shows are performed. Tickets are sold at the "KACC" office in front. Prices vary, generally cheap for Mongolian language performances. Website: http://www.drama.mn. Ticket office: 976-70128999 70115154
Mongolian State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet (the pinkish building on the southeast side of Sukhbaatar Square) hosts year around opera and ballet performances, some of them with world-renowned ballet companies such as Boston Theatre. Ballet troupes and opera companies from Russia also occasionally visit. Local performances may not world class level, but they are not bad and are very cheap. The repertoire of the venues has more than 100 national and world classical works including 56 ballets, 54 operas. Check out the board in front of this theatre to see what’s on. Most performances are Saturday and Sunday at 5:00pm. Prices vary by performance, local productions can be very inexpensive. Website: http://www.opera-ballet.mn. E-mail: email@example.com. Box office: Wednesday-Sunday 10:00am-1:00pm, 2:00pm-5:00pm, Tel: 70110389 , 99194570 , 99024933 , 88044508, 70110397 Ticket office: 70110389, 99196609,
Mongolian State Grand National Orchestra (Seoul Street) is the largest orchestra of traditional instruments in Mongolia, and plays both national and international music, with a repertoire of dozens musical pieces. The orchestra has a long history, which some say dates back to the time of Kublai Khan. From early June to mid October, the orchestra performs a daily traditional folklore concert at 6:00pm. Tel: 11-323954.
Tumen Ekh (at the National Recreation Center near the train station) is a traditional dance ensemble founded in 1989 that performs dances, music and religious ceremonies for audiences of mostly foreign tourists. Performances last about an hour and quite good: not the usual tourist crap but not entirely true to the traditions of nomadic culture either. The performers are skilled artists that have toured the U.S., Japan, Britain other countries. The performers play traditional instruments including the morin khuur (horse head fiddle) and perform Mongolian long song, epic and eulogy songs, do a ritualistic shaman ritual dance, an ancient palace dance and a tsaam mask dance. There are daily evening shows at 6:00pm from May to November at its theatre located on the west side of the “Children’s Park”. Tel: +976 11 322238, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Moon Stone Folk, Song & Dance Ensemble (Seoul Street) consists of the creative professional artists, singers, musicians and dances. Over 90 young artists perform as part of this ensemble, which includes a folk music orchestra, dance groups, a classical music band, throat singers, contortionists and nationally renowned choreographers. Shows for foreign tourists are staged during the summer. Tel: 976 99288399; +976 99181885; +976 99092558.
Morin Khuur Ensemble of Mongolia (Sukhbaatar Square) is part of the Mongolian State Philharmonic located at the. It is a popular ensemble featuring the national string instrument Morin Khuur and performs various domestic and international works. Blackbox Theatre located on the north-western part of the city and hosts plays, jazz and other performing artists from both home and abroad. Tel: 9905 9161. City Cultural Center (Sukhbaatar Square) hosts variety of shows, comedies and fashion shows. Website: http://stu.ub.gov.mn
Restaurants in Ulaan Baatar
The best restaurants are generally located in the large hotels. Chinese food, Italian food, Japanese food, Russian food, East European food, Korean food and other international cuisines are available in Ulaan Baatar, which is one of the few world capitals where you can not yet find a McDonald's. There are Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut. In 2019 hundreds were sickened after eating at a U.B. KFC.
Peace Avenue, Baga Toiruu, the area around the Circus and the streets running of them have a selection of cafes and restaurants. Snacks and street food are available from vendors in the city center near the Zaluuchuud Hotel and the Aeroflot office. There are less street hawkers in Ulaan Baatar than in other Asian cities and the snacks they offer are not always very appetizing. If you are on a tight budget Mongolian National University and the Mongolian University of Science and Technology and other universities have cheap cafeterias with decent meals
The State Department Store has a food court. In the 3rd & 4th Microdistrict (northwest side of Gandan, 2 km north of the train station), you'll find several many restaurants and some supermarkets Restaurant and cafes that have been around for a while include Hazara (Peace Avenue between the Wrestling Palace and Ngehdelchin Hotel) has Indian food.; Mille's Cafe (second floor of he Aer-voyage building near the Zanabazar Museum of Fine Arts) with burritos and good breakfast and lunches; Café de France (opposite the Zaluuchuud Hotel) offers French food.
Shopping in Ulaan Baatar
Peace Avenue is the main street and the main shopping street. The best selection of goods is found at the State Department Store. Some of the nicest quality souvenir and gifts items are found in shops at Bogd Khan Winter Palace and Zanabazar Museum and the major hotels but they are expensive. Street vendors gather around Suhbataar Square. The Post Office has a variety of interesting stamps that one can buy.
The central market (3 km east of the children's park on Narni Zam road) is called the Black Market (Naran Tuul). Partially indoors, it mainly has food and cheap consumer items and is the main market for most of the city's residents. It is okay haggle over prices and you can find things like cheap clothes, toys, fur hats and Soviet-era memorabilia. It can be reached via a 10-minute bus or taxi ride from the city center. There are also several slightly more upscale shopping centers just west of the market. Watch your stuff and keep your most mosque valuables in your hotel room. Pickpockets are active here. Closed on Monday.
In the 3rd & 4th Microdistrict (northwest side of Gandan, 2 km north of the train station). You'll find several malls, name-brand stores, restaurants, supermarkets, curbside booths, and a movie theater at UB's largest shopping district. Selection ranges from luxury brands down to cheap Chinese imports. Traffic congestion is very heavy in this part of the city.
Accommodation in Ulaan Baatar
Ulaan Baatar has a handful of first-class hotels including a Shangi-La, Ramada, Best Western, Kempinski Hotel, Khan Palace and the Blue Sky Hotel. Former top-end hotels like the Ulaan Baatar Hotel and Bayangol Hotel are now considered mid-range according to some listings. The 10-story orange brick and black glass Chinggis Khaan Hotel opened in the early 2000s. For a while it was considered the nicest hotel in Ulaan Baatar.
There are a number of cheap hotels, hostels and guesthouses that cater to budget travelers. They include the Camel Track, Mandukhai Hotel, Zata Guesthouse, Ganas Ger, the Happy Camel guesthouse. The price for a double room with a private bath averages around US$20 a night. Some places are as cheap as US$8 a night. The Lonely Planet books are good sources of information.
Transportation in Ulaan Baatar
It used to be there was no such thing as rush hour in Ulaan Baatar because there were so few cars and other vehicles but that is no longer the case. Taxis are fairly cheap but sometimes hard to find. They are the easiest way to get around. Private cars often serve as taxis. You can one flag down by standing on the sidewalk. Expect to pay around US$2 per person. Buses, minibuses and electric trolley buses are available but they are crowded. Beginning in 2015, bus riders began using a Bus Card for bus travel. These can be purchased near the bus stops from stores and kiosks with the sign “U money”. You can still pay cash but it will be about twice the amount.
Taxi drivers generally operate on the basis of landmarks and orientation points, not street names. Communication can also be an issue as many drivers don’t speak English but increasingly more and more do. If you don't speak Mongoliam have your destination and a nearby landmark written down in advance in Mongolian and have a pencil and a paper with numbers listed that you can use for negotiating the price. Agree on a price with a driver before you set off. Do this on paper so there is no confusion. Sometimes, taxi drivers try to charge ridiculously high prices especially if they know you are a tourist.
Bus Stations: 1) Bayanzürkh Bus Terminal (Eastern Bus Station) Take trolleybus 4 from anywhere on Peace Ave heading east. The eastern bus station near the Botanical Gardens (the Gardens are gone, but the location is well known to the locals). 2) Dragon Bus Terminal (Western Bus Station) Take bus 1 and 59 from Peace Ave, heading west. 3) Teevriin Tovchoo (near the Main Railway Station )
Train Station: The Central Railway Station is located to the southwest of the city center. Tickets for Mongolian destinations can be bought at the railway station. International tickets must be purchased the Railway Ticket.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Mongolia tourism and government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
SIGHTS IN ULAAN BAATAR
Ulaanbaatar offers a variety of museums and sights. These include the Gandan monastery, Bogda Khan Palace, the winter residence of Mongolia's last khan, the Central Museum with its dusty but outstanding collections of dinosaur bones and Mongol relics, and the Fine Arts Museum, in which exquisite panel embroideries are on display. Other monasteries and temples include the Gesar Sum, Tasgany Ovoo Lamrin Sum, Pethub Stangey Choskor Lin Monastery, Dashchoilon Khid, Otochmaaramba Khid, Manba Datsum, and Dambadarjaa Khid. Other Sights include the Nairamdal Children's Park, Children's Palace and the State Circus.
The focal point of Ulaanbaatar is Chinggis Square (formerly Sukhbaatar Square), which is surrounded by Government House, art shops, the stock exchange, the central Post Office, and two cultural halls, as well as Ulaanbaatar's main thoroughfare, Peace Avenue (Enkh Taivan Gudumj). The Hotel Ulaanbaatar and the Ministry of Foreign Relations are close by. Sukhbaatar Square is dominated by a statue of Sukhbaatar, a Socialist Revolutionary hero, who is buried in a tomb modeled on Lenin's Tomb in Moscow's Red Square. A seated statue of Chinggis Khan (Genghis Khan) that sits at the door of the Government House. It is a popular place for wedding photos, and easily accommodates 100,000 people.
Ron Gluckman wrote in Foreign Policy: “by following Peace Avenue, the main artery, I realized that I could comfortably tour the capital without switching sides. Walking on the northern flank, I hit the Soviet-era State Department Store, now a capitalist dream; Sukhbaatar Square, site of democratic protests in 1990 and of the parliament house; and a small collection of cultural centers, such as the National Museum of Mongolian History. [Source: Ron Gluckman, Foreign Policy, January 3, 2011]
“En route to the museum, I got a jump-start on the country’s history by simply studying the architecture. Though the Chinese period is not represented (the 1732-1921 era predates UB), the squat, drab apartment buildings and the grand performing-arts halls scream Soviet communists (1921 to 1989). The gers (nomadic shelters similar to yurts) on the dusty outskirts of town denote, in shape and lifestyle, the Ghenghis Khan era. The shiny skyscrapers are the past decade; the cranes and construction-site skeletons, tomorrow.
“I also received a quick course in socioeconomics by poking my head into portals. The Central Tower on the square houses such high-end retailers as Louis Vuitton and Burberry, plus a 17th-floor restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows that serves an US$82 tasting menu. One street away, I glimpsed the tops of heads through a manhole, the “front door” of a family’s subterranean shelter.”
Sukhbataar Square lies at the heart of Ulaan Baatar. Modeled somewhat after Red Square in Moscow and named after Chinggis Khan (Genghis Khan), it is a large open space surrounded by monolithic Stalin-era buildings, including 1) the Parliament Building (Government House) and Mausoleum of Sukhbataar, the founder of Communist state of Mongolia, and the Mausoleums for Choibalsan, Mongolia’s Stalin, to the north; 2) the Palace of Culture and State Opera & Ballet Theater to the east; 3) parks and Peace Avenue to the south; and 4) the Mongolian Stock Exchange and the Golomt Bank
Behind Golomt Bank is National Museum of Mongolian History. In the center of the square is a equestrian sstatue of Sukhbataar. There is statue of Lenin in the southeast corner. There are plans to remove the mausoleums there and replace them with an enormous statue of Genghis Khan. The square has a modest gathering area of sports. The demonstrations that triggered the reforms occurred here in March 1990. Now skateboarders practice their jumps, vendors sell tea and offer kiddie rides. During the summer, especially in July, a parades, rock concerts, folklore shows and cultural events are staged in the square.
One of the largest squares in Asia, Sukhbaatar Square was originally called Sükhbaatar Square. In 2013, it was renamed to Chinggis Khan Square and then renamed Sukhbaatar Square in 2016. In addition to the statue Sükhbaatar, the hero of 1921 revolution, there are statues of two military generals (Urlugs). A seated statue of Chinggis Khaan and his sons is situated next to at the door of the Government House. Inside the Government House is a small museum with artifacts from the Mongol Empire and a reproduction of Genghis Khan's White Peace Banners of State (the Soviets had the originals destroyed in the 1930s). Museums in Ulaan Baatar
Ulaanbaatar offers a variety of museums. The main ones are the 1) Natural History Museum, with its dusty but outstanding collections of dinosaur bones (closed as of 2018); 2) the National Museum, art treasures, antiquities and stuff related to Genghis Khan and the Mongols; and 3) and the Fine Arts Museum, with its exquisite panel embroideries. International Intellectual Museum (IQ Museum) (on Peace Avenue in Bayanzürkh district, in front of East Center) not only displays but also manufactures and exports a wide variety of traditional Mongolian puzzle toys, logic games, handcrafted products and souvenirs, and has launched over 80 international exhibitions and fairs in 50 countries. +976 11 461470, ✉ email@example.com. Monday-Saturday. 10:00am-6:00pm.
Also in the capital are the Mongolia Museum of Art, the National Modern Art Gallery, opened in 1989, and the Palace Museum, in the home of Bogd Gegen, former head of state and leader of the Buddhist Church of Mongolia. The Zanabazar Museum of Fine Art features collections of native artists. The Theater Museum opened in 1991. Other Museums and Art Galleries include the Natsagdorj Museum,, Hunting Museum, Railway Museum, Mongolian Military Museum, Intellectual Museum, the Ulaan Baatar Museum. were found in the Gobi Desert. Admission 2000 . edit
Central Museum of Mongolian Dinosaurs (Freedom Square, next to Tengis Cinema and directly behind State Department Store) has complete fossil skeleton of the Tarbosaurus bataar — a relative of the larger T. Rex. Many of the pieces were taken out of Mongolia by American archaeologist Eric Prokopi and auctioned in New York for US$1 million. News coverage of the sale led to a international criminal case that resulted in Prokopi's arrest and the return of dozens of dinosaur fossils to Mongolia by the U.S. government. A few dozen complete dinosaur fossils are housed in the museum. All of them were found in the Gobi Desert. The museum is in the former Lenin Museum on Freedom Square. The Cultural Center and Geology Museum were also placed in the old Lenin Museum. Admission 2000.
Zanabazar Museum of Fine Arts (a block east of Sukhbataar Square) has a splendid collection of thangka (Tibetan scroll paintings), Buddhist statues, tsaam masks, Mongolian paintings (including modern works), reproductions of European works, religious art, applique and artifacts, Buddhist paintings and sculptures, and gilded bronze statues and other works by Zanabazar, Mongolia’s treasured 17th century Buddhist sculptor and religious leader.
Mongolian Natural History Museum
Mongolian Natural History Museum (a block north of Sukhbataar Square, closed as of 2018) has one of the world best collection of dinosaur bones, claws, horns, beaks and eggs. The display includes an eight-foot-pelvis bone and a complete skeleton of a 15-meter, duck-billed a saurolophis. A skeleton of a terrifying 16-meter-long Tarbosaurus, a cousin of Tyrannosaurs Rex, greets visitors in one wing. The huge birdlike claws of the Deinocheirus are in another.
The museum is perhaps most famous for its collection of dinosaur eggs and a fossil of Protoceratops in a death struggle with a Velociratpor. There are also leaf prints and petrified wood. The oldest fossils are 500 million years old. Many of the bones are from the famous Gobi desert expeditions in the 1920s by Roy Chapman Andrews , and 1990s. The museum was founded in 1924 around the time that Roy Chapman Andrews made his famous expeditions.
There is also a rooms full of stuffed animals from Mongolia and around the world, including snow leopards, moose, lynx, brown bear as well some monkeys and lions. There are also minerals, precious stones and displays devoted geography, geology, and botany. The Mongolian Natural History Museum is concerned primarily with the flora, fauna, geology and natural history of Mongolia and includes Departments of Geology, Geography, Flora and Fauna, Paleontology, and Anthropology. The museum's holdings include more than 6000 specimens, 45 percent of which are on permanent public display.
Make sure to check out the impressive meteor display. The Novon Bogd meteor weigh 582 kilograms. The Kherulen meteorite is a rare specimen because it contains pieces of glass. Nearby are exhibits on the joint Mongolian-Soviet space launch in 1981. The Golden Camel section will tell you everything young want to know about Bactrian camels.
Natural History Museum May Be Closed: Wikitravel reports: Closed summer 2013 for renovation, and may reopen elsewhere in the future. As of late 2013, items have begun to be moved into storage, as the structure of the building has been deemed unsound. One person posted on Trip Advisor in June 2018: “Missing museum The site is not approachable and there are no explanatory signs about the status of this museum. It is quite clear that the museum is closed but no clue as to why, or even if it will ever reopen. Another said: Closed as of June 2018 Museum was boarded up. What a pity! I was really looking forward to see the flora and fauna of Mongolia as this country has a very different geography compared to South East Asia. Perhaps the tourism board can re open it!” But the same month another said: “Great for families with kids who want to get an over of Mongolian biology, geography and natural history. We've lived in UB many years and go hear with our kids about once per year. Good displays of Mongolian animals, some quite unique. Even some cool dinosaur skeletons. They renovated it a couple years ago, but they may renovate again so check to be sure it's open. Admission cost is reasonable.
National Museum of Mongolia
National Museum of Mongolia (near the northeast corner of Sukhbataar Square, just west of the Government House) has fine collections of tribal costumes, arrowheads, boots and other items from the Genghis Khan period. The can see a bigger than life-size of Genhis himself as well as well as a letter sent by his son to Pope Innocent IV in 1246.
There are also some ancient deer stones (stone sculptures with animals and writing carved into them), the monument of Kultigen, the great leader of the Uigur Empire, and a stunning collection of traditional clothing worn by different Mongol tribes. There are also stringed instruments with carved wooden horse heads, ger implements, Buddhist items made from human bones, coins and banknotes. The museum was formally known as the Revolutionary Museum. and is still referred by that name by some.
Exhibitions cover prehistory, pre-Mongol Empire history, Mongol Empire, Mongolia during Qing rule, ethnography and traditional life, and twentieth-century history. The ethnographic collection has significant displays of the traditional dress of various Mongolian ethnic groups and of snuff bottles. Most exhibits have labels in both Mongolian and English. The museum holds the most important artifacts of Mongolia's rich history dating back several thousand years and petroglyphs and cave drawings, Turkic monuments, weapons, armor, and various historical period displays including ones for the Hun and Mongol Empires, Chinese rule, the Communist era, and the democratic revolution of 1990. There are displays of self-portraits and personal possessions of Genghis Khan and other great khans of the Mongol Empire. National Museum of Mongolia is open Tuesday to Saturday: 8:00am-10:00pm, last entry 8:30pm. Most displays are in English and Mongolian. There is fee for photography that is the same as the admission fee.
Monastery-Museum of Choijin Lama
Monastery-Museum of Choijin Lama (about one kilometer south of Sukhbataar Square) is a monastery built between 1904 and 1908 to honor the brother of one of Mongolia's kings, who was also regarded a great oracle. Today, the museum is a unique showcase of religious art and the history of Buddhism in Mongolia. Many of the objects on display are used in Buddhist chanting ceremonies and rituals. There is an extraordinary collection of Buddhist artwork, silk images and tsaam dancing masks. Many of them were hidden by the faithful during 1930s purge.
The museum contains over 5000 items, of which 12 have been deemed unique and 200 have been labeled as particularly valuable. The main temple contains a statue of Choijin Lama and the the mummified corpse of his teacher, a model of Buddhist heaven, an interesting painting depicting the punishments of Buddhist hell and the great coral mask of Begtse, made with over 6000 pieces of coral. The monastery was spared by the Communist so that it could be made into the Museum of Religion and showcase the silliness of Mongolia’s superstitious and feudal past.
The monastery was active until 1938. According to the decree of the Peoples Khural, November 1941, the monastery was included in the list of historical and cultural monuments and was taken charge by the Committee of Sciences in 1942. It was then turned into a museum. The monastery buildings is an ensemble of Buddhist architecture and consists of 5 temples and 5 arched gates. Yadam temple and Amgalan temple contain rare artifacts made by the famous Mongolian artist and sculptor, Zanabazar. Admission: adult – 8000.
Victims of Political Persecution Museum
Victims of Political Persecution Museum (near Monastery-Museum of Choijin Lama) is dedicated to the 32,000 Mongolians — statesmen, herders, scholars, politicians and lamas — that were killed in the late 1930s in the purges ordered by the Stalinist Mongolian communist leader Choibalsan in the 1930s.. The museum is run by the daughter of Peljidiyn Genden, a prime minister who was executed in 1937 for failing to comply with orders to carry the purges. None of the captions are in English.
There are many of sombre exhibits concerning these deaths as well as the destruction of monasteries and religion. Ron Gluckman wrote in Foreign Policy: “Genden’s daughter established the two-story museum in the martyred politician’s original home, a log structure chipped with age...The center illustrates the mass killings through maps that display the number killed in each province and grainy photos of the victims, accompanied by their personal effects. Even harder to witness: rows of skulls pierced by a single bullet. Photos of Genden are rare; in one family portrait around a kitchen table, his face is scratched out.” “We are trying to find the true history and the children of many of the people during this time in 1937 to 1939,” Gluckman’s guide said. “We see just a few of them coming to this museum, because they are very old.” [Source: Ron Gluckman, Foreign Policy, January 3, 2011]
Victims of Political Persecution Museum is located Ulaanbaatar, Olympic Street, on the west side across the Ministry of Health and Sports. Monday-Friday 10:00:-17:00. The museum building is not in very good condition. Very little is in English. It is best to come with a Mongolian-speaking guide. There is an admission fee.
Winter Palace of Bogd Khan
Winter Palace of Bogd Haan (about four kilometer south of Sukhbataar Square, near Naadam Stadium) was the home of Javzundamba VIII (1869-1924), Mongolia's last monarch and Dalai-Lama-like leader. Built between 1893 and 1903, it embraces a number of buildings, each with collections of Buddhist paintings and sculptures made by some of Mongolia’s, Tibet’s and China’s finest18th and 19th century artists. Javzundamba VIII died here in 1924 at the age of 55 under mysterious circumstances.
In the main palace are thrones, bedchambers, everyday clothes, ceremonial robes, (many of which are adorned with small pearls), and gifts to Bogd Khan from rulers and kings from around the world including golden boots given by the Russian czar. The “zoo” is an extensive collection of stuffed animals from around the globe, including a penguin, seals and even a giraffe. The most impressive and distressing object is a ger made of 154 snow leopard skins given to Bogd Haan for his 25th birthday.
Upon the Bogd Khan’s death, the palace became the first national historical museum of Mongolia. The museum contains twelve collections. Among the more impressive objects are gilded bronze sculptures by the first Bogd Javzundamba Zanabazar and his school, 19th- and 20th-century thangka paintings, a Jugder painting of Ulaanbaatar in 1912, and works the by modern Mongolian painter B. Sharav, as well as personal possessions of the Khan and his wife, Queen Dondogdulam. Admission 8000 , 50,000 photography fee.
Gandan Monastery (about three kilometers east of Sukhbataar Square) is Mongolia's main center of Tibetan Buddhism. Built in 1838, it was only working monastery in the Soviet era and was home to a hundred or so lamas and monks "dedicated to meeting the people's demands." Most of Mongolia's other 700 or so monasteries were shut down. Gandan was kept open as a showcase for foreigners and guarded by Russian soldiers. Even so, the 26-meter-high gold plated statue of Avalokiteshvara Buddha (the Megjid Janraisag) was removed and taken to Russia and melted down in part for bullets and one of the temples is said to have been used as a stable.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the monastery has become busier and is now occupied by many monk's in wine-colored robes. Temples are have been restored and rebuilt. The Buddhist university there was reopened. A new Megjid Janraisag Buddha was made. People make wishes at the Wish Pole, the original main pole of the temple which the Communists were unable to bring down when they destroyed the temple. Monks and pilgrims gather for prayer time in the morning.
The Megjid Janraisag Temple was built in 1911 and 1912 to celebrate the end of the Manchu period and it is said, to cure the Bogd Khan of blindness. It mixes Chinese and Tibetan styles. Vajradhara Temple is the main temple. It houses the new Megjid Janraisag, which is 25.6 meters high, weighs 20 tons and is swathed in silk. Consecrated in 1996, the hollow statue is gilded with gold donated from Japan and Nepal and contains precious stones, 27 tons of medicinal herbs, 334 sutras, two million Buddhist texts, and even a fully-furnished ger. Surrounding it are smaller temples of different periods and styles, containing religious artifacts and artworks.
The monastery is most active between 9:00am and 11:00am when chanting and prayers are being done. Throughout the day worshipers and tourists circle the main temple clockwise and place their hands inside a vessel with burning incense. This done to cleans the soul and bring students good luck before exams. Some tour groups stop here before heading off in to the wilderness for a chanting ceremony and prayers for a successful journey. At the sanctuary of Bakula Rinpoche locals consult with lamas who act as fortunetellers and recite prayers from strips of paper.
Most important ceremonies are held in the Megjid Janraisag Temple. Describing a group of chanting monks in one the monastery's pagoda-roofed buildings, Thomas Allen wrote in National Geographic, "Dozens of monks sat in the center of the temple, while the world of tourists and worshipers whirled around them. In a counterpoint of human and sacred sounds, babies’ cries sharply rose and fell against the undulating, ceaseless chanting. A gong throbbed unseen in a mist of incense...The monks sat in facing rows, eyes fixed on some inner eternity, hands gracefully moving as they hold their dark beads and tinkled tiny bells. Many of the monks in he back rows were young."
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Mongolia tourism and government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Updated in August 2020