After 26 hours and three airports, we finally made it to Ulaanbaatar!
We arrived at 10;50 am and were promptly whisked out of the airport and to our hotel. The city was not what we expected - there are dozens of construction cranes and hundreds of new buildings going up all over the city. The population has grown from 400,000 in 1991 to over 1,500,000 today - fully half of Mongolia’s entire population lives here. However, the streets are neat and tidy, as are the citizens.
The streets were crowded and congested with both cars and policemen- turns out Vladimir Putin is in town on a State visit. Russian, or more appropriately, Soviet influence is seen all over the City in its architecture (drab concrete box like apartment buildings). The government here was communist until 1990 and continues to have ties with Russia all the way to the present.
As we made our way to the hotel, Western influence was also apparent - glass office buildings, Irish pubs and, of course, KFC all appeared on our 45 minute journey - the mix of West meets East meets Communism is definitely unique.
Our hotel was one of the largest and most prestigious Soviet era hotels in Mongolia - the rooms had just been renovated and the staff were friendly. However, we were only in the hotel for 15 minutes before we decided to take a road trip to see one of the main attractions in the area - a giant 40 metre high statue of Genghis Khan that sits on s hill in the countryside.
We made our way through the teeming city and into the beautiful countryside - rolling hills, and valleys filled with gers (yurts), horses and livestock. After 3 hours on the road we arrived at the statue - it is made of stainless steel and was very impressive. We visited the adjacent museum, said hi to some Bactrian camels, and were back on the road an hour later.
So far, Mongolia has defied expectations - the city is quite cosmopolitan, the countryside beautiful and every town clean with almost no garbage lying around. You can tell the people are hardworking, proud, and generally happy.
It’s time for a small meal and then off to bed - tomorrow we meet Jimmy and the rest of our team and also spend s bit more time exploring Ulaanbaatar.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”
- Mark Twain