Ulaanbaatar is the fascinating capital of Mongolia. The country, which is 38 times as large as the Netherlands, only has 3.2 million inhabitants. Of these, 1.4 million live in Ulaanbaatar.
The capital is bizarre mix of modern squares with glass towers, ancient temples, Soviet-style apartment buildings and brand new shopping centres. And the population also participates in this interesting cocktail of styles; businessmen in suits, fashionable girls and boys who follow the latest fashion trends, monks in their robes and nomads who visit the city in their traditional attire. In Ulaanbaatar, you see Mongols pass from all different backgrounds.
The city is located in the river valley of the Tuul, among green hills. The capital has only been there since 1778, before, the capital kept moving around just like the nomads themselves.
When you arrive in Ulaanbaatar then you immediately spot the gers, the tent homes of nomads, who are there, in the backyard of the houses in the suburbs. Sometimes these are nomadic families who flock to the city for work, sometimes it is the children of the house owner who live in the backyard in a ger with their partner so that they have time to earn money for their own home. But there are families who live in a stone house during the winter and sleep in the ger throughout the summer for better cooling.
Modern catching up
But the heart of Ulaanbaatar is one of the few places in Mongolia where you’ll find no ger. Around the central Genghis Khan square, shiny modern towers are to be seen. Modernity was introduced not so long ago in Ulaanbaatar. Only around the year 2000, when many young Mongolians moved from the countryside to the city, Ulaanbaatar was forced to catch up. Still, the number of houses and the electricity network is not sufficient enough in order to cope with the growth. But private investments made sure that the city quickly developed in other fields, which resulted in the dynamic combination of an ‘old-fashioned and a contemporary’ Ulaanbaatar.
The city is wide stretched, but does not take long to discover. Want to see the highlights and some museums, then two days in Ulaanbaatar will be enough to get a good impression. However if you come during the annual Naadam Festival during the summer, then make sure to take enough time; there is so much going on during this cultural highlight.