Mongolia is a fascinating country to the north of China and south of Russia. We may associate Mongolia with Genghis Khan (or with Altantuyaa, for those with interest in regional news) but Mongolia is a unique travel destination with so much to offer – vast, beautiful landscapes with blue sky and interesting history and culture. Our recent trip to Mongolia allowed us to experience its majestic mountains and endless plains as well as its vibrant city life and, of course, its food.
Mongolia Travel Log
Mongolia was a somewhat offbeat travel destination for the ordinary patrons. Our short tip to Mongolia in June 2019 turned out to be an engaging and delightful experience. With so much seen and learnt in Mongolia, this will be the first of several parts of our travel log. We will let the photos do much of the storytelling of our visit to a small part of a very big country with a land area of 1.6 million square kilometres.
Singaporeans can travel visa-free to Mongolia for 30 days. MIAT Mongolian Airlines has regular flights from Changi to Ulaanbator, with stopovers in Hong Kong or Seoul. Our return tickets on economy class was about S$1,100 each. Our flight from Singapore to Honk Kong was actually operated by Cathay Pacific. The Hong Kong to Ulaanbator leg was on an old Boeing 737-800 operated by MIAT. The seats were rather small and the flight time of about 4.5 hours felt longer. Food on board was nice though.
Ulaanbaatar (previously referred to as Ulan Bator), is the capital and largest city of Mongolia. It has a population of of about 1.5 million people (roughly half of the entire population of Mongolia). The drive from the Chinggis Khan International Airport to the city centre was about 30 minutes.
Ulaanbaatara, referred to by residents as UB, is a sprawling commercial city. It has its shining modern towers as well as Soviet era buildings. There are swanky gated condominiums as well as shanty towns. The traffic congestion on its roads is not unlike the typical congestion in places like Kuala Lumpur. About 80% of the cars we saw on the roads were Toyotas. We were told most of them were imported used cars. However, we saw more than a few gleaming Lexus and German luxury marques on the roads as well.
The centre of the city is the huge Great Chinggis Khaan Square. Government offices, the central business district, the embassies row and shopping malls are mostly within walking distance of the square.
We stayed in Novotel Ulaanbaatar located at the heart of the city centre, within walking distance of the Great Chinggis Khaan Square. There is a shopping mall and supermarket nearby.
It is a very well appointed modern hotel with all the usual facilities you would expect. The room was spacious. There were more than 200 channels on the TV and free wifi was available. The service was friendly and efficient. We paid about S$130 per room for a night, and the price included breakfast.
Shopping in Ulaanbaatar
There are many shopping malls and supermarkets in Ulaanbaatar. The most upmarket mall we saw was the Shangri-La Mall annexed to the Shangri-La Hotel. Converse, Geox and Timberland were among the brands that could be found there.
The State Departmental Store is a multi-storey department store that seemed popular with the locals. International and Mongolian brands are well represented. You can find a whole range of merchandise from cosmetics, clothing and shoes to crockery, camping equipment and music CDs there.
We also visited Mary & Martha Fair Trade Shop which has a good range of handicrafts and souvenirs.
For the thrill of bargaining, there is always the street markets, the biggest one of which is Naran Tuul (which means The Black Market).
Eating in Ulaanbaatar
Ulaanbaatar has a vibrant and cosmopolitan dining scene. We were surprised by the number of Korean restaurants and cafes we saw in the city. There is no lack of Japanese, Chinese and Italian restaurants and you can find Latin American, Ukrainian, Indian, Thai and American food there. We even saw a restaurant advertising Singaporean food.
We were taken to Aypa, a Mongolian restaurant frequented by the locals. It had quaint eclectic decor.
The pictures of the menu below will give you an idea of the food served in a typical Mongolian restaurant and the prices of the food and drinks. Currently, 2,000 Mongolian Tugrik (MNT) is about 1 Singapore Dollar (SGD). A one dish meal of chicken noodle soup would be about S$4.
We tried some of their noodles dishes as well as the beef with rice and horse meat with potatoes. The meal was not bad but not something to rave about. Well, the horse meat tasted like beef.
A Local Cafe
Cafe Camino is said to be one of the best local cafes in Ulaanbaatar. The interior looked like any modern hip cafe you would find in big Asian cities.
They roast their own coffee beans. Their coffee was excellent and their other beverages and cakes were good too.
Local Ice Cream
Milk Ice Cream is popular and you can find ice cream kiosks all over the city.
Vibrant International F&B Scene
We also had Korean and Japanese meals of very good standards in Ulaanbaatar.
There is a Chinese restaurant in Novotel. We had a meal there. The photo above shows the three dishes we ordered. The portions were huge and could probably feed 8 to 10 persons. The total bill for the three dishes, including service charge, amounted to about S$25.
Cafes and fast food restaurants like Toms N Toms, KFC and Pizza Hut are not hard to find in Ulaanbaatar.
Ulaanbaatar – an interesting vibrant city
We did not spend too much time in Ulaanbaatar and there would be much more to experience and see. What we got was just a glimpse of the vibrant and interesting city. We would have no hesitation in recommending a visit to the capital city of Mongolia. We would certainly like to go back to Ulaanbaatar one day.
The Ordinary Patrons | Real Dining Experience of Ordinary People
an independent Singapore food blog