Who Needs Bus Numbers? First days in Ulaanbaatar / by Jimmy Hyland

Its the close of my second day in UlaanBataar, and what an incredible city! My flights all went impressively smoothly, and 7am (UB time) yesterday morning me, my two bags and my bike stood in the sun outside the Chinggis Khaan International airport. A persistent taxi driver eventually persuaded me that his beaten up, un taxi-branded Prius was the vehicle to get me to my accommodation. (I have since realised that no taxis here are branded as taxis, and that 95% of them are beaten up Prius's, but at the time I still wasn't sure if I would ever get out of the car). The trip from the airport to where Im staying was about 25 minutes, and allowed me to have a good look at the city. Being early on a Sunday morning meant it was quiet too which was nice.

Upon arrival I spent much of yesterday recovering from the flight and getting my bearings. The main street in the city, Peace Avenue, is a 5 minute walk and along there is where most of the shops and restaurants can be found. Locating shops is interesting as all the names and descriptions are written in Mongolian Crylic and shop windows don't really seem to be a thing here, I guess a good way to get you into the shops to see whats inside. After some tame wandering I retired to bed as I knew I had an early start to come.

Today I had two main goals, the first to get my Visa extension and the second to get hold of a Mongolian sim so that I can make contact with the relevant people if at any point required. I managed to achieve both of these by 1pm, although not without transport mishap.

In order to get my visa extension I needed to go to the Mongolian Immigration Office, around 15 KM outside of the city close to the airport and I decided to go by bus. The busses here are nothing like at home. The numbers don't seem to mean anything, and most of them don't even have numbers. I had worked out with the help of the owner of my hotel that the number 9 bus was the one that I needed, but I soon realised that its not as simple as that. Upon arrival at the bus stop I spent close to 45 minutes sat watching and trying to work out how the busses worked, and it seems that you jump on the first bus that arrives thats travelling in roughly the right direction, pay 1000 MNT (about 30p) into the box at the front and see where you end up, this was the tactic that I went for and it didn't go so well. I realised that after a few turns I was heading in the opposite direction to the airport so got off that bus, got on another that was heading in the right direction and finally arrived.

Getting my visa extension was easy, I turned up, filled in the form with attached photo, gave it to one of the attendants at the counter along with a photocopy of my passport and visa and waited for it to be inspected. I then got a post-it note with a few words and numbers on that I took to the bank, which conveniently was in the same building. You pay your money, go back to the attendant with a receipt give it to him wait about 40 minutes and then I was given my passport back with a 30 day extension, which takes me to my flight home.

Feeling very pleased with myself I headed to the airport where there is a MobiCon (supposedly the best network for signal in the remote areas) office to sort a sim card. This too was fairly straight forward, and I'm now up and running with a phone.

I have realised that flying across the country to Ulaangom is going to be tricky and expensive because of the added weight of my bike so I have decided to change my plans. Rather than fly to Ulaangom I'm going to set off on the bike from here, heading west toward Ulaangom and I will see how far I get. I have spent a long time looking at the map and have realised that there are lots of options for circular routes that I can take depending on the weather the conditions of the roads etc and I will just see how it goes. After all the destination isn't important, its the journey thats important, and meeting people and experiencing the cultures along the way. By doing it this way I will be much more flexible and under much less time pressure so will be able to take in more of the country.

The only problem is that the GPS that I brought with me is old, and has decided that this is a trip too far so has stopped working, I'm therefore back to traditional navigation which is no real issue other than my map is 1;50,000 so not very detailed and I now have no way of measuring distance covered, but I am tomorrow going to try and get hold of some more detailed province maps that will also have place names written in crylic which will be better for translation.

My plan is to stock up tomorrow on all the necessary food, water and supplies and head out from the city on Wednesday.


(Here is a phone photo of the sunrise view as I landed in Ulaanbaatar. These hills can be found surrounding the city and its a view that makes me a little apprehensive but super exited for whats to come).