|If we had been roughing it in gers and eating too much boiled mutton, Ulaan Bataar is a shock to the system. Apparently China has the largest gap between the poor and rich in the world, but Mongolia must be close. We hit Ulaan Bataar and checked into the faded grandeur of a 3-star hotel in the centre of town... just down the road from the Grand Khaan Irish Pub (where. I'll admit, we ate dinner while drinking the local Mongolian draft beer (nothing to write home about) and watching the English football round-up on ESPN. Yes, irish pubs have big TV screens even in Mongolia (and you can't escape bloody manchester united here either!)
We only had an afternoon in UB and had to try to fit a lot in. We blew off the guided walking tour to make our own way (hey, have Lonely Planet, have map, have a brain). Having set off in confidence of our own ability it took us the best part of half an hour to find a cafe two blocks from our hotel. I mean, you think it would be easy to find a Buddhist temple in the city... it would have ben if it wasn't enclosed in a building site!
Mongolia - having been communist since 1921 when national hero Damdin Sukhbator enlisted the help of the Red Army to drive out the Chinese and ended up handing over Mongilia to the supreme Soviet Union - has destroyed most of its temples, and many of those that are left are - like Erdene Zuu Khiid in Kharkorin - are now just museums. Mongolian Buddhism also mixes a bit of Shamanism into its beliefs. But that didn't stop the city going bonkers about the Dalai Lama visiting- on the same day we did! What is did mean though was that when we visited the big Buddhist temple of UB, Gandan Khiid, they asked us for 2500T for an entry ticket when the temple is usually free!! We declined. There are a lot of temples in Mongolia and China...
We fit in a visit to the National museum of Mongolia - which had fabulous ethnic costumes and a really good rundown of Mongolian history, especially the glory days of Chinggis Khaan (not Genghis: note!!!). Did you know that the Golden Horde used to control territory across to Eastern Europe and that in the time of Kublai Khaan the capital of Mongolia was Beijing? We also went to the National History museum which had bugs in bottles, a few cool dinosaurs and lots of badly stuffed animals (but at least we finally found out what a marmot was)
We had another horrible early departure to the train for Beijing the next morning.