Everything I will tell you is what I’ve seen with my own eyes. I spent a year here in 2008. This place is like the Wild West with cell phones. The chief thing you notice is how dirty and how clean it is. It’s dirty because the desert tosses all kinds of dirt into the city daily, sometimes with a sandstorm. But it is also very clean in this chilly capital. Why? Because women are always cleaning.
If the women didn’t keep cleaning everyday, I think the whole city would be covered over in two weeks. Anytime I went into a men’s room, there was a woman cleaning. She ignores you and you have learn to ignore her because she’s not gonna leave. And the people are clean.
They have to be clean. Three days without bathing and no one can recognize you.
Everything is either easy or impossible to find. There are only two main streets and most things are on one of them. And there are a few landmarks that everyone knows.
I looked for this spa someone told me was great. It was great but it took me five hours before I found it. I would not give up. When I did find it, it was worth it. There are five rooms of different temperature. Some have the walls covered with beautiful stones. Whole families come and hang out here in the t-shirts and shorts that are provided for the guests.
Getting on the internet is easy. They have internet cafes. Not much cafe but a lot of internet. And they are open 24 hours and cost maybe a dollar an hour.
There is a downside though. You may be near young boys who yell to each other while playing video games. Do not sit between two yellers. Then there are mothers talking Skype to their sons in Korea where they are trying to make some money. They also yell as if Korea is too far away to talk quietly.
Also, watch out for well dressed foreign guys who are Mormon and are way too glad to talk to you.
Walking down the street in this sunny place is sometimes challenging. People toss banana peels over their shoulder. There are also many manhole-like openings you can fall in. The covers are who knows where.
You read that the country has a small population but they all seem to be here in the capital, Ulan Bator. But the upside is that you can get food and shelter for reasonable prices.
I stayed in a family-run guesthouse that treated me like a family member for $14 a night. We sat watching Mongolian idol one night. I don’t know what the judges are saying so I watch the face of the contestant. They nod soberly but the singing can be really good and sometimes in English. I think that gets them extra points.
All Mongolians sing. It’s pretty much required here. We had group sing on the tour bus. And if you want to be in the vodka drinking ritual, you must sing holding your drink in front of you. If you really can’t sing at all, you start a song that everyone knows and they join in and drown you out.