A Day in Mongolia – Guide to Understanding Life in Ulaanbaatar Part ONE

For those who are not lucky enough to be here in UB (short for Ulaanbaatar), I thought I would share with you basically what a day in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia looks like.

State Department Store – since 1921, but no longer “state”

State Department Store
State Department Store

The store has been owned by Nomin Retail, now a daughter company of Nomin Holdings, since the mid/late 1990’s. It was won by the guy who founded the retail business in a state auction in a bold and shrewd move as kindly depicted in a popular business book of businessmen in Mongolia. You can lease retail space between $10 and $20 per square meters.

BTW, Mongolian official currency is tugrugs, but the economy basically runs on US dollars. Houses, cars, international contracts, etc are typically all done in the lovable green Benjamins.

Fast Food in Mongolia – It’s Buuz, Not Burgers

Fast Food In Mongolia - It's Buuz, Not Burger
Fast Food In Mongolia - It's Buuz, Not Burger

Khaan Buuz is a popular fast-place in Mongolia. They sell buuz, which is steamed dumplings with meat. Buuz is bigger and meatier than Chinese dumplings. Also, they are made with beef or mutton meat and do not have that soy or sweet flavor. Buuz is typically a favorite for westerners. Khaan buuz is a chain with numerous locations. They also sell pre-packaged frozen buuz. A meal at Khaan Buuz typically costs $2-3.

Mongolia does have burgers and other fast food stuff (not too many real hot dogs). Burgers can be decent, but the idea of hot dog here is basically a small sausage divided in half and in between buns. They just don’t have good hot dogs here in UB.

What’s really popular for most Mongolians are what’s called tsaini gazar (translated as tea place). These are very small restaurants that serve Mongolian dishes for about $1-1.50 per meal.

Money is Better than Playgrounds for Kids

One of Few Remaining Playgrounds in Ulaanbaatar
One of Few Remaining Playgrounds in Ulaanbaatar

This is a really hot topic for most residents. Most of the playgrounds like these have been replaced with new construction. Most of the buildings do not even fit the surrounding area. Parking, driving, or even walking home can be a pain in the butt; people have to drive or walk all the way around to get somewhere. There really has not been much of city planning during the construction boom years of 2005-2008.

Getting back to the topic at hand, it’s sad to see these playgrounds disappear. The playground that I grew up on has already been replaced by this new building. It kind of looks rude, standing where I used to play… without my permission. The kid in me is not very happy about that.

Watch Out for Potholes!

Potholes - be very, very careful
Potholes - be very, very careful

One of the first things I noticed when I first came to Mongolia was that people in general looked down when they walked. In the US, most people look ahead. Looking down while walking is an interesting and a necessary thing to do, I remember observing.

In any case, I remember hearing a story of a kid who died because of one of these. The kid lives overseas, but he was here for the summer. There are many families that live overseas and visit once a year or so. Anyway, the kid was playing outside and just fill in it… very sad.

Also, the street kids often live in these. If you can imagine the winter in Mongolia, there really are not too many other warm places for them to survive the cold winters than down under next to the heated water pipes.

Mongolian Banks Holding Up Fine for Now

Golomt Bank - one of the major commercial banks in Mongolia
Golomt Bank - one of the major commercial banks in Mongolia

None of the big four banks have went down under. One of the second-tier commercial banks with issues, Anod Bank, had problems more to do with illegal activities than with the current economic situation. There really are not much of an investment banking in Mongolia… although ING has been looking to get into the market since last year.

Subbaatar Sandwiches – American style subs in Mongolia!

Subbaatar Sandwiches getting some TLC from Chris, Tyler, and crew
Subbaatar Sandwiches getting some TLC from Chris, Tyler, and crew

Sandwiches are quite good. My favorite is the subbaatar club sub with chicken, ham, and meat. As days go by, I find it harder and harder to eat without a healthy dose of meat in the meal. In fact, I don’t even feel like I ate until I had some good meat. hehe I guess that makes me a Reborn Mongolian. 😉 By the way, Mongolians, especially the men, LOOOVE eating some meat.

Well, that’s it folks. Please share your thoughts.

I wanted to write a lot more, but it is getting late. I will end with this thought that: I am thinking of writing a specialized and specific report-like posts in the future. They will be things like in-depth look at cars in UB, children of the streets, weather in Mongolia, the Presidential elections or bio on the candidates, etc.

Please let me know if you want me to write on a specific topic. I don’t mind writing it for you.

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Born in 1979. Lived, studied, and worked in the US from 1992-2007. Currently in Mongolia since 2007. Own and manage WebGuru Co Ltd (www.WEBGURU-CO.COM), an internet marketing and web design / development company based in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

12 thoughts on “A Day in Mongolia – Guide to Understanding Life in Ulaanbaatar Part ONE”

  1. Very interesting Mergen! Yeah, I’d definitely be interested in more in-depth looks. Like the poor homeless kids on the streets, daily life, business/political developments, etc.

  2. This is amazing to come across your site. Especially with this post. Was really thinking that Ulan Bator was a boring city, but I’m considering. You see, I’m going to join this volunteer organization, and they might send me to Mongolia right after I graduate college.

    Anyway, I’ve heard about the weather. Maybe that would be a good topic 🙂


  3. mark, thanks for the comment. stay tuned for a post on weather. i will write one just for you! hehe

    ulaanbaatar is very different and quite interesting, especially if you get out of your comfort zone and start to see and understand why people live the way they do. there are many volunteers that come to the city, but many times they just hang around with themselves and don’t really gain an in depth understanding of mongolian way of life.

    i think the real juice and the thing to gain is understanding how people live here. it’s really quite a bit different from western mindset and often really quite nice with many great lessons to be had.

    my two cents, err tugrugs

  4. Part 2 will be coming some day soon. I’m currently preparing for an internet marketing exam. At the end, I will get a badge to place on my website. Long story short, I do have some neat posts coming up. I just need to write them up. 😉

  5. Mergen, you should definately continue the story. Honestly, this is the best resourse about Mongolia on the web. Need more!

  6. @arman, thank you for the support. as this is about the second or the third comment about needing more, i will most definitely have to write more. when i do, i will let you guys know. thanks!!

  7. @arman, what specifically about driving in UB are you interested? Are you looking for anything specific or just what it’s like to drive in UB? Let me know!

  8. This is really cool! I met a lot of Mongolians when I was studying in Shanghai, one of them became my friend. I became so interested with Mongolia because of my Mongolian classmates.

    Thanks for posting this! I’m really looking forward in learning more about Ulanbaaatar. I’m planning to visit the country.


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