Ulaanbaatar's Top Attractions
Ulaanbaatar is centuries old and flush with new money. The new prosperity combined with a building boom has led to a host of new attractions.
But even with rampant building Ulaanbaatar has managed to preserve the old to stand alongside the new.
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Or read on for my top sightseeing tips…
The Bogd Khan Palace Museum
The Bogd Khan was the eighth incarnation of the Jebtsundamba—the leader/s of Tibetan Buddhism in Mongolia.
The first two Jebtsundamba were descendants of Genghis Khan. So in 1911, when Mongolia needed a new king, Jebtsundamba VIII got the nod.
The Bogd Khan had four palaces. Only his winter palace—now the Bogd Khan Palace Museum—survives.
The museum's exhibits consist largely of the Bogd Khans possessions—many of them gifts from world rulers. The exhibits include an early motorcar.
You will find the palace south of the city center, halfway to the Zaisan monument.
The Choijin Lama Temple Museum
The Choijin Lama Monastery housed the Bogd Khan's brother. It escaped destruction during the socialist years by becoming a museum.
You don't have to go inside to admire this monastery. Its rustic feel and architecture stand in contrast to the surrounding buildings.
Inside you will find three temples. Buddhist art covers the temples' walls. My favorite collage portrays an ice hell. You will also see statues of Buddhist figures engaged in various activities, some of them sexual.
Afterward, pop next door to Millie's café—a favorite expat hangout, famed for its coffee and healthful food.
Sukhbaatar Square is the center of Ulaanbaatar. A '0' mark in the center of the square designates the city's central point.
The national square honors Sukhbaatar—a local hero who liberated Mongolia from Chinese occupation and a White Russian army. After his death, the Mongolian capital changed its name to Ulaan Baatar (Red Hero) in his memory.
A statue of Sukhbaatar sits in the center of the square. Surrounding the square you will find: the Parliament; the World's smallest Stock Exchange; the National Theater; the Cultural Palace; and the latest addition: a Louis Vuitton store.
Don't miss the statue in the back garden of the parliament—it's modeled on Mongolia's state seal. I find it a bit spooky!
Ulaanbaatar's Opera and Ballet House
The opera house sits on the East side of Sukhbaatar Square. It hosts many excellent concerts and operas. I took my wife here on our first date to see a fine performance of Swan Lake.
Genghis Khan Statues
The government recently built a monument to Chinggis Khan (aka Genghis Khan) in front of the parliament house in Sukhbaatar Square...
An even more impressive statue sits in open countryside about two hours drive from Ulan Bator…
Genghis sits on the world's tallest statue of a horse with his legendary golden whip. You can ride to the top in an elevator—or, take the stairs. Not recommended for the claustrophobic!
Terelj National Park
Terelj National Park lies seventy kilometers northeast of Ulaanbaatar. Terelj will whet your appetite before you travel farther a field.
It takes three hours to drive to Terelj form Ulaanbaatar. On the way you will have the chance to ride a horse, a camel or even perch an eagle on your arm…
En route keep your eyes open for Turtle Rock—a giant rock which looks like a turtle. But don't stay in the adjacent ger camp. You will find much better camps further down the road.
Ulaanbaatar's Zaisan Monument
You will find the Zaisan Monument on a hill to the South of the city...
The mural at the top of the monument shows important moments in twentieth century Mongolia. Some of the pictures commemorate battles—so the monument doubles as a memorial.
But most people visit Zaisan for the panoramic view of Ulaanbaatar and the Tuul River.
The Museum of Modern History
The Museum of Modern History is a recent addition to UB's museum scene.
The exhibits cover Mongolian history from the Stone Age to modern times—don't miss the section on the life and times of Genghis Khan.
The museum lies on the west side of Sukhbaatar Square. The modern sculpture outside the building remembers those who suffered during the Soviet years.
During the Soviet years, Gandan became a showpiece for supposed religious freedom. All other monasteries suffered destruction or conversion. Because Gandan was spared, it has become the longest serving monastery in Mongolia today.
The Migjid Jarraisig temple is the oldest part of the temple and home to a recently created twenty-six-meter statue. A socialist government destroyed the original statue during the 1920s. But during the nineties locals commissioned a new statue decorated with gold and jewels.
Services at the monastery start at ten and last to noon. The monastery charges tourists an entrance fee in summer.
Gandan has become a bit of a tourist trap. You may find the Pet Hub Monastery opposite more interesting and 'real'.
The Natural History Museum
Founded in 1924, the Natural History Museum is a hit with my son—largely for its complete skeletons of giant flesh-eating dinosaurs! The exhibits also include fossilized dinosaur eggs, found by the man who inspired Indiana Jones.
The Department of Fauna contains various stuffed animals and birds—including the endangered Gobi Bear and two-humped wild camel.
If that's not enough, the Geology Department contains examples of the many rare and beautiful stones found in Mongolia. Worth visiting to see what you should keep your eyes open for!
Other Ulaanbaatar Museums
The Zanabazar Museum of Fine Arts contains sculptures and paintings, many created by Zanabazar—a descendant of Genghis Khan. The museum is just of Khudaldaany Avenue close to the head office of the Trade and Development Bank.
Finally my favorite and my son's favorite…
The Intellectual Museum—the museum contains thousands of puzzles created by the museums owner. It also has a collection of puzzles from around the world.
The museum includes giant chess sets carved in the shapes of past and current Mongolian people. You will learn a lot about Ulaanbaatar and Mongolian culture here.
If you need to buy gifts, the museum shop has a good selection of unique and affordable souvenirs.
How do you find it? Walk east up Peace Avenue until you reach the British Embassy. Opposite the British Embassy you will see a Golomt bank on the corner of Peace Avenue and a side street. Follow the side street to the end and you will find the Intellectual Museum on your left.
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