Ulaanbaatar Then and Now – Part 2

Scott Notes in 2000: When I 1st arrived at UB I checked into the UB Hotel, supposedly the “best” hotel in UB. From all accounts in talking with different people, both local & expatriates, it is the best! However it would be lucky to get a 2 star rating. I had a double room which consisted of a bathroom & a bedroom (tariff AUD 140).  After checking in I went to my room to unpack & then have a shower before meeting the client for dinner. Having finished my unpacking, which was easy as there wasn’t much cupboard or drawer space to unpack to, and hardly any hangers in the wardrobe, I went to have a shave & shower. Turning on the water taps I was horrified to see dark murky water coming through. Standing there in a daze wondering what the hell had I let myself into the water eventually cleared however no hot water, not even after 5 minutes. I subsequently learnt that you have to let the water run for almost 10 to 15 minutes before any hot water will start to come through. The bath & shower taps are as per Europe where you have to pull a plug up to allow the water to come through the shower head. When I first pulled it up it came off, so after fixing it, it came up but then slipped halfway down again so that you only had a small amount of water coming through the shower head.  The cable TV only had 7 channels,  3 of which were in English, CNN, BBC & ESPStar sports.  Apparently there is a 4th English channel that shows movies etc but it wasn’t tuned in on the Hotel set. The rooms do not have any air conditioning, and as a consequence my room was very stuffy & hot, and remained that way, as I couldn’t open the double glazed windows.

Thomo Notes in 2005: I have to mention that I also stayed in a hotel, at the time, reportedly the best in Ulaanbaatar (and not the UB Hotel). It also suffered from water pressure, especially when switching between bath and shower. The cable TV was much better now with many channels. There are, I think, two basic cable supply companies in Mongolia, Sansar and Supervision. Between them they carry the usual suspects, CNN, BBC World, Star TV, Star Movies, ESPN, Star Sports, MTV, ABC Asia Pacific, lots of Russian, NHK, Arirang etc etc. They are split between the two companies and there are probably 20 or so channels on each network, with a few of them common to both networks. I am now in an apartment and access to these channels is cheap, in the order of $4.00 per month.

Airconditioning is still a rarity here as in summer, whilst the temperature may reach 30 or so, the humidity is really low. Opening the window tends to work and at nighttime the temperature falls to a pleasant level. Eating outside in the sunshine is almost mandatory over the short summer and any restaurant that wants to maintain clientele in the summer must have an outside eating area.

Scott Notes in 2000: The hotel didn’t have a regular hotel bar. There was a small one but I never saw it open for business. It did have a nightclub bar which opened at 9pm, however when I checked it out late one night for a nightcap it was totally empty. The hotel restaurant, in fact all of the “western” styled restaurants I have been to so far, lack any menu variety, the food is low quality and often lacks taste. In a lot of cases the stench of cooked mutton hangs in the air. I now know & appreciate how Rose feels with regards to the smell of lamb. Went to the up-market El Torado Steakhouse the other night and ordered the fillet steak (AUD 18). The waiter didn’t ask anyone how they might want their steaks cooked.  It was served cooked well & truly through, with a large serving of mayonnaise on top, the steak was stringy & tough, tasted like horse meat and had obviously been well marinated, the taste of which was not particularly appealing. I ended up only eating half of it. The side vegetables were minimal and almost inedible. Fortunately the beer was cold. The local brewery makes quite a good draught beer called Chingis. A ½ liter will cost approx. AUD 3.50.

Thomo Notes in 2005: Well, beer is certainly cheaper now, a 1/2 litre of Chinggish costing about AUD $2.50 from most places. And there is certainly no shortage of places to eat and drink with many pubs, restaurants and clubs all over town. There are some that have been here for a long time such as Millies, the UB Deli and such, whilst others have only been open for a year or two – Dave’s Place, Budweiser Pub and so on. As for the steak being tough and tasting like horsemeat, well, horsemeat has a different flavour. I’ve not tried the El Torado but in one respect, some things do not change. I have never been asked how I wanted my steak cooked – it is just ordered and delivered.

Ulaanbaatar has become a much more interesting place to eat over the years. There are now many Chinese restaurants, Korean restaurants, a couple of French, German, English/Irish style as well as Russian, Ukrainian and Thai. There are traditional Mongolian restaurants as well as modern fusion Mongolian (the three Nomad’s restaurants in particular). Whilst Khuurshuur and Buuz can become a little boring when travelling through the countryside, in Ulaanbaatar in particular, there is so much eating variety now that it is difficult to get bored with food here.

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