Just like any new place, at first Ulaanbaatar is very intriguing. The line between city and wilderness, plethora of “idols” to Chingiis Khan, and transitions between ger district and metropolitan blocks all give the city a unique feel. As stated in our UB post, we had a blast exploring the city, however after our first 3 days we were ready for something new. Unfortunately, we had arranged our trips in the countryside and the Mongolia transportation system works in a way that we returned to UB for a few days and then a week between excursions. We needed to find something to do other than sit around, we needed to escape UB. Fortunately, we found three activities that used up our time in a productive manner and heard of more for next time!
Hiking From Zummond Back to UB
The first time we arrived back in UB from the north we did an overnight backpack from Zuunmod back to the city. This involved taking the bus from the Dragon Bus Station to Zuunmod (runs every hour for 2,000T). We had previously bought a relatively good map from Seven Summits on the surrounding UB area. From Zuunmod, we hiked 3.5 miles to the Manjusri Monastery. This was a great spot for lunch among the ruins of the Stalin purged buildings and under a new reconstructed hall. We then headed up into what we thought was pristine seccluded wilderness. However, quickly learned that all the pine nuts that are sold on every corner in UB are collected all throughout this area. Every quarter mile or so there were people pounding trees and grinding the cones. While interesting at first, it did not lead to the naturally experience we were looking for. Unfortunately, I would not recommend this trail to solo female travelers. After 12 miles from Zuunmod we made camp and had a relatively warm night. The next morning we hiked through more pine cone encampments and over into UB at the Zaisen memorial. Overall, it was a great little trek and a good way to get out of UB for 36 hours.
Before leaving for Ulgii we rented an extra sleeping bag from the Lotus Guesthouse due to the increasingly cold weather. We learned that Lotus is a nonprofit that runs an orphanage in Gachuurt with 65 kids. We thought volunteering here would be a great way to finish up our time in Mongolia and escape the city during the extra 6 days we had before our flight to Vietnam. The bus driver for the students picked us up at 10 am from the guesthouse after his morning runs and picked up the other workers on the way to Gachuurt. We arrived at the orphanage to learn that there was no structure or direction for volunteers so we just began to hang out with the kids.
We helped 4 twelve year old girls bake bread and muffins for the entire orphange’s weekend breakfast. During the weekend the staff (including the cook) goes back to UB so there were 3 adults (Nick, Stacia and 1 social worker) supervising the kids. Although, they didn’t need much supervision as they cooked, cleaned and looked after one another better than most adults. We were blown away by their independence.
On Saturday, the kids practiced sports for a competition the next day. We helped make pizza, played cards and hid-and-seek. On Sunday, the kids competed against a local Chinese school in football (soccer), basketball, and dance performances. Overall the experience was a blast and it was hard to say goodbye to the amazing kids. If you plan to volunteer at Lotus, be sure to contact us for advice!
Chinggis (Genghis) Khan Statue
We made it to the 40 meter Chinggis (Genghis) Khan statue (7,000 T pp) with Didi, the founder of Lotus. There was a small museum inside, and although nice, seemed like a huge tourist trap. It was hard going from the Lotus orphanage that is struggling to get by to what appeared to be a giant waste of money.
Although we didn’t make it to Terelj National Park and Khustain National Park these are suppose to be great ways to get out of the city! We had spent plenty of time in Russian vans and were looking to do something a little more independent. Extreme Mongolia had good deals on climbing in Terelj, but unfortunately they had already stopped the service for the winter.