Save for Pyongyang, Ulan-Bataar may be the weirdest city I've ever encountered. Virtually the entire city was created by the Soviets, forcing the nomad people of Mongolia to live in ugly 'commie blocks'. While it has a significant amount of inhabitants, there's hardly any urban life. There are a few shops and restaurants, but not at the extent you'd expect from such a city. It feels like the city is nothing more than a collection of (mostly ugly, concrete) buildings and a couple of wide, bad roads with heavy traffic. Although fascinating to see for some time, it's not a place to spend more than a couple of days. Which we fortunately didn't. The city's only attraction is the monastary of Gandantegchinlen Khiidd, which is certainly worth a visit. But even more interesting is to stroll around and to be amazed by the non-place that this city is.

Oh, and if you're bored, try crossing the streets...the traffic is heavy and drivers will certainly not stop for you, so crossing a street seems pretty difficult. After some time you'll learn the trick the locals also use: cross from lane to lane, each time waiting in between lanes for a suitable gap between cars. Standing between lanes, while heavy freight lorries pass you on both sides with 70 km/h is... well, and interesting experience.

Manzshir Khiid

Mongolia's cities may be the ugliest on this planet, the scenery makes up for that. No wonder exploring the countryside is very popular with Transsib travellers. We unfortunately didn't have time for that, so we opted to make only a short day trip to the monastary of Manzhir Khiid. Actually not a monastary anymore, the ruins of it are located in a national park some 40-odd kilometers from Ulan-Bataar. Getting there turned out to be a bit of a problem; after trying in vain to get a bus and cathing up with an excursion, we finally just took a regular city taxi to the monastary. The driver was more than happy to take us along the wonderfull route to the ruins. I found the remains of the monastary to be rather boring, just like the small museum. The scenery made the trip more than worth it. The driver was so kind to wait for our return. The total cost of bringing us there and back turned out to be no more than about 20 euros...