The second half of my time in Mongolia has proceeded much like the first: lounging around the ger camp, reading, helping when I can, and riding horses.
I went on a 3 day horse and camping trek with some Australian girls. The first night we spent camping in a national park with a destroyed and rebuilt monastery, then camped of the open steppe. Great weather and a nice chance to get the horses moving.
You say, “Chuu, Chuu!” to get horses moving in Mongolia. Mine seemed hard to motivate until I adopted a strap to whack his hindquarters with. Walk to gallop in no time.
Back in UB, I’ve had a few slow days, but did head out to the Gandantegchinlen Khiid Monestary, better known as Gandan Monastery. They boast an impressive 27 meter tall statue of Migjed Janraisig, the Buddha of compassion.
I was unable to find any groups going to the Gobi Desert that I could join for cheap. Surprisingly, tourism in Mongolia is not cheap. With the general lack of infostructure, trains and long distance buses are not existent. Instead, you can fly (expensive), public mini-bus (slow, bumpy, and completely cram packed), or hire private vans/jeeps with up to seven others. The latter can range from US$25/day to upwards of $90, with most end up paying $40 – 50. Tourist season is tailing off, so I decided to save some money and continue back to China for continuation along the Silk Road.
I really think there are lots of business opportunities in Mongolia, including tour companies and restaurant establishments. There is little to no hiking or biking, and the rest exist in such small number they can charge exorbitant amounts.
For food, in UB there is hardly any vegetarian options, and, get this, no American fast food chains. Apparently McDonald’s has chosen not to pursue business here, which I think is utterly wrong from an economic perspective (morally??). Fast food here consists of establishments such as Berlin Burger and Hanburger (sic), plus a popular Mongolia food one that I can’t pronounce. The Western places’ food sits in hotplates behind glass and is additionally reheated upon order. Good as it sounds. Not sure I would want to be that guy, but whoever opens a McD’s in UB will be rich.
A few further observations:
Attractive Mongolian girls represent some kind of Central Asian supermodels. They are very fashion aware, very Westernized, and very nice to look at.
Customer service is perhaps the worst and most inattentive for any one country I’ve been to. While nomadic families are some of the warmest and friendliest, city Mongolians don’t give a f*ck. Faces are impassive and sour. Tasks are completed slowly, during which all other communication is severed. Often people completely ignore questions and even your presence. This extends to markets, such as the famous Naran Tul or Black Market. In China, bargaining starts at 300-500% of the settled price. Mongolians will have none of it and I never got anyone to come down more than US$1.50. Market stall’s owners mostly sit around and wait for you to initiate conversation, and cut it off if bargaining continues. The answer to most questions is “no” and they have already turned away from you in answering, leaving you staring at the back of a head. Unfortunately, the friendliest places are foreign owned, and while I usually like to shop locally, I don’t feel too bad frequenting them.
It’s been exactly one month here in Mongolia. I feel there is much still to see in this amazing place and I haven’t covered the countryside like I usually do. But it’s financially smarter to move on, and someday when I complete the Trans-Siberian Railway I can fill in the gaps.