Ulaanbaatar is a very interesting city of Mongolia with a mishmash of low rise buildings juxtaposed with tall modern looking buildings. The surprisingly cool summer weather with perpetual blue sky makes walking and shopping around the city really enjoyable. During my one day stay in Ulaanbaatar, I discover a lot of interesting places and worthwhile stuff to buy. The following recommendations are based purely on my own preference and which I believed will appeal to most visitors.
I would not have known such fiery and “throat burning” vodka if I had not travelled with a group of self-proclaimed alcohol connoisseurs during our Mongolia adventure trip. Chinggis Vodka is Mongolia’s famous liquor and it is 100% made in Mongolia using an 800 year old distillation technique. It has also won some international accolades and is readily available in most supermarkets or convenience stores in Ulaanbaatar city.
You should get the Chinggis Gold or Platinum version that comes in beautiful tin can containers. They come in different sizes ranging from 500ml, 750ml to 1 litre. The Gold version contains 39% alcohol and seriously, it is not for the faint hearted!
We actually bought a few bottles of Chinggis Gold to last our entire Mongolia adventure trip and it cost about USD16-18 for 1 litre bottle. We finish half a bottle each night and after the 3rd night, we grew to love this vodka! For authentic experience, one should drink like the Mongolians do by gulping down a few pegs (in a shot glass of course) at one time. It actually keep your body warm during the cold nights you spend in the wilderness.
Affordable Gobi Cashmere Wear
You will find many cashmere wear boutiques dotting Ulaanbaatar streets. Just head into one that bears the brand Gobi and if you are in luck, the store may even have some off-season sales going on!
Gobi is an internationally well known brand for good quality cashmere products and is highly regarded by the locals as well. Gobi’s cashmere wear are made of 100% cashmere yarn from goat’s fleece and they have products ranging from sweaters, pullover, scarves, hats, gloves, shawls, etc. The price is easily 3-4 times cheaper for the same quality stuff than those you buy in a high street fashion store. I bought a chic looking green coloured 100% cashmere turtleneck sweater with full length zip for less than USD140.
Cashmere shawls can be very presentable gifts for close friends and relatives too. My parents-in-law were very happy when I bought them two cashmere shawls and they only cost me less than USD100 in total.
Shopping in State Department Store
Located along Peace Avenue, State Department Store is undisputedly the largest shopping complex in Ulaanbaatar where most locals do their shopping for foreign goods. You can’t miss it as it is one of the taller buildings with big red signage amidst the single or double storey buildings.
I was pleasantly surprised by the huge range of goods it carry and they even have one big area dedicated to foreign cosmetics and fragrances. I strongly advise you to load up on your facial moisturizers and skin care protection cream here if you are heading out to the harsh Outer Mongolia plains.
As for myself, I headed straight to the camping and outdoor gear section because I heard from our Singaporean guide that the prices can be cheaper than Singapore. Indeed, I found brands like The North Face, Columbia and Tatonka at selling at prices 20%-30% cheaper than Singapore! You can even find premium European fashion brands like Energie over at the State Department Store.
If you are feeling famished, head to the top level where there is a food court that serves some quick bites. Prices for dishes are not that cheap compared to local cafes and it ranged from USD4 onwards. However, on the same level there is a book section which is a good place to pick up English maps on Mongolia.
It never dawn to me that I will find luxurious brands in Ulaanbaatar as I thought the city’s population of about 1 million is too small to support the market. So it took me by surprise when I see a big Louis Vuitton boutique in Central Tower, just opposite to Sukhbaatar Square where the magnificent Genghis Khan statue sits.
Just besides Louis Vuitton store is the authentic Ermenegildo Zegna boutique, where you can dress yourself up in Italian suits and impress the local girls! I did not check the price of the famous monogrammed LV bags but I’m pretty sure it will most likely be the same as other Asian countries. But hey, why buy branded goods here when you can get other quality stuff like real cashmere clothing at cheap prices in Mongolia!
Eating in Ulaanbaatar
My personal motto – when in foreign land, do like the locals do and eat like they do too! There are many small eateries selling delicious local food like lamb stew and one of my favourite dishes is pancake stuffed with minced lamb meat. Just go into any one of the cafes and use sign language if the owner does not understand English. Most of the Mongolians are very friendly and patient to foreign visitors.
One must try is the Mongolia Salt Tea, “Suutei Tsai”. It is tea with cow’s milk and added with salt. It is very different from the sweet Western tea which we normally drink and it is definitely an acquired taste. But strangely, I grew to like it after a few sips and I find it really keep you warm in the cold weather.
There are many BBQ restaurants in Ulaanbaatar and seriously, most of them are good. I was told during summer time when transport routes between city and the outer plains (where the sheep and cows are) are accessible, fresh meat will be readily available in the city. No wonder all the barbequed meat taste delicious because they are so fresh and not some frozen meat that are few days old!
Remember to wash down the BBQ meat with few pints of beer as we Chinese believed that beer has cooling effect that can counter the “heaty” grilled meat. And don’t be surprised when you discover Tiger beer on the drinking menu. Indeed, Singapore’s Tiger beer is quite popular in Ulaanbaatar city.