Sunday, June 29, 2008

Mongolia - what a start

Well, the first 36 hours in Mongolia have proved somewhat eventful.

First I was a victim of the airport taxi scam, an unfortunate thing that as a non Mongolian speaker, you are really stuck with. First a man followed me around the airport while I was trying to find the bank and change my money. I eventually told him to back off as I wanted to take the official taxi. Having been in Asia a while, I know that there are many illegal ones prowling the airports.

Problem 1 - I already knew that there was no official taxis (sometimes Lonely Planet is good ($5 they said) and I have been here before anyway). So any car acts as a taxi. They told me 30,000 Mong things, (about $25). I tried to bargain to 20,000 but got the same boring lecture they sprout all over the world about fuel prices. Still I knew $25 was excessive. I got in the car none too happy. On the 20 minute journey I decided that I was not going to pay 30,000, so when the driver showed me 30,000 in his phone, I gave him 20,000(a bit over $17) and grabbed my bags. He held out his hand wanting more, I gave him the filthest look I could muster (not hard after 4 hours sleep and a few hours on a plane) shook my head and left. He didn't argue, why would he? He already got twice the going rate. I later asked our tour company who told me I should have paid 10,000.

After I got some sleep, the next day I headed off to meet the tour operator. Nice people, they invited me to an opening party for a new cafe that they have called Amsterdam cafe. The owners are Dutch eh! So I trotted off to the party, it was officially opened by the Queen of the Netherlands (OK so I just googled her and found out that I was duped - I thought she looked a bit young) then I ate their food and drank their wine and left.

On the way home, I caught a man with his hand in my backpack, helping himself to my calculator. I don't know what made me turn and catch him as I didn't hear anything. So I got the calculator back and then chased him down the street yelling a few unlady like words at him. If I caught him I would have made him sorry. Lucky I had just moved my phone to my pocket. I saw him again today, and felt like giving him a good thumping, but this time watched my bag very closely.

Today I went sightseeing. Ulan Bataar is quite modern, about 4 new big glass buildings are under construction and the whole Russian feel that was here last time has gone. There are many pubs, western style food places and internet around. The shops are funny though, they look like someones house and the little market near our hotel looks like a toilet block in the middle of the carpark. I only went in there cause I saw people coming out with what looked like groceries.

30 June - heading off into the wilds of Mongolia, will be back in UB on time for the Nadaam Festival.


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