You can change money (USD) in the street. I think the exchange rate is fair, but ... if you want to change 100 USD and the exchange rate is 1000 (example) the money changer uses a pocket calculator to calculate how many tögrög you must have for 100 USD. You see him type 100 * 1000 on the pocket calculator but the display only shows 95000 instead of 100000. (This was just an easy example).
I don't know how they do it; maybe they got a program in the memory. But remember to do your own calculation. They got me the first time - not the second...
We went downtown with our Lonely Planet guide which has a map. But the map is not very detailed and most importantly has the names of the roads in latin characters. However, in Mongolia everything is written in Russian characters. So you need a Mongolian Map with Russian script, otherwise it is impossible to navigate through the streets. Because we are Greek, we managed to find our way, since Cyrilic script is very similar to Greek. But still, it is best to go downtown with a Cyrillic script map.
Be very careful in the traffic! There is much traffic on the main roads, and everybody drives like crazy...
Be especially careful when crossing the roads, not all cars stop for red light or stop in the pedestrian crossing zone.
I think it's the worst driving I have seen anywhere.
it's sad to say, but we didn't feel safe in the streets of ulan bator, especially when it's getting dark.
watch out for the street kids! they beg and they like to touch you and your bags. they run after you and won't let go. i just caught a little boy silently opening the zipper of my backpack while i was walking down the street. it happens that bags are cut open with a knife while you're carrying it!
in the city centre, these kids are everywhere, mostly boys. a friend of mine had to run away, when a group of 15y.old boys wanted to confront and trouble her.
don't give them any money, because they just buy drugs, cigarettes and alcohol with it. if you wanna help them, it's better to give them directly some food.
Walking at nighttime
Don't walk home alone at night! My friend was attacked by a group of young people, and they took his money.
Nothing really bad happened, but it was not a funny experience!
Walk in a group or take a taxi.
Rolls of cash near the post office/exchanges
This is an Eastern Europe thing that I have seen and heard of in Mongolia.
Basically, outside of exchange bureaus and the post office someone leaves a roll of notes-local or dollars outside in a clear place. They are usually just paper with a real note around the outside.
Anyway, the trick is that a tourist picks it up, and the conman, who is watching nearby sees this and says that you have stolen his money; from nowhere a "policeman" appears and searches you, taking all the money that you have, as the man claims it is the stolen lot.
Another variation of this is that conman saying he has "found" the money and asks if you want to split the money, then another man appears saying he has lost some, then the conman says that you have the lot.
I saw several rolls of bills outside exchange places on Peace Avenue, i would leave them well alone.
BEWARE OF PICK-POCKETS AND THIEVES
Watch your belongings like a hawk. My friend had her bag stolen the minute we stepped out of the train-station.
At the Black Market, the pick-pockets, known as ALI-BABAS, are everywhere. They usually carry a sweater or jacket awkwardly across their shoulders to hide the stolen goods. The Black Market is crowded and there tend to be people pushing. The Ali-Babas know about your money-belts and will poke your backs to test for them.
Another friend had some pencils in his pocket and even those were pick-pocketed away.
During the Naadam Festival, the pick-pockets took advantage of the distracted crowds and made many attempts, especially on tourists. Yet another friend had the pockets of his pants (two of them, one on either side!) slashed and his money fell out. Just be careful!
BEWARE OF BAG SNATCHERS AND PICKPOCKETS
Well they say that this is one of the worlds capitals for thieves and pickpockets.I must agree ..So,. Be very aware when travelling here of this common activity. Ulan bataar like all places one must be aware of its dangers. All Hostels amd Hotels warn their patrons of the strong possibilty of having there belongings stolen. I found at my Hostel in Ulan bataar that everyone had a small safe locker for their important documents and money. I know first hand as I was robbed here by pickpockets and lost my wallet with all my credit cards and some money.This created huge problems for me as these occurences do in my further travels..
Most advice is really common sense.. just be careful where there are large concentrations of people.
ie: bus and railways stations, especially marketplaces, crowded bars, cafes, shops,
ALWAYS make sure that you DONOT put your bag down without holding onto the strap/s.
Have your bag around your neck NOT over your shoulder.
Do not "flash cash" in public when paying for something..think ahead..
Most "Ripp Offs" occur while the victim is being pushed or shoved and being distracted..
Do not carry all your money in one place...have a stash on your body somewhere.
ALWAYS BE AWARE ..these people do it for a living!!!
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NEVER BE WITHOUT BOTTLED FRESH WATER
I found when in Mongolia I always made sure that I had adquate amount of fresh bottled water. I found that the fine dust that permeates everywhere here gets in your eyes, and throat..it is imperative to have fresh bottled water on hand always..The dust storms seemed to be quite prevelant and normal to see the locals out cleaning up constantly. I purchased my water at the supermarket and kept a stash always at my hostel.. As I was travelling by train I always had lots of fresh water with me as train water is a no no unless its boiled..
Just make sure that when purchasing bottled water that the cap seal is not broken and its not a "refill" with ordinary tap water.
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Pickpockets and bagsnatchers.
Be careful with your belongings when walking around UB. There's no need to be totally paranoid, but if you're carrying a bag, keep it in front of you, not behind, and not just on one shoulder. People have had cameras stolen out of bags on their backs, and apparently in Naraantuul market thieves have been known to cut straps to take things.
On our last day in UB we were walking down a main street in the centre of town when I felt the camera bag lift slightly - I turned around and a young guy was caught in the act. It's a good job our camera is quite hefty!
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Child beggars are common and some are relentless. When you don't give to them, they become very offended and frustrated. Also, be aware that any money you give will most likely go straight to their teenage "pimps", so you may not be helping them as much as you think you are. Any time I saw a couple of beggars, there was a teenaged kid lurking nearby and when he thought you were gone, he'd start talking to them while counting his money. (I have a video of this that I will post to my Choir, Mongolia page)
If you feel like giving to the beggars, give them food. Candy and potato chips are inexpensive in Mongolia so its the perfect alternative. After all, that's probably what they're in most need of anyway.
- Pavements and roads all over the city are cracked and when it rains collect huge puddles of water. So it's best to wear sturdy shoes.
- The driving habits of Mongolians are some of the worst I've seen in Asia. You never know when to cross the street. It is an adventure. Pedestrians and cars all move at the same time irrespective of whether it is green or red traffic light.
I had heard and read reports of many pick pocketing tales and backpack slashings before I went to UB and so was a little paranoid that something might happen to me whilst there. So to combat this I only took my small camera (albeit in my pocket) and a map wherever I went. There are certain off-the-beaten-track areas in the city which I would, personally, recommend not to venture in to. UB is a bit shabby and unloved and a one word summary of it would be "broken". It has an element of the "underworld" about it so be careful and try and not to take too much with you like bags or money etc.
Traffic in UB gets very bad virtually any time of the day. Black spots include most of Peace Ave (the main east-west road through the city) and Chinggis Ave (which is the only road over the railway). It gets even worse when it rains as it took us a long time to do a short distance when it was raining. I was quite surprised by the standard of vehicles on the roads. Of course, there are loads of 4x4's around, some of them very posh like Porsche Cayenne’s, Range Rovers and BMW X5's, but there are also some expensive cars like a BMW M6, Mercedes S Classes and BMW 7 series. But most of the cars are small Korean Hyundai's or similar. One thing that was interesting to see was that there were more right hand drive cars than left hand ones. Most of the cars are straight Japanese imports which are cheaper to buy if they are right hand drive.
People and drivers
Generally, Ulaanbaatar is safe city, but you should know that the average alcohol consumption is high and there is no law that restricts people under 21/18's consumption of tabacco, alcohol and entrance to clubs.
You will rarely see people using seat belts and although government is trying its best to regulate city traffic, drivers might be not as understanding and careful, so always watch out for cars when passing roads. Also, expect traffic jams especially in downtown area.
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