top of page

By Way of Korea

South Korea   |   New York

A Korean food blog and travelogue inspired by

an epicurious New Yorker's journey around South Korea

Search

By Way of Mongolia (Part I): The Beginning of My Gobi-Central Mongolia Journey (Ulaanbaatar)

Updated: May 15, 2019



Arriving at Chinggis Khan airport close to midnight, I was met with puzzled and awed pairs of eyes following my black and white head of hair as I made my way to baggage claim. The hostel I made arrangements with had sent a man to pick me up. After a quick greeting, I asked if I would be able to exchange currency and purchase a SIM card at the airport. Though he didn’t seem to speak much English, he did his best to help me find what I needed, but the bank and the SIM card vendors had already closed for the day. Unable to find what I needed, I followed the lead of my companion to a boxy, rugged Russian van parked across the lot.


Without knowing how long the drive to the hostel would be or what route we’d be taking, I pulled on my jacket and tried to get comfortable inside the frigid van. My eyes were fixed to the window as we rode in darkness. There didn’t seem to be many sights to see along the route we were taking. I couldn’t estimate how much time had passed when the van came to a slow stop where there was no traffic light. The driver had braked to allow (what appeared to be) a wild horse to safely cross the road. This was the “we’re not in Kansas anymore” moment when I truly began to feel a sense of anxious anticipation about what lied ahead on this road. The only way was forward in the rickety UAZ with my quiet companion.


In an indeterminable length of time, we finally arrived at the hostel. After being greeted by one of the hosts, who gave me a quick tour, I was showed my room which was already occupied by two male travelers who had turned in to sleep. Choosing the only empty bunk, I got ready to sleep, determined to get an early start on seeing the city in the morning. But my sore scalp kept me awake for a while, which gave me some time to make a list of things to do during the day:


USD to MNT

SIM card

Sükhbaatar Square

Luna Bianca (vegan)


ATMs and currency exchange services were aplenty near the hostel, so after a short walk I was able to convert my USD to MNT (the tugrik). The conversion rate at the time was about 2,500 MNT to 1 USD; 2-5 USD could afford you a decent meal. With a pocketful of tugriks, I began my walk to Sükhbaatar Square, the heart of Ulaanbaatar.


Still without a SIM card, I had to rely completely on a screenshot of my route to guide me through the city. Ultimately, I decided to do the whole trip without one because I usually don't mind a few wrong turns or another hour or two spent lost and walking into unplanned situations. I like to believe there's a method to my madness.


It wasn't difficult to find my way to the Square from the hostel. Once I arrived at the expansive, open quad, I cut across it to get a closer look at the only attraction there really was to look at - a statue of Sükhbaatar, a hero of the Revolution that marked Mongolia's liberation from China. The emptiness of the Square, which once allowed for peaceful anti-Communist protests and now accommodates leisurely activities and events, seemed to me the most appropriate attribute of a center commemorating the country's independence from oppressive rule.


Elements of Stalinist neoclassicism were prevalent in the architecture of the edifices immediately surrounding the Square. The portico of a lone, salmon-pink building stood out among the grays. Poking around its perimeter, I learned that it was the National Theater of Opera and Ballet ㅡ one of the most notable remnants of Soviet influence in Ulaanbaatar.

I had been too consumed with exploring this strange dichotomy between urban decay and development that I only thought to find something to eat when I sensed the sun beginning to set. By this time I had grown fairly familiar with a decent radius of the city and retraced my steps back to Luna Blanca, a vegan restaurant I had already passed by twice before.

0 comments

Comments


Home: Blog2

About

"If you’re twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel - as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them - wherever you go."

Anthony Bourdain's unmatched relish for adventure and humble approach to food, cultures, and humanity left an indelible impression on my younger self. Imparting on me the courage to veer into the unknown, he inspired me to embrace my vulnerabilities and seek adventures and growth beyond the comforts of home.

 

In July of 2017, I boarded a one-way flight to Seoul, South Korea. Within the first week of arrival, I signed a lease for an apartment and by the end of August, I had accepted a job offer that relocated me to Pyeongchang and Gangneung, where the Winter Olympics were soon to be held. From there, I had the rare opportunity to explore much of the greater Gangwon Province's beautiful mountainous and coastal regions and their distinctive foods. Once or twice a month, I'd return to Seoul or travel to an unfamiliar region to poke around alleyways, markets, and mountains in search of more good eats and adventures.

 

By Way of Korea is a storytelling project inspired by the food, places, and faces I encountered throughout Korea. By sharing my fondest memories, notes, and images of Korea, I simply hope to play a small part in piquing greater curiosity about Korean food and culture in my readers.  My content will heavily spotlight, but not be limited to Korean food and culture. 

Home: Inner_about
Home: Contact

Contact

Let's connect!

Your details were sent successfully!

bottom of page