New to Ulaanbaatar August 2023

By Julian Dierkes

I’ve been keeping lists of things that are arriving to/disappearing from central Ulaanbaatar: May 2023 | November 2022 | August 2022 | December 2019 | June 2019 | April 2019 | December 2018 | August 2018 | October 2017 | June 2017 | May 2016 | December 2015 | May 2015 | November 2014 | May 2014 | October 2013 | June 2013 | October 2011 | August 2011. More informal versions of these observations also appear in the /ulaanbaatar/change/ category.

Bulgan added her observations in Spring 2022.

I’ve copied previous lists here and am adding to them. New items since previous posts appear in italics. Since this list has been growing, I’m also beginning to delete some items that I’ve had on the list for some time. Strikethrough means that these items will be off the next list.

This list was cruelly interrupted by something that was new to the world in 2020, a global pandemic and thus restrictions on travel. After not being able to visit for 32 months, I finally made it back in August 2022.

What has arrived?

  • drive-home service for drivers who have been drinking. You call the service, they drop off a driver who drives you home in your car and is then picked up again. Given – fortunately – much stricter enforcement of drunk driving laws, a great service!
  • fixies
  • airport road is getting ever fancier, now there’s a giant overpass just before crossing the Tuul on the way into town. Lots of fancy on/off-ramps popping up everywhere on roads.
  • fully electric cars, charging stations, green license plates for electric cars, Tesla
  • street art (several years now, but I hadn’t noted this before) and newly commissioned public art
  • Prius-based delivery services around downtown for online orders, food, etc. Just like informal taxis, lots of Priuses (?) roaming central Ulaanbaatar to pick up/deliver orders, fleet of Prius clustered around restaurants in the evening to take diners (and drinkers?) home
  • skateboarders and electric scooters
  • several new parks: North of Winter Palace, Southeast corner of Sukhbaatar Sq, also astroturf on Sukhbaatar Square (summer 2022) seemingly quite popular as picnic spot, park in Yarmag.

  • As a specific park: the redesign of the Children’s Park seems to represent commitment to preservation of that open space and greater incorporation into urban centre.
  • When I first started visiting Ulaanbaatar in mid-2000s, streets were tree/shrub-lined. Trees disappeared, perhaps for lack of watering, but are definitely back now in the urban centre
  • Oat milk and lactose-free milk. Of course, good health reasons for both, but still a little odd in the land of meat and dairy.
  • Eye makeup with small glittering tears in the corner of an eye. Note that I am not much of a fashion correspondent, but I remember seeing this first in Japan in the early 1990s when it was called ピカピカ, I think. Cat eyes have also arrived.
  • Coffee choices. Not just Korean chains, but more local choices appearing.
  • Taste for spicy foods. Surely this has arrived via Korean food, but quite the contrast to years ago when spices seemed entirely absent.
  • Movember
  • Solar panels on commercial buildings, also on balconies, in downtown core
  • The development of Mongolian brand consumer products, especially food products has been happening for years and I can’t pinpoint the moment they started appearing on grocery shelves in big numbers. While I still find New Zealand butter in Mongolia strange, most of the dairy shelf is now made in Mongolia, for example.
  • So many renovated sidewalks with paving stones, benches, and planters.
  • Yoshinoya – 吉野家. How obvious are beef bowls for the Mongolian market, but their appearance is sudden to me.
  • Shisha bars. I had seen these before, but neglected to note that down.
  • How have I not noted convenience stores here before? They have become a very common sight in downtown Ulaanbaatar but also beyond. Currently, this is a duopoly of CU and GS25. Note that small grocery stores have disappeared from town with the rise of these convenience stores.
  • байхгүй (“we don’t have that”) has become a frequent response of waiters in restaurants referring to items listed on the menu, but not actually offered.
  • Some new buildings appear to be considering the public space that they’re providing, for example through setbacks from the street and parks in those setbacks. One example would be large office building/mall on the way into town from Zaisan on the right before Peace Bridge with its broad sidewalk, plantings.
  • In addition to the Northwest of town and the area around the power plants which have been somewhat industrial, Yarmag seems to be turning into an industrial zone in parts as well, with the surroundings of the old airport seeing some warehouse developments.
  • In terms of city planning, many of the very large developments in Yarkmag and elsewhere seem to be stand-along neighbourhoods, rather than forming a part of a larger district. Note that they all seem to have a large supermarket as an anchor.

  • Visible Korean influences continuing to grow.


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  • Imagery of Mongolian People’s Republic appearing as pop cultural reference point. Not sure whether that signals nostalgia for state-socialist days (Ostalgie).


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What has disappeared, or at least nearly?

  • for-pay scales (actually, they seem to be hanging on)


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  • supposedly haunted house South of Choijin Lama Temple


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  • Victims of Political Persecution Memorial Museum
  • private fences encroaching on public land/sidewalks
  • It seems like (Korean) convenience store chains are replacing the small grocery stores that were ubiquitous in the downtown core. Not gone yet, but waning.

What will appear in the future

  • navigation systems
  • mental maps shifting to street names/addresses instead of landmarks
  • subway (really, I wish they had selected light rail instead, but who knows whether either will come)
  • urban renewal and historical restorations embracing district north of government house (National University of Mongolia, German embassy, etc.), but perhaps it will be too late for that
  • parking (meters), electric charging in parking spots/lots
  • Combined Heat and Power Plant #5 (yeah, right!)
  • hipsters discovering УАЗ (minivan and jeep), but also Porters, perhaps as platform for mobile raves?
  • giant hole blown into Bogd Khaan mountain to “drain” polluted air out of the valley (that actually is a proposal, but it will not appear! There also seems to be a proposal to blast away mountains on either end of the valley to let bad air escape!)
  • some kind of traffic routing system with overhead displays
  • Mongolia-themed coffee travel mugs
  • Mongolia-themed bicycle stands, for example roof structure of a ger as a steel structure
  • vending machines
  • Chinese cars
  • Misters at outdoor restaurants. Very attractive feature in cities like Almaty and Bishkek when it gets hot.
  • In the very long term, current young people (starting from 2000s birth cohorts) will think of themselves as the Prius generation, analogous to German Generation Golf.

What will disappear in the medium-term future

I’m going out on a predictive limb here… 2-3 years is what I mean by “near future”.

Actually, since I have been predicting this as “near future” change for some years now, I guess I was wrong with all these predictions, and have changed the listing to medium-term future.

  • stretched-out hand to signal for a car ride
  • that awkward extra half-step on most stairs
  • whitening make-up.

What will disappear in the long-term future

I mean beyond 7 years or so. None of these seems to be coming true quite yet, so I’ve changed the name of this category from medium-term to long-term.

  • new (to Mongolia) cars that are right-hand drive
  • the neo-classical Ministry of Foreign Affairs building, with its Stalinist (if that’s an architectural style) spire [Tough call to make as the MFA building is now dwarfed by its own annex]
  • deels in the city [actually, they seem to be making a bit of a fashion comeback among young people]
  • some of the downtown university campuses
  • buildings of 4 floors or less in the urban core
  • Russian minivans (УАЗ452)
  • the Winter Palace. It won’t disappear entirely, but it is more-and-more surrounded by a very urban and very tall landscape making it look somewhat forlorn, a fate it shares with many other buildings
  • heritage buildings
  • street vendors with their little cardboard boxes of tissues, lighters, soda, perhaps rounded out by pine nuts or other offerings
  • that colour in staircases and hallways of apartment and public buildings.

About Julian Dierkes

Julian Dierkes is a sociologist by training (PhD Princeton Univ) and a Mongolist by choice and passion since around 2005. He teaches in the Master of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. He toots and tweets @jdierkes
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