i took the bus up to Zaisan, so why not write about both?
Taking the Bus
a quick pictorial to go along with advice you may get elsewhere.
if you can’t read Cyrillic or understand Mongolian, you may have a tough time getting around, but i only have a rudimentary understanding of the former and zip of the latter and i managed. first off, find the line you want to take. this is where guidebooks can be helpful — i wanted to go to Zaisan, and Lonely Planet said take the 7. (of course, they don’t tell you where to get off…so that’s the second part of this entry.)
at major stops there are signs that indicate which lines stop there and the route they are taking. as with any bus system, make sure you’re heading in the right direction. this is where your Cyrillic will come in handy — and if you understand Mongolian, sometimes the matron (see below) will stick her head out the door and yell the destination.
keep an eye out for your bus. there’s the typical marquee thing on the top front, and some have route maps on the side but you won’t have time to study it — just look for the number on the front or side. as it approaches, flag it by putting your arm out at a 45° angle, palm down, or just look like you’re really interested in getting on.
ENTER VIA THE BACK DOOR, EXIT THROUGH THE FRONT.
now, keep an eye out for the lady (haven’t seen a guy do this job yet) in a blue smock or shirt — i call her the matron. she’s the boss of all y’all as long as you’re on her bus.
she may be sitting by the rear door (yelling out the destination at stops) or she may be seated somewhere on the bus. if you don’t find her, she’ll find you. pay her and get a little paper ticket. the buses are a flat 400₮; change can be made (at least in the case of my 500₮ bill).
there are stop request buttons but i have yet to see anyone use them. it seems that you just stand up and make your way to the exit (FRONT DOOR) as you approach your stop. if you’re lucky you will have people waiting to get on so that the bus will stop without you having to do anything.
they do not make stop announcements, so you may have to ask the matron for help (i had to for Zaisan). the bus on the way back did play a local Mongolian-language/song radio station, which helped to pass the time when stuck in the horrendous traffic that plagues UB.
sidebar in Mongolia, you drive on the right-hand side of the road, but i’d say over half the cars have the steering wheel on that side as well (i’m assuming imported from Japan). there are also a surprisingly large number of first and second generation Priuses (but i have yet to see anything later than that) — i think even more than at home in the Bay Area!
the guidebook said to take bus number 7, but i think any bus that says “Зайсан” as a destination will stop there — i am pretty sure i saw a 33 as well. i took the 7, and wasn’t sure where to get off, so after the bus emptied i asked the matron (“Zaisan?!?!”), and it happened to be the next stop. to save you the trouble, the bus will go all the way up a hill and then turn around and start its descent. it’s the first stop after the turn-around.
if you’re keeping an eye on the surroundings, you will see that you’re not anywhere close to the memorial! but alas, this is the closest stop as far as i can tell (i took the 7 on the way home and we didn’t stop anywhere closer).
between the car wash and restaurant is a ramp and at the top of the ramp is the start of a trail. (yeah, i know! it’s a lot more than i bargained for!)
it’s not well-marked, but there is a clear path most of the way, and even some worn steps to help you over some of the more rugged parts. it’s not long, but parts are steep. you’ll be going up a hill and then walking over and up another, getting to the memorial’s backside.
imagine my surprise when i saw this on the other side of the memorial:
it leads down to a parking lot and some kiosks, but based on what the matron indicated and the fact that i didn’t see any (public) buses pull up the winding road that leads to that parking lot, i think i accessed the memorial the only way you can via public transit. this entrance seemed to be for tour groups and people with cars, or those who took cabs.
in any case, you’re there, and what a great place to be if you like panoramic vistas and Socialist Realism architecture (i sure do!).
the memorial is a relic of Mongolia’s socialist era and, according to my LP, “commemorates ‘unknown soldiers and heroes’ from various wars.” the interior of the ring is a 360° mosaic showcasing Soviet-Mongolian relations…and of course a cosmonaut holding hands with a space-age lady.
the view towards Ulaanbaatar is amazing (did you view the panorama above?), though the view towards the hills from whence you started your climb is great, too.
to get back to town, climb back down the trail to the bus stop you got off at (it’s a lot easier and quicker going down than up). again, you could probably take any number of lines, but i took the 7 back to the stop that corresponds to the one i got on at, just south of Peace Avenue, across the street from the KFC.