Where the Streets Have No Name

[Note: I will pick up on the previously suggested topic of pregnancy/postpartum in a future post once I get some more feedback.]

City map of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia (more or less)

When we first moved to Mongolia, we knew absolutely zero Mongolian, and having lived in the USA prior, we had been reliant on having personal vehicles at our disposal. Both of those things made navigating a new city a challenge. We have yet to own a personal vehicle in UB and so we relied on our feet, the public buses, and taxis (official and unofficial) to get around the city. (Fortunately, these methods of transportation are more or less adequate.)

UB is a very walkable city, being predominantly flat with only a few areas of hills. Sometimes, it’s even more expedient to walk than to rely on vehicles due to traffic. Taking a bus requires a general knowledge of where you’re going, where the bus line goes, and if you’ll need to transfer. This can be challenging initially until you get to know which routes you’re most likely to need/use. We’ve had our fair share of bus mishaps to be sure! Using taxis (both official and unofficial) is more convenient than taking the bus because you can go exactly where you need to go, which is particularly beneficial if you’re toting small children around with you. However, directing a taxi takes more work, made more complicated because UB’s streets are not all named.

There are a number of named arterials (ex: Peace Avenue, Chinggis Avenue, Ikh Toruu), but the vast majority of roads and byways are not named. This means that most of the time, you’ll give the taxi driver a well known landmark (ex: Sukhbaatar Square, Gandan, Zaisan) and then give more particular directions when you get closer to your location. Even if you know the street name, not everyone knows all of the street names because that’s not really how you give an address to a location in UB anyway! Let’s look at our previous apartment location to help give you an idea.

Olymp Khotkhon apartment complex and neighborhood

Our last year in UB, we lived in the Olymp Khotkhon apartment complex on the south central side of the city. On the map above, the complex isn’t labeled clearly, but it’s made up of the larger gray buildings in the picture. The larger road in front of the complex is named, but we could never give it to taxi drivers because no one seemed to know it. So if we ever wanted to direct someone to our home, we could sometimes get away with using the name of the complex but otherwise picked larger shopping centers within the district and navigated from there. However, when giving directions to friends, colleagues, or students, we would need to say the following: Bayanzurkh Khoroolol (district), Khoroo 26 (micro district), Olymp Khotkhon (apartment complex), 2A (building and entrance in the complex), 11 (floor), 3 (apartment number)*. It’s quite a mouthful to get out your complete address! 🙂

All this to say, your best bet in navigating the city is learning major landmarks and going from there. Good luck!

*Full disclosure, I don’t remember what our building number or apartment number were so I’m guessing for the sake of giving the full details of an apartment address.

Related Posts:
Apartment Living in UB
Taking a Bus Part 1
Taking a Bus Part 2

2 comments

  1. Fun to hear your experiences in Ulaanbaatar! Before the pandemic shutdowns, it was better to walk for 30-45 minutes than to hitch a ride that often took longer. But of course with small children that wouldn’t be an easy option.

    • You really have to weigh your options sometimes! Also, we learned with traffic that getting anywhere would take at least twice as long as it “should”.

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