Traveling in Mongolia is an adventure, sleeping in the Gobi Desert, watching exorcisms, staying with nomadic tribes, horse riding across the plaines, it’s the kinda place that makes you feel like you’re really traveling, really living. Ulaan Bataar, the Mongolian Capital, however is something quite different.
Now the thing about Mongolia is that over 10% of their male population is a descendent of the infamous Genghis Khan, due to his hundreds of wives, and thousands of children, unbelievable. Old Genghis is the Mongolian national hero, and at one point had taken over a quarter of the world, more than 12 million square miles of the planet—more than any one person in history. Wow. Worse still, is that during his ‘rape, pillage and conquest’ escapades, he was directly responsible for more than 40 million deaths. He was as bloody thirsty as anyone ever to leave.
So the blood running through the veins of one tenth of the guys in Mongolian is pretty violent blood indeed, combine this with the fact that their national sports all involve combat or shooting things, it’s a sketchy place to party. So naturally, Friday night came around, and we were straight into town….
We had heard that Ulaan Bataar can be sketchy once it gets dark, 2 of my friends informed me, both hostels I stayed in told me, and my guidebook told me. Still, being a stubborn idiot, I refused to listen (“I’ve been around the world enough, I hear that sh*t all the time, it’ll be fine, yadda, yadda yadda”). Wrong.
Around sunset we headed into the city to watch the football and socialise a little bit. After sinking a few (too many?) drinks in a local bar, we met a few Mongolian girls who offered to take us to a club in the city, it was about 12.30am. Clearly we should have gone home at this month, but cute Mongolian girls, six or seven beers in, I convinced myself that experiencing the nightlife of Mongolia is more important than worrying about the risk. It’s culturally important for me and my two friends to party tonight. Utterly convincing.
All good. Off we went we in a taxi (6 people/4 seats, obviously), after a tight squeeze we piled out of the taxi onto a dark street. “Where’s the club girls?”. “The car can’t go down there, we have to walk down the side streets”. Great.
So, walk we did. Muddy backstreets, rats being chased my homeless cats, darker alleys, and then finally we come across a dingy door with four security standing outside. “This is it, in we go”. We tried to walk straight in but the security held me and my two friends back. The girls entered the club, never to be seen again, thanks girls. “Foreigners must pay $8“. Now I’m pretty sure a foreigner has never stepped foot in this shady place, but what choice did we have?
I paid my cover charge, it was about 1.00am now. Pitch black outside. As we walked into the club I was a little taken aback, full on commercial hip-hop banging out of the surround sound, gorgeous Mongolian girls dancing around the place, and dodgy looking Mongolian guys eyeing us up as soon as we walked in. Either they were shocked to see us, or unhappy to see us, probably a mixture of both.
Maybe we’re paranoid, lets try to order some beers. 3 beers, $18, and we’re in business. Literally 5 short, awkward minutes twenty police me, fully armed, came barging through the entry, and spread throughout the club. Woaaah, what’s happening here?
They declared the club is now closed and, after a search, we must vacate the building immediately, intense. My mind running back to all the warnings about not partying in Ulaan Bataar all seemed a lot more pertinent as two Mongolian policemen are patting me down against a dingy, sticky club wall. We managed to get out with no bribes, no drugs planted on us, and no more Mongolian gets giving us the death stare. We had been in the club less than five minutes, and we’re out on the street, in the pitch dark, as the rest of the club spills out around us. People are drunk and angry. Time to get out of here double fast. Lesson learned.
All three of us were on the budget to end all budgets, super broke, we shouldn’t even be partying but alas, we were idiots. So as we left, we just went to the ‘ticket guy’ and said:
“Hey guys, sorry to be a pain, but you probably remember us, we paid in literally a couple of minutes ago, ordered beers, didn’t get to the drink them and now we’re off home. Could you give us a break and at least give us the cover charge back, we didn’t’ even have a chance to check the place out“
And so started the bedlam.
First of all, the ticket guy and the rest of the security were less than impressed at my cheek. Their first move was to completely ignore me, then after I quielty mutter my request again, knowing it’s gonna go down terribly, I get man-handled further down the alley. Ok, message received. Now it’s really time to go.
“This way, this way, these guys are going to kill you”
Apparently we couldn’t go quite yet though. 2 angry, drunk Mongolian guys, clearly direct descendants of my buddy Genghis Khan, were apparently disgusted to see foreigners in ‘their’ club. The asked the bouncers what we asked, about the refund, and I was hoping maybe he was trying to help. Nope. All thoughts of friendliness quickly dissipated when he marches right up to my face and started screaming “F*ck you, f*ck you” , it was pretty obvious he didn’t wanna be my friend. My buddy and I tried to calm the situation down, humbly apologising, trying to joke a little, all smiles and positive vibes. That was falling on deaf ears. So they push us against the wall and scream something in Mongolian. As this is going on, the crowds had dwindled, the rest of the club-gooers had headed home so there was now just the less-than-friendly security, me and my friend, and these 2 mini-Genghis guys looking for trouble. We spun around, and tried to leave, double marching speed.
That incensed them even more, and they started following us, screaming something about a knife. The more angry they got, the more English they could apparently speak, maybe too much Tarantino movie watching, but I wasn’t thinking about their linguistic ability as the bigger one says:
“Fuck you, cut you, cut you stomach, cut your head, cut your friend, cut you half“
This isn’t going very well, and I am legitimately terrified.
Now while getting stabbed in Mongolia might sound like a cool travel war story, the reality of the situation was something quite different. No travel insurance, down some skanky back alley in Ulaan Bataar, and I’m not sure about the quality of hospitals in Mongolia. We started power walking away. There is no one left in the back alleys, just our new pyscho friends and us. They were on their mobile, screaming down their phone. Worrying. We speed up, speed up, and speed up until we’re almost running, but we don’t know where we’re going, so we take a wrong turn down another alley, unaware of where the larger street we got dropped off in the taxi was.
As we turn down the second alley, a blacked-out ranger rover starts driving slowly towards us, we turn back and try to correct our wrong turn before it’s too late, get back on the alley with the club and continue in a different direction, the two guys see us again and started chasing after us, it was time to bust out the sprinting shoes. As we look at each other, the Range Rover pops it’s nose around the corner. The guys jump in the car. Out of nowhere, a tiny Mongolian lady, speaking almost perfect English, grabs my arm and screams:
“This way, this way, these guys are going to kill you”
What the hell is going on? Who is this girl? Can we trust her? We don’t have much of a choice, so we turn around and sprint with her, she never lets go of my arm, and two quick corners and we’re on that main street, with the range rover catching us, but the quality of the ground in the alleys is awful, so thankfully, THANKFULLY, they had to negotiate huge pot halls, burned out cars so it bought us a few seconds.
Now on the main street, we can see them behind us, we just fling ourselves in the back of a taxi on the street, and screamed “drive anywhere, just drive anywhere”, he could see we were serious, and hurriedly turned the key and sped off. Where to? Literally anywhere, take lots of corners. And off we went, driving around the city for a solid twenty minutes before we were confident stopping anywhere, our friends from the club nowhere to be seen. The girl suggested we go to a coffee shop, open 24 hours, calm down and sober up, good plan. So we do just that, we buy her dinner and coffee, and the same for us. Turns out she’s an English professor at the University of Ulaan Bataar, and she had been in the club, she had seen these guys giving us trouble when we were all kicked out, but minded her own business, only to get pangs of guilt and come back to get us. Then she heard them screaming about killing us, and she intervened, and that’s how we all ended up sprinting down the street and into the taxi. Wow, thank you. We chatted for a solid hour, maybe two, with the adreniline pumping, there was no chance of going straight to bed. As we calmed down, we all jumped in a taxi, she dropped us off, and we clambered into our hostel, ruffled, maybe a little shocked but 100% un-stabbed and ready for bed.
My advice? Go to Mongolia, it’s beautiful, explore their wild outdoors, there’s nowhere quite like it. Ulaan Bataar? Fascinating city during the day, the Soviet Union hangover, the unique culture, there’s a lot to see and do. But party time? Keep it simple, or hang-out with locals you trust. Don’t get drunk, go wandering for a dodgy after club down some backstreet, and don’t ever ask for your money back. Safe travels x