Day 38: Ulaanbaatar , The Immigration Office

Empty steppes, a power plant and in the distance city buildings and low mountains.
Driving the 4 hour walk.

Still feeling drained by yesterday’s lapse into big city consumerism, I set out to recapture my mojo.

Striding through the monastery with Scribe playing loudly in one ear, I check out various monuments dedicated to other great dudes.

How many dudes you know roll like this?
Not many, if any!
Scribe, from Not Many (opens new window)

Having figured out that it’s not practical to bus there, I’ve decided to head out to the Immigration office on foot to extend my visa.

Apparently located in the north-east part of town, the walk initially takes me through the clean and shiny city. This then gives way to a dusty grid-locked highway, followed by a long street where the footpath is used to sell all kinds of building supplies.

An hour later I arrive at my destination. But seeing no clear signage I ask the security guard where the Immigration Office is. When he seems confused, I show him my passport and entry stamp, and make wider actions with my hands. He responds by gesturing that the office is not there and waving vaguely towards the street.

Firing up Google, I learn that the Immigration Office is now out by the airport, in the south-west part of town! Apparently it had previously been in the central south. My already poor navigation skills seem to be getting worse.

Heading to the geographically opposite side of town requires a 4 hour walk. I’d be up for it, but Google seems less helpful about indicating where the public toilets are and I’m BUSTING.

In my desperation, I eventually pluck up the courage to ask a restaurant if I can use theirs. Aaaah!

Feeling obliged to repay the favour, I try to order some spicy noodles. But the lady shakes her head and points at a small picture of bready things. I’m not that hungry so it seems like a good choice.

However the plate that arrives is overloaded with massive deep-fried pockets of mince. The first one is pretty good, but the rest are more of the same. I quickly run out of steam, fearful of requesting the requisite tomato sauce from the busy table nearby.

Walking back into town, I pass indecipherable bus stops and wonder if they went where I have just been. With no sign of a taxi rank, I jump back on to Google and am elated to find an English speaking taxi service online.

The resulting driver speaks minimal English so I show him my Google Map and cross my fingers that it’s the right place.

Arriving at the location of the Immigration Office (hopefully) at 3pm, my driver waits in his car.

I walk into the building and proceed to amend the opposing instructions that I’ve gleaned from two different websites.

  1. The registration form is printed on both sides – read both sides first!
  2. Use the entry date that is on your entry stamp, not the day after that! This is not actually necessary.
  3. Enter your hostel’s address details into the accommodation section on side B, not into the invitation section on side A! (NZ citizens on tourist visas don’t require an invitation). This is not actually necessary.
  4. Have proof of sufficient funds to support yourself! This is not actually necessary.
  5. Know how to map your hostel’s location on to the building and apartment fields on the form! This is not strictly necessary – I just took a random stab.
  6. Don’t bother photocopying your Mongolian visa before you leave your home country! Because it is invalid without the entry stamp.

It’s fairly bewildering, but the immigration officer doesn’t bat an eyelid at my numerous mistakes. Except for mistake number 6, which requires going to Window 1 to get a new photocopy for 100 Tugrik.

After successfully completing all 6 steps, I’m advised to come back in 5 minutes. Expecting a long wait, I worry about being left high and dry by my taxi driver, but after only 2 minutes the clerk waves me over and hands me back my passport. Wondering if there is a problem, I leaf through it and find that the Registered and Permitted to remain stamps have been added and the process is complete.

Exiting the building, I’m surprised to find that my driver is still there. Somehow the 150 Tugrik per 5 minutes waiting fee has exponentially changed to 12600 Tugrik for 45 minutes! But as this is just half of the cost of the ride out there, and I really want a beer, I let it slide and change my destination to Chinggis Kahn (Sukhbaatar) square.

Sitting back, I enjoy the ride and even the ensuing grid-lock.

Visa costs
Item NZD
Visa Extension form 1,000 $0.77
7 day extension 27,000 $20.76
23 extra days @ ₮ 3600/day 82,800 $63.67
Help taxi - there 35,000 26.92
Help taxi - wait and back 17,600 13.53

Arriving at the square I find that it is large and mostly devoid of life.

Buying an overpriced postcard from a street vendor, I walk a couple of blocks to the Frankfurter bar.

The bar is home to the Goethe Institut in Ulaanbaatar. Having studied German for many years at the Goethe Institut in Wellington, it’s a bit weird to be a nobody here.

A nice German beer would easily right that wrong, but unfortunately the Frankfurter bar only sells Mongolian beer. Sigh.

Back at the hostel, I’m befriended by a Dutch-Irish couple who are keen to split costs on a van tour out West.

In collaboration with the hostel owner, they’ve sourced a driver and worked up some costs for a five day tour.

I’m not entirely sure that I want to do a van-based group tour. I feel really guilty and disappointed that I’m not already riding my bike and pushing myself more mentally. I fear that I’m going to waste time working in Ulaanbaatar, and worried that the sunny weather will be gone by the time I finally get around to doing what I came here to do.

But I also know that Mongolia is massive. This is a chance to see some great sights, without the time penalty of cycling. With 40+ hours of work kicking off on my return, it’s necessary to squeeze some adventuring in. A group tour seems like an affordable and efficient alternative to my backup option of going hiking alone in Gorkhi-Terelj.

As I’m unsure when my work project is kicking off, I fire off an email to the company. I decide that I’ll go if they’ll let me.