Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Guest Post: To Live and Drive in Mongolia

So for this post, Christopher Meharg, author of the blog Musings from Mongolia gives the rest of us a look at what it means to get around by automobile in Mongolia, where he currently teaches.

Driving in Mongolia
Having now lived in Mongolia for six months, I have been asked on occasion if I would ever try to get my driver’s license.  My response:
“Only if I can drive a tank.”
First off, getting a driver’s license is a royal pain in the rear:  
Step 1- Have all of the required documents
-Valid driver’s license from your country of origin
-Official translation of your driver’s license
-Letter requesting a driver’s license in English from your employer explaining why you need a driver’s license
Translation of your request letter
Insurance- 33,000 Turgiks annually (approx. $16.95 -Skidracer21)
Fee- 37,500 Turgiks (approx. $19.26- Skidracer21) 

Step 2- Come back a week later and fill out an application
Step 3- Come back another week later and receive the license
Now for the cars, and there are lots of cars in Ulaanbaatar, far more than the city can probably handle  (At least in my opinion).  You won’t see any American brands here either, the vast majority of cars are Asian makes and models, including Nissan, Hyundai, Subaru, Honda and a whole bunch of ones I’ve never seen or heard of before. I think they might be Chinese.  I did see several Range Rovers, but those things are everywhere, and one BMW. As for the type of cars, they are predominantly 4 door sedans, followed by larger SUVs, and a smattering of crossovers.  Pickup trucks do exist in Mongolia, but they are few and far between, and most of them are stuffed to the gills moving what looks like deconstructed Gers (Mongolian Teepee).

Common tourist van for going into the countryside
Another common sight on many cars is the snorkel and Skidracer can give you a complete rundown on the pros, cons, and uses of the snorkel.  
(Picture for reference only -Skidracer21)

I think they are common because the Mongolians living in Ulaanbaatar love to get out to the countryside away from the pollution and off roading really isn’t a thing in Mongolia.  This is because the Mongolians don’t really make a distinction between types of roads or even if there is a road at all.
Case in point is the field trip I took my students on to a nearby wing power generating station at Salkhit Mountain outside Of Ulaanbaatar.
Ok, we must be getting close
Apparently there is no road
Well we made it
Since then I have discovered the true extent of roads in Mongolia:
Total- 40,000km
Paved- 4,800km
The herd across the road happens in the city too.
Unpaved- 3,900km
Dirt tracks- everything else
Roads in Ulaanbaatar
The road by my apartment, I call it the “Mogul Slope” because of all the potholes:

This of course brings up one of the more interesting facets of living in Mongolia-- the side walk counts as part of the road, as the Mongolians will drive on it to avoid the potholes. The state of the roads is not entirely their fault, as what roads would last in weather that ranges from negative 40 C to 35 C?
This does not include the unofficial rule of “If my car is in front of yours I have the right of way when turning or merging” nor the unofficial language of honking.  In spite of this, I think the Mongolians are good drivers and I’ve never felt worried taking a taxi, even when bouncing across the countryside.  Yes, bouncing-- the rides are never smooth due to the state of the roads and cars; Mongolia is a mechanics dream with the pounding a car takes out here. Suspensions must be constantly being replaced.
The last topic I must mention is traffic, and in Ulaanbaatar it’s pretty bad. The main issue is that the city was built for maybe a third of the population, and it has now 1.3 million.  There are no ring roads, highways, or other major thoroughfares.  Stoplights are few and far between as well.  When going to quiz night downtown, my coworkers and I must leave 3-4 hours ahead of time in order to make it on time.

If you want to learn more about Mongolia and living overseas then come and take a look at my blog.

Christopher Meharg is a science teacher currently living and teaching in Ulaanbataar, Mongolia. His travels have taken him to many countries around the world, including Canada, Spain, England, France, Germany, Japan, Thailand, and more. His blog, Musings From Mongolia, documents his observations of life in Ulaanbataar as well as other countries he visits during his time there.

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