After two days travelling on the Trans Mongolian railway from Irkustsk to Mongolia – complete with an eight hour, toilet free customs stop at the border – we rolled into freezing Ulanbaatar very early in the morning. Still dark, we were greeted by our two guides Batar and Bata (pronounced the same but never were there two more different characters) and made our way to our transfer mini-buses.
Stopping en route to withdraw some Mongolian Tugriks (as you are not allowed to take money into or out of Mongolia) we arrived at the Saint Azur hotel and had high hopes. Expecting hostel accommodation, the impressive entrance hall, stylish bar and concierge service looked very promising and as we were shown to our individual rooms with en suites, TVs, tea and coffee making facilities and some even with mini bars, we thought we’d struck lucky.
We were warned that some parts of the hotel were undergoing a refurb and there were some signs of building, but as we woke up a Mongolian lady who then scurried out to remove undergarments from one of our rooms we were more concerned with freshening up and heading for food.
Settling into our bedrooms the shiny five star veneer started to fade and after showering in brown, tepid water I decided to wake myself up with a cup of tea – all the facilities but no kettle. ‘Not to worry, I’ll watch some TV’ I thought to myself and after a few minutes of no signal realised the aerial was sheared off from the fitting and I could see through the wall behind the TV into the next room.
At breakfast (where we were served tea by a very glamorous version of Mrs Overall, one shaky cup and saucer at a time) we all had similar stories to tell; some people’s rooms were covered in dust from the building work and could hearing constant banging, another had hairs all over the room, some had no shower curtains or any dry towels, one guy had beer bottles and smoking cigarette ends left by the very recent last residents and another found a used condom in his bin!
The lady we woke up on arrival then brought out breakfast, which further summed up the “Fawlty Towers” feel of the place. Basil and Cybil would have been proud, as for Manuel, I think I may have passed him in the lobby fixing a door!