Narantuul Market, Ulaanbaatar
Most cities have one and Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia is no different although the central market in UB has almost obtained mythological status.
Many people will tell you not to venture into its depths as you will most certainly fall victim to one of the many pickpockets or worse.
Narantuul market is also known as the central market and the black market (Khar Zakh,) it is located in the eastern section of Ulaanbaatar city.
Some young guides will tell you that the market in its current location has existed since the communist period and used to trade in contraband items (hence the name black market ). There is a little truth in that the Naruntull market used to exist and possible trade in such wares, although not in its current form or location.
Pre 1990s Narantuul was serious of smaller markets located throughout various areas in the ger districts; however, the actual market now is relatively new. Narantuul as a viable business began in 1993, and the market on the current site opened in 1999.
Narantuul market has grown massively now considered one of the largest in Asia, covering 22.2 hectares employing more than 300 staff while housing over 15,000 traders, producers, and service providers.
On a busy weekend, it is estimated that over 100,000 shoppers will pass through its lime green gates.
When visiting Narantuul, it is more a question of what not to buy.
Of course, there are no guns, drugs, etc. At its entrance, there is a large covered section which houses mostly clothes cheap Chinese, Turkish and Russian imports filled to bursting.
To the rear and left is the area to find camping and fishing equipment. To the right of the large covered area, one will locate the military surplus section (clothing ) and traditional Mongolian dress.
As well as all of the items listed there are also places to buy everything needed to build and kit out a Mongolian ger, fully tack a horse and provide for all of its needs although not the horse (different market). At the rear of the market amongst the tools and machinery, there is an isle designated to Mongolian/ soviet antiques.
Being separated from one's belongings and worldly possessions have always put many off from visiting Narantuul.
Stories talk of about bag slashers, pickpockets and even violent crime perpetrated within the market area.
We would recommend exercising caution but follow the rules below.
For some, these simple rules may seem obvious, while to others, it may put you off from calling at Narantuul. I have been visiting Naruntuul on and off for over 15 years now; since living here in Ulaanbaatar visited nearly every weekend since January with no issues. I have met locals there discussed my interests in Mongolia and even with one gentleman talked about life during Mongolia's communist period.
You do indeed need to take care but follow the rules as you may do in many countries worldwide and you may have a great shopping experience.
For me, if you want to view local life and have an authentic local experience, Naruntuul would be it. Sure you'll meet grumpy people, rude people and even a few who will try to rip you off but overall most Mongolians are happy and interested in your visit.
Contrary to many guide books, there is no entrance fee.
9 am – 7 pm for shopping, get there after 11 am as this is when most business will begin for discreet photography I would arrive at 9:30 am. During weekends especially the summer the market usually is bustling. The market is closed every Tuesday and on public holidays.
A taxi from the city centre depending on traffic will cost from four to seven thousand Touareg. Just ask for Narantuul, and most drivers will know where you wish to go. If you choose to walk from the centre of the city, the walk will take around fifty minutes.