Located on the banks of the Selenga River, Ulan Ude is the third-largest Siberian city and the capital of the Russian Republic of Buryatia. Although it's well-located on the border of Russia and Mongolia, more tourists opt to stay in the larger city of Irkutsk and miss Ulan Ude entirely. If you stay in Ulan Ude, you'll see the world’s largest Lenin head; you can take a short trip to Ivolga, home of the Ivolginsky Datsan, Russia’s most important Buddhist centre. Take a good look at the bust of Lenin –- it is said to have been built with particularly Buryat-like eyes as revenge for having to erect it there.
The walkable city centre boasts a lively pedestrian street with cheap food vendors and an Irish pub and several wonderful examples of traditional Siberian architecture. Ulan Ude offers local history, including open-air ethnographic and natural history museums. The city’s atmosphere is a peculiar fusion of Slavic and Asian, with a defiant traditional Buryat population and culture overlaid with a Russian patina. Ulan-Ude is worth a short visit, either as a trans-Mongolian or the trans-Siberian stopover. It offers an alternative view to Russia, and a curious point of fusion between Asian and European nations.
When looking for an Ulan Ude hostel, it is important to choose one that is close to the city centre. There is no metro, and public transit is limited to noisy trams, buses, and marshrutki, small vans that act as "route taxis" that only stop when passengers request them to do so. Although fast and convenient, they can be difficult for those who do not speak Russian. For those who do want to try their luck with marshrutki, remember that you pay the driver and other passengers may ask you to pass their money to him by saying "voszmite, pozhalusta" ("take it please"). If you need to stop, you can call out "ostanovite, pozhalusta!" ("stop, please") or "na ostanovke" ("at the stop") if you are approaching a bus or tram stop.
When looking at Ulan Ude hostels further from the city centre, be aware that the centre is likely not within easy walking distance and the roads may in fact be entirely unpaved. Depending on the time of year you visit, this can be troublesome when the dirt roads are transformed into muddy quagmires dotted with crater-like potholes.