The Trump-Kim summit could take place in Mongolia's Ulaanbaatar -- here's what the coldest capital city on earth is like

BYAMBASUREN BYAMBA-OCHIR/AFP/Getty ImagesA man releases an eagle during the Spring Eagle Festival in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia.

The summit between President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un may very well take place in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia.

US officials familiar with the secret, high level planning talks for the bilateral meeting told CNN that Kim would prefer to host it in Pyongyang, but that Ulaanbaatar is being floated as neutral ground.

Former and current presidents of Mongolia also seem opento the plan. Mongolia has hosted meetings between North Korea and Japan in the past and is on friendly terms with most countries, including its neighbours Russia and China, as well as both the US and North Korea.

Take a look around the city that could soon play host to Trump and Kim.


Mongolia is a huge country. It’s twice the size of Texas and nearly the size of the European Union.

BYAMBASUREN BYAMBA-OCHIR/AFP/Getty ImagesPeople riding horses with their eagles during the Spring Eagle Festival in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia.

But there are only 3 million people in the whole country.

Taylor Weidman/Getty ImagesDowntown garden in Ulaanbaatar

That gives Mongolia one of the smallest population densities in the world.

WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty ImagesA Mongolian baby clad in traditional wrestling attire.

More than a third of the population — 1.3 million people — live in Ulaanbaatar.

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The city is a mix of high rises, low rises, and “gers” — a kind of tent.

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Ger districts surround the downtown areas and are home to rural and nomadic Mongolians who move to the capital to seek work.

Taylor Weidman/Getty Images

Many have no running water.

FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty ImagesA woman prepares a meal inside a traditional Mongolian house, in the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar.

In front of Ulaanbaatar’s Parliament House is a statue of Damdin Sukhbaatar, the leader of Mongolia’s 1921 revolution.

JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images

The city square was originally named after Sukhbaatar. It was briefly changed to be named after Genghis Khan, but a court ruled it had to be switched back.

Taylor Weidman/Getty ImagesA 20-year class reunion gathers for photos in Sukhbaatar Square.

This is a giant statue of Genghis Khan at the Mongolian Parliament House.

JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty ImagesGenghis Khan statue.

Conqueror Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, is also a source of intense pride in Mongolia.

BYAMBASUREN BYAMBA-OCHIR/AFP/Getty ImagesMongolian dancers performing during a celebration of the 800th birthday of conqueror Kublai Khan.

Ulaanbaatar suffers from heavy air pollution from the coal it burns for heating and cooking.

In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty ImagesA general view looking east over the capital city.

Heating is vital in Ulaanbaatar, which is the coldest capital city in the world.

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Winter lows can reach -40C (-40F). Balconies and car boots can suffice as perfectly good meat freezers.

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Because it is so inhospitable for large chunks of the year, hotels and transport may have more availability than other cities to potentially manage a last minute influx of diplomats and press for the Trump-Kim summit.

GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/Getty ImagesThe Ulan Bator Hotel.

This is the international airport in Ulaanbaatar, which is named after Genghis Khan, where Air Force One could land. Kim could fly, or travel to Mongolia in his armoured train.

JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty ImagesChinggis Khaan (Genghis Khan) International Airport.

Read more about Kim’s personal, bulletproof private train here.


The country has tried to maintain friendly ties with most countries.

WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty ImagesMongolian honour guards prepare for the arrival of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Sukhbaatar Square during the 11th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) summit in 2016.

Mongolia sees itself as neutral. Earlier this year it celebrated its 55th year of diplomatic relations with the UK with an ice sculpture of The Beatles.

BYAMBASUREN BYAMBA-OCHIR/AFP/Getty ImagesAn ice sculpture, made by a group of artists led by Ts. Batmunkh, in Sukhbaatar Square.

Ulaanbaatar has hosted bilateral talks between other countries in the past, including North Korea and Japan.

Byambasuren Byamba-Ochir/AFP/Getty ImagesNorth Korean (R) and Japanese diplomats hold bilateral talks at Ikh Tenger tower in Ulaanbaatar in November 2012.

Talks have taken place at Ikh Tenger, the residence of the Mongolian president.

Byambasuren Byamba-Ochir/AFP/Getty ImagesNorth Korean diplomats walk into Ikh Tenger tower to hold bilateral talks with Japanese diplomats in Ulaanbaatar in November 2012.

Mongolia’s President Khaltmaa Battulga is also a martial arts expert, while the country’s Prime Minister is the head of a Harley-Davidson fan club.

BYAMBASUREN BYAMBA-OCHIR/AFP/Getty ImagesMongolia’s President Khaltmaa Battulga.

Nearly 1,200 North Koreans lived and worked in Mongolia until the UN introduced new sanctions last year. The first workers began returning home in December.

BYAMBASUREN BYAMBA-OCHIR/AFP/Getty ImagesNorth Korean workers at a construction site in Ulaanbaatar.

But many North Korean defectors also head to Mongolia, via China. Once a defector arrives, guards call the South Korean embassy in Ulaanbaatar which hosts defectors until it can take them to Seoul.

Bryan Chan/Los Angeles Times via Getty ImagesA North Korean defector anxiously awaits his train departure from a safe house in northeast China. He eventually made it to Mongolia and then South Korea.

The ties between the two countries go back to Mongolia’s communist days. Just outside of Ulaanbaatar some students still attend a school that was built by North Korea more than 50 years ago.

JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty ImagesMongolian schoolchildren in class in Altanbulag, 60 kilometres from Ulaanbaatar.

A baby boom in Mongolia has led to an undersupply of kindergarten spots, which are given out by a lottery system. Admission tickets are pulled out of a box in front of parents at random.

BYAMBASUREN BYAMBA-OCHIR/AFP/Getty Images

Some 16,000 child jockeys take part in hundreds of horse races every year. The races are part of Mongolia’s strong horsemanship traditions, but have been slammed by human rights groups and banned by courts.

BYAMBASUREN BYAMBA-OCHIR/AFP/Getty ImagesA child jockey competes during a winter race.

Google Street View was only launched in Mongolia in 2015.

Byambasuren Byamba-Ochir/AFP/Getty ImagesA Google Street View member walks the streets of Ulaanbaatar with a specialised camera to record the surroundings.

In 2016, Mongol Post partnered with the startup what3words to give every location, as small as 3 metres x 3 metres, a unique identifier. One section of the Ulaanbaatar railway is identified as “pricing.drizzly.potato.”

JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty ImagesSuburbs of Ulaanbaatar.

Ulaanbaatar has played host to a number of US politicians in the past, including Secretaries of State John Kerry and Hillary Clinton.

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty ImagesUS Secretary of State John Kerry shoots a bow and arrow as he participates in a Naadam ceremony, a competition which traditionally includes horse racing, Mongolian wrestling and archery, in Ulaanbaatar in 2016.

President George W. Bush and Vice President Joe Biden have also visited the country.

PAUL J.RICHARDS/AFP/Getty ImagesUS President George W. Bush (R) walks out of a ger at Ikh Tenger in Ulaanbaatar in 2005. Bush was the first sitting US president to visit Mongolia.

Mongolia was the second communist country in the world and had strong ties to the Soviet Union. Many students still learn Russian.

ALEKSEY NIKOLSKYI/AFP/Getty ImagesRussian President Vladimir Putin (R) and his Mongolian counterpart Tsakhia Elbegdorj (L) review an honour guard on September 3, 2014 during a welcoming ceremony in Ulaanbaatar.

Mass demonstrations helped overthrow the communist rule in 1990, and the last statue of Lenin in Ulaanbaatar was torn down in 2012.

Byambasuren Byamba-Ochir/AFP/Getty ImagesA crowd gathers to watch workers taking down the last bronze statue of Vladimir Lenin in Ulaanbaatar.

Buddhism has now made a resurgence in the country, and half the population identifies as Buddhist.

FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty ImagesThe construction site of the Grand Maitreya Spiritual Centre on the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar.

One of Mongolia’s most iconic sports is eagle hunting, where eagles are trained to hunt animals. But there are so few eagle hunters left, the tradition could die out within a generation.

BYAMBASUREN BYAMBA-OCHIR/AFP/Getty ImagesA man looks at his eagle during the Spring Eagle Festival in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia.

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