Targeted By Pickpockets

This afternoon, we went to the Black Market in Ulaanbaatar – a large open marketplace. Based on what we’d read, it sounded like an interesting place to visit with unusual Mongolian items for sale. We had been advised that pickpockets operate in the market, so we took precautions to ensure that any cash or valuables that we had on us were well secured.

Entrance to the Black Market, Ulaanbaatar
Entrance to the Black Market, Ulaanbaatar

Within minutes of entering the market, I saw three men watch us and then fall in behind us. We pulled to one side so that they had to pass and kept an eye on them. We were the only Europeans in the whole market and were obvious targets for pickpockets. A little while later, another 2-3 men closed in on Klaus and began to bump into him but he was able to move away and thwart their efforts. Then a woman tried to pick me twice in two different locations. Each time, she moved in close with a scarf covering her hand and her own bag but I was onto her as soon as she came close and was able to create distance and I give her a hard look to let her know I was onto her. The efforts of one, two or three individuals weren’t working, as we were vigilant and immediately aware whenever anyone got too close or any touching or bumping occurred. The thieves then came at us in numbers! We were suddenly surrounded by 5-7 of them and immediately realised what was happening.  A couple of guys bumped me and as I avoided them, an old woman pulled on my upper clothing. I pushed her arm away from me and gave her a few stern words and turned and moved aside to prevent further contact by others who were behind me.  Klaus and I closed ranks, acknowledged that things were getting too hot and moved rapidly out of that section of the market. The zipper on a pocket on my fleece jacket had been unzipped (probably by the old woman who I pushed away). They would have been disappointed had they managed to pick the pocket – there was only a Mongolian phrase book in it.

We were just too tempting of a target and the thieves were determined. We’d already been in the market for about 20-30 minutes and realised that there was nothing of interest there – unless you want to buy clothing, boots, fabric, washing machines or televisions (nothing for tourists). Having to constantly fend off pickpockets was becoming a real nuisance so we left the market and headed back to the hotel.

Tomorrow we leave UB and begin our trek west through rural Mongolia.


  1. What a shame the wonderful experiences of Mongolia are marred by such actions. At least it sounds as if this was the first difficult human experience of the trip?

  2. There are criminals in every country John, so this incident doesn’t affect my opinion of Mongolia. We were prepared for them, so they weren’t going to get anything of value. It just became such a nuisance due to their persistence.

  3. The Black Market is notorious for pick pockets, yet sooooo cool that it is worth the risk. I just never take anything I can’t afford to lose there. Except for my camera, which I kept in my hands the whole time. Got some great shots, met some great people. For anyone going, pickpockets target people on Sukhbaatar square, and anywhere a gaggle of people are gathered.

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