How To Get From Beijing to Ulaanbaatar
Travelling from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar is straightforward and surprisingly quick. While there are direct trains, travelling from Beijing to the border by bus and then from the border to UB by train costs a fraction of the price. Here’s how Adam and I made our way across the border into Mongolia, and onwards to the capital city.
Firstly, we caught a moto taxi to Beijing’s Muxiyuan Long Distance Bus Station, where we bought tickets for the 5pm overnight bus to the border town of Erlian for 180 Yuan each (£18/ $28). We had read that tickets can’t be bought in advance, but we had no problem buying them at one o’clock, then heading out for some tasty dumplings and returning when the bus was due.
The bus was unlike any I’ve seen. I figured “sleeper” meant reclining seats, but this bus turned out to be filled with short and very narrow bunks. They were comfortable enough (even if they did sway a bit) and we settled in for the overnight trip. Frustratingly, the bus stopped an hour later and ended up waiting at the edge of the city for two hours before heading off again. Shortly, we stopped again, this time at a roadside restaurant for dinner and a toilet break (warning, there are no toilets on the bus).
At 7 o’clock the following morning our bus trundled into Erlian, where we and a couple of Chilean guys from our bus took a taxi for 40 yuan in total (£4/ $6) to the border. Here was where the confusion began. We were not allowed to walk across the border, nor was our car allowed to drive across. And so we had to wait at the gate to the Chinese border for a car registered to Mongolia. For over an hour we stood in the freezing cold, pacing around and unable to get any more information other than “the car is coming”. When a driver finally approached us, we gratefully bundled into the car and were told it was a whopping 50 yuan per person (£5/ $8) just to drive the few hundred yards over the border. To add to our confusion, we learned it wasn’t the car we were in that would be taking us, but another car that they had called and was now coming from the Mongolian side.
Our car arrived, complete with smiling driver, and we climbed in. It was an eccentric looking vehicle that looked like it had seen better days. One door was attached with straps and a tiny motor powered the windscreen wipers. We chugged along for mere seconds before reaching the Chinese emigration desk, where we lined up to get stamped out of China. Another minute’s drive took us to the Mongolian immigration desk, where Adam, our new Chilean friends and I all got stamped in visa-free. We were grateful to find a money changer and ATM on the other side, which we used to get a wad of tugrik before climbing into our car again.
We were dropped in the border town of Zamyn-Uud, just outside the train station, where we said goodbye to our cheerful driver and headed inside to buy tickets. Opting for second class hard sleeper, we each paid MNT 22,850 (£7.50/ $11.50) and got tickets for 6 o’clock that evening. With a lot of time to kill in an uninteresting-looking and cold town, we opted to spend our time in the first open restaurant we could find, drinking coffees and eating pastries until it was time to go. When our train pulled into the station, we gathered our things and entered the platform. After a bit of confusion about the the tickets (the woman told us all the seats were already taken, but it turned out she’d assumed we’d booked first class), we found our carriage and climbed into our berths. The train was fairly comfortable and, after playing a few games and drinking plenty of tea (which seems to be on offer everywhere in Mongolia), we all slept soundly through the night, until we awoke to an incredible view from our window the following morning.