The Last Stretch from Ulan Bataar to Beijing

Our fantastic group on the Vodkatrain tour Ruski Huski

Getting up at 5 AM, just two hours after we came home from the clubs was tough. The minibus that was going to take us to the train station was waiting at the agreed time and the people already awake had to run around knocking on the other peoples doors to get them up in time for our train departure. Once on the train, everyone were knocked out for most of the first day, half the time it would take us to reach Beijing from the Mongolian capital. 

Once again the trains and the landscape outside had changed. The Chinese trains had blue carpets throughout the whole train, switches for fans in the compartment instead of switches for music and the landscape at first was the boring Gobi desert and then it changed into the most impressing landscape we had seen on the trip with beutiful mountain valleys and big Chinese cities. The dining cart and its menues was different, people smoked in compartments and hallways and the toilets were much less looked after (no toilet paper). Except for that it was the old familiar trans Mongolian train that we were already used to.

The border crossing between Mongolia and China took much shorter time than the one between Russia and Mongolia, with a total of five hours for the crossing: about an hour and a half on the Mongolian side and about three hours and a half on the Chinese side. The Mongolian- Chinese border was also the place where the train bogies were changed, as the tracks in China are different than the ones in Russia and Mongolia. Being lifted up to watch it all happen underneath us was an interesting experience, with the only downside being that we had five hours straight with no chance of getting to a bathroom.

Looking out the windows from our compartment it looks like China is going to be very different to Mongolia, just like Mongolia was very different to Russia. It will be nice getting off to experience it all from the ground, but I must say that it is also sad leaving the Trans Mongolian trains for good. 

Ulan Bataar, the Worlds Coldest Capital

Arriving in the Worlds coldest capital at 5 o’clock in the morning, we had plenty of time to check out what the city had to offer on our first day there.

First off was a walk through the city center, which probably took us around half an hour, as the city (even though it has around 1,5 million inhabitants) seemed pretty small for such a big country. The citys main square, even though really small fitted skyscrapers, fashonable clothing stores, government buildings and statues (of a fat sitting Genghis Khan and others) with cars driving right next on the streets. It must have required some great city planning, which should have gathered more tourists there, but there were actually noone but us around! That, together with the Mongolians being the most friendly people I have ever met has given us a impression of Mongolia as a genuinely awesome country.

Our local honcho also rented us a minivan to see a kashmere factory, the famous city viewpoint and the so called “black market”/ local market where we were told that prices would be much cheaper that what we would find in China, as the Chinese will at all times try to rip you of, whereas you in Mongolia always will be given standard price, that also the locals would pay.

After having spent some days on the countryside we also got to spend out last day in Mongolia in its capital city, where we went straight to the ski resort, located between ten to fifteen minutes outside the city center. Prices were even cheaper than in Russia, with skipass, skirental, locker and taxi to and from the ski resort costing around 100 Norwegian Krones. We were pretty much the only ones there, and with the sunny weather it was a quality experience that I would reccomend anyone going to the Mongolian capital. The evening was spent watching a show with traditional dancing, contortionist performance and throatsinging and then going out for karaoke and disco the last night before leaving Mongolia to travel through the Gobi desert and into China.


Staying at a Mongolian Ger Camp

The highlight that many people had been looking forward to was to visit a traditional Mongolian ger camp to sleep in so called “yurts” like the nomadic Mongolians still use today. These round shaped tents, along with horses and cows running freely were a common sight on the three and a half hour drive between Ulan Bataar and Gorkhi Terelj National Park where we would spend our next couple of days.

After about an hour drive away from the Mongolian capital we stopped to see the a huge statue of the former emperor of Mongolia, Genghis Khan on a horse, which is the worlds highest horse statue. A statue with a height of 40 meters and the possibilities to take an elevator up to walk up top of the head of the horse to get a panoramic view of the landscape, as the horse was practically in the middle of nowhere.

After getting to the ger camp around noon we had some freetime to walk on top of the neighbouring hilltops to have a view over the beutiful area we were staying at, and sledding down the hill if we wanted to. The freetime, the fresh air and the comfortable wood heated “yurts” made us instantly switch into a more relaxed mode, and not even the toilets that were litterally just a hole in the ground could change that. In the evening we went to visit a local family to see how they lived on the countryside, talk to them with translation through our local honcho and taste their homemade food and drinks. The highlight was eating a horrible tasting cheese and drinking fermented alcoholic horsemilk, which tasted very sour, but still was quite good! When getting back we gathered into the master “yurt” to watch a movie called “Mongol” and have dinner and some drinks.

On our second day we visited a temple located at a hillside, with a nice walk up throgh steps with the praying rolls that you find in Tibet and hanging bridges. We also drove past and stopped to see a mountain shaped like a turtle and some piled up stones used by the shamans for praying, where we also stopped, walked some rounds and trew rocks at the pile for good fortune for our travels. At the evening of our last night at the Mongolian gers we also got to do a Mongolian cooking class to learn how to make dumplings. When eating them afterwards it looked like a six year old had put them together, but they all tasted good and it was a great way of rounding up a stay on the Mongolian countryside that never will be forgotten.

The Train Ride from Irkutsk to Ulan Bataar, Crossing From Russia and Into Mongolia

The group with our Honcho in the front. Ready for departure from Irkutsk

Getting on the train in the late evening was great, just getting to bed, wake up and have around a third of the train ride over with in just one sleep. The Mongolian trains were also a bit different, where the toilets were even nicer, the compartments had colorful curtains and table cloths, and the walls were a grayish white instead of a brown wooden color in the Russian trains. There were also outlets for electricity inside every compartments and had no restaurant carriage, but except from that everything was pretty much the same as on the Russian trains.

The one thing that had changed the most was the landscape outside as we were going through the mountains separating Russia and Mongolia, which was much more interesting to watch than the vast Siberian landscape from the last train ride. Once crossed into Mongolia there were also tunnels built through the mountains instead of long rides around all the mountains. Wild cows and horses were also common sights, and all the platforms had hungry stray dogs waiting for the passengers to throw out some food for them.

The border crossing at Naushki Sükhbataar was a long and boring one, with five and a half hours waiting on the Russian side and around three hours at the Mongolian side. The toilets were closed the whole time, and the only option on the Russian side was to pay a few rubles to visit Russias worst bathroom (picture on this link). The border cities on both sides are also quite small, with few restaurant options and shops. Our solution for food was to ask the carriage attendant to borrow her kitchen to make some Pelmeni, a Russian dish which tastes and looks like a mixture of meat filled tortellinis and dumplings.

For the whole two day and two night ride to the Mongolian capital we were also lucky to have the whole carriage to ourselves. With no one but us on it it was also more easy to catch some sleep before waking up and leaving the train at 5 o’clock in the morning in Ulan Bataar, the capitol of Mongolia where we will spend the next five days.