From the Diary – The Trans-Mongolian Express – Beijing to Ulaan Baatar

Howdy all. Well, I’m excited to bring you more stuff directly from the diary. I was thinking hard about where to take you next, and in the end I decided that an account from Beijing to Moscow via the Trans-Mongolian would be a good idea, and so that’s what I am going with this time around. I was pretty surprised that compared to 2011 my handwriting had actually IMPROVED! So anyways, we start on the 5th of May, the day my train departed Beijing to head to the Mongolian Capital, Ulaan Baatar!

Day One – 5/5/2017

Rickety rack, rickety rack down the trans Mongolian track! Yes it’s around 12:40 PM and we are on our way to Ulaan Baatar and Moscow! Up at 9:05 AM before the alarm. It was an easy prep to go most was already ready for me prepped last night. Got my 20 Yuan deposit back and there was a taxi outside I could take to the Beijing central train station only 145 Yuan. He seemed to very happy with a 2 Yuan tip.

Beijing Train Station

The station was pretty monolithic sitting there in the smoggiest day I’ve had in Beijing. Some angry guy yelling at me how to get across the intersection to the train station. A soldier/policeman told me over a footbridge. KFC a huge presence at the station, McDonald’s as well. Security and ticket check to get into the station. Everyman for himself attitude to get in.

Met Warren, a Canadian with his son and as entering found a waiting room. Seems less security than the Shenzen five years ago. I ducked upstairs for an egg and sausage McMuffin, worried they’d be not much food on board. Stomach not 100% after it. Back to the waiting room and they were about to let people on to the platform. The train was there – I’d hazard a guess at 20 carriages.

Found mine easily – #9 compact, rustic, has a shower connecting two rooms with Warren and son. Guard on this carriage apparently wanted the cabin with berths one and two I was onto a bottom so Delmo from Brazil, my cabin mate for the journey and I got moved to 15 and 16 except now I’m in 15 which is on top it should be OK.

Waiting room at Beijing,

Guard took tickets, hope that comes back at some point! The train was on time maybe even one minute early! The first hour plus we seem to be clearly still in Beijing. It’s 120pm now – it’s dry countryside with plenty of green, brown underneath. At 12:00 PM they gave us free meal tickets for lunch and dinner – yay free food! Gonna help the budget bottom line in China I am about $35 over as it stands.

Through Beijing Suburbs.

Went for lunch at 12:20 PM – the ticket says 12:20 to 12:50 as you can see 1/2 carriage only of tables so it gets a seat get served, eat and vacate. Ate with a Chinese couple part of a group of 19 mostly Chinese – one lady, Charlotte in the group spoke good English and there was a Thai couple she was talking to. Her husband gave me his uncollected meal ticket. Also an Austrian guy going off road with bikes in Mongolia.

Lunch was all right with capsicum, celery and fried pork. Not much pork which was disappointing. Can of coke was 5 Yuan. I passed the line to get back to the cabin – it was long! Glad I got in early! Good to be just one person – easier to get a seat. Windows in corridor open now, was stifling hot.

Time – 1715 we are at Jining South. We’re a little behind on schedule. Next stop, I guess will be Datong. Cold-ish outside maybe 15-16 degrees. It’s a very Soviet style city we’ve had a little rain. Cabin has cooled a bit but it still feels a little stuffy. Well, I expect I’ll check in with the diary in a little bit. Warren (and his kid) are going all the way to Moscow in one hit!

1850 – Dinner – had meatballs (pork) were pretty good actually. Haven’t reached Datong yet, still hazy but light outside. They wouldn’t let me keep the dinner ticket saying it was needed for records lol! One lady working in the dining car was Madame grumpy McGrumpson, but I got a free coke no idea why. Chatted with Susan who is deputy Mayor of Queenscliff for a bit and Warren and son – conjecture over what happened at the border – out or stay on? Can we see the train get new bogies? Immigration cards have been handed out and filled in oh and Lonely Planet says five hours at the border!

Arrivat at Erlian, the Chinese border town.

10 PM Delmo fast asleep. I have made my bed however at 948 we were due at Erlian which is the Chinese border town. The bogey should be changed from 2148 to zero 59 there, according to the train timetable so should be there soon. Long wait – we’ll see what happens but no pointing climbing into bed I figure things are pretty quiet from Erlian – 25 minutes to Mongolia border, then another 75 minutes there. We’re not moving properly until 2:40 AM 8 minutes shy of five hours as the Lonely Planet says.

2300 –  train has been stopped for 10 minutes now so about one hour late. Cold outside in Erlian and a few officials have been through the carriage first one collected the Chinese custom cards. A smell of tobacco in the air.

Bogies being changed.

0050 – bogies changed hydraulic lifts on either side of the carriages which first had to be separated in a big shed. One lot of bogeys rolled out, another rolled in. Very interesting and bang! Reconnected I think gauge change didn’t look significant but not the best few in not the best view in the house oh it’s the 4th now!

Thursday 4/5/2017

11:25 AM and here we are rolling through what is probably desert. We just left Choyr about 10 minutes ago. we were stop there for probably 50 minutes waiting for a Beijing bound train to pass. We seemed to have it back to around 30 minutes behind schedule but we were due to depart at 10:30 AM, around the time we arrived.

Bought a coke of the lady at the station, no security like in China. And Warren got a whole bag of food including dumplings. He gave me three they were meaty and delicious! Wow I got into bed after we moved back to the platform earlier around 1:30 AM so was in bed for 9 hours slept 6 maybe. Lady (friendly) returned passports, then to Mongolian side passports taken returned waited.  Yes, I am in Mongolia! It’s a whole lot of nothing!

I woke at 5:00 AM and the scenery was amazing sunrise over the desert wowsers! Not that happy in retrospect with my photos – dusty. Now there is patchy grass, even with the occasional cow out the right side. Choyr the last stop before Ulaan Baatar, shouldn’t should be about four hours from here putting us in at 3:30 PM if we remain 50 minutes late.

2:45 PM – houses in clumps – small villages, the guard came around and took the used bedding said we were 40 minutes away that will put us at 3:10 to 3:15 I guess only 30 ish minutes late. Little bit of snow along a creek but no rain and it’s not snowing as the forecast said it would be. Got my ticket back an hour or two ago as well!

So this long journey is nearly at an end! Time to prepare for arrival.

I am (now) sitting down to dinner in Ulaan Baatar – soup, bread and two longish dumplings – awesome! The air is bitingly cold here as it was at the station. My driver was already there (when I arrived) There were heaps of people with signs. Older guy, nice, aggressive driver.

Changed money and got some out of the Bankomat. Well, the first one I put (my card) in and selected English and it just shut down with the card inside! Oh my God panicked I pressed buttons – nothing it seemed to be dead. Pushed some more, it whirred back to life. Thank goodness for that! Took the card out and used a different machine.

The car was Japanese – Toyota and totally UN-modified. Everything, including the voice was Japanese! Steering wheel was on the right, driver actually got out of the car to yell at someone who didn’t move over at an intersection!

Quite a busy place – a cross between Russia and Japan. Apparently a lot of pickpockets. The hostel -Zaya hostel – on the third floor of apartment building. Very nice. Really nice – great value room and Anad at reception very helpful.

I’ll be taking a tour to the National Park tomorrow and having a night in a yurt (ger) as I wanted to. Sharing the tour with one other at this stage US $30 yurt stay with meals $16 and I don’t have to pay for night at Zaya which is good news! I faded and fell asleep for 20 minutes got uploading happening…

And there you have the record of two days, the entire journey from Beijing to Ulaan Baatar (sorry for the confusing spelling but I have never seen a definitive way to spell it!) as my diary recorded it! The next post will be excerpts from my four days in Mongolia!

Thanks for reading, take care, and as always – May the Journey Never End!

See Also – The Chinese Conundrum – Travel to China & How the Rise of China has affected the World of Travel

Travel Itinerary – Trans-Mongolian Railway

Basically Beijing – The Forbidden City and the Great Wall!

8 thoughts on “From the Diary – The Trans-Mongolian Express – Beijing to Ulaan Baatar

  1. Reminds me of the train from Beijing West Station to Lhasa in 2018. But it seemed I was the only Westerner on the train for that 40 hour trip. Shared a cabin with a couple from Mongolia and a Chinese lady who I think was assigned because she spoke English.

  2. Wow this is fantastic! A dream of mine is to take the trans-siberian train all the way through! This must have been quite similar 😊 I just love the atmosphere of trains, especially overnight ones! Thanks for sharing this amazing experience!

    1. In one hit! That’s a fair journey! I want to do it – the Trans SIBERIAN rather than the Trans Mongolian, all the way to the far east there are some seriously remote parts of the world there…. Mag… Mad… some town north of Vladivostock you can take the train too. Looks wild. Might sound silly to do such a long journey TWICE (although this would be 50% different) but I have it still on my bucket list

  3. Great post! This is a part of the world that still seems to be made for explorers. Sure there are tourists, but it doesn’t affect the life of the locals much.

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