Border crossings are always an adventure. You never know what you are going to get.
We dropped off Thomas' passport on Monday morning (after waiting for 5 extra days for the Mongolian embassy to re-open) where we met a lovely Spanish couple. We exchanged details and hoped to meet again to do a tour together.
We had to wait until 4pm on Tuesday to pick up the passport and visa so we decided to leave for Mongolia on Wednesday. Sleeper bus tickets are only sold on the day so we made the 1 hour bus journey to the bus station. No tickets. Try reception desk. A stern looking woman actually turns out to be helpful and makes several calls. 1.5 hours later, we leave the bus station with handwritten tickets unsure if we have been victims of another scam (we were taken by 2 young men through the carpark, boarded a bus, took photos of the bus and their badges just in case and paid half the fare).
We returned at 4pm still unsure how we were going to get past the ticket collector. One of the young men from earlier spots us and leads us to the bus. Seems promising. The bus is not yet open so we sit down and play Speed. Soon, a crowd gathers around us.
Yumi waiting in front of our night bus in Beijing
Our handwritten tickets get us on board and it is a fairly smooth ride. 2 notable toilet breaks. First, Yumi hopped off the bus during a traffic jam and managed to get 5 mosquito bites on her butt. Second, a "proper" toilet: enter to find 4 holes in a line, no stalls, no doors, no running water, but surprisingly, it doesn't smell too bad.
We make friends with 2 men from Ulanbaatar Agi and Mogar. They kindly look after us for the rest of the journey.
We arrive in Erlian at 6am and buy bus tickets to cross the border at 13:30. So we all go out for a traditional Chinese Mongolian breakfast of mini churros dipped in sweet mayonnaise, a large dumpling, lamb shank complete with fat and a salty milk soup. All very tasty. We killed some time at the local market where Mongolians load up on goods before heading back home.
Mogar and Thomas playing "Speed" in Erlian, Inner Mongolia.
Out of nowhere, our Spanish friends appear! We agree to meet up in UB if we don't manage to get train tickets.
We cut the queue to get on the border bus a la Chinese style. The bus carried as much luggage as it did passengers. Vacuum cleaners, ironing boards, a kitchen sink (a small one, but still...), it was packed. We get through both borders quite quickly, but we had to wait for our bus to clear customs.
Time is ticking. 16:00 and we still don't have tickets for the train at 17:35. Thomas and Morgar take off to try and get tickets. Avi and I are not long behind them on the bus. We see plenty of broken down jeeps along the 2km road to the train station, but there is no sign of them.
Thankfully, they managed to grab a taxi and buy tickets for the 21:21 express train. Only $5 more than the regular train and we arrive 30 minutes after them.
Our night train in Zumin Uud station. 13h to reach Ulaanbaatar.
The train is surprisingly nice and empty. We enjoy a clean, air conditioned, 4 bed berth. Maybe it was the lack of sleep on the sleeper bus and/or the long border crossing day, but we had the best train sleep of our entire trip so far.
Soon after we woke up, Ulaanbaatar appeared before our eyes. Only 41h after leaving Beijing...