For anyone who’s interested in taking the train from Beijing to Ulaan Baatar, I thought it’d be cool for you guys to see what it’s actually like, so here’s a quick recount on my time on the train.
Being the budget backpacker that I am, I bought the cheapest, 3rd class tickets for the 30 hour train from Beijing to Ulaan Baatar (1430RMB/$230). I managed to rope two buddies into the trip too so lucky we filled up 3 beds out of the 4 bed cabin. The ticket lady kindly informed us that it’s low season at the moment so there’ll be no one else in our cabin, we’ll have the 4th spot free. Great news.
I haven’t been this excited about a trip since I went to North Korea. I’ve dreamt about this trip for so long and finally it’s a reality, it feels like I’m really traveling again.
We got to Beijing railway station around 7.30am for the 8.05am departure, as I went through the gate I saw my train – an old school throw back train from the communist era, perfect! We were shown our cabin by our carriage’s conductor, bags thrown in, hearts pumping, it turns out not only do we have the cabin to ourselves we had the entire carriage to ourselves!
One piece of advice I’d have for anyone jumping on this journey is to brings plenty of supplies – water, fruit, chips, biscuits, noodles, bring it all! I brought half a packet of Oreos and a bottle of water, not quite sufficient for a 30 hour journey, schoolboy error johnnyboy! You do get a couple of opportunities every 6 hours or so to try to jump off at a station and buy some food before the train sets off again, you just gotta be quick.
The 3rd class cabin itself is great, comfortable, spacious and it comes complete with sheets, pillows and blankets. I guess it’s the equivalent to a Chinese soft sleeper (LINK). It’s got a western toilet at one end of the carriage and a hot water dispenser on the other, no showers though. It’s even got a couple of power sockets too, so travel blogging just got a lot easier.
We pulled up to Erlian, the Chinese town on the Mongolian border around 8.30pm, the borders guards take our passports and tell us to get off the train. We have to linger around Erlian until 11.30pm but it gave us a chance to resupply for the second half of the journey. After we reboarded, you move forward for 5 minutes and then wait on the Mongolian side, stuck in the train, for another 2 hours. The Mongolian border guards come into the cabin, stamp us in, and finally 5 hours after pulling into Erlian we finally set off again.
The reason you have to wait so long at the border is because the Mongolian railway line and the Chinese railway lines are 6 inches different widths, so they have to change the wheels on the train, the only border crossing in the world they do that.
Anyway, we carry on through the night – straight through the third biggest dessert in the world, the Gobi Desert. Morning comes, I wake up around 10am – yep, still in the desert. A couple more hours through the barren, yet beautiful, landscape and we finally arrive in Ulaan Baatar. 30 hours in heartbeat. Step one of my Trans Siberian journey complete, and what an awesome train ride it was too.