- $7,035.57 = How much it costs to travel around the world through nine countries over five and a half months
- Revisited: How to pack for an independent traveler with no set return date
- A glimpse in the thoughts of Bolod Namkhai Mukhadi
- Beijing to Ulaanbataar Mongolia: The nitty gritty of independent travel
- How to get Chinese and Russian visas as a United States citizen: My experience
- Writing assignment: "Inside The Candelaria Festival of Puno, Peru"
- Marathon hitchhiking: Southern Mexico to Michigan in 7 days over 3,400 mi
- Mango Surprise: Being the victim of a random, delicious act of kindness
- Legendary Vagabonder Rolf Potts with priceless advice on travel
- Fire juggler in San Pedro de la Laguna, Lago Atitlan, Guatemala
- Romania: WWOOFing in Transylvania and back to the US
- Bulgaria: Nice cities, tipped off about an isolated beach, and getting perspective from a prostitute's cigarette burns
- Kazakhstan Pt. 3: Almaty, where kids watch pole dancers, and joining the family
- Kazakhstan Pt. 2: Astana, WTF? Diagnosis: major inferiority complex
- Kazakhstan Pt. 1: Whoa Aunt Jemima's!, the Darth Vader Mosque, and a failed haircut
Beijing to Ulaanbataar Mongolia: The nitty gritty of independent travel
Written by Tyler Cole | 31 March 2011
While on the road and back home, I frequently meet people who confuse independent travel with vacation. That it, when I describe a few months-long trip across Asia, what comes to mind is some sort of luxurious tour guided through the gems of the continent. The reality, though, is not like that for someone with a backpack and figuring it out for themselves as cheaply as possible (unless you consider riding across the border of China and Mongolia crammed in the trunk of a car with 12 other passengers “luxurious”).
In any case, I originally wrote this for other travelers who were trying to figure out ways to get across the border from Beijing to the capital of Mongolia, Ulaanbataar, for relatively cheap, but I think it is also an illustrative glimpse of the day-to-day logistics that a traveler has to figure out and that I don’t really write about on my site (it is boring).
There was a train direct from Beijing to Ulaanbataar for a few hundred dollars, but that was way out of my budget. Given that, I pieced this together for less than half of the price and in about the same amount of time as the direct train. So here it goes:
Overall, this is going to consist of a flight from Beijing to Erlian (aka Erlianhaote) on the Mongolian border, then a shared car across the border to Zamyn-Udd in Mongolia, then an overnight train from Zamyn-Uud to Ulaanbataar.
Total time 30 hours, total cost ~$70
1. At least 4 days in advance, get a ticket on eLong.com from Beijing to Erlian (airport name is Elianhaote on the website, a bit confusing). Should be 160Y + 100Y taxes, more if you wait (as of March 2011). Recently, readers have contacted me saying it is about 390Y total in the high travel season from late spring through the summer. They leave at 7:20am from Terminal 1 at the Capital airport, flight number JD5149. Double check the schedule in case something has changed.
2. The day of the flight, make sure you are on the subway early. If you are relatively close to a metro connection with the Airport Express at Dongzhimen on Line 2 you can wait until 5:30 to get on the subway, but you want to be there early. Get off Line 2 at Dongzhimen and follow the signs to the Airport Express. You may have to wait until they open the gate at 5:45.
3. Buy the Airport Express ticket for 25Y and get on the first train at 6am. You will get to Terminal 3 at around 6:20, then to Terminal 1/2 at 6:30. Don’t waste time getting off since you will be cutting it close on time.
4. Follow the signs to Terminal 1, and keep your eye out because it is not very well marked in English (you will have to go up an escalator). Keep up a fast walk and check in with just your passport, do security, and get to the right gate. The gate is close to security and you will be taken on a bus to the airplane.
5. Bam, after a quick flight and a small snack of tea and a ham sandwich on the plane, get the shuttle outside the airport (15Y) and enjoy the scenery of absolutely nothing besides bizarre dinosaur sculptures coming into Erlian. If you just repeat that you are going to the Mongolian border in Chinese (wo yao qu menggu bianjing) the shuttle people should drop you in a place that you can flag a vehicle to take you across the border.
6. Going with a car is mandatory, and if you are patient and don’t mind haggling you should be able to get across for about 20Y (I got lucky and a group took me across for free in the trunk of their SUV, maybe it was sympathy for the cold, confused looking foreigner). First stop is the Chinese immigration to get your exit stamp, then to the Mongolian entrance. For Americans, at least, no visa is required to Mongolia, but you should obviously check about your own country.
7. Once across, all cars stop near the train station and central square in Zamyn-Uud with ample places to change money at posted rates. It will be about 12:00. You can buy train tickets from here to UB (16,300 tugrug for hard sleeper, about $13-14) departing at 17:35 every day at the ticket office which is at the far corner of the square on the second floor of a black, shiny building that isn’t immediately visible. Just walk towards the train tracks and you’ll see it.
8. Now, get some food and wait for the train, which will arrive just outside the ticketing office. Get some snacks for the ride and you can board the train a half hour before it departs. It will arrive in Ulaanbataar around 10am the next day, and you can figure it out from there.
Pictures are below