Mongolia Trip

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I got to the bus station at about 4pm. A guy at the service counter sold me a ticket for 200RMB and said the bus left at 5pm. This wasn’t quite what I’d seen online (180RMB leaving at 4:30) – but that was the only bus that left between 4 and 5. There was one other foreigner on the bus, a guy named Tom from estonia. We both were in the back of the bus, which was possibly better in some ways, though I’m still unsure on that count. The length of the bunks was significantly shorter than my height, and it was not one of the most comfortable 11 hours I’ve experienced. I listened to music for most of the trip, and was pretty relieved when we got intoerlian at 4am. There were a bunch of guys offering places to stay the night when we got off the bus, and I eventually went with one for 25RMB for the night.

I got up at 8:30, and walked around the city. The place I had ended up was south of the main city, and I took a bus through town most of the way to the border. Then I realized I’d missed the train station and walked back.

At the train station, there were a couple of guys who didn’t really speak Chinese who were having a trouble. I eventually determined that the issue was that the tickets for the train back to Beijing Saturday night were totally sold out. This was disappointing to me, since I’d hoped to take a train back rather than being on another uncomfortable 12 hour bus ride. It was not to be though, Istopped in at a travel agency as well, and they didn’t have any tickets to sell me either.

Walked over to the bus station and got a ticket back to Beijing at 4:30 that afternoon, figuring it would give me enough time to get across the border and back. I’d told Tom I’d meet him at the bus station at 11:30, since we’d read that there was a public bus that crossed the border at noon, that would be a bit cheaper than doing it yourself. After getting the bus ticket, which was the only thing I needed to do that morning, I still had an hour and a half, so I took a bus back into the heart of town to wander around some more. The main park inerlian had a bunch of dinosaur sculptures, and they were interesting if a bit out of place. I never did find the dinosaur museum though, which was a minor disappointment. From the park I walked through the food market for a bit – It wasn’t too unfamiliar with the markets throughout China – though there were certainly booths that seemed to have different items. The breads were much firmer in general, reminiscent of the Muslim breads I’d seen in Xi’An, rather than the steamed bread popular in the Han dominated areas.

The town was really different in terms of architecture, which had a distinct soviet feel to it. The feeling was probably heightened by the prevalence of cyrillic everywhere. I believe that the Cyrillic that I was seeing was still Mongolian – just a different way of writing it.

I wandered around the market area a bit, stuff was cheaper than in Beijing – clothing was 10-20RMB for shirts and pants. There also seemed to be a preference for really heavy duty jackets, which made a lot of sense. Headed back to the bus station when it was time to meet Tom. Asking in the station, I got told that there was only 1 bus across the border each day and it left at 1:30pm. I helped Tom get a ticket on that, since he wasn’t in a rush, but decided that I’d try and go on my own, since I needed to get back by 4 – and had heard the crossing could easily take an hour each way.

Outside the bus station were a bunch of taxi’s and they all spoke decent Chinese. I talked to one of them, and eventually he told me that for 120RMB he’d get me across the border both ways. I agreed, and he drove me to the border. We got out, found one of the parked jeeps waiting to go across, and he told the driver what I wanted in Mongolian. He got 10RMB as his commission, and the driver would get 110.

In the jeep with me was the driver, a young Mongolian guy that was related to the driver in some way (nephew perhaps) and two other Mongolians who were heading up. One of them knew a bit of basic English and confirmed that I would be taken across and then back. He actually had been working in Germany, and was disappointed that I didn’t speak any German.

There were 4 parts to the border crossing: entering the border area, leaving china, checking health for Mongolia, and finally entering Mongolia.

To leave, everyone in each car had to pay 5RMB for an exit ticket, which you then gave to a chinese guard at a checkpoint.

A short drive away was the main Chinese border building. We each got tasked with hauling a big bag of rice through the Chinese building, since the goods couldn’t be left in the jeep for this step.

The exit was painless – taking maybe 10 minutes to stand in line and then handing my passport to the guy.

We loaded the rice back on the jeep, and drove to the next checkpoint. A guard gave us all mongolian health forms as well as entry forms to fill out while we waited in the jeep to get to the front of the line. The health form was focused on SARs exclusively, which I felt was a bit out of date, but it wasn’t very intrusive either. When the jeep was at the front of the line, all of us passengers got out, while the driver drove through a couple big scanning gates and the jeep got hosed down by the guards.

the passengers went through what looked like an army field tent, which was really weird. Here we handed in our health forms to agents and then went inside the neighboring building where a big thermometer was mounted on a wall and it was confirmed nobody had a fever.

Coming out of the building our jeep had pulled a bit too far forwards, and the guard made the guy back up, and wouldn’t let us just walk the 100 feet forward to get in. So we drove the 200 yards to the main entrance building.

In the entrance building, the Mongolian agent tried to scan my passport, but the RFID chip is I think successfully deactivated, so she had to type in the number instead. Luckily no speaking was needed on my part, and I got an entrance stamp on my passport, and got back to the jeep on theMongolian side.

We had to wait a bit for the jeep to be cleared by the Mongolian agents, and then got back in to go to Zamyn-Uud, the town past the border. Here, the other two passengers got out at the train station to continue to ulaan-baatar. The guy who spoke a bit of English said I should stay with the jeep, and it would cross back in under 40 minutes.

we headed back towards the border a bit to meet a jeep that had been crossing a bit behind us. Here a couple computer monitors I hadn’t noticed were unloaded from where they were hidden under the back seat and passed to the other jeep. Then we headed to the house of the driver to do the main unloading. They had me wait in the hut that belonged to the younger guy’s sister, while they unloaded the rice from the back of the jeep.

I went out to take some pictures of the area, and noticed that the floor of the jeep was also removable and they had a bunch of additional good that they’d smuggled across the the border as well. The sister was nice, as were her two daughters, though none of the spoke any English or Chinese. They offered my apple juice and showed off their pet turtle. I gave them one of the bottles of maplesyrup that I’d brought and they seemed appreciative.

Pretty soon the jeep was unloaded and we began on the return trip. We stopped by the railway station again to pick up passengers for the trip back, and ended up with 5 Mongolians who were heading to China – two girls, and then a wife and husband with a small kid.

The ‘leaving Mongolia’ process was quick for me – just handing my passport to the agent, getting it stamped and walking out. The family had a bit of an issue, because the father got through first and had the kid’s passport, so the other two couldn’t get through. Eventually they came out to the jeep and got him to give them the passport and then went back inside.

The Chinese health process was in two parts. The jeep first had to drive through a screening building – during that process they had me hold an old jacket over the window because there wasn’t actually a window and something got sprayed at us as we went through.

Then there was a medical inspection. For the Mongolians there was a form – in Mongolian – that they filled out at dropped off. I couldn’t understand that, and before they gave the one in English they made me stick a thermometer under my arm to check my temperature. I filled out that form, and then re-entered China without further issues.

The jeep drove me back to the bus station – the whole process taking about 2 hours. I switched my bus from the 4pm to the 3pm bus, since that way i’d get in at 2am instead of 4-ish, and then bought some snacks for the ride.

The bus back was much more appropriate in terms of space – there was one less row of beds, so there was (almost) enough room to lay on the bed. To make up for this accommodation, the driver avoided highways for most of the way back in order to not pay the tolls. we ended up spending the first four hours on really small 2 lane roads through inner Mongolia – which was especially fun when there was construction and the bus had to detour on dirt paths. (once for a good half hour)

The area was really pretty through – totally flat at the beginning, and then turning into slightly rolling hills. Lots of flocks of sheep and goats wandering around. later we came across the ‘meng niu’ brand cows – one of the famous dairy brands is based in inner Mongolia, and claims to provide milk from happy cows. The cows seemed happy enough, from what I could see.

We got in to the south bus station at 2am, and I took at taxi back to the hotel and went to sleep.

The whole process took 33 hours, and I probably could have done it faster if I was in a hurry. (if I had, say, gone across the border early in the morning and then caught the 10:30 bus back.)

Woke up this morning, and found that I have access to google wave, so I’ve been playing with that a bit, as well as uploading pictures. It was a fun experience, and a part of China I haven’t really seen before.