Monday, July 15, 2019

Overland: Cheapest way to travel from Beijing,China to Ulaanbaatar,Mongolia


So you are here for an obvious reason, you want to know the process and steps on how to get from Beijing, China to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia the cheapest way possible(aside from walking of course :) ). While there are only a few guides and information online (some of them are even outdated), this post will help you make your way to the destination without any issues as we recently tried it last June 2019.

Just to give you a proper context and to save you from all the information yet, this journey will take around 2 days. If you cannot bear this timeline then you can always try another option but as a budget backpacker, it is the only cheapest viable option out there and that I feel that the journey is worth it seeing the different Mongolian landscape along the way or you might decided to continue doing the trans-Siberian journey. 

Please note that everything that is posted here is based on our personal experiences and is valid since June 2019. Some information might change in due time.

So let's get started.

There are three parts of this journey: 
  1. An overnight bus from Beijing to the Chinese border town of Erlian/Erenhot. 
  2. Cross the border from Erlian/Erenhot to Zamyn-Üüd.
  3. An overnight train to Ulaanbaatar from the Mongolian border town of Zamyn-Üüd.

Part 1: Sleeper Bus from Beijing to the border town of Erlian/Erenhot


First, you need to get to the Yongdingmen bus station in Beijing which is located near the Beijing South Railway Station. Don't be confused with the Yongdingmen subway station(Yongdingmenwai), it is far from it.

After arriving at the Beijing South Railway station, head to the North exit (B1f).

We took the subway to get to Beijing South Railway Station
Me and my buddy heading to the North Exit
Follow the signage that leads to the North Exit
Just continue following the north exit signage till you get through an escalator. Take the escalator up then cross the road where you can see an intersection/traffic light (you can see the intersection on the left after you exit the railway station).

Cross this intersection that leads to the bus station
After crossing the intersection turn right and go straight till you get to the next intersection/traffic light. 

Once you are in the next intersection, take note of the tall building in front of you, on the left side of it is the Yongdingmen bus station. To be honest, the area doesn't really look like a bus station to us. In fact, it took us an hour to figure how to get there as we walk pass through it mainly because of the lack of signage. As we went further, we stumble on a residential area which we think it was not the correct way anymore so we turn back then notice some Chinese people carrying big luggage going to some alley in a building. So we follow them then we finally found out that that was the bus station we are looking for. We carefully looked at Maps.me then we figure out that the item in green below was the bus station

We named the building number 8(as you can see in the image below), turn left and head straight and on your right is the bus station where you can buy the ticket.

The last intersection till the bus station
The building where the bus station is
Building number 8, turn left after this
Entrance to the bus station


From Beijing Nan Zhan(Beijing south railway)Follow the green box and avoid the red one.

Just like any other place in China, when you get through the bus station, they will scan your belongings in the x-ray. On the left side is the ticket booth where you can buy the tickets while on the right side is the waiting area.

The ticket cost around 180 yuan and the departure is 5:30pm, the bus runs every day (i was told by the counter). They need your passport when purchasing a ticket. In our case, we went to the station at noon so we can have a better chance of scoring a ticket as we are afraid that we cannot get one. I suggest buying the ticket a day prior to your departure as you will never know and just to have a peace of mind.

Sleeper Bus ticket
We arrived back at the bus station around 4:30 pm. We notice that most of the people in the waiting area are somewhat locals and only saw 1 foreigner which was also going to Ulaanbaatar. 10 minutes before the departure we were called and we started going through the gate and eventually board the bus.

When boarding the bus, you need to put your large luggage in the bus compartment and you need to take off your shoes heading to your bunk bed. Each person has already an assign bunk bed.
My bunk bed
Inside the sleeper bus

I had already experienced a similar sleeper bus on my trip from Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh a few years back so it is doesn't really felt new to me. The bus took off on time and was not full so we were happy. We made a chat with the people around us and found out that 5 of us were on the same destination and eventually traveled together in the next couple of days.

After a few minutes, the bus stop for a long time only to see that we are still boarding people in. After hours of waiting the bus was full again and now we finally off to our destination.

Waiting for people to board.
The bus then stops for several times along the way, which was for a food break, pee break or the driver wants to rest and sleep for a couple of minutes (we understand it considering the hours of driving). 
The restaurant for the food break
Stop where the driver takes a nap for a bit and some of us take photos or pee.


Random stop in Inner Mongolia
After a few hours, we finally arrived in Erenhot/Erlian. You will know that you are in Erlian/Erenhot when you see dinosaur statues along the way. 

Random dinosaur statue
As a summary of the timeline, we started traveling at 5:30pm and we arrived around 8 am the next day, a total of around 15hrs of travel time.

Part 2: Crossing the border from Erlian/Erenhot to Zamyn-Üüd.

When we arrived in Erlian/Erenhot, there were lots of old Soviet-Russian style jeeps waiting for us all that will take us to the border. It is not possible to cross the border on foot even though it is just near. In this side of town, you will notice 2 different languages in every establishment, Mongolian(Cyrillic) and Chinese in which you will never understand but luckily I can read basic Cyrillic though I cannot understand the meaning. In order for us to be able to take a ticket to the overnight train to Ulaanbaatar that will run once a day around 6pm, we hurridly negotiated with the drivers together with the other travelers that we meet in the bus. It was easy for us to negotiate since we are already a group. The drivers will normally charge you 80 - 100 yuan at first which we think is too much for a short distance drive but don't give in to this offer and try to negotiate. We manage to lower it down to 60 yuan(but still  I personally think it is still expensive) but luckily(you may say ), me and my buddy only paid 40 yuan which you will see the reason why in the image below :). 

Our ride to the border
The things we do for 20 yuan :)
Our driver was a woman and by the looks of it, she was like a Russian mafia to me(imagine a middle-aged woman smoking a cigarette and wearing a straw hat and very bossy). Turns out she already arranged a transfer to some Chinese local which we seem not  understand at first but we are fine with it since we were already on board. To add difficulty to the situation,  those Chinese had a bunch of luggage with them which explain why are packed like sardines in the image above and the main reason we ask for more discount which she agreed.

A few minutes drive and we are in the border, we picked up our luggage and head to the border. The driver waited for us on the other side after which we go the Mongolian side. The Chinese border was really picturesque and did not expect it to be like that.

Heading to the border
Picturesque border
It is a bit awkward that the Chinese immigration will keep on looking at you and your passport (vice versa) for several times before having your passport stamped. It took us around more than an hour for every one of us to finish the border and exit procedure. Then we hop again to the car and went straight to the Mongolian side. 

Then we arrived at the Mongolian side which we already notice the difference between the two borders.

The Mongolian Border
At the Mongolian Border
In the Mongolian border, it was my first time that I was asked with my full name several times by an immigration officer and they put the entry stamp at the back of your passport which seems to be the SOP here. It took us more or less 2 hours for the immigration process and before we head back to the car, we get the chance to exchange and get money as there were banks and an ATMs inside the office.

Once we exit the border gate, our lady driver drops us off and paid for our taxi towards the border town of Zamyn-Üüd.

Finally, we are heading the border town of Zamyn-Üüd.
We arrived in Zamyn-Üüd at around noon making the entire process(border crossing and immigrations) around 3-4hrs. And we are lucky that there were no long queues in the immigration on both sides as sometimes it will take more than half day for this process.

Part 3: Sleeper Train from the border town of  Zamyn-Üüd to Ulaanbaatar

We arrived in Zamyn-Üüd and the first order of business we plan to do was to look for a restaurant as we are all starving after the long journey but of course, that did not happen instead we took some photos of the town first before deciding where we want to eat. The town is small and there are lots of restaurants to choose from (though most of them are in Cyrillic).

When we are about to head to a  restaurant then we decided to get the ticket first because we were paranoid that we cannot get a ticket as that is the only train heading to Ulaanbaatar that day and if we miss it we need to spend a night in border town which the last thing we want to do. We walk straight pass the restaurants and from there you will already see the trains. On the left side, you will see the building where you can buy train tickets.

The border town of Zamyn-Üüd
The building where you can buy the train ticket
The ticket office is on the second floor of the building and luckily it was not really packed with people as we are traveling on the shoulder season. 

The train journey is part of the trans-Mongolian route. We all decided to take the cheapest one which is the hard sleeper. They will need your passport in order to purchase a ticket. The train leaves at 6:20 pm and cost around 24,600 Tughriks. For more info check the train schedule below.

My Ticket
Train schedule
If you fail to get money in the border, do not worry as there are lots of ATM and exchange shop in the town. There is also a sim card available in the building where you buy the train tickets.

A few important information you need to know on your train ticket(refer to my image above), the first row is the time and departure date of the ticket, the second row is the Train number, the third row is the carriage number and the bunk number, fourth is the number of people (i think) and the fifth is the price.

After buying the ticket we finally bought some lunch and stayed in the restaurant for quite some time as they have free wifi and air-condition( as it is quite hot). 

Sample menu and prices
The prices were decent and the meal was delicious. Mongolian food is mostly meat base most likely they are beef, lamb or horse. 

In the nearby restaurant are groceries where you can buy food for your consumption while on the train as the prices on the train are a bit higher than normal.

Then we take a rest in the Train Station and did some charging and quick naps. 30minutes before departure we already gathered in our train carriage waiting for boarding.

Waiting for boarding

Finally Boarding
After boarding, we went straight to our bunk beds and arranged our things. We took some photos and enjoy the rest of the scenery while the train is moving. The landscape changes from time to time, from deserts to steppes to grasslands and vice versa (thanks to the longer daylight on this side of the world).  There are also lots of wildlife you can see along the way. 


Another train 
Cargo train 



The train stops from time to time for smoke breaks or if there are other trains that they want to give way. We ate our dinners from we bought in the groceries. There is hot water available on the train if you want to cook your cup noodles. The crew also sell food on the train. We spend the night enjoying the different views and do some socializing and chit chat before we finally decided to sleep.

Crew selling goods
Cute Mongolian kid
The next day we woke up early to get a glimpse of the sunrise and landscape of the Mongolian countryside. As we get nearer to Ulaanbaatar the scenery gets even better. 



We take our breakfast and after a few hours we already saw some houses and that is the signal that we are almost in Ulaanbaatar so we prepared our things for arrival.


And then we arrive in Ulaanbataar.

Leaving the train
Welcome to Ulaanbaatar train station
Then there goes our adventure, wait....but the real adventure is yet to come. 
A big thanks to the people that I shared this journey!

Hello Ulaanbaatar!


To sum up the cost:
Overnight bus  = 180 yuan (1350 PHP)
Border Crossing Jeep = 40 yuan (300 PHP)
Overnight Train = 24,600 Tughriks (480 PHP)
Total = 2130 PHP (~42 USD)


In comparison to other modes of Transportation:

A direct flight from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar = 9000 - 10000 PHP (~200 USD) one way
Train Starting from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar = 10,000 PHP ( 200 USD) one way



Have you tried traveling from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar? Share your thoughts and comments below.


Friday, July 20, 2018

How to apply for a Chinese Visa [Filipino Citizens]


So you just booked a cheap tickets to China and learned that Filipinos are required to hold a Chinese visa to enter the country, then you came to the right place. Unlike Hongkong and Macau(which are Special Administrative Regions of China), which currently entitled us Filipinos of a visa-free travel, visiting the mainland would require us a Visa.

Friday, October 13, 2017

How to apply for New Zealand Visa [Filipino Citizens]

8000 km away from the Philippines lies an uncrowded, green and peaceful country of New Zealand. Situated down under, the country is famous for its post-card perfect landscapes, sceneries and culture.

I have been fascinated with New Zealand's(Maori people)  culture specifically their traditional dance "HAKA". But before daydreaming about this stuff, we Filipinos(having Philippine Passport) traveling as a tourist, need a visa to enter the country but luckily the visa-fee is waived(if planning to stay less then 60 days) for us meaning we will save a huge amount of money(NZD165 around 6,000 PHP).

In this article, I will be listing out all the process and the experiences I have undergone while applying a New Zealand Visitor Visa. Visitor visa allows you to visit the country as a tourist, visit friends and relatives, play some sports or perform in cultural events without pay, get married and if you are to undertake a short-term study.

Just like my other Visa guides, Everything here was based on my personal experiences.

Part I: Requirements


Duly filled up Application Form


Here is the link for the application form: click here. Please note that you need to fill up every item and never leave blank space but rather add "N/A". Also, double check what you have written there.

Identity (You must provide proof of your identity)


  • You need to prepare your valid Philippine passport. Must have at least 6 pages of vacant page and xerox copy of the bio page
  • 2 acceptable photos

Funds or sponsorship (You must have enough money to live on while in NZ or have an acceptable sponsor)


You must have at least NZ $1,000 per month, or NZ $400 per month if you’ve already paid for your accommodation. Also, provide a xerox copy of each file submitted.

Evidence can include :
  • proof of accommodation pre-payment, like hotel pre-paid vouchers or receipts
  • bank statements
  • credit card statements
  • bank drafts
  • travelers’ cheques
  • a 'Sponsorship Form for Temporary Entry' completed by an acceptable sponsor.
If you are sponsored, your sponsor must provide evidence they can look after you in New Zealand. Evidence can include:
  • recent bank statements
  • pay slips
  • employment agreement
  • accommodation ownership or payment of rent.


Onward Travel (You must have a ticket to leave New Zealand or be sponsored for the cost of your onward travel)


Evidence can include:
  • proof you have enough money to buy a ticket out of New Zealand, in addition to the funds you have to live on
  • your travel ticket
  • a 'Sponsorship Form for Temporary Entry' completed by an acceptable sponsor.
If you are sponsored, your sponsor must provide evidence they can look after you in New Zealand. Evidence can include:
  • recent bank statements
  • pay slips
  • employment agreement
  • accommodation ownership or payment of rent
For more information you may visit New Zealand Immigration: click here

Optional Documents


  • Certificate of Employment (if employed)
  • Business Registration / Permits (if businessman)
  • Income Tax Return (ITR)

In my case, as a regular employee, I submitted the following documents below and I have xerox copied every single one of them:

  • Valid Philippine passport 
  • NZ visitor visa application form
  • NSO Birth Certificate
  • 2 copies of Passport size photo (35mm x 45mm in dimension with white background)
  • Bank Statement with a signature from the bank manager. 
  • Credit Card statement
  • Income Tax Return (ITR)
  • Certificate of Employment indicating my tenure, position, salary and etc.
  • Roundtrip Tickets ( From Philippines to Australia and Australia to New Zealand from Cebu Pacific Piso fare and $5 sale of Jetstar :))
Please note that I don't have any sponsor. Also, you may notice that I did not submit any accommodation booking as I am planning to do Couchsurfing or stay with a friend. If you ask how much money I have in the bank, it is less than 50,000 PHP.

Part II: How to apply


After gathering the requirements, I finally decided to submit my application. I submitted my application via (VFS global)  New Zealand Visa Application center in Cebu (your representative may also submit it for you). Refer to the address below:

Cebu
VFS Global Services Philippines Private Inc.,
9th Floor, Keppel Center, Unit 905, Samar Loop
cor. Cardinal Rosales Avenue,
Cebu Business Park, Cebu City 6000

Manila
VFS Global Services Philippines Private Inc.,
Mezzanine Floor Unit M01, Ecoplaza Building,
2305 Chino Roces Avenue Extension Makati City, Metro Manila 1231

The VFS agent double checked the requirements that I brought and ask me for some minor questions. After checking and when everything was aligned, the agent then asked me to pay the following fees below, take note that this is VFS fees and not the visa fee as the visitor visa-fee is already waived for us Filipinos. My application will be forwarded to Manila and that the courier service will just deliver it to the address I added to the application. After submitting, the agent handed me something like a claiming stub that I need to present to the courier delivery, also in it is some information about the application in case you have questions. Please note that New Zealand Visa Application Centre will accept all of the payment in PHP currency only and they accept cash, credit card, bank transfer and etc.

VFS service fees

Part III: Processing


After paying the fees and submitting the requirements, I receive a text message from VFS acknowledging that my application was received and thus provided me with tracking number. The next day I received another text message informing me that my application is now under process at the New Zealand Embassy in Manila. From then on, I never heard from them till 4 days later where I receive another text informing me that my processed application has been dispatched. So I was thinking that the result might be in and that my passport will be delivered to me soon. The next day I received a call from the courier and inform me that they will deliver my passport and that if I am available to receive it. Fast forward I got my passport and went searching for the visa and pufffffff it was there. I was granted with a multiple entry visitor visa.

To give you a summary:

Date Event
9/10/2017 ~  9/13/2017  Fill up the application form, gather and scan the documents.
9/13/2017 Submitted my application and Acknowledgement was received.
9/14/2017 Application is under process in New Zealand Embassy in Manila
9/14/2017 ~  9/17/2017  Waiting for results.
9/18/2017 Processed application has been dispatched 
9/19/2017 Received my passport with the visa

My Multiple Entry New Zealand Visa

Have you tried applying for New Zealand visa? Share your stories and experience in the comment section below. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

How to apply for Australian Visa [Filipino Citizens]

Australia, the land down under, surrounded by great oceans and vast land, it is definitely a must go for people who love nature. Famous for its Koalas, Kangaroos and its overly diverse wildlife, there are more to that that Australia can offer.

But before you can proceed in exploring them,  Filipinos need a VISA to enter the country. Luckily, Australia is much more welcoming compared to other western countries by how they ease the visa application for each individual by having it done ONLINE.

In this article, I will be listing out all the process and the experiences I have undergone while applying an Australian Tourist Visa [Visitor visa (subclass 600) ] ONLINE. Just like my other Visa guides, Everything here was based on my personal experiences.

To give you an overview, here are the steps you need to do:

  1. Create an Account with Australian Government Department of Immigration and border protection.
  2. Fill up application form for Visitor Visa Subclass 600
  3. Upload Supporting documents needed
  4. Pay the visa fee
  5. Wait for result


Let's get started, MATE! 


Creating an Account


In order to jumpstart with the online visa application, you need to create an ImmiAccount.
Here is the registration page: Click here

You should see something like below.
ImmiAccount Registration Page
Once you have successfully registered, try logging in to your account. Once logged in, click on the "New application" which is found at the upper left corner of the page. In the New application section click on "Visitor" and under it click "Visitor Visa(600)". From here you are now ready to start filling up the application form.

Fill up application form


In every visa application in general, I always don't leave empty or blank space and just add N/A if in case I don't have it or doesn't  apply to me.

Start of  the application 
Items in the application are self-explanatory. All you need to do is read them carefully and answer them. Be sure to answer all items required and double check them. In case you cannot finish the application in one go, you may save and continue later before submitting.

Attaching supporting documents


After filling up the application, you will now proceed in attaching your supporting documents.
Please refer to the checklist of documents for this application for more information about what to attach.

In each category below, you need to add a supporting document for them. 

Category for supporting documents.

The Australian Government sets a limit of 30 files for Visitor Visa online applications, and files must not exceed more than 5MB in size. In order to keep up with the limit, they recommend that you scan your documents at 96 dpi, and not to attach photos in Office document files, as this will increase the file size.

Below are the documents that I have attached.

Supporting documents that I submitted

Financial Capacity - Personal, Evidence of 


  • A copy of my Bank Statement plus a Bank certificate. If you ask how much was inside my account, It was less than 50,000 PHP.
  • A copy of my Credit Card statement of account.
  • A copy of my 2016 Income Tax Return.
  • A copy of my Certificate of Employement where it indicates my tenure, position, my salary and etc.

Note: If you are a freelancer you may add your contract details or payslips and if you are a businessman, you may add a copy of your business permit/registration. Also if you have sponsors, you may add your sponsor's documents such as payslip, COE and etc.


Planned tourism activities, Evidence of


  • A copy of my rough planned activity in Australia (though I am not going to follow it).

Planned Activity



  • A copy of my flight ticket to Australia (Since I book it in advance via Cebu Pacific Piso fare, thanks, Cebu Pac!)


Note: It is not recommended to buy a ticket without a visa first. If you have a sponsor a letter of invitation can also be added here.


Travel Document


  • A copy of my Current Passport Bio.
  • A copy of a passport size photo( dimension should be 45 mm x 35 mm)


Travel history, Evidence of



  • A copy of my expired and existing visas, as well as entry/exit stamped pages of my current and old passport.


Birth or Age, Evidence of


  • A copy of my NSO birth certificate.

They say you need to have your documents certified or notarized but in my case, I did not do this but still, it was accepted. Just to emphasize, I am not saying or promoting of skipping this process, just to be on the safe side better have it notarized.

Once you have attached every required supporting document per category, Please do another round of check before submitting. Once everything is in place and you are now confident, hit submit and proceed to the next step which is paying for the visa fee.

Paying the visa fee


After submitting your documents and forms you will now be prompted to pay the visa fee. You may pay using credit or debit card. The visa fee is around 140 AUD + the surcharge of around 1% if paid via credit card. For convenience, I paid the fee via credit card and the transaction was around 6,027.06 PHP considering the PHP(Sept 2017) is really low that time. After paying, you will receive an acknowledgment email that your application is received.

Waiting for result


This will be the hardest and the thrilling part of the application process, the waiting for results.

In general processing times for the application depends and will be assessed on a case by case basis and actual processing times can vary due to individual circumstances. If the Australian Government needs /request more documents from you they will inform you in the email.

From the time I submitted my application, it took around 7 days to hear from them again and that informing me of a visa grant. I was granted with 1 yr multiple entry tourist visa.


To give you a greater picture of the timeline of the entire process below:

Date Event
9/6/2017 Created an ImmiAccount
9/6/2017 ~  9/10/2017  Fill up the application form, gather and scan the documents.
9/11/2017 Submitted my application and Acknowledgement was received.
9/11/2017 ~  9/17/2017  Waiting for results.
9/18/2017 Received an email with the Visa Grant.

I find this process fast, easy and convenient and would recommend it to anybody.

My Visa Grant notice.

Have you tried applying for Australian visa? Share your stories and experience in the comment section below.