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 While there are only a few guides and information online (some of them are even outdated), this post will help you make your way to the destination without any issues as we recently tried it last June 2019.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 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, at least you know if it a restaurant or a toilet. 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)

For more info check our journey in youtube:

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.


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