When we were first discussing our travel plans I loved the idea of the Trans Siberian Railway, to get the chance to travel the length of Russia by train, for 5 whole days, to see the country out of a train window and maybe stop along the way. However the appeal of flying to Mongolia for £400 and seeing a fascinating country meant that this was not an option on this trip. There is though a train which connects Ulaanbaatar to Beijing and so named the Trans Mongolian Railway. This was only 28.5 hours by train and meant I still got a little portion of the whole experience and I’m very happy I chose this option.
We first had to secure tickets for the train. If you’ve read my previous blog posts you will know that we attended the Naadam Festival from the 11th-13th of July and so getting a train to China on the 14th made sense. However due to the popularity of the festival it was not possible to leave on this date as the train was full, so we chose the 15th instead. I visited a website called RealRussia and found they deal with securing train tickets, even for trains not in Russia. There were a couple of options for different tickets. We knew that for a 28.5 hour train we would need a sleeper compartment so we automatically discounted the seated option. A first class sleeper was only £20 more expensive then second class so this is the option we chose. It was so worth it. That extra £20 got us our own compartment on the train, with 2 beds, an armchair, our own toilet and our own shower. The ticket cost us £170, this is about £40 more expensive then a flight, but an amazing experience.
Our train was set to leave at 8:30am so we arrived at the station an hour early just to be safe and our train was already there. The day before we had been to the local supermarket to pick up supplies for the trip; bread, nutella, crisps, biscuits, fruit, water, and pots of instant noodles. At the end of each carriage there is a boiling water dispenser so instant noodles are the best option, especially for the diabetes as it is a substantial meal. That followed by a piece of fruit is perfect for a train. Just make sure you pick the pots of noodles that include a fork, or things could get very messy!
As we boarded the train they took our train tickets from us, we were a bit concerned by this, but don’t worry, they return them at the end of the journey. The train chugged away from the station bang on 08:30 and soon after we got brought a bed sheet, a duvet cover and a pillow case to set up ourselves. The scenery out the window in Mongolia is lovely but does start to look the same, especially when you hit the Gobi dessert. Make sure you take a pack of cards, a book or something to keep you entertained if the person you are with falls asleep! We pulled in to Zamiin Udd at 19:00, the town the Mongolian side of the border. Just before arriving we were give forms to fill out. (In the slideshow I have a picture of the forms, with my important information blurred out!) At Zamiin Uud they take your passport and 2 copies of the Mongolia customs declaration form. Don’t be concerned when they go off with your passport, this is just so they can stamp it at 19:45 we got our passports back and at 20:40 we rolled on to China.
At 22:00 we stopped at Erenhot, the Chinese border town where they took our passports and arrival cards. They also do a check of your room to see if you are smuggling anything, but they didn’t check our bags. There is a declaration form which you have to fill out if you have anything on the list, if you do not then you do not have to fill it out. At 22:35 they starting changing the wheels, also know as the bogies. The Mongolian and Chinese railways use different wheels so unfortunately this is a process which everyone has to experience. At 23:00 we received our passports back and thought this would be a good time to try and get some sleep. However the changing of the wheels is not a quiet process, there’s lots of clunking and moving back and forwards to separate the carriages. At 01:00 they started to put the carriages back together and then pulled into a nearby station. Our train left the station at 05:30 and we arrived in Beijing at 14:00, 2.5 hours late. But from here it was a 20 minute walk to our hostel, then out to get Peking duck!! I would highly recommend getting an app on your phone called maps.me. You have to download the map of each city you’re in or going too using WiFi but once you have it it tracks where you are using GPS and can give you directions to wherever you need to go, even when you have no internet or data. Don’t ask me how it works, just get the app. It’s the best app of its kind I’ve seen and is getting increasingly popular among travelers. It can get you out of some sticky situations and find your hostel for you after a 30 hour train journey. The train journey itself was a great experience, just make sure you pack enough food for your diabetes. We didn’t have a restaurant carriage on our train, but on some of the trains there are. At a few of the earlier stop the were people selling food and drinks, just make sure you ask if the train is stopping long enough for you to jump out and buy something!