Crossing the Mongolian border
Ulaanbaatar Travel Blog› entry 6 of 20 › view all entries
Another two days on the train brought us to the Mongolian capital. The scenery on the Russian side of the border still consisted almost exclusively of birch trees. We had a night on the train, and arrived at the border on a nice sunny day. At the border the train stopped, and we began the lengthy process of crossing the border.
The first thing to happen was that the train sat there for four hours, and nothing happened. This gave us the opportunity to buy some food from the little shop on the platform, along with the most disgusting-tasting bottled water I have ever had; it tasted like it had had an entire copper pipe dissolved in every bottle. I also joined in a game of hacky-sack on the platform to pass the time. We were visited by local money changers, who offered only half the commercial rate.
After four hours there was some movement; the train shunted up an down a bit, and eventually ended up on a different line. At some point after that we were instructed to get back on the train, and went through the Russian customs and immigration requirements. The train was searched for stowaways, and we had our passports inspected and stamped. After a total of around six and a half hours, the train began to move again. We saw a small fence go past the window, which was presumably the border. After at most ten minutes of movement, the train stopped again, this time for Mongolian border formalities.
There was a wait again before anything happened. Eventually customs and immigration boarded the train and the fun began again. The train was searched again, and we had our passports and visas inspected by the most incongruous-looking immigration officer I have ever seen: the Mongolian immigration officer had the face of a cross between a sixteen year old girl and a china doll, but wore the expression of a stern teacher, and an excessively large communist-style peaked cap, with a matching green jacket and skirt combo. She made us all stand up so that we could be compared in turn with our passport photos. It was difficult, yet clearly very very important, to take the whole thing seriously. I would have so loved to have taken a photo of the whole thing, but clearly it was out of the question. We then got a visit from some more money changers, this time offering something approximating to the market rate, so we offloaded all of our remaining roubles and had a few tugrug to smooth our arrival in Ulaan Baatar.
After a total of eleven hours the train finally started moving again. By this time it was getting quite late, so after not too long we retired to bed. We arrived at the station in Ulaan Baatar in the early hours of the morning, before sunrise. We hadn't booked anywhere to stay, but were met by touts from all of the major hostels. I normally object to being hounded in this way, but at 5am when you've got nowhere to stay, and it's not particularly warm, and you haven't slept properly, it's not so bad really. We opted to go with the representative of Nasaan's Guesthouse, as we'd read about the place in the Lonely Planet, and we'd also met a couple of people who'd stayed there, and it sounded alright.
Nasaan's is a sprawling place located in three adjacent old apartment blocks. We paid US$18 for a double room, as we fancied some privacy after so many of the last few days' being spent on trains. It was a lot more than we would have paid for dorm beds, but it was worth it. We ended up getting a whole apartment to ourselves, presumably because the place was half empty. This meant that we had our own bathroom and kitchen.
We didn't do a lot on our first day in Ulaan Baatar. It was good to get back on the Internet and get up to date with things. We were a bit shocked to find out that you couldn't get the BBC website in Mongolia. We could only assume that the Mongolian Internet provision must come from China, and that certain things were censored. We also went to the bank to change some more money.
The following day we were to be collected by another tour company, Nomads, with whom we'd booked a trip to Olgi province, the most westernmost province of Mongolia.