Trans-Mongolian Train & Ulaanbaatar
23-28 August, 2017
A strenuous journey to Mongolian hospitality!
It was (finally) time to say goodbye to Russia as we are taking the Trans-Mongolian Train to Ulaanbatar from Irkutsk! After a complete relaxing week in Listvyanka, and a decent lunch at our favorite hotspot, it was time for a new adventure!
We choose to budget our way to the train station (also because of our previous taxi experience) and made our way to Irkutsk by mini-bus. We arrived three hours early as we wanted to make sure we took the right train, nothing is more confusing than taking a train in Irkutsk at Moscow time😂
We killed the time at the train station with a beer in the Irish pub before boarding the train. With full tummies and good spirits we boarded the train a couple of hours later.
They put all the international travellers in one carriage, and very early in the journey we found out that there are significant differences between the Mongolian and Russian trains. Especially the bathrooms are incomparable. We booked a second-class ticket, and shared our tiny compartment with two friendly Germans (Michael and Stefan). Luckily we got along and no-one (but me) snored or stank, as our journey was going to be “only” 32 hours😂.
The whole carriage was basically overrun with Germans. There were a couple of Dutchies and Ozzies aswell.
We spent two nights in the train, that turned out to be quite different than our previous train. The most strenuous part of the journey came at the Russian-Mongolian border crossing. We knew this was going to take a while, but 8 hours no one had anticipated! As everyone onboard had several beers in the local cafe just before the border, these 8 hours became the longest 8 hours in history. During the process of border-crossing nobody was allowed to leave the train or go to the toilet! Our compartment was searched extensively, passports were collected, identities checked and finally stamps were given out. As we crossed the border an entire tank division saw us off, what a weird experience!😂
Exhausted from these 8 hours we called it a night after a small noodle soup dinner. At 6am we arrived in Ulaanbaatar and were picked up by our pre-arranged transport. Wanda was the first Mongolian we met and he was a good representation of the amazing people we met here. He was super-friendly, funny and helpful.
On first sight, Ulaanbaatar is a large, dense and lively city. Based on this impression you would not expect the rest of the country to be this quiet and scarsely populated. More than half of the population lives in Ulaanbaatar. The city is a melting-pot of people from all over Mongolia. The combination of gers and high-builings standing next to each other gives a good representation of the city. You will find people living in traditional gers, wearing traditional cloths as well as business men in suits living in high, modern buildings. The city can best be described as an amazing city of contrasts with a lively atmosphere! We spend four days in town before going on our incredible Gobi tour.
On our first day we checked into our hotel, relaxed, and went for an amazing dinner at Luna Blanca THE vegan restaurant in town. Great food! We met a cool dutch guy and a lovely Geman couple (Lea and Johan) in the guesthouse, with who we had a couple of beers.
The next day we joined them to the Zaisan Monument overlooking the city below. We walked through the Gandan Khiid Monastery on our way to town. Only 200 meters away from our guesthouse, this beautifully decorated temple hosts a huge Buddha statue and a meditation area. We took a taxi from there to the Zaisan Monument. Taxis are the best way to get around and only costs about 30ct per kilometer! When we arrived we climbed the stairs at the monument to get these amazing views of the city!
We had a decent lunch at the base of the mountain before we went to the Naran Tuul Black Market of Ulaanbaatar. The market is extremely crowded and you have got to watch your stuff closely or you’ll lose it! They sell everything at the market, ranging from shoes to dogs, and from candy to bikes! We walked around for a while and after an acclimatization period we had loads of fun at the market. In the evening we ordered Pizza and had a couple of beers before heading in.
The next morning we got up early and were joined by Lea. We went to the monastery again, this time to watch the Buddhist Monks chant in the main temple. Very spiritual and interesting to watch. After our visit we went to the State Department Store and looked around for a bit before returning to the hotel.
We spend the evening preparing and packing for our Gobi Tour. We bought all the main necessities like toilet paper, baby wipes and A LOT of snacks😂.
Read about our Gobi adventure here.
When we came back from the tour we still had two days to unwind and we decided to visit the museums in the city. First we went to the Dinosaur Museum, a small but interesting museum, mainly showcasing finds from the southern Gobi area. We also wanted to get more into Mongolian history, so we went to the Mongolian History museum were we strolled through time.
We spend our afternoon shopping for souvenirs and simply enjoying the city.
The remainder of our time in Mongolia has been very relaxed, mainly because of the incredibly friendly and honest people. We met nothing but amazing people and are leaving Mongolia with a warm heart.
Tomorrow we leave for China🤠. Since No Facebook, No Whatsapp nor WordPress is working there, we will get back to you with several blog posts two months from now. Adventure awaits!