Excited for our Mongolia journey, we were up and ready at 5:30 am and soon in a cab to catch our 8:05 am train from Beijing Station (北京站).
After a quick snack at the station, we lined up with Chinese, Mongolians and other nationalities to board the train direct to Ulan Bator.
There were four people to our cabin and our two roommates (male and female) were Mongolian. We had 30 hours to get to know them and they were both very friendly, though only Tseren could speak Chinese. He works at the Mongolian embassy and he gave us a great introduction to his country and some tips on sites to visit. His sister lives in Laos and they are both going home to visit the family.
The Mongolian run Trans-Siberian train was quite clean and the cabins were comfortable. Bathrooms were at the end if each hallway and well maintained. We also had air conditioning so the cabins were very cool.
Once underway we went through western Beijing and then north.
For lunch, we walked a long way to the end of the train to the dining cart. They served overpriced Chinese dishes, but at least there was beer!
Throughout the ride, the train made a few stops (DaTong, ZhuRiHe, etc) but often not long enough to get off.
We chat, admired the scenery and relaxed until we arrived at the border town, Erlian (二连).
The main purpose of our stop was to go through immigration on the Chinese side and have the train outfitted for Mongolian railways, which are wider than the tracks in China. We heard that it was a two hour stop, but it ended up being much longer.
For the immigration process, another person was assigned to our cabin. Then two immigration officers collected our passports.
After that process, we left the train in search of a restaurant for dinner with our roommates and their friend also traveling on the train.
We found a small family Chinese restaurant with only two employees working. We ordered a filling meal and chat in English and Chinese to our Mongolian friends.
After dinner the train still wasn’t ready so we sat outside over a beer.
Eventually we were allowed back on the train and waited for the immigration officers to come back on and had us our passports with our exit stamps in place. The screech of the train’s wheels in motion was joy to my ears, but my happiness abruptly faded when we came to another stop.
The person that joined our cabin hung around until the Mongolian immigration came around and collected our passports again. We waited a long while until they were back with our passports and entry stamps. I smiled and high-fived Christina to celebrate entering country 50!
At this point our new cabin-mate disappeared for most of the trip. Apparently this is how they train staff make extra money, by letting people onboard who haven’t purchased a ticket and then crowding them into rooms during inspections. They must make some money on the side for each person.
With the chaotic stop over complete, we cozied up in our little compartment for some rest, as we had a long day ahead of us.