Trans-Mongolian Train Trip – Beijing to Ulaanbaatar

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Trans-Mongolian train route 542

1561 km from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar

We’ve just finished the Trans-Mongolia train trip from Beijing to Moscow. We didn’t take the regular straight through train trip nor did we get off and on at various places along the way. We did it easy on the chartered Zarengold train run by the Berlin-based German operator Lernidee Reisen.

798 complex Beijing 271The Russian train can’t run all the way to Beijing because while Chinese trains run on broad gauge the Russian ones run on an even broader gauge. The Russian trains used to cross the Mongolian border to the Chinese town of Erlian so you got off the Chinese train from Beijing on one side of the platform and got on the Russian one on the other. Then the Russian trains were not allowed to cross into China so you had to make a 10km bus connection from the Chinese side (Erlian) to the Mongolian side (Zamyn Uud).

◄ In Beijing before we departed we went to the 798 complex of art galleries and shops. I spoke to an enthusiastic audience of Chinese travellers at the UCCA (Ullens Center for Contemporary Art) as part of the relaunch with Sinomaps of Lonely Planet guidebooks in China. Perhaps the dinosaurs, one of the art exhibits, were a preview of our upcoming travels?

On our trip stage one took us by bus from Beijing to Erlian, because the Chinese government had suddenly requisitioned the chartered Chinese train and left us in the lurch. You thought you’d chartered the train? Hah. When it gets dark I discover that my seat back is stuck and won’t recline so I sit bolt upright all night.

Beijing-Erlian night stop 542
▲ The 14-hour overnight bus trip was not fun, here we are at a 3am roadside stop.

dinosaurs approaching Erlian 542
▲ The last few km into Erlian was marked by wind turbines and dinosaurs by the roadside. The Chinese are promoting Erlian as their dinosaur town and further north in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia there have been lots of dinosaur finds, as we saw during our visit to Mongolia back in 2007.

Crossing the Gobi 542
▲ On board the train we set off across the Gobi Desert to Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. It’s grown a lot – particularly the traffic – since our visit six years ago.

Mongolian horsemen 542
▲ The next day we make a trip out to the Terelj national park, where we watch the ‘manly sports’ – archery, wrestling and racing around on horses. Having done some spectacular ‘snatching things off the ground while at full gallop’ displays this young horseman then raced around trying to catch other horses with a lariat-like loop on the end of a stick.

Ulaanbaatar dinosaur 542
▲ They do like dinosaurs in Mongolia.

Mongol outfits 542
▲ Back in Ulaanbaatar there were celebrations for the results of a recent election, with lots of people dressed up in national costume and happily posing for photographs for each other. And visiting tourists.

Mongol horsemen 542
▲ Finally a long parade of Mongolian horsemen cantered up to the parliament building for a bringing-down-the-flag ceremony. Then we got back on the train and headed off for Russia.