Ticketing options were limited to $250 each for a bed in a 4 bed compartment or $165 in a 6 bed compartment, all the way through to Ulaan Bataar. So time to take the tough option - $15 each to the border at Erlian and try to pick up a local train to UB for between $20-$30 with a possible border crossing by Jeep adding another $15. Worst case we were hoping to get to UB for about $60 each vs $250. In the back of my mind I couldn't help but think we could be in the same trains.
From Hohhot to Erlian we were in a 4 bed compartment overnight with very thick doona’s. We got off in Erlian and had a 3 hour wait to find out about our next options.
We went to a Chinese restaurant to have some tea to warm up – Erlian was bitterly cold. Somehow “tea”, “chai” and/or “lipton” translated to red bean and barley gruel with mutton dumplings and pickled turnip. Nothing to wash it down with but when they saw that Molly wasn’t enjoying this fine fare some deep fried flat breads, a bit like donuts without the hole were brought out. We then spent 2 hours getting info and sitting in the lounge of a nearby hotel.
By 10:30 we had onward tickets on a train crossing the border in the evening - $11 for a brief run through customs and immigration, arriving at Zamyn Ude a couple of hours later. I was told it was cheaper and more convenient then a road crossing by Russian Jeep. Plus I was further assured by several Mongolian ladies and the ticket office that once on the train I could buy tickets for the onward journey to Ulaan Bataar on the train – in fact we would not need to leave the train.
And so it was true! We paid $36 each for tickets to UB, with Molly getting a discount and only having to pay $26. We were very happy with our savings although the train ride was our worst yet…….
The day waiting in Erlian was pleasant but cold. We walked around town for about 5 hours, visiting the park, dinosaur sculptures, markets and a couple of Chinese fast food joints and coffee houses to warm up. There were a lot of Russian made jeeps zooming around with Mongolian plates, seriously overloaded with bad body work, sagging suspension and asthmatic motors. The train option looked the better choice.
So boarding was simple. Being an international train (our first!) we arrived over an hour early, cleared Chinese immigration at the border and jumped straight on the train. Good to be early as we left 10 minutes before scheduled departure time!
A short delay at the border proper and then onto Zamyn Ude where we surrendered our passports, filled out some forms and bought our tickets to UB. Within a couple of hours all was done…….and then we were told we could do what ever we wanted as the train would not leave for another two hours! So I wandered aimlessly around the station and town square whilst the girls patiently waited on the train, less than impressed with our Chinese cabin buddy who sang and mumbled to himself non-stop and had a crazed look with wild hair, a bit like Wilhem Dafoe in some movie where he was really spaced out.
It was cool outside but entertaining and not at all unpleasant. We are in Mongolia!
From Ulaan Bataar we are heading straight out to the Steppes for some relaxation............Molly wants to catch a fish.