Train from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar

| 4 min read

Train from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar

When we woke up on Tuesday morning, it was raining. This, along with heavy thunder had been going on all night. It felt like this was Beijing saying goodbye. The day before, our Couchsurfing host Victoria had told me they sometimes close metro stations after heavy rainfall. Looking outside, I started panicking we wouldn't have a metro to the train station.

I had been worrying for no reason, as we reached the train station easily. There was a huge crowd on the square in front of the train station and it was not clear where the entrance was. People were queueing in front of Chinese signs that could mark a destination... or something else entirely. When we saw the word 'entrance', we headed straight towards it, but this turned out to be the entrance to the ticket sales, not to the train platforms. After asking around, we learned we had to join the queues, but which one? Everything was written in Chinese. Many westerners had gathered in one of the lines... We asked, and, bingo, that's was our line too.

Our platform in the Beijing station

From hereon, everything went smoothly. We found our carriage, installed in our little cabin that we shared with a British guy and a Canadian girl. In the train we had access to electricity plugs, hot water, a sink and a toilet. Wifi would have been nice, but this was already much more than we had expected.

And then, at 11h22, we departed. We waved Beijing goodbye and watched the landscapes changing quickly: from ugly urban outskirts to green landscapes with mountains and lakes to the steppe to the Gobi desert...

For hours and hours we rode through vast stretches of emptiness. This was so peaceful. And we had time. Time to do nothing, time to look through the window, time to chat, time to write blogs, time to watch a video, time to read, time to think... It felt so relaxing. And the day passed by quickly. I didn't even find the time to do all the lazy activities I had planned on doing.

Bad quality picture taken from the train: lake and mountains Bad quality picture taken from the train: grassfields as far as the eye can see Watching the world go by Preparing for Russia!

Around 21h we reached the Mongolian border. We would spend quite some time here. The undercarriage of the train had to be changed, because the rails in China and Mongolia are of a different size. We could stay on the train, but were heavily shaken during those few hours. The food cart was also changed: the Chinese food cart was replaced by a Mongolian one (that sold ridiculously expensive food). Upon exiting the Chinese border, we were asked to hand over our passport. The same happened at the Mongolian border. But once we had passed the Mongolian border, around 1 or 2 am, an officer woke us up again. Half asleep, we obeyed his commands. Hand the passports - get out off bed - stand up - show our faces - lift our beds (to show what's stored underneath) - do 20 push-ups. (No, just kidding about the last one.) I felt like a soldier in the army who was brutally woken up for no reason but routine exercises.

Workers on a break after changing the undercarriage of the train

I think it was 3am when they finally stopped bothering us with passport controls. I fell asleep and slept like a baby. Around 6am I woke up, hoping to see something of the Gobi desert. I quickly took a picture, then went back to bed and slept in until noon.

At 14h20, Mongolian time, we had arrived in Ulaanbaatar. Time for a new adventure!

Practical information

  • What to pack for you train ride: new article coming soon...
  • We booked our tickets from China Highlights. Seat 61 recommends them as a trustworthy organisation, so we gave them a try. And we didn't regret it. They were easy to communicate with and they quickly replied to all my questions. We paid the entire sum in advance through Paypal and later picked up the paper tickets in their office in Beijing.
  • The tickets were quite expense (around 240 usd per person), but we wanted to be sure to leave on the day we had planned. If you are more flexible with your travel planning, you can get tickets in the Beijing train station for a much lower price.
  • This China train guide will give you useful insights on how to navigate the Chinese railway system if you don't speak the language.

Hallway of our train carriage Detail of the carpet Documents for border control Hallway of our train carriage Detail of the carpet Documents for border control


Do you have questions? Did you experience something similar? Did you notice a mistake? Please share!

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