Beijing to Ulaanbaatar by rail
Trip Start Dec 14, 2007
188Trip End Mar 16, 2009
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We shared our four sleeper cabin with an American chap called Charles and therefore fortunately had one free bed to pack our excess luggage that wouldn't fit into the tiny luggage compartments under the bed. The rest of our car was filled with western travellers from Australia, UK, and Hawaii.
The landscape through north western China constantly changes from the mountainous peaks around Beijing to fertile farm lands to long sweeping grass plains to endless deserts as you get closer to Mongolia and the Gobi desert
The trip from Beijing station to Ulaanbaatar the capital of Mongolia typically takes 30 hours but can take much longer as border crossings and custom checks are unpredictable.
As trains tracks between China and Mongolia have a different width, 1000mm - 1520mm which is based on the Russian standard gauge. The whole process means that each and every car needs to be hydraulically lifted and the wheels replaced with a new wider set.
Typically this whole process takes just over three hours but on the particular night it went on for five long hours. During this time you have the choice of getting off the train and waiting in the stations departure hall or remaining on the train to watch the bogies being changed. The only problem with staying on the train is that the toilets are locked for the entire time the train is in the station and 30 minutes either side of the station. We opted to stay on board and watch the wheels being changed and watch a movie or two. The train finally got going a little after 2am when we could finally get to the loo and turn in and get some sleep.
When we woke we were deep into the Gobi desert and where with nothing but sand for miles and miles with only an occasional camel or horse dotting the landscape. The closer we got to Ulaanbaatar the more frequently we started seen herds of cattle and goats, prides of horses and Ger camps which made the last few hours of the journey fly by.
When we arrived in Ulaanbaatar we were met by our guide, Oggie, who would be looking after us for the next few days. We were whisked away to a nearby hotel where we could freshen up in a Japanese style bath house (Onsen) before making our way to the Mongolian styled Ger Camp for the next few days. It was an amazing feeling to be able to have a thorough wash after 2 days on the train even thought the onsen ritual was a little foreign to us.