A Travellerspoint blog

Mongolia

Train from Ulaanbaatar to Irkutsk


View 2005 Trans-Mongolian Rail Journey on alexchan's travel map.

large_5550_11661276628929.jpgAre we there yet?
We boarded the train that would take us from Mongolia into Russia. We had been booked on the "slow" train as the fast one didn't go on the day we wanted. I couldn't work out why the slow train was so much slower until ...

* we got to the Mongol exit point at Sukh Baatar at about 0400 ... and waited till 0900 for exit formalities to begin
* then about 1100 before we chugged forward for 20 minutes to Naushki on the Russian side
* then began our entry formalities
* then waited till 1620 before continuing our journey. Everything was like clock-work but with long stops.

Hence we sat at the border all day! About a third of the entire journey time! Toilets were locked and we had to resort to station toilets which were disgusting on the Russian side.large_5550_11661276657972.jpgOn the train in the four-bunk second class cabin. Cosy and friendly atmosphere.

Most interesting thing about the border crossing was the smuggling. Lots of people carry goods which they hide (eg. wear several layers of new shirts, stuff hidden in ceiling panels)

We were offered a pair of plastic sandals (worth $1 perhaps) to safe-keep for the crossing ... promptly retrieved after the crossing. I guess they must have had a big bag of them. And the conductors take a supporting role in hiding these goods for the passengers (for a fee presumably).

I think we mentioned that we booked 2nd class for this leg, ie. a cabin of 4 people. We shared this with Liz and Sarah, Australian and Canadian (respectively) who have just completed a couple of years teaching in Japan. Liz's Mum is from Kuching!

Had lots of fun with our companions - eating, chatting, drinking etc. The scenery changed from arid grassland to forests and lakes. We even saw a frozen lake as we approached Irkutsk.

This train didn't have a dining car so it was very much indoor picnics with cup noodles, bread, ham and cheese. Lots of tea. Very enjoyable actually.

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Mongolia Comments (0)

Town and country


View 2005 Trans-Mongolian Rail Journey on alexchan's travel map.

large_5550_11661277104336.jpgDowntown Ulaanbaatar's main square.
Please note that links to external sites were correct when this blog was written. However, they may no longer be valid.

Entry into Mongolia was a breeze except that it was about 1am. I had been worried about not having a visa ... officially

visa free for me but as always, one is at the mercy of the official who can sometimes be ignorant or corrupt.

We spent our first night in Mongolia in a ger [http://www.meridianmagazine.com/articles/images/4ger.jpg](or traditional nomadic tent) at the Terelj National Park 80km outside Ulaan Baatar. In the outdoors, it was hot when the sun was shining but cold otherwise. The nights were freezing but we had the family's daughter creep into our tent every few hours to stoke the fire .large_5550_11661277145350.jpgIt was graduation season. Many children dress up to have their photos taken with family. .. what a job, as there were quite a few tents for her to do ... she must have stayed up all night.

Mongolia is an odd blend of China and Russia. People, traditional buildings (eg. temples) and traditional dress, musical instruments appear Chinese. Most other buildings, being newer look Russian ... you'd be excused for thinking you're in Russia when standing in the main square [http://www.travelogues.net/Trans_Siberian/images/Ulaan_Baatar/executive_building.jpg].

The history is equally odd ... a case of out of the pot into the fire. They escaped Manchu-Chinese rule to become under Russian influence. An influence so strong that they abandoned their traditional writing script for Cyrillic. To compare Mongolia and Tibet .large_5550_11661277203684.jpgGers at Terelj National Park... Tibet appears more Tibetan than Mongolia is Mongolian.

Mongolia is cheap, like China ... I saw chewing gum being sold by the pellet out of a normal package. Our guide (for a few hours), called Alma, earns USD80 per month and cannot afford to buy her own apartment which may cost USD16,000 for a one-bedroom with kitchen. I thought she was Mongolian as she looked pretty Chinese, but was in fact Kazakh (Cossack), part of a small Muslim minority.

Like many undeveloped or developing countries, Mongolia imports used cars from Japan (and Korea). But they drive on the US/Europe side rather than the UK side. Which means they have RHD and LHD vehicles on the same road. Ignoring the safety aspects, I think this shouldn't be allowed ... they are competing with New Zealand for used cars from Japan, making it more expensive for us!

Ulaan Baatar is home to a few interesting museums including one with rebuilt skeletons of dinosaurs and pre-historic mammals.large_5550_11661277254888.jpgGers at Terelj National Park.Also had fossils and bones from things 100 million years old. We also attended a cultural evening where we were entertained with throat-singing ... where singing is done using deeply generated voices, ranging from guttral to high-pitched. The contortionists were amazing ... I think Cirque de Soleil should recruit from here rather than China so they can lower their ticket prices.

Ulaan Baatar is modernising ... the first American eating chain opened the day we arrived ... not Starbucks, Subway or McDonalds ... but a brand called "Mongolian BBQ". Like selling ice to eskimos. It has some catching up to do in many ways though ... the greatest hazard to us is the lost manhole covers on the side walks and in the middle of the roads. I've seen on TV before that streetkids live under the streets ... maybe they're technically sub-streetkids?

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Mongolia Comments (0)

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