Border Crossing: Mongolia to China

Our last day in Ulaanbaatar was very chilled, we did some sightseeing, some souvenir shopping and had a great dinner in a nearby bar. We were up and ready bang on for 6.30am – which is a small miracle for us that we were all on time. Our driver picked us up and Bujuu was meeting us at the train station.

This train was totally different again! It had delightful copper fringing on the bed sheets and a really fancy tablecloth. There were even TVs! But we never figured out how to use them…

My Tom, Aussie Tom, Florine, me and Bujuu (left to right)

As we travelled through Mongolia, the landscape gradually altered. There were less and less gers, less and less people and the snow slowly disappeared. The scenery consisted of dusty plain lands, it was easy to imagine it being forty degrees outside he way the sun shoe so brightly across the desert-like landscape. But no, it was still minus something and forty degrees inside the train.

Florine made me laugh this morning. As we’d got the train so early, the sun hadn’t come up yet. Whilst the rest of us were snoozing, Florine decided to film the sun rise out of her window. She did this for twenty minutes, thinking she was filming a time-lapse video and it would be really cool to see it sped up afterwards. What she’d actually done was film it in slow motion. So a twenty minute film of the sun rise, turned into an hour and forty-seven minute film of the sun rising, extra slowly. I was absolutely crying with laughter when we realised what she’d done.

Now we’d heard some horror stories about the border crossing into China; that we would be waiting up to ten hours whilst immigration checked our documents and the wheels on the trains were changed. China have different train tracks to Mongolia so they change the wheels on the train, we were excited to see this!

We reached the Mongolian border, handed our passports over and the usual rigmorale of the carriages being detached, reattached and moved up and down the tracks began. We were only at the Mongolian border for about two hours, even though the train was busy, it was relatively quick and painless. The best thing about the border crossing is that because the carriages are detached and move, they have no power, which means the heating doesn’t work. So we all enjoyed cooling down over the next couple of hours. All of us have complained [to one another] about the heat on the trains, it’s like some kind of torture.

We had roughly less than one hour to reach the Chinese border. We’d prepared ourselves for having no toilet access for ten hours by not drinking anything. The stifling heat in the carriages made this nearly impossible, we succumbed to the ice cold water cooler and filled our mugs. We’d brought empty plastic bottles with us specifically for any emergency wees – luckily they weren’t needed.

We reached the Chinese border at about 9.30pm. The usual process of the immigration officials collecting the passports took place, they then had a quick look around our cabin but didn’t ask us to open any bags or anything. Maybe the smell of the cabin and the sheer amount of stuff we all have with us made them think it wasn’t worth searching us fully.

Then the changing of the wheels started! The carriages were noisily bumped along the rails into a huge warehouse where giant jacks lift them about five feet off the floor. The wheels are removed and replaced with a new set. This is done carriage by carriage so although we couldn’t see what was happening to our own, we could watch other carriages have their wheels changed. It was really interesting, for the first ten or fifteeen minutes. We then retreated back to our cabin where I fell asleep for the night. 

I’ve woken up this morning in China! The scenery again is very different, there isn’t a scrap of snow in sight. We’re okay with this though, I think all four of us are all snowed-out for the time being. I’m quite looking forward to wearing normal footwear and not big clumpy snow boots. We should reach Beijing at around half past eleven this morning. Sophie and Judy (the Aussie girls doing the Vodkatrain trip the other way around to us) said that there is a nail salon close to the hotel – I’d mentioned getting my nails done – and that it has dwarf cats you can fuss whilst getting your nails done! I cannot wait to find this salon!