Arrival & Ulaanbaatar
11.08.2018 - 13.08.2018
On Saturday, 11th of August, at 8:08 AM our train to Ulaanbaatar departed from Irkutsk. This was our first segment in the official Trans-Mongolian train (Train #4) and we don’t know whether it was because this train was already on route for 5 days or because it was run by the Chinese, but this train was much dirtier than our Russian trains so far. On the upside, this segment offered by far the most spectacular views of our journey. On the way to Ulan-Ude, we had beautiful views of the southern and eastern shore of Lake Baikal. After Ulan-Ude our train branched off from the Trans-Siberian track towards Mongolia. Quickly, the forests we’ve been staring at for days disappeared and vast open grasslands and hills, occasionally interrupted by a river or a lake, came into view. Only nightfall brought an end to this fascinating landscapes as we reached the Russian-Mongolian border. The border procedure took around 1½ hours on each side of the border but was entirely painless. It is a nice change from travelling by plane, that the border police and customs officers come to you, while you can just sit in your compartment and read a book. After a short night, we arrived in Ulaanbaatar on Sunday morning at 6:50.
Having a full 3 weeks in Mongolia, we took the luxury of not prearranging anything before coming here. Just the day before we booked two nights in Ulaanbaatar with an AirBnB host, to give us some time to plan our time in Mongolia. Our host Mida was a very friendly retired Mongolian woman who lives with her mom in an old apartment quite centrally in UB (as the locals call Ulaanbaatar). During our stay she prepared breakfast for us twice and cooked traditional Mongolian Buuz (dumplings with mutton meat) for lunch on the second day. On our first day we were exploring UB on foot. The city center, built around the national parliament of Mongolia and its huge statue of Chinggis Khaan, looks quite modern with many big glass skyscrapers. However, in the terrible traffic conditions one can see that this city has grown too fast for its infrastructure to catch up with.
On our second day in UB we walked through the city and stopped at many travel agencies that we have preselected for their good reviews, with the plan of comparing the offers and selecting the best one in the evening. Most agencies offered us perfectly packaged tours with personal driver and English speaking guide, unfortunately at prices that were stretching our budget a bit. Our last stop of the day was at Zaya guesthouse, where the friendly owner offered us a deal so good that we only needed 5 minutes to decide to take it. The deal included our personal driver and a 4x4 Toyota Landcruiser, all the expenses of the driver and all the expenses for the car (gas, road tolls), but no food or accommodation for us. There was a rough itinerary of bringing us to Northern Mongolia, Central Mongolia and the Gobi desert, but we had the full flexibility of deciding on the road where exactly we want to stay and how long to stay in which spot. Our driver would speak basic English and would be able to help us with organizing our accommodations and whatever else we needed. A personal guide was not included, but our Lonely Planet guidebook should be a good enough substitute for that. Already on the next morning we departed for our trip across Mongolia.