Our bags were backed and we were eager to start the next stage of our trip – travelling from Beijing to Moscow by train – the Trans-Mongolian. However, for the first leg of the trip we would travel by overnight bus to the border of China and Mongolia, cross the border by jeep then take the train from a border town called Zamin Ud to the capital of Mongolia Ulan Bataar. It seemed a little tricky, made even more complicated by the fact that we weren’t able to buy the bus tickets in advance.
We bade our farewells to Beijing and headed to the bus station well before the departure time, only to find that, surprise, surprise, all the tickets were already sold. Now in most countries this would mean game over, but in China – as in other parts of Asia – it seems this is where the “fun” begins. After five minutes of standing dumbstruck trying to think of our next move we were approached by touts offering us bus tickets – at a hirer price of course. Normally we would tell these types where to go, but we were keen to start the journey to Mongolia as soon as possible having already been delayed in Beijing waiting for visas. So we entered a clumsy negotiation, putting our Chinese counting skills to the test and managed to get the price a little lower, securing tickets for the bus leaving that night.
I started to have concerns when it seemed our ticket didn’t have a regular seat number on it and everyone we showed it when looking for the right bus grimaced in a confused way when they looked at it. But we managed to find the right bus and loaded our luggage on. But as the other passengers took their seats, the driver told us to wait – which seemed odd. Finally, with an entire busload of people watching our every move, we were directed to our seats. Or should I say our places in the aisle! It was a sleeper bus, and while all the passengers had horizontal beds, we had been sold spots in the aisle between the beds and were expected to make do with that for the next 13 hours!
Outraged, we (or should I say Roberto) demanded our money back and got our bags off the bus. Back to the hutongs of Beijing it was for us. Mongolia would have to wait for another day!
p.s. We did get the bus the next day and had a very comfortable ride to the border. Now the next four hours trying to cross the border was not so comfortable…but that’s another story!
The train was very comformatable complete with a little persian carpet on the floor and embroidered bed linen!
The view from the train heading across the grasslands of Mongolia to Ulan Bataar