Our first of many train rides began with Beijing to Ulaanbaatar; a 27 hour trip. This included one night on the train, border crossings (exiting China and entering Mongolia), as well as gauge changing on the trains. 27 hours went by surprisingly fast.
My friend and I were traveling during the peak season for the Trans Siberian and since we booked our train tickets through a 3rd party provider that specializes in Trans Siberian railway travel for foreigners, we were in a train car that was exclusively non-Chinese and non-Mongolian. Normally, I try to stay away from foreign-centric situations when I’m traveling but it was actually a lot of fun. It was really nice to be in a train car with others that were just as excited about their trips as we were. It was cool to hear everyone’s stories of where they would be stopping and why they were going on the Trans Siberian in the first place. My friend and I were with two other ladies in our train carriage who were from British. They were retired and using up their money to travel instead of leaving inheritances for their relatives. They were excellent company.
The Train to and from Ulaanbaatar and Beijing is a really popular route and also a very beautiful ride. I couldn’t help but stare out the window for hoouuuuurs. I have a kajillion landscape photos to prove it. This train also had a meal car just in case you didn’t bring enough food as well.
If you’re taking this route, you’ll stop in Erlian for about 3 hours. In Erlian your passports will be collected by Chinese border control. This is also the time where the undercarriages of the train will be changed to switch the gauges. China has a double track rail while Russia and Mongolia is single track. All the train cars will be detached from each other and lifted; where the undercarriages will then be changed. Your passports will get handed back to you at some point where you are given entry cards for Mongolia to be filled out. Since we were taking an overnight train, this happened at 1 a.m. We handed our passports to Mongolian border police at 1:30 a.m. and then got them back at 2:30 a.m. We were then able to sleep for the night.
The next day we woke up, had time to eat breakfast and hang out for a few hours before arriving in Ulaanbaatar.
We arrived in Ulaanbaatar on July 1. And I guess this year (2015) Ulaanbaatar decided to do daylight savings time unbeknownst to the rest of the world. So my phone automatically sets the time according to the network time. Normally, my phone will change to the correct time when I change time zones. So we get to Mongolia and our phones and the universal clock on the internet says one time and apparently, the actual time in Mongolia is one hour ahead. Of course I didn’t find this out because there are no clocks basically anywhere in Ulaanbaatar. Or ones that I just didn’t see or pay attention to. Basically, my friend and I didn’t know the correct time in Mongolia for about 10 days. Which after the fact, a few previous encounters started to make sense. When we thought people were politely early, we were just being rudely late, we later realized.
So anyways, lesson learned. Always ask a local what time it is, because you never know, the internet may be lying to you.