I am guessing you’re here because you have already seen our posts and we have convinced you to go to Mongolia. Or maybe, it has been on your bucket list for a while and your now ready to take the plunge and venture out into the wilderness of Mongolia. We know all too well that flights into Mongolia are not exactly budget backpacker friendly, so why not take the overland route from China to Mongolia. Whilst you’re at it, journey along the famous trans-Mongolian rail. Here is our step by step guide on how to make the overland journey; the CHEAPEST way.
Go to Muxiyuan Bus Station
After getting your passport stamped with a Mongolian visa in Beijing, make your way to Muxiyuan bus station. To get to Muxiyuan bus station take subway line 10 (blue line) and get off at Dahongmen. When you exit the subway station, you will need to make your North way up Nanyuan road (on the right-hand side). The walk is about 1km to the bus station.
Book a Bus To Erlian (also known as Erenhot)
The station isn’t exactly a station, it’s more like a big car park full of buses. Ask around for a bus going to Erlian. You shouldn’t need to book in advance unless it is a public holiday or it is approaching Mongolian summer time; when many Mongolian expats living in Beijing make their way to their motherland, for the summer holiday.
Unfortunately for us, the buses were fully booked – GREAT! Just one more thing to add to our disastrous time in China. Just as we were losing the will to live, a man at the bus station said he had space for us on his bus. He insisted that we follow him to a separate parking lot behind the official bus station – as sketchy as this sounds, we took our chances anyway; with our Chinese visa due to expire and a wasted 5 days in Beijing already, we were more than ready to wave goodbye to China. Luckily, everything turned out just fine. We paid 200 Yuan ($30) for a sleeper bus to Eralin. The bus was due to leave at 5pm but it ended up leaving more like 7.30pm.
Arrive in Erlian
The bus took 11 hours to reach the border town, with a few stops in-between. We stopped once around midnight at a service station, to use the loo and to grab a bite to eat, and once in the middle of the night for a few hours, before continuing to the border town at sunrise. When you arrive, you will exit out of a bus terminal where you will be greeted with many taxi/ tuk tuk drivers. Hop into a taxi and head to Dinosaur Square, which is about a 10-minute drive away. The taxi costs 20 Yuan ($3).
Take a Mini-Van Across the Border to Zamiin Uud
On Dinosaur Square you will see many jeeps/ minivans that will take you across the border. The driver will wait for you whilst you stamp out of China, drive you to the Mongolian Embassy, wait for you again and then finally take you to the square where the train station is located. The whole process is very simple and takes around 1.5 hours. We paid 50 Yuan ($7.50) each for the van and shared it with other people; albeit more people than there are seats. After a squished-up journey across the border, whilst making small talk with Mongolian locals and trying to get to grips with basic Mongolian words, we had officially made it into Mongolia. Finally, half way there; China to Mongolia!
Change Money, Buy Train Tickets, take a Shower and Eat
When you reach Zamiin Uud, exchange your left-over Yuan for Mongolian Tugrik and then head straight for the train station to book an overnight sleeper train to Ulaanbaatar. Are you ready for it? This is the cool part… the train your about to get on is actually part of the trans-Mongolian rail and it’s shockingly cheap; compared to prices you will be quoted to go straight through from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar. DRUM ROLL PLEASE! The price…. 35,500 Tugrik ($15).
After booking your sleeper cart, there are plenty of places around the square to have a bite to eat. If like us, your feeling grubby and in desperate need for a cool shower, you can book into a hotel room for a couple of hours, at a discounted price. We found fellow travelers whilst crossing the border and we all chipped in for a cheap hotel room. Between 4 of us, we paid $2.50 each for the privilege of taking a shower and charging our phones.
Board the Train and Journey Along the Beautiful Landscape
It’s finally time to relax and enjoy the last leg of your overland journey from China to Mongolia. The train leaves around 5.30pm and this is when you will get your first glimpse into the beautiful Mongolian countryside. Make your bed, get cozy, drink tea, play card games and enjoy chugging along through ever rolling green fields. Eventually, you will doze off and before you know it, you will arrive in Ulaanbaatar at around 9am.
There you have it! The cheapest way to from China to Mongolia. The journey cost a grand total of $55.50 per person. Much cheaper than flying or taking the trans-Mongolian rail all the way from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar. We hope you enjoy your trip to Mongolia and if you still haven’t booked a tour, found out how to get one here.