This was definitely a first for me. If you need a ride somewhere, you can literally get in anybody's car and get lifted somewhere just as though you were in a taxi. It's like a real life version of that one video game Grand Theft Auto. This is a pretty cheap way to get around also, especially if you are short on time. The going rate is around T300-350 per kilometer, but they will try to teabag a foreigner for even more almost every time. Be prepared for any possibilities however. I heard from a couple of guys that younger drivers can sometimes get extremely opportunistic and try to hold you or your luggage at ransom until you pay them extraordinary amounts of money. Always negotiate the fare in advance and don't be fooled by tricks like "I meant 3,000 for each of you." If this happens, just firmly drop the previously agreed to amount of money on the back seat and tell them to "Take it deep" as you walk off.
By far the best way to get to UB from either Russia or China. Sure it's a 30 hour ride from Beijing, but the first class cabins are comfortable and it is an unbelievable way to see the Chinese and Mongolian countryside. The train makes a few stops along the way in a couple Chinese cities and remote Mongolian towns and it's a great way to see a lot all in one voyage-the Great Wall, the Gobi Desert, rock formations, mountains, and endless steppes.
The Trans-Mongolian Railway runs for 2215km between Ulan Ude on the Trans-Siberian Railway in Russia, with the Chinese city of Jining, by way of Ulaanbaatar. The line was built between 1949 and 1961 and in most of Mongolia it is single-track and in China dual-track. The gauge is 1520mm in Russia and Mongolia and 1435mm in China meaning that as change of gauge is required at the Mongolian/Chinese border.
I took train No.24 on a Thursday morning at 08:05 from Ulaanbaatar to Beijing (which you arrive at 14:05 the following day) and it was one of the best train journeys I've ever done. I had reserved a 'soft-class' sleeper at the International Railway Ticketing Centre across the road from the main railway station in UB. The train carriage I was in looked very new and my compartment, (which I was lucky enough to have all to myself for the whole journey), featured two bunk beds on one side and an armchair in a corner on the other side with a table in front. Two compartments share a toilet which is located in between the two with a door from each so as to access it (you have to remember to lock the next door compartments door when you go in!). I was staggered to find, not only a WC and sink like you get on a plane but also a shower with a detachable head! The journey to Beijing is beautiful and really has to be done if you're thinking of travelling between the two capitals. I've written more about it on my Mongolia page.
Taxis are cheap, charging around T300-350 per kilometre, but a foreigner will get overcharged easily so insist that the driver uses his meter. Locals also flag down passing cars and use them as taxis. I had to take one of these from the airport to the city centre as there were no taxis around but you have to negotiate a fee before you set off.
If you're planning on heading out of Mongolia on a train via the Trans-Mongolian or Trans-Siberian Railway, then this is the place to come to in order to reserve a ticket NOT the main railway station. I took the train from Ulaanbaatar to Beijing and came here to get a ticket. The system in order to get a ticket is a bit weird and old fashioned which I will now explain. Firstly, don't go straight to the Beijing or Moscow counters (there are signs directing you the way). Instead, go to room 109. Here, a woman will check the availability on a computer and then write something down on a piece of paper for you. Take this to the counter of your choice where you can then pay (albeit eventually). The whole system is very archaic as I didn't know about "room 109" and so stood in line at the counter for 30 minutes before being told to go to the room first. Why everything can't be done at the counter (as they have a computer there), I don't know but now you know what to do. Anyway, my lovely soft-class sleeper ticket cost T133,150.
Getting to/from the airport is a little tricky if you decide to use public transport. It's a better option to take a "taxi" (basically a normal car) from outside the terminal. I took one driven by a young guy into the city centre for T10,000 (togrogs) on a rough looking road past dozens of American style billboards and some pretty rough looking places that doesn't give you the best first impression of the city.
Ulaanbaatar's Chinggis Khaan International Airport, formerly known as Buyant Ukhaa Airport until it was renamed to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the establishment of a Mongolian State on December 21, 2005, is the only international hub within Mongolia. It's located about 18km to the south-west of the city and was reconstructed in 1990. Only MIAT (Mongolian Airlines), Air China, Aeroflot and Korean Air fly to Ulaanbaatar and it is also the country's hub for domestic flights with airlines such as Eznis, Aero Mongolia and, again, MIAT. The airport is fairly small and it is possible to change money at exchange desks or banks located on the upper floor.
I arrived by local train from Irkutsk (Russia) one early morning in UB when it was still dark. I left UB again by local train to Shaynshand in the South which lies on the line to Beijing.
The UB railway station is quite big with restaurant, shops and left luggage. Since I didn't have to buy the ticket by myself, I can only tell you what other travellers in the UB guesthouse expericed.
As far as I know you buy the international tickets not in the railway station itself but down the road in a separate building. Now, since there are only usually two trains per week this can be tricky say in September (when I was there) or plain impossible. In that case try to use an agency if though it's more expensive. Agencies usually have a whole bunch of tickets reserved for them. If this fails which is likely in peak season, you can either fly to Beijing (missing out on stunning landscape) or take the local train to the end station Erlian, walk across the border and then take a bus onwards. You will be told to just follow the crowd when leaving the train. Lots of Mongolian traders take this route.
There are plenty of buses and trolleybuses. They can be very crowded and also it seems to be next to impossible to figure out where they go etc. I suggest you walk or take a taxi unless you have a local with you or at least local instructions.
NEED A DRIVER?: we can recommend you Mejet who has been a wonderful traveling companion and was always ready to help us. Mejet, for 90$/day/jeep, will show you his marvellous country which he knows perfectly. You can be sure that almost every night will be spent in gers; he will pick you up on arrival and he can arrange your accommodations. CONTACT: www.mongoliatours.org
Tel/Fax: ++ 976 11 45 41 67 (English, Russian)
BE AWARE THAT MEJET RECEIVES A LOT OF REQUESTS…SO DON’T WAIT TOO LONG…and sometimes the jeeps are as hard to find as good drivers.
TIP: according your satisfaction and of course you aren’t obliged…
We took a train from Beijing to UB. Approx. 1,5 day with long stay on border crossing.
Clean, roomy cabins (2nd class - 4 person), recommend to bring your food and share with others during the trip. At the end of each carriage is "samovar" with hot water so you can always make hot drinks, soups etc. Not so expensive as well, book earlier if possible. And enjoy beautiful sights from your window.
I took the Trans Mongolian Railway from Beijing to Ulan Bator. Then after my brief stop over of one and a half days spent in and around the capital the Trans Siberian Railway onwards into Russia.
Rail travel is by far the best way to experience the landscape of Mongolia in comfort. The view from the dining car a perfect platform to watch the landscape go by.
There were three dining cars of declining standard and quality from Beijing to Moscow, however by far the Chinese / Mongolian one was the most luxurious and comfortable.
Public buses cost 200 tugrig for adults (less than quarter dollar) and 100 for kids, but it is not advisable to take public buses. The reasons for that are:
1. Buses are old and unreliable, always congested and bus routes are relatively short.
2. Most mid-income families have cars and only those who cannot afford taxi or buses (or too lazy to walk) take public buses. Environment is not very pleasant.This leads to the most important reason:
VERY HIGH RATE OF THEFT! Be careful, keep a close eye on your pockets.
The Trans-Mongolian Railway is the only international train crossing Mongolia, from Moscow to Beiing and visa-versa. The train stops at the station only for half an hour. So, if you have to continue your journey, you can get just out the train, have look at the railway station and jump in the train again. The railwaystation of Ulaanbaatar had a restaurant, a small shop and a postoffice, but would undergo renovations after our visit in 1991. There was a separate building selling international traintickets with the sign '' International Railway Ticketing Office".
We travelled to Ulan Baatar by the Trans-Mongolian Railway, a Russian train, leaving from Moscow at tuesday evening and arriving 5 days later in Ulaanbaatar on sunday morning. The Transmongolian railway will arrive in Beijing on monday afternoon.
At the platform of Ulaanbaatar we had to say goodbye to our two Russian fellow travellers, who would continue to Beijing. They gave us ''the order of the Russian samuvar'' in the form of a pin.