Move Forward and Never Be Still

Overland Border Crossing: China to Mongolia

So my Mongolia/China trip just ended several weeks ago. How do I feel about it? I still feel amazing that I was able to finally conquer the Land of the Blue Sky. Why is it called the

? Well because on good days, the skies are a mesmerizing blue. Clear, crisp and romantic.

My friend and I planned this trip almost a year back. Back when Mongolia was just a hazy dream for us. But when we were able to score cheap round trip tickets to Beijing from Manila, I knew that we would find ourselves in Mongolia’s wide deserts. And so we did.

From Beijing, we took a domestic flight via Capital Airlines to the border city of Erlian also called Erenhote. Our flight deplaned at Erlian Airport at past 12 MN. Erlian is a sleepy town which mostly caters to the businesses of going to and from the border. The airport was a good thirty minutes away from downtown. There were drivers badgering us with a taxi ride to our hotel. But good thing that they had free bus transfer to the city. The biting cold surprised us. After being dropped off somewhere in the middle of the city, my friend and I decided to walk towards our hotel. The streets were lit but I couldn’t help but feel that we were entering a ghost town. I almost thought we did but that thought was squashed by the occasional people wandering late at night. Perhaps to buy snacks somewhere?

After spending a few hours of sleep, my friend and I was helped to a taxi by the non-English speaking staff of our hotel. We arrived at Erlian International Bus station before 8 AM and were able to secure two bus tickets to Ulaanbaatar for CNY 180 each. We would discover later on that our ticket also includes a free meal at one of the stopovers.

Our bus left at exactly 10 AM. Our whole transfer to the Mongolian border town of Zamin Uud took two hours. Though the rest of our trip had gone smoothly, the immigration transfers proved to be a hassle as we needed to get off and on our bus with our heavy luggages in tow. But then, after seeing the Mongolian arrival stamp in my passport, I just smiled as I knew I was already living my dream. 🙂

You can’t miss the border (Chinese) side. Once you see a concrete rainbow arch (sorry I was unable to take a shot as the bus was moving fast), you will be asked to go down and fall in line upon exiting China. The same goes on the Mongolia side. What I noticed is that security is really tight as Chineese and Mongolian officers repeatedly went up and down our bus for inspection.

At 12 PM, we have succesfully finished the border control procedures. Once back in my seat, my attention is now focused on the road ahead. Nothing can be seen for miles and miles ahead except for some lonely gers mounted in the middle of rolling plains.

After an hour of traveling from the border, the bus stopped by the road. I thought that our bus had a mechanical problem. But to our surprise, it as actually a restroom break. I was asking my friend where exactly can we relieve ourselves?! And here’s what we found.

The girls lined up at this lonely outhouse while the guys spread out a little farther from the road. Some just took their time to stretch their arms while others took their cigarette break. Some Mongolians like to smoke! Well, I guess because of the weather. It keeps them warm maybe? I remember when it was my turn to pee, I was facing the imaginary door and welcomed the world to see ‘me’. haha! No one was there to take a peek anyway. So it was safe.

At about half past two, we took our lunch break in a small town. I thought that it was all desert and cows but the settlement even had banks and gas stations and resident areas. Though I was unable to withdraw in an ATM. The connection was always timing out! All we had was CNY. We did not have any local currency yet. To our amazement, we also did not think of buying snacks for our whole day ride. You may ask us why? It just didn’t occur to us while waiting for our departure back at the terminal. Lol!

That’s why it was good thing that one of the Mongolians who talked to us mentioned that our ticket already included a free meal. If not, we can only eat until our arrival at Ulaanbaatar that night. We only had water to drink. We could’ve been starving!

The rest of out trip was quiet and uneventful. I was drifting in and out of sleep. And every time I wake up I still see the same landscape. The approximate distance between Ulaanbaatar and Erlian was 880 miles. Darkness finally enveloped the landscape during our last stop. As me and my friend hopped off the bus, we were greeted immediately by the biting cold. I already had an idea what kind of weather we need to endure in the days to come.

We met a young Mongolian couple who were traveled in China and Southeast Asia on our way into the country. They spoke good English and always asked us how we were doing. We were grateful to them as we felt safer in unfamiliar territory. They did not leave us even after our arrival and guided us to our hostel. I guess if it were not for them it would take us another hour of going to the city center since the bus terminal in Ulaanbataar was still a good 20 minute ride.

After checking in at our hostel, we stopped by the nearest convenience store and had a light dinner. We realized that it has been a very long day and our first day in the country was already an adventure in itself.

We were glad to see our beds and welcomed the heated room quite happily.

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