Trans-Mongolian Railway Memories; Mongolia to China

The Trans-Mongolian railway is about as epic as any rail journey gets. At over 6,000 kilometeres and at least 6 days long, some would struggle to refer to it as a rail holiday but it certainly is one hell of a rail adventure and absolutely an experience of a lifetime. Who’s got the bucket list? Tick!

We join our traveller who is currently in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, entering day 24 on their journey from St Petersburg to Beijing aboard the Trans-Mongolian Express:

“Up early at 5.45am for a hot shower and breakfast. There was neither.  We packed and were transferred from the Gan Zam Hotel to the station and waited in the cold morning sunshine for the train to arrive. We we’re quite excited about getting back on the train after our six day Ger Camp break in middle of no-where, Mongolia. Today we would also enter The People’s Republic of China, and tomorrow see the Great Wall and complete our epic rail journey.

Without delay we boarded the train found our compartment and took up our usual positions. After travelling for this amount of time, you know the routine. After a cup of tea, I decided to walk the length of the train – something I had not done before but it was very interesting. The biggest contrast to this leg of the journey was how quiet it was compared to travelling on the Russian trains which were noisy and full of people crossing their vast country to visit friends and relatives.  Clearly railway travel south from Mongolia to China is just not as popular!

Toward the rear of the train I found the first class carriages. Our carriage was fine, albeit rather ‘standard’. These carriages looked wonderful though.  Deluxe cabins with quality upholstery and furnishings and posh bathrooms…one day, I thought.

We slowly wound our way through the Mongolian Steppe, occasionally stopping and watching distant clouds drop their rain.

Gazing out from the carriage window, the landscape becomes 180 degree panorama of uninterrupted steppe; green-brown earth, endless blue sky and very little else bar the electricity wire running alongside the rail line. The only features to interrupt the landscape are wandering camels, grazing horses and occasional gers.

When travelling such distances by train, meals become a major feature of the day. Today, the lunch provided was a cheese and tomato sandwich on really nice bread. Not particularly Mongolian but delicious and welcome all the same.

By the afternoon we were well into the Gobi Desert and by the time the train stopped at Sainshand Station, it was incredibly hot and not much more than a dust-bowl of a station. As the stops in these towns are only brief,  the best feel you can get of a place is generally limited by as far as you can see and what local life meets the train. Unlike the Russian stations which teemed with activity, there was really not much happening.

As the evening closed in, we delved deep for an exquisite meal of dried noodles brought to life by the boiling hot water provided by the handy samovar (hot-water cylinder) located at the end of our carriage. Noodles for dinner had become a familiar ritual.

By 9pm we’d arrived at the border. There was little to see outside in the darkness as you sit waiting, trusting that you haven’t been forgotten about. Passports were checked by border officials from the People’s Republic of China and just as we thought we were on our way, our train was shunted into a long shed. This was a border crossing like no other.

The railways of Russia and Mongolia were built to a wider track gauge than the more universal standard gauge used in China and as such, the bogies on the carriages all have to be changed. We lay on our bunks peering out of the window as this fascinating process was undertaken with the carriage hoisted high off the ground. By midnight we were on our way heading south, destination Beijing. Time for some sleep.”

If you’re interested in experiencing the Trans-Mongolian Railway yourself or the Trans-Siberian Railway for that matter, feel free to contact LOCO to discuss your options. We have a number of tour options including a 20 day adventure from St Petersburg or in reverse,  a 23 day Beijing to St Petersburg overland adventure holiday.


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