The train from UIaanbaatar was at 7:30am, and several people from our hostel were going so we had a couple of taxis. Each taxi to the train station cost about 4000 Tugrug (£1.10ish), so between a few people it was basically nothing really. I shared a taxi with the 2 Austrian guys I’d been sharing a dorm with, and who also went on the Gobi Desert tour with me. I was on the same carriage as the Austrian guys, but a different compartment – my compartment had 2 Irish guys who had also been in our hostel, but who Beijing together and will meet again in Xi’An. But that’s another story…
Once the train was going, and we’d all introduced each other we enjoyed some breakfast before deciding it was time for a nap, considering the early morning we’d had. After waking again, I continued to have some great conversations with the Irish guys as we watched the scenery guy buy – it was great to be around Irish people again, and made me think about how much I missed Belfast (even though both these guys were from the Republic). Other people I’ve made friends with along the way have been awesome, but I think my humour doesn’t necessarily translate well!
*side note* – I’m currently on a high speed train in China from Beijing to Xi’An and it’s going 310km/h right now. I think that’s the fastest train yet! And probably the fastest of the trip, as it’s the only high speed train I’m getting in China, the rest are sleeper trains. I doubt South East Asia has high speed trains, but we’ll see.
Anyway, back to what I was saying.
While on the train, still in Mongolia, a girl started talking to us – she’s an interesting mix of cultures, Chinese, Korean, grew up in Netherlands, went to school in the US but now studying in China. The Irish guys and I instantly started taking the piss out of her, which she seems to (usually) take very well considering! She must not mind too much considering it’s been several days now and she is still travelling around with us. (If you’re reading this, know I mean this all in the nicest possible way! I didn’t even mention that we needed you to translate!)
About 8pm we arrived at the Mongolian / Chinese border for all the fun border crossing paperwork and waiting. The actual formalities took a few hours but were pretty uneventful – the usual departure & arrival cards, passport check, search under the seats etc. They made both the Irish guys empty their bags for a full search but didn’t bother with me or the quiet Dutch guy in our compartment. Just goes to show you can’t trust the Irish!
Once the formalities were complete, the highlight of the trip happened – we went into a giant shed to change the wheels. Just like on the Poland/Belarus border (there is another blog post about this) – but changing back to the standard gauge as Belarus, Russian & Mongolia have the same gauge but China is back to the European standard. It was very cool, and a lot of people were standing in the corridor of the carriage looking out at the workmen doing their thing.
In Belarus, it was a long shed and the train all stayed in one long line while the carriages were separated, raised and had the wheels changed. Here though, they had several rows of carriages, so when looking out the window we could see another carriage while they worked on it. This was great as I got a different view of the process than in Belarus, and we could also see the people in the carriage next to us. This was hilarious, as it led to a game of charades! It was brilliant, and passed the time very quickly. After a while, almost everybody in our compartment was in the corridor getting involved – but on the other carriage it was just the 1 compartment, with people in other compartments looking out their windows wondering wtf was going on in our carriage!
Once that was all done, we stopped at a station for a while and could get off the train which was nice. We went to the platform and bought a beer each off a Chinese guy and met the people we were playing charades with. When we were on our way again, it was about 1am, so I went straight to sleep.
I woke the next morning to see some of the most amazing scenery! We were weaving our way through some big mountains with dramatic cliffs and a light mist. According to my Lonely Planet, you can see some sections of the Great Wall from here however I don’t think I saw it. I did see something that could possibly have been it, but honestly wasn’t clear enough to be sure.
Arriving into Beijing was pretty intense – so many people everywhere! Much hotter and more humid than we were used to from Mongolia, Russia & Europe and the smog makes it that bit less comfortable as well. As we were staying in different hostels, I made my own way from the station, swapping contact details with my new friends so we could catch up later.
I’d been well organised before leaving Ulaanbaatar by downloading Beijing and marking out the route to the hostel – it should only take 30 – 40 minutes to walk which is fine by me. The GPS appeared to be working and I walked along until I got to where the hostel should be. No hostel. But it should be right here! The GPS says I’m standing right at it. I wandered around this area for a while trying to work out what was going on, and the more I walked the more I realised the area did not match the map well at all. Damn. Where am I? After about 30 minutes of walking around the local area, comparing to the GPS map and checking the info and map in the Lonely Planet, I decided I must be 1 block further East than my GPS insisted. So I started walking West and after about 15 minutes I finally found myself in the right place. YAY!
Walking into the hostel air conditioning was amazing! I was soaked in sweat and about ready to drop dead after walking that far in the heat, which carrying my pack. First thing I did was dump my pack and sit down – the people at reception had a good laugh at the amount of sweat dripping from me and gave me a free ice cold bottle of water. aaah lovely!
Once I’d checked in, I went straight to my room for a loooooong shower and a rest before going to start my exploration of Beijing.