At home in Melbourne we use trains for commuter use back and forth to work or to explore the city on a weekend. It’s about getting from A to B but when we go overseas trains take on a whole new level of adventure and it becomes about the ride along with the destination. It enables us to go from country to country witnessing new landscapes and meeting a variety of travellers.
We love exploring different countries by trains. We have caught sleeper trains in Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Germany. We have taken long distance trains in Italy, France and the Netherlands. We have ridden on bullet trains in China and Japan.
There is one train trip we had on our bucket list and that is the The Trans Mongolian ( part of the Trans Siberian Railway)
The night before we travelled on the train we stayed in Beijing and bought some supplies for our trip. We got packet noodles, fruit, water ( 4L bucket) and some snacks like chips and biscuits.
We started our journey in Beijing where the train leaves at 11.22am from Beijing central station. Make sure you have your ticket and passport at the entrance as these are checked just to enter the station. Your bags then go through security. ( this happens at every Chinese train station). Once you walk in, look up at the big board for your train number and it will tell you the platform. There is also a help desk just below. There is a waiting room at the station which is signed well in both Chinese and English. There are a few fast food options and a small supermarket if you need some extra supplies and water for the train.
The gates open up around 11am with another passport and ticket check done before you can go on the platform. There is no need to rush,, things are done in an orderly fashion with some passengers bringing air conditioners, fridges and boxes onboard along with your regular backpackers too!
Your ticket will show the carriage and the berth number. There are staff able to help you if you need it too.
We found our 4 berth compartment easily in the second class carriage and were ready to go! Each berth had a set of sheets, 1 blanket and a pillow for you to make up the bed at night. There was plenty of storage for bags above and also under each bottom bed. There is a power outlet under the little table just bring your travel adaptor.
We left Coopers wheelchair at the end of our carriage tied up to a bar with a face washer with the brakes on!
We watched the city turn into mountains as we left Beijing. Woody consumed a packet of oreos within the first 5 minutes and the kids caught up on some journal writing.
We wandered along the halls and chatted with many other travellers and watched the sun go down as we prepared our noodle for dinner. At the end of each carriage there was hot water so you could also bring tea, hot chocolates, porridge or noodles.
Onboard the train I loved seeing families creating whole meals together with some people cutting and peeling cucumbers and making salads. Andrew actually bought a duck in a bag to try which we added to our noodles but it was pretty dry and we wouldn’t recommend it.
At the other end was a bathroom with a toilet and basin. On this note don’t forget to bring some toilet paper or wipes to use. We were next to the accessible toilet by chance and there was also an accessible cabin but I have no idea how you would actually get onto the train or down to the restaurant carriage as the walkway was very slim.
We spent the evening chatting with Joey who was Mongolian as he taught Pepper how to count and say a few words. The kids fell asleep around 10pm.
At around the same time we stopped in Erlian to change the wheels from the Chinese gauge to the Mongolian gauge which should take around 3 hours. At this stage the toilets are closed and the aircon is shut down. Some people jumped off to the station and others stayed on. This was within a 5 second window and every story I read differs so what happens on your own trip will no doubt be unique. Don’t count on getting any snacks at this station so come prepared! Although a few people did grab a few packets of nuts!
While at the border the Chinese immigration came and took our passports and a departure card I filled out to the best of my ability ( it was in Mandarin) then 4 hours later we got them back.
Wheels changed and ready to go closer to 5 hours later and we stop at Mongolian Immigration a few moments down the track. They took our passports and then some military people came on and lifted the kids beds up to check we hadn’t smuggled anyone across ( I am only assuming) about two hours later and the sun is rising and we are in Mongolia ready to continue the trip.
( I must add the extra real story in here for good value reading! Around 11pm Pepper projectile vomits off the top bunk onto the floor. I run down the passage asking someone to translate to the guards for me so they can open up the bathroom. The train guard opens it up for Pep to continue vomitting. He sweeps the vomit carpet with a broom and hands Andrew a wet face washer to clean the carpet. All her bedding gets thrown in the passageway where the wheelchair is)
Don’t say this isn’t adventurous or full of detail!
I also have to add that people did smoke between the carriages and often it smelt as though it was coming through the air-conditioning. The guard room was also used for smoking and sleeping shift changes. Just so you know what to expect and everything is done differently depending on which country you are exploring.
The landscape has changed to green green grassy plains and blue clear skies. The train weaves its way through the hills and we start to see gers dotting the land.
We pull into Ulaanbaatar around 4pm and jump off the train all exhausted and looking dishevelled but ready to adventure into Mongolia.
Number K23 ( runs each Tuesday over Peak Summer.)
Starts in Beijing, China
Ends in Ulanbaataar, Mongolia
Time- anywhere from 27-30 hours.
We booked our tickets a couple of months before travel at CITS. Their email correspondence was great and we paid via paypal online. We sent copies of our passports and collected the tickets from the main office the day before our trip. ( tickets open around 45 days in advance)
We bought 5 tickets for a 4 berth lockable/door compartment 2nd class hard sleeper. Because Woody was 5 and under 120cms tall he had a ticket but no bed. We wanted to all be together but on seeing the train the compartments were really close together so we could have booked a berth next door for an adult to sleep in but spend the day in the cabin together.
$128 child (no berth)
( Prices are in USD and what we paid in July 2017)
Australians need visas organised before travel for both China and Mongolia.
Our top tips:
- bring enough snacks and water for your journey. ( restaurant car is very limited )
- bring wipes or toilet paper for the bathroom plus a face washer to freshen up.
- plastic bags for emergency vomitting/collecting rubbish
- make sure you wander around and chat with other travellers.
- wear comfy clothes and layers as the aircon is a bit hit and miss at times.
- don’t expect much sleep ( at night) as passport control requires you to be awake and alert!