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The Cheap Trip, Beijing to Mongolia

Thursday, April 19th, 2007

The standard way to get to Ulaan Bataar from Beijing is via the Trans-Mongolian train.  At 650RMB, this is kind of steep.  There’s another option of taking a sleeper bus to the border town of Erlian 二连, crossing the border, then taking the Mongolian local train to UB.  The sleeper bus is 180RMB and the train is between 5,000-12,800 tugruk, or $4-11USD so this option is less than half the price.

The trick is finding out where to catch the sleeper bus from Beijing.  It’s not from the DongZhiMen long distance bus station.  For a nice step by step site on catching the bus from the south of the city, read here.  I caught it from a different station near the fourth ring road in north Beijing.

The easiest/cheapest way to get their is to take the subway to Jishuitan 积水潭 station and either walking (15min) or taking a taxi one street east to Deshengmenwai dajie 德胜门外大街.  From here you can take several different buses (55, 670, 345, 315, 305) to qi jia huo zi 祁家豁子 bus stop.  The Deshengmen Long Distance bus station is right there. 

I showed up a day early to try to book a ticket and the guy told me I didn’t need to and to come back the next day at 4:30.  I did and had no problem.  Some other girls there had booked the whole bus/train package from their hostel for around 450RMB.  Not as cheap as doing it all yourself, but still cheaper than the Trans-Mongolian.  The email for that booking agent is

Heading North

Thursday, April 19th, 2007

When I arrived in Beijing three weeks prior a stiff wind had cleared the blanket of smog and dust that often drapes over the capital.  When I left today the grit was so thick the buildings took no time to fade off into the distance.  This is a good time to leave.  We drive north, out past the perfectly mortared towers of the Great Wall at Badaling, past the craggy mountains in which it sits, and out onto the flat plain of Inner Mongolia. 

The bus is typical of Chinese sleepers: cramped, dirty, smokey, and today packed to the ceilings with the shopping bags of the Mongolians on supply runs to China.  I wake up at 1am and the first thing I see out the window is the Milky Way, a good start. We’ve finally left the smog and dust and are in the “big sky country” of Asia.

When the bus comes into the Chinese border town of Erlian at 4am a swarm of determined taxi drivers and hotel owners descend on me like a fresh kill.  Disoriented, a young Mongolian women behind me offers to assist by saying, “excuse me, can you help me?”  I know what she means.  Her two friends and her have a quick chat and I guess they decide that I look harmless enough.  We all pile into a mini bus and we’re off to a small hotel for 10RMB a night.  Not bad.

After some awkward attempts at communication, Bidemar, the huskiest of this group of huskies asks “do you speak Chinese…no, do you speak French…no.  I speak Spanish and Japanese.”  When we woke up this morning Agie had finally built up enough courage to try out her Japanese on me and our communication has been smooth sailing ever since.  Apparently they’re already making plans for us all to go see a big Buddha in Ulaan Bataar and we’re meeting for lunch in a few hours before it’s off to the barren wasteland.  Stay tuned.

798 Art Factory, Beijing

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007
To the northeast of central Beijing just beyond the fourth ring road something special is happening; an artistic utopia has emerged, a creative factory.  It's called DaShanZi (大山子)in Chinese and the 798 factory ... [Continue reading this entry]

Meet the Friendlies

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007
Okay, it's time to introduce the official mascots of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, the Friendlies (Fuwa).  There's one for each color of the Olympic rings.  You can't walk 10 meters in China's cities without bumping into these ... [Continue reading this entry]

Beijing Olympics

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007
Since every square inch of Beijing is a construction zone anyway, I decided to head straight to where the action is, north to the Olympic Park.  Like many places ouside the second ring road, the site is a challenge to ... [Continue reading this entry]

All that is solid melts into air

Friday, April 13th, 2007
"To be modern is to find ourselves in an environment that promises us adventure, power, joy, growth, transformation of ourselves and the world--and, at the same time, that threatens to destroy everything we have, everything we know, everything we are."                                                                                    ... [Continue reading this entry]

The Wall Less Traveled

Thursday, April 12th, 2007
The restored sections of the Great Wall around Beijing have become a tourist haven with a Disneylike feel. Cable cars, ... [Continue reading this entry]

Laowai on a bike, Beijing

Thursday, April 12th, 2007
One of the essential Beijing experiences is renting a bike and seeing the city as most residents have in the past 100 years until the recent shift to cars. What could be more fun that putting your life in ... [Continue reading this entry]

No Visa for You!

Thursday, April 12th, 2007
It's good that Beijing has grown on me as it has because it looks like I'll need to spend a lot of time here securing visas for onward travel in Central Asia.  I spent 3 hours last Wednesday in line ... [Continue reading this entry]

Tiananmen Square, Beijing

Thursday, April 12th, 2007
The world will always view Tiananmen Square as a violent blow to the democratic hopes of China's young people. When you scratch the surface of this event you'll find that the communists won not only the battle of June ... [Continue reading this entry]