Trans-Siberian Part 1: From Beijing, China to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
Three good dudes, Ian, Johnny, and myself, awake at sunrise in Beijing, China, and we set out on the first leg of our Trans-Siberian adventure. We grab our tickets, our bags, and check out of our hostel. Then after chomping down a roadside crepe and dumplings we catch a cab to Beijing Railway Station. Our train is set to leave from the Central Hall boarding gate 5 of the station on train K23 at 8:05 A.M. Hell yeah.
We sit down our bags as we wait in line and exchange excited smiles at the prospect of the 1-month adventure from Beijing to Helsinki to come. The route we chose will take us from Beijing up through Mongolia to Russia, then once in Russia down into Kazakhstan, then back up into and across Russia, and all the way to Finland for the finale where we get to watch the Northern Lights as our grand prize.
Before we get on the train we get some supplies and goodies for the 30-hour train ride to Ulaanbaatar from the station store. We grab big bottles of water, some Oreos, containers of instant noodles, and 3 snickers for good measure. Not exactly Men’s Health, but we are on a budget and it will do the trick.
We finally board the train and due to it being low season, it’s April 3, 2012, we have not only the 4 person cabin to ourselves, but the entire train car. We feel first class even though we’re technically third.
The train carries us out of the city and across the brown landscapes of China where we encounter factory farms and dirty houses, but the view gradually gets nicer until we see the sun set on the Gobi Desert. We cook our noodles, eat our Oreos, and before we know it the clock strikes midnight and we are in the Chinese border town of Erlian.
Before we can proceed through to Mongolia we have about a Five-hour wait; one hour for customs getting stamped in and out, the other four for them to change the wheels on the train. A Chinese Customs official comes onto the train, collects our passports for processing and then we are allowed to roam Erlian for about 2 hours, in which we buy more food goodies and hangout. The reason they have to change the wheels on the train was because the Chinese government when building their railroad wouldn’t simply make the same style tracks as the Mongolia side, so because of their inability to play ball they have to change all the wheels on the train every frickin time you cross the border. Ahhhh diplomacy. We get back on the train, get our passports back, have them for about an hour then the train moves a little, stops again, Mongolian Customs comes on and takes our passports, at which point we wait a little longer, and then finally after five glorious hours we get our Mongolian stamped passports back and are fast asleep cruising in Mongolia.
We awake to sunrise in the Gobi Desert and our inevitable arrival in Ulaanbaatar. Our excitement has not diminished this morning. The adventure is still on!
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