Published: July 25th 2012July 22nd 2012
The next morning we were awoken by a 03:30 alarm call ("Hello, get up now please") so we could get our 04:10 taxi to the station to catch the Mongolia bound train. This was actually a Mongolian train (Mongolian carriages and staff) and we were sharing our cabin with a Mongolian lad who was studying in Moscow. Fortunately for us he spoke passable English so we could talk, but unfortunately for him every conductor on the train was using him to translate for other Western tourists. Still, he didn't seem to mind and seemed on good terms with everyone.
Also in our carriage was a Dutch couple who had just got married and were travelling the trans-siberian for their honeymoon. We spent most of the time chatting to those guys, and we also spend the afternoon in the restaurant car with them and Ben who was also on our train. The plan was to have lunch and a beer as we'd be crossing the border at dinner time so the restauranr car would be detached. Unfortunately Ben brought some new friends along (including an American called Scott from Portland, Oregon who though everything in Oregon was amazing and everything in
Russia was 'lame') and this resulted inv lunch, 4 beer and a 0.5l bottle of vodka between 6 of us. It was just after the vodka we realised we'd got our timezones wrong as we were only 1 hour away from the border, not 4 as we thought. Lots of running back to carriages to fill in immigration forms and most importantly going to the loo.
The border itself was a long winded process, on both sides. On the Russian side of things we stopped for about 3.5 hours but after having our passports and exit forms collected we were allowed out onto the platform. This was useful as they close the toilets on the train near stations (as they exit directly onto the tracks) and the station had loos. This is important after spending an afternoon basically in the pub. Aside from hanging around and waiting there wasn't a lot to do so the time passed quite slowly.
After we all got out passports back (and another 45 minutes of sitting) the train slowly began to roll between the border stations taking about 20 minutes surrounded by fences and the odd guard tower (not quite as scary
Our new Dutch friends
This couple were doing the trip as their honeymoon
as the Poland-Belarus border though). The Mongolian side of things was slightly more efficient taking only 2 hours, but the people were much friendlier. The majority spoke English and the customers officers searching the cabins even saluted us before requesting permission to enter! There was also a lot of dodgy dealing going on with all of the Mongolian passengers and also staff passing boxes of wine, bags full of wellies (yes wellies) and Russian army boots back and forth, and also lifting them from within the roofing panels. I'm pretty sure the Mongolian customs people were in on it too, I saw the head border guard walking off with a brand new pair of wellies. I've never experienced anything quite like it but it all seemed very natural to the people involved. I'm guessing everyone gets their share of that trade.
After a boozy afternoon and 6 hours of border crossings we decided to make dinner (salami sandwiches, yay!) and go to bed for a 6am arrival into Ulan Bator.
There are more photos below