Published: August 22nd 2012August 22nd 2012
Day 57 – Sunday 12th
August 2012 to Day 62 Friday 17th
The Wild Wild West of Asia – Welcome to Mongolia
Wild horses, rivers, mountains and deserts. Day 57 to Day 62 takes us through Mongolia and the halfway point of our adventure.
We left Irkutsk on the 10pm train to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. The taxi ride from the hotel was an adventure alone. The trick must be to go as fast as you can weaving through the traffic. Well that’s how they drive in Russia. The biggest difference is the number of backpackers/travellers on this leg of the Trans-Mongolian. From Moscow to Irkutsk, apart from the 50 odd Germans, we were the only non-Russians on the train. Now, it feels like a Contiki Tour. Our carriage is full of travellers. Swedes, Norwegians, English, Irish, Germans and a couple of nice guys from The Netherlands. We will certainly be seeing Rob and Jeroen from The Netherlands either on the Gold Coast or in Sydney over Christmas. The number of comments we got about how lucky we are to being doing this trip as a family was great. It makes us realise how fortunate we are to
not only being doing this amazing trip, but to be doing it as a family. The boys have already started planning their next adventure to North and South America. They can take Melissa and I!!!
We woke up the next morning still in Russia and arrived at the last Russian town at around mid-day for a 4 hour wait to process passports and visas. This was just to leave Russia. They lock the toilets when the train is at the stations. For those who are not fully aware of how the toilets operate on these trains, let’s just say it’s a good idea that they do lock them, especially for the people at the platforms. However, we couldn’t get off until our documents were processed and poor Hunter was busting. Lucky for him we had an empty Fanta bottle (see photo).
Once we cleared customs etc, we needed to wait for the Mongolian Engines to arrive and hook us up. To this point we were being towed by Russian Engines. We found some local markets right near the train station and spent the last of our Russian Roubles on some fruit, water, chips and soft drink. Jackson had
a good chat to an old Russian Guy (see photo).
Finally we left the last Russian town under Mongolian power. About 20 minutes later we arrived into Mongolia. We stopped here for another 90 minutes to be processed by Mongolian Customs and Immigration. Here we had another 10 carriages, full of local Mongolians attached for the overnight train to UB (Ulaanbaatar).
We woke early on the train as we arrived into UB at 6:00am. The last 60 minutes on the train is when we started to see our first Gers, rivers and small towns. The arrival into UB train station was pretty easy and we quickly found a taxi to our Hotel, had breakfast, a quick sleep then had a walk around UB for a few hours. Not too much to see in UB, most travellers quickly get out of town and head to Ger Camps. UB is one crazy town. Just like the Wild West of old, everyone comes into town for business!!!
Like most of Russia, the infrastructure is very poor and in need of maintenance. The footpaths, roads, drains are all in very a poor state of repair. The 2 hour, or 60km to
our Ger the next day was an adventure in itself. And we whinge in Australia if we have one pot-hole. Mongolia would have hundreds of thousands!!!! The roads are that bad, drivers make their own roads just to go around them. This is one thing that you cannot describe in a blog. You have to experience it yourself!!!
We arrived at our Ger Camp at lunchtime and after we settled in we went for a horse ride. The boys loved it. Melissa and I took a few days to get over it. The saddles were so small. The Gers are extremely warm and larger that you would think. Well large enough for an overnight stay. I’m sure we would have a different opinion if we called one home.
The boys had a long swim and play by the river bank. The staff were a little concerned to start with, but once they knew that they are strong swimmers they relaxed. Melissa and I relaxed by the river enjoying the view and a drink.
That night, we saw more shooting stars and satellites than we have ever seen. No city lights and unbelievably clear skies made for an
awesome spectacle. Pity Harrison and Hunter were already sound asleep.
The next morning we organised to go rafting. The raft was thrown on the roof of a van and we then piled inside and drove 10 km upstream. The raft was dragged into the water, we were given our lifejackets and paddles and were pushed off with a ‘good bye’!!! No instructions, no safety briefing, no indemnity forms, just a friendly wave and goodbye. We love Mongolia. Off we set down the river. Team Free were completely alone in Mongolia. The 3 hour trip downstream was very relaxing. Apart from a few farmers on the side of the bank, it was just us. Well there were also a few hundred goat and sheep and a few dozen horses to keep us company.
That afternoon we were back on the road to UB. The traffic was horrendous. It was that bad that our driver made his own road, on the ‘other side’ of the road (where the footpath would be). So we now had traffic going 3 directions until the police stopped him and 3 other drivers. We only had one small collision today. Here in Mongolia, when you
have a small collision, the person in the wrong gets in your car and you then drive to an ATM machine and they give you money. Nice and simple. Who needs insurance companies?
We found some dinner and did some shopping for the 2 day train to China. The next day saw us leave UB on the 7:00am train and we headed for the Gobi Desert. We spent most of the day crossing the Gobi, along with half the backpackers who were on the train from Irkutsk to Ulaanbaatar. Most only stay in UB 3 nights like us. The rest of the day, everyone compares stories about their Ger experiences over noodles and coffee. This is the coolest part of the Trans-Mongolian.
We arrived at the Mongolian – Chinese border at around 6:00pm and had to wait 1 hour to clear the Mongolian side before arriving on the Chinese side of the boarder for processing.
There are more photos below