Day 20: August 10th
You may be wondering why the title of my blog post doesn’t say, train to Mongolia…. Well, I can’t lie. We spent more time at the border than on the train yesterday.
Let’s start at the beginning. We get to the train station on time at 6:30 am and get to our car…which looks different from all the other cars. Our car was the only one it seemed that was going into Mongolia..it’s was fancier too which was great. Once the rest of the car started to wake up (most of them got on the night before from Irkutsk), we realized that this car had no Russians at all. We were all tourists! I read that most Russians take the bus across the border and didn’t really give it much thought. Well, I was about to find out why! For the moment, I was just happy to be speaking English again. We were sharing our compartment with a Brazilian couple who live in Japan. They were really good fun.
The scenery outside was beautiful and finally after 4 hours we get to the Russian border town of Nauski. We suddenly realize that the train is scheduled to stop here for 5 hours! But as we are getting off the train to stretch our feet, we are told to come back in two hours. We are hanging out with the Brazilian couple..trying to kill time by walking around this station…there is no cafe, no other people, other trains or really anything nearby. We walk around and find a really small store where we stock up on water and snacks. Finally, we get back to the train after two hours…and at the platform it’s just our car and the engine! All the other cars were gone!
Anyway, after three more hours of waiting as around 10 different Russian immigration and customs officials came through the car( we had to stay on the train) we were finally crossing the border. At this point we were all amused as to why it took 10 different people to do this simple task…and also, we were still a single car train being pulled across the border. It was hilarious! Everyone on the train was tickled! We also were slowly beginning to realize why the locals took the bus instead! 🙂
We finally cross over into Mongolia and to our dismay realize that their procedure for immigration and customs is also tedious. After another 3 hours at Sukhbatar, the Mongolian border town, we were well and truly on our way. By this time, it was dark outside and past 10 pm so all there was to do was get some sleep in preparation for a 6am arrival into Ulan Bator the next day.
It was such an odd day! 10 people from each country going through a railway car of 30 people, all really bewildered. There was no communication to us as to what was going on. When we tried to ask, we never got anywhere as our conductor didn’t speak any English! A Russian speaking conductor taking care of a car full of English speaking passengers! And we were pulled across the border just by ourselves! :):) No other cars!
After a 2 hour wait at the Mongolian border they finally attached our car to the end of another train.
So glad we are over the border now. Next time, do what the locals do… Or just fly!:)