It took us more than 24 hours of travel to get from Beijing to Mongolia by bus and it surely wasn’t our best experience in our overland trip from Hong Kong to France. But sharing our experience might help you to avoid to make the same mistakes we did, and hopefully have a smoother journey ! We took a bus from Beijing that was supposed to go to Zamiin-Uud, but what we didn’t know was that the bus waited 8 hours in Erlian before crossing the border !
How to get from Beijing to Ulan Bator on a budget
Get to the bus station and buy our tickets
After searching our options online on various Chinese websites with our Couchsurfing host, we came to the conclusion that buses to Erlian/Zamiin-Uud were leaving only from two different bus stations in Beijing, Xinfadi and Yongdingmen. Thanks to the ctrip app, we learned that every bus was leaving Beijing between 5.30 and 6.30pm. Although Yongdingmen had more options, and we could even book online one bus through ctrip, we decided to head towards the Xinfadi terminal because of the possibility of taking a bus directly to Zamiin-Uud. We had no business staying in Erlian and it was also a cheaper option with less transfer. On other hand the bus to Zamiin-Uud was not a sleeper bus, while the bus to Erlian was.
(By the way they are building a northern bus station named Beiyuan and it should be opened in 2019/2020).
Xinfadi Bus Station
After taking two different public buses to get there, we were dropped right in front of the terminal at around 4.30pm and we booked two tickets to Zamiin-Uud for 220¥ (~32$), leaving at 5.30pm. The other option was a sleeper bus to Erlian for 180¥ (~26$).
There’s only one ATM that didn’t work with my foreign card. There are a few shops if you need to stock up food for the trip, and a free hot & cold water dispenser.
Leaving at 6pm, but finally out of Beijing at around 8.30pm!
The bus was not there on time, instead we left at 6pm. To be fair we were expecting even more delay. We had the pleasant & weird surprise to see that we were the only ones in the bus.
It lasted only for a short time, we stopped at 6.30pm on the side of the road near the old Muxiyuan bus station. Some people were already waiting there, even though there’s no terminal. The place we stopped was located a few meters away near Haihu Tun metro station, which would have been much more convenient for us to get to. We left at 7.20pm, the bus was almost full. We headed north and stopped once again, this time near the North Beijing Railway station for a 5-minute stop. A family came up and sat next to us. This time the bus was full and we were finally out of Beijing !
Around 10.30pm we made a 30-minute break at a restaurant to eat and have a toilet break. They offer some rice for about 30¥ or noodles for half that price. I bought cup noodles for 6¥.
Our seats were able to recline almost fully which makes the journey comfortable enough. They even provided some thick blankets that hadn’t been washed for ages. After that second stop, the young guy sitting next to us asked me to swap seat because her mom was sick. Their seats were the only ones in the bus who couldn’t to recline fully because of the staircase behind them. I didn’t want to leave HiuYing sitting next to a stranger in a dodgy bus for the whole night, but I was torn by leaving a sick person suffering, so we decided to both swap seats in order to stay together. These seats were really uncomfortable and we didn’t sleep well, leading us to be pissed off for the whole next day.
An incredible sunrise and an early arrival in Erlian at 5.30am
Soon after that stop, we left the highway and entered a rocky road. We managed to get some sleep, eventually to wake up with an incredible sunrise over the Gobi desert. Suddenly, the driver jammed on the breaks to avoid a wild horse in a surreal scene.
We arrived in Erlian soon after, and the bus stopped on a parking lot around 5.30am. Some people went down while most of the us stayed inside to sleep. Around 7am the driver came to kick everybody out, and he told us to come back around 1pm to go to cross the border. We couldn’t believe it. Deprived of sleep, we had to walk around Erlian for the whole morning, while our kid was running everywhere. We found some cheap food options and got a nice meal for 13¥ each (~1.90$). We were desperately looking for a playground to let our son play but unfortunately the possibilities were scarce.
Finally on the way to Mongolia at 1.30pm
We headed back to the bus around 1pm, and the bus eventually left after 1.30pm. The bus was full of new people, most of them carrying meaning goods to bring back to Mongolia. We arrived at the Chinese side of the border a few minutes later, but then we had to wait for everybody to cross. We started again at only 3pm! We were boiling inside the bus, and we both felt as pissed as we had ever been. We finally stopped by the Mongolian immigration, had more drama there because the visa I obtained in Hong Kong was valid but on my previous passport. At 4pm we were in Mongolia !
Arriving at the Zamiin-Uud train station at 4.30pm but we still managed to get a train ticket!
The bus left us about 10-minute walk away from the train station. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts at getting a ticket in the wrong building (there’s no sign), we found the right one and booked two tickets for the night train leaving at 6.05pm to Ulaanbaatar the same day!
We were stressed until the last minute, we had heard many reports about travelers being stranded in Zamiin-Uud because the train was already full and they weren’t able to buy tickets for the same day train. I guess we were lucky.
We bought a Unitel Simcard for 15.000₮ (5.70$) for one month unlimited data and got dinner for 6000₮ (2.30$) in a nearby restaurant.
An hour later we were in the train, ready to sleep for the last leg of our journey to Ulan Bator !
We also made a complete guide on how to get from Beijing to Ulan Bator, check it out, everything you need to know before the journey is inside !