Getting from Erlian (China) to Zamiin-uud (Mongolia) is perhaps the strangest border crossing we have ever made. Though everything went relatively smoothly, it certainly wouldn’t have been as easy if we hadn’t done a little research in advance!
This is the complete A to B story of how we made it…
Getting Around Erlian
We’d been led to believe that getting sleeper train tickets from Zamiin-uud to Ulaanbaatar would be a chaotic and difficult endeavour, so it seemed advisable to leave quite early in order to get across the border and to the train ticket office before they sold out of sleepers… This meant getting up super early, not one of our favourite things to do, so that didn’t happen!
The train ticket info is coming in part 4 of this story, right now we have to get out of China first!
The Border opens at 8.30am and closes at 6pm, it is not possible to cross the border on foot. Though the crossing took us 2 hours from leaving in the jeep to arriving at Zamiin-uud, the total time for getting things organised was a little longer, about 4 hours.
We left our hotel at 9am and headed to Dinosaur Square where jeeps are lined up on the western side waiting to take people and goods to Mongolia. The standard price, we were advised, was about 80 RMB per person (in 2011 at least). Of course, prices go up.
We spoke to quite a few drivers and they all said the same: 100 RMB per person. We haggled, walked away etc. All the usual tricks, but nothing! No one would budge, not even to 90 RMB. We decided if we would be paying full price anyway we might as well find the newest vehicle rather than being stuck in an old Russian jeep.
Although no-one spoke English, we managed to use our iPad translator to get a ride in a Toyota Land Cruiser which was leaving at 11am. It was currently 9.45am. At least we’d have a comfortable ride, we thought, and some time to have breakfast too.
Right next to the jeeps is a massive market which sells quite literally everything you could want for a trip to Mongolia – from warm clothes to tents, sleeping bags, gumboots, face masks and all at cheap prices! So, don’t bother stocking up on cold weather essentials in advance and carrying them around China, get them in Erlian.
We got back to our Toyota at 10.45 and they were already good to go… sort of. We drove about 100 metres and then another stop. Our comfortable car of 5 plus luggage became 8 plus luggage including 1 heavily pregnant Mongolian lady. Things were about to get interesting.
You drive to the border, which takes about 10 minutes. You wait in a line of jeeps for however long they decide to make you wait, ours took about 30 minutes. You arrive at the Chinese border building, the driver drops you off, he keeps your luggage but you should carry valuables with you.
To the right of the stopping area you pick up an exit permit (5 RMB per person) then walk forward and to the left into the main building where the Chinese authorities will scrutinise your passport and stamp you out.
Exit the building (There is some expensive duty free to the left!) and wait outside until your jeep clears customs and picks you up. We jammed the 8 of us back in the toyota and drove a couple more minutes to the Mongolian immigration building. We jumped out, headed inside and the sign on the wall reminded us to smile The border officer didn’t offer the same courtesy I’m afraid.
Our passports were all in order, so back outside to wait for the driver again.
We’d made it, into the hot desert sun. Two of our party had buggered off, we never found out what happened to them, probably made a tasty meal from some hungry Mongolian officials, but the remaining 5 minute ride to Zamiin-uud train station was certainly more comfortable due to their “departure”.
Next up, we’d need to get tickets to Ulaanbaatar… thats coming up in part 4, along with what happened on the train!
Prices & Details
We left our hotel at 9am. Walked to the jeeps and by 9.45am had negotiated a jeep that was leaving at 11am for 100 RMB per person. They charged us an additional 5 yuan each, which we thought was for the “exit fee” at the the time, but we think it was actually for a departure card – which we already had. So when they ask you for the extra 5, show them your departure card and you may save a couple of bucks.
We paid 5 yuan per person exit fee next to the Chinese border building.
We ended up actually leaving by 11.15am, arrival at Zamiin-uud was at 13:15. Total cost 110 yuan ($20) per person including exit fee and departure card (July 2013).
Make sure you know what time your jeep is leaving before you agree to book it, or you may be waiting for hours!