Story / 22 Nov 2014 / 0 COMMENTS
Catching the Transmongolian to Ulaan Baatar
We arrived at the Border between Russia and Mongolia sometime in the afternoon.
I ended up on the same train from Irkutsk to Ulaan Bataar as Caroline whom I met four days ago on the Trans-Siberian between Ekaterinburg and Irkutsk and Miriam and Fabian, the Swiss siblings I made friends with back in Listyanka.
The fact that we were all in the same train was a godsend, as my Russian cabin mate was busy reading newspapers instead of joining into any sort of conversation.
We knew that the crossing would take a while, but we didn’t expect it to take more than five hours. Most of the time was spent being stationary at the station. The first hours was pretty exciting though, as we watched our train being de-coupled and shrinking in size until our own carriage was the only one that was left.
After three passport checks, customs inspections and other formalities, we finally left the Russian station only to spend another two hours on the Mongolian side, going pretty much through the same ordeal, just in reverse.
It was only when I looked out of the window the next morning, when I noticed that we had joined up with a rather long train. My cabin mate was already awake and made an effort to start talking to me. Through our conversations I made out that he was a professor and an author judging by the book he showed me with his name on it.
Once we arrived in Ulaan Bataar, Caroline and me were trying to find her pick-up service, only to find out that her driver had already left and that I had someone waiting for me instead.
My driver was kind enough to take Caroline with us to her hostel before dropping me off at theirs. I quickly checked in and headed for the bed straight away.
Still half delirious after waking up I stepped into the common room where a group of people were having breakfast or working on their phones. I was tempted to join in with my iPhone but opted to say hi instead. It didn’t take long for me to start a conversation with Rebekah, a Malay Chinese girl who grew up in Australia. She told me about her trip to western Mongolia, where she and five others had spent two weeks traveling around the countryside to live with the Mongolian families and see the Eagle Hunters at the Eagle festival. I was captivated by her brave and adventurous travel stories of central Asia, especially because she was travelling with just one other girl and did have some scary encounters with sleazy men, all of which they managed to escape unharmed.
I mentioned to her about having some lunch as it was already passed lunchtime. “How about KFC?” I asked jokingly, not expecting to actually find one in Mongolia. “I went to one a day or two before, let’s go!” So we started the day with fried chicken, before heading to the nearby Monastery to take some photos of the temples and people. The more we talked the more we found things in common, especially when it came to photography and blogging. It turned out that she leads a fashion blog with her friend back in Australia called: “Meet Me on the Streets” which is all about street fashion. “I’m not that very good at taking photos of people and strangers” I confessed to her. “Let’s change that” she replied and started approaching people and asking if we could take photos of them. I was so fascinated by her confidence and ease to talk to people and inspired to do it myself. It turned out to be much easier then I thought, especially because people in Mongolia and Asia in general, do like to have their photos taken, unlike in western Europe, where you have to be very careful not to impede on people’s privacy. My favourite part was when we went to the black market, which was considered to be not exactly the safest place for taking valuables like my camera, but it turned out to be a treasure trove for my new found passion for street photography.
One thing I immediately noticed about Ulaan Bataar was how modern and western it felt. There were loads of shops, bars and restaurants and in particular Korean ones. There was a feeling that South Korea was their big role model, as people were all stylishly dressed with Korean inspired haircuts. I did have a go at a new haircut too, which turned out to look pretty similar to my previous one. At least I didn’t had to worry about my messy hair anymore.
Having exchanged whats app details with Caroline, it didn’t take too long for us to get in touch and go out for some Korean food. We talked about the different tours that each of our hostels were offering and decided to team up in order to make it cheaper. We booked a consultation with Ugi, the owner of the Golden Gobi hostel the same night and went through some of the countless options for things to do. The next day we were still undecided and still looking for people to join in. We had some contenders, but the tour we thought of seemed either too expensive or too long for many as we wanted to spend at least 5 nights out in the steppe and the Gobi desert.
Whilst we were going through our options again with Ugi, a couple of new people arrived. One guy from France who introduced himself as Ronan and Leifur from Iceland. We told them about our plans and the cost and it didn’t take too long before we were set and ready to leave the following day.