Mongolia at last...
Trip Start Jun 12, 2010
27Trip End Ongoing
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But I still had a couple of things to do first: Table tennis world and the university souvenir shop.
The blue sign is the Table Tennis World sign.
Both were disappointing.
Table Tennis World looks great from the outside but there was absolutely nothing interesting inside. As for the university shop, that apparently no longer opens.
With that out of the way we were off.
It had to happen eventually - I had to put a suitcase between them to stop them fighting.
Long car trip - over 5 hours. Lots of flat rolling plains. With the occasional yurt in the distance.
We talked the driver into stopping for lunch. A small town in the middle of no-where. Quite a nice restaurant with lots of attentive staff.
It started raining as we hit town but luckily this being China. The driver was able to park smack bang outside the restaurant. The rain was so heavy that even the few steps to the restaurant would get us soaked. Luckily the driver had an umbrella handy. He gave it to me so Nora and I were able to make it to cover. After a while I asked Nora what was taking Sally so long?... Apparently the umbrella wasn't just for me...
Our driver was actually an ethnic Mongolian. Quite a novelty for me to be in China and hear him on the phone all the time in Mongolian.
The road up near the border became super straight. It also made me a bit nervous as I could see the driver continually fidgetting as if he was trying to stay awake... With the straight road and the heat I could imagine drowsiness might be a problem... We were certainly all nodding off.
We stopped at some yurts but they turned out to be just some sort of tourist set up.
These yurts on the other hand are probably the real thing.
Next stop Erlian. I was expecting some crappy little border town but it was really nice. A really nice looking, interesting, modern city.
Approaching Erlian we hit dinosaur country...
Yes, it's true - just as we'd read, you do have to take a jeep across the border.
First a quick snap with our driver. Really nice bloke...
Again it was fortunate that our driver spoker Mongolian so he was able to help with finding a jeep. New territory for me now as the new driver could only speak Mongolian. And it wasn't just him. Before heading for the border crossing he stopped to pick up another passenger with lots of boxes to take across.
The jeep was classic. Nora and Sally got in the back first and they immediately tipped the seat right over backwards. It wasn't fastened to anything, it was just sitting there in the back. Mine wasn't much different.
The extra passenger already had a ticket and it was starrting to look as if we'd never make it to the station on time for the 17:35 train to Ulaanbaatar. Not only did we have to get to the station but we had to change money and buy tickets.
Things got nearly hectic near the border. We had no idea what was going on as the driver stopped to get some paperwork for himself, some departure cards for us and we had to pay for some other bit of paper that they claimed we needed. I find it hard to believe that we really needed it but it was only 50 cents so we didn't complain too loudly. And all this while being badgered by the woman passenger to hurry up so that she could make the train. Out of the jeep, across the border, somehow yet another extra passenger gets jammed into the back with Nora and Sally and the woman, he gets thrown out near the border by some Chinese official who does a head count, filling out of more forms, I had the only pen so Nora and Sally are waiting on me and each other, problem at the Chinese border because the border guard discovered we had double entry visas so I had to run back and get Sally's passport, then he calls someone else over, then they decide that it's ok after all, back to the jeep, across to the Mongolian entry post, our fellow passenger gets into an argument with the immigration official, she goes off, then the woman goes after her, then they're both back, shouting, Nora decides she needs some Bacardi from duty free, she gets dragged out of there by the woman because she decides we don't have time... and in the end our driver takes forever anyway so the train's a lost cause. Hectic!
Erlian might have looked modern and inviting but Zamyn Uud on the other side is a real dump.
First we try the train station to buy tickets but they're closed. We chat to some backpackers - Americans, Canadian, Israeli (bizarrely no Australian) and they've got the same problem. Turns out there's one train tomorrow - same time as the one we missed, so we won't get to Ulaanbaatar till the next day. Which will mean that we'll miss the start of the congress - the interkona vespero - usually the best part of the congress and the only organised event worth going to. But it can't be helped.
We're then approached by some Chinese speaking Mongolian who's trying to tout a hotel and/or train tickets. He tells us that the tickets go on sale at 7:00 in the morning and by 9:00 they're sold out. He can get the train tickets for us if need be.
Anyway, we go across to the hotel run by his sister but Nora and Sally look at the rooms and I decide that if we have to spend the night in Zamyn Uud we might as well go luxury. So we drag our luggage to two different hotels but they're not better. I do get a recommendation at one of them for a really nice hotel but it looks a bit far.
Anyway, we check out one more hotel, which is luxurious but they only have one room so we end up in the hotel near the railway station which is by far the worst of the lot. But the woman at the front desk does also offer to get the train tickets for us... at a price about half what the bloke wants. Unfortunately we've already agreed to meet him at 6:30 the next morning...
Typical bathroom fixtures in soviet style hotels all over eastern Europe... but Sally thinks they're worth a picture.
Whereas this was the toilet in one of the restaurants in Hohhot... Sally called them character-building... It looks cleaner now... I took the pic on my second trip to the toilet and I think they cleaned it in between. Nora also thought that it looked a lot dirtier the first time.
She also took a snap out of the hotel window and yes, the town really is this run down and forlorne. Whereas the other side of the border is like New York in comparison.
We have a recommendation for the best restaurant in town... but looking at the streets and the lighting I decided that it could be a bit dangerous getting back in the middle of the night. So we end up eating in some small Mongolian style fast food cafe. By now it's all Mongolian... but I just manage. Looks like Mongolian food is all about dumplings filled with meat - mostly mutton. And it's generally pretty lumpy.
But at least now I've tried a few Mongolian beers and Nora and Sally have been lacing their cokes with huge dashes of Bacardi, which Nora seems to take everywhere.
Dusty, forgotten Zamyn Uud...
After dark the town doesn't look so scary after all and we even brave going through a park near the railway station as a short cut to the next street over and we ended up spending the rest of the evening watching the world cup, outside, on a huge screen.
Sally can't stop talking about the Australian movie in which some bloke wants to get back to the big city where he came from but he ends up in some small town waiting for the train and never gets out...