Monday, June 06, 2011

01 May: Trans-Mongolian Train (Ulan Bator to Erlyen)

So, we're in Mongolia. I thought that would make this a more exciting day but, so far Mongolia hasn't made a very good impression.

I'll admit I was unprepared for the complete desolation of the place. Seriously, there has been nothing but sand since I woke up.

Admittedly I have slept thru most of Mongolia so far. I took a brief walk up to our new Restaurant Carriage to find elaborate woodwork and exorbitant pricing and nothing I could afford on the Togrogs I had exchanged. After a stop at Choyr station tho, we have worked out just how screwed we got when exchanging our Rubles last night! We got 1:4 instead of 1:40. Now I figured we wouldn't get a great exchange rate, and I'm still happy I have some Togrogs for my collection,but I never thought we'd be screwed *that* badly on the rate. Knowing that, the Restaurant Carriage might actually be quite cheap :P

On the plus side, I did spend all my remaining (not part of the collection) Togrogs on some Instant Noodles. Somehow it is easier to barter when it really is all the money you have to offer. But at least I've eaten since my borscht at lunch yesterday. Although the urging has come more from my brain than my stomach. Sitting around on the train exacerbates my desire for snacking!

I have continued to sleep my way thru most of Mongolia, occasionally popping my head up to see if the view has changed at all. It never did. Desert on both sides. Even the towns weren't particularly interesting.

We briefly got off for a walk at Saynshand station and then headed to the Restaurant Carriage. Although they have a much bigger menu than out Russian Restaurant Carriage, they seem to have little available. So it was beef with cheese, which came with some rice, potato, cucumber, tomato and carrot salad. Not bad, quite oily like the Russian food but, I'm also pretty sure it wasn't beef. My money is on Horse or Camel? Anyway, that and a coke cost me 10USD (I had specifically taken USD for spending on the train after Russia since I figured I wouldn't have any local currency).

And so, our Mongolian experience was about done. Can't say that anything I've seen, just passing thru, would make me inclined to recommend the place to anyone tho.

We weren't even let off the train at our Mongolian border stop at Zamyn Uud. But, on the plus side I could get Chinese signal on my phone. Clearly Vodacom does not have a roaming agreement with Mongolia because although it connected, I only had SOS signal all day.

And then we crossed over into China at Erlyen. They were very efficient with out passports. And all the forms were, thankfully, in English for us. Everyone seems skeptical when comparing me to my passport photo. How odd. Guess it's lucky I'll have to get a new one soon.

We got given free breakfast and lunch vouchers for the Chinese Restaurant Carriage, that was a surprise. I wonder if it is because we haven't had a chance to change any money yet?

We got to watch the Bogie-Changing, which was pretty cool. They drive the train into a massive shed and then separate all the carriages and lift them all up and slide the old wheels out from under them and then slide the new narrower gauge ones in. And then they re-lower and reconnect all the carriages.

We were done pretty quickly with the process but still had to wait around till our 1am departure time (gotta keep the train on time, I guess). We met a nice American guy who'd got on the train in Ulan Bator, @nctift, and ended up all swapping travel stories, drinking a bottle of Vodka with coke until after 2am!

Was actually a great night :)

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