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There are some destinations that every single person should visit in their life. Mongolia is one of them. Many people dream about riding horses across the steppe, trekking on camels through the Gobi Desert or camping underneath the eternal blue sky that Mongolia is famous for. We were the same, and after three months in China we were more than ready to head off from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar.
The most famous option of making the overland journey from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar is the wonderful Trans-Mongolian train. However if you are like us and don’t like to plan things to far ahead, chances are you won’t get a seat. To book the Trans-Mongolian you must either do it online or go directly to the train station in Beijing (not from one of the hundreds of train ticket booths around the city). Either way you have to do this very far in advance. We missed this opportunity, and because flying isn’t an option, we decided to figure out our own way to Ulaanbaatar.
We found that to get from China to Mongolia, catching a sleeper bus from Beijing to Erlian on the border, grabbing a ride over the border to Zamiin Uud and then buying onward transport on the train to Ulaanbaatar was relatively simple and cheap. There are a few things you need to know to do this though, so here is our complete guide to catching overland transport from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar.
Sleeper Bus From Beijing To Erlian
The first step is to get out of Beijing and towards the Mongolian border. Erlian ( 二连 ) is also known as Erenhot ( 二连浩特 ), and is the port of entry you need to head to. Officially a bus runs every day from the Muxiyuan Long-Distance Bus Station ( 木樨园客运站 ), leaving at about 1600 and taking 10 to 12 hours. However this isn’t always the case, so be prepared to do some running around and expect delays. You can only purchase your bus tickets to Erlian on the day of departure, so we recommend getting to the bus station around 10am.
NOTE – Just wanted to send a friendly traveler update as of June 2018. The Muxiyuan bus station is no longer the correct station to buy tickets; it’s the nearby Yongdingmen bus station (you can get there from Yongdingmenwai metro station, or Beijing South Railway station). There’s an old shut down bus station right next to the new one, so don’t be fooled. There was a 5:30 PM bus, which then stopped for an hour or so right outside town to pick up more passengers. Thank you to Ryan one of our readers for the updated information.
To get to Muxiyuan, take the subway to Dahongmen Station on Line 10, and walk east until you get to Dahongmen Road. Turn north and follow it for a few hundred metres. You will see the big station on your left.
Alternatively you can walk north along Nanyuan Road and cut through an alleyway to get there. Just ask the locals where Muxiyuan is, or show them the name in Chinese characters – 木樨园客运站
Muxiyuan Long Distance Bus Station
At the terminal, walk up to the ticket counter and say you want the bus to Erlian. Strangely, when we asked we were told that there was no bus that day, and the lady said for us to come back the next day. This supposedly happens when they don’t have enough people to catch the bus.
(Note – we met a person in Erlian the next day who showed up at the station about two hours after us, and the bus was then running. )
If the bus is full or not leaving, never fear! You have a second option. There will be touts around the station who can put you on other ‘black market’ sleeper buses leaving from Beijing to Erlian. We opted for this instead of hanging out another day, and the guy walked us to a car park at the back of a mall where buses were waiting.
You can get there yourself and avoid paying the guy commission by walking to the corner of Jingwen and Nanyuan Roads, walking west past a hotel with a golden lion and then around the back. You will see a big car park with lots of buses. Find one that has Erlian or Erenhot on a sheet of paper in the windscreen.
- Official – 180-200RMB
- Black Market Price – 240-260RMB (Could change. We paid 240, some other foreigners and a Chinese man on the same bus paid 260.)
Sleeper Bus Tips
- The bus is meant to leave at around 4pm, but can leave as late as 8pm. Don’t expect it to be on time.
- We drove through the night until about 3am. Then the driver stopped about an hour outside of town and slept until around 7am. After that we continued on.
- Bring warm clothes with you, as they love the cold air conditioning.
- Having some food and snacks is also a good idea. There are a lot of places around the bus station to buy fruit, potato chips and drinks.
Crossing The Border From China To Mongolia
Once you arrive in Erlian, you need to make your way to the border. To do this you need to find a car, Jeep or minivan, as it is not permitted to walk across the border region between China and Mongolia.
When you get off the bus there will be plenty of taxi drivers offering to take you to Zamiin Uud. Negotiate a price and then jump in for the ride.
If there is no one at the bus station, or you are planning on spending some time in Erlian, the best place to get a ride is from the market in town. These will likely be shared taxis or Jeeps and are packed with people. However we ended up hopping in a brand new Land Cruiser with a couple who were going to Zamiin Uud for whatever reason. We still had to pay, but it was a comfortable ride.
We paid 60RMB per person, but we’ve heard mixed reports of it being anywhere from 40 up to 100RMB a person. Again, negotiate.
Crossing the border from China to Mongolia and dealing with immigration is actually pretty straightforward.
Your driver will drop you off at the Chinese immigration office and drive through. Take your valuables with you, but it is fine to leave your larger packs in the car. Go through the standard procedures with the border officers, and then jump back in your vehicle.
It is a short drive to the Mongolian immigration checkpoint in Zamiin Uud, where you go through the same steps. You will need to have your Mongolian visa pre-organised if you aren’t from one of the nations that are now visa-free.
Once you finish checking into Mongolia, you can exchange your currency (Chinese Yuan, US Dollars, Euros, etc) in the small bank before the exit inside the building. We got an excellent rate for exchanging RMB into Mongolian Tugrik.
Jump back in with your driver and ask them to drop you off at the train station, which is only a short distance further. Sometimes you will then be offered a ride all the way from Zamiin Uud to Ulaanbaatar, which takes only 8 hours instead of the 16 on the train. We were quoted 50’000 MNT per person for this, but declined to take them up on their offer.
Welcome to Mongolia!
Catching The Train From Zamiin Uud To Ulaanbaatar
The hard part is over, and now you get to enjoy the best section of the whole journey – the train ride from Zamiin Uud to Ulaanbaatar! This is actually the famous Trans-Mongolian train, and it is surprisingly cheap.
Once you are at the main square in Zamiin Uud, walk towards the platform and turn left at the big silver building, just past the Mongolia Immigration building. Walk inside, go upstairs and you will see the ticket counters. The staff there don’t speak English, but they are helpful and are aware that as a tourist, you are more than likely heading to Ulaanbaatar. The journey takes 16 hours, and the train leaves at 5.35pm.
DON’T FORGET TO MOVE YOUR CLOCK ONE HOUR AHEAD.
A hard sleeper costs about 21’000 MNT, and soft sleeper is around 50’000 MNT. We took hard sleeper and it was fine. Six beds to a berth. Bring snacks such as instant noodles and drinks from one of the shops near the Zamiin Uud train station. There is also some restaurants where you can get basic Mongolian food.
The train ride is simple, and you will arrive in Ulaanbaatar at about 10am. Drivers from different guest houses will likely be there and you can get a ride to their hotel if you haven’t already pre-arranged anything.
Need accommodation in Ulaanbaatar? Book here with Agoda.com or with Booking.com
27 thoughts on “Beijing To Ulaanbaatar – Transport And Border Information”
Just wanted to send a friendly traveler update as of June 2018. The Muxiyuan bus station is no longer the correct station to buy tickets; it’s the nearby Yongdingmen bus station (you can get there from Yongdingmenwai metro station, or Beijing South Railway station). There’s an old shut down bus station right next to the new one, so don’t be fooled. There was a 5:30 PM bus, which then stopped for an hour or so right outside town to pick up more passengers. Hope that’s helpful!
Thank you so much Ryan. We really appreciate it. This helps out a lot of other travellers. Have a great trip. Have a great time in Mongolia. 🙂
Hi! I’m a little confused.. why did you guys say to change our clocks one hour ahead? There’s no time difference between Beijing and ulaanbaatar right?
Hi Cho, When we crossed the border back in 2015 there was a 1 hour time difference. There doesn’t seem to be now. Thanks for pointing that out. We will change it on the post. Happy travels
Thanks for this, it was super useful! One question: Does the train to Ulaanbator on the Trans Mongolian run daily or it just every Thursday?
Glad you found the article useful. Sorry Adibah we don’t know the exact information. Best to check the offical website. Happy travels
Hello, great article thanks for the info. Just a question, I have got my visa for mongolia and China, will they still want proof of departure in each country before they let me in? All I have a plane booked from Moscow to home in london.
Hi, hope you having a great trip. When we got our visa for China they asked for departure documents. We paid a small fee to a travel agent and they gave us fake flights. As for Mongolia, we never got asked. This was back in 2015 so things may have changed. All the best. 🙂
Thanks for the awesome write up. I’m thinking about doing the same, but this will leave me with no proof of onwards travel for my chinese visa. I’m looking into refundable tickets and stuff like that, which is always a ****. I’d rather be honest, but I feel like that will backfire when I attempt this.
I can get the train tickets, but they are about 180 dollars. This option is about 60 USD… I’m wondering if it’s worth it…
How long did this trip take in total? I’d hate to overstay my visa, but I also don’t want to waste days.
Hi Burlesque, thanks for your message. We only took the train on the Mongolia side, not on the Chinese side. The train from Mongolia / Chinese border was an overnight train. Very slow. Not too sure about getting the train all the way through to Beijing. Sorry wish we could help you more.
P.S – We went in and got a (not so real 😉 ) airline ticket from an agency in UB. Small fee. If you are coming in from Vietnam, I am sure they can do the same on that end too. Good luck
Thanks a lot for having shared your experiences!
It really helps us for our trip we are about to plan!
We wondered how we can do without booking the bus tickets in advance from Beijing to Erlian. Should we ask for our Visa without having a return ticket? I heard that it can cause problems at the airport when entering China without having a return ticket.
Any advice on this?
Thanks a lot in advance!
Hi Vako, Thank you for your comment. We are glad this post helped. With the Chinese visa, they are strict and need an exit ticket. We got a fake interinery from a travel agency in UB. She knew exactly what we were talking about and we paid $1.50 USD for her help. That’s all she asked for. We didn’t book a ticket prior, we just rocked up to Muxiyuan Long Distance Bus Station and were directed to the black market buses. Follow our direction above and you will pay less for a ticket as you don’t have a person showing you from the bus station. He gets a cut for directing you. All the best.
So we’ve stopped in Zamiin. Any hints on how to get back to Beijing?
Sorry Jerry, Not too sure. Hope it all went well. 🙂
Does the train from Zamiin to Ulaanbaatar depart everyday?
so you reached Ulan Bataar the third day, right?
I think it’s 2 days arrived in UB
Dropping by to say THANK YOU for putting up this awesome guide, especially the part about the black market buses! 🙂
You are most welcome 🙂
Oh, my god, that’s a lot of “sleeper” travelling, my least favourite form of travel since I can never actually sleep! But, I have to say, your picture of the sleeper bus makes it look more comfortable than the sleeper train we took from Shanghai to Hong Kong.
Lesh is like you – she can hardly sleep at all on these buses (but trains she can handle). I on the other hand can pass out just about anywhere, at any time. A lucky skill to have 🙂
Great information guys, super useful! Nice to see how doing it without taking the Trans-Mongolian is done. We took the train and loved that journey, but like you said, it does take some planning 🙂 Since we were living in China, we had all sorts of time to plan.
Keep on enjoying Mongolia!
Next time we would love to do the Trans-Mongolian. We read your post about it. Sounded incredible!
hi there.may i know on what daybu took the train ? trans-mongian trin areeveryday but bow about the normal train ?is it als everyday schedule from zamin to ulanbaatar ? thanks fr ur resonse 🙂
Good to know guys. We took the Trans-Mongolian in 1999 (pre-arranged along with our visas in Hong Kong) but would love to go back and this sounds like a cheaper option? Isn’t it all mind-blowing. Love Mongolia! 🙂
Next time we’d like to do the Trans-Mongolian, just to check it out. We love train rides! Mongolia is awesome 😀