Our Trans Mongolian Railway Journey: From Beijing to Ulan Bator

Dariece Swift author's bio Goats On The Road

It was like Christmas morning, only better. The day we had been planning and anticipating for months had finally arrived! We were up at 6:00am for our Trans Mongolian Railway departure day. We were both so excited that we couldn’t sleep the night before and even though we were totally exhausted, we were still buzzing with excitement.

trans mongolian railway
The Beijing Railway Station

We arrived at the Beijing train station around 6:45am, after navigating our way through the subway system in this massive city – which was surprisingly easy to do. We shuffled our way into the packed railway station and up to the second floor. We only waited for about 10 minutes before they called out our train…it was time to board!

Riding on the famous Trans-Mongolian Railway was something we had both wanted to do for a long time, and being greeted by the train attendant wearing white gloves was like a dream come true. There were many modes of transportation that we could have taken to get from China to Mongolia, but we both love travelling by train and were really looking forward to this journey.

trans mongolian train
Boarding the Trans Mongolian Train…tickets please!

We stepped onto the train and found our compartment. It was just us and another young guy from Germany. There are usually 4 people to one compartment in 3rd class, but we only had three. We lifted up the bottom bench seat (which doubled as my bed), put our bags underneath and got comfortable.

the trans mongolian 3rd class
Our compartment for 30 hours, 4 beds and 3 people.

Not long after that, a man came around with sheets for our beds and tickets for a free lunch and a free dinner in the restaurant car. What?! Free food on the most famous train in the world? We were totally shocked, especially because we were in 3rd class and not 1st…or even 2nd for that matter.

As soon as we got on the train, our backpacker mode totally kicked in and before we knew it, we were chatting with other travellers about where they had been and where they were going. We were all sharing travel stories and giving tips to each other as well. We both just fell back into the joys of backpacking, and instantly realized how much we had been missing that during our year of teaching English in China.

friends on the trans mongolian railway
Hanging out with new friends from Germany and Portugal…back to being a backpacker!

We were maybe an hour into the journey when the landscape totally changed from concrete city life to rocky mountainous ranges! Set between the crags were small, jade coloured lakes with local people fishing. The sky was a gorgeous blue colour, the clouds were fluffy and white and the scenery was spectacular!

We were all staring out in awe of how lovely everything looked – especially Nick and I, we hadn’t seen mountains and really clear, blue skies like that for a while.

views from trans mongolian train
Gorgeous views from the train, just outside of Beijing

As the day went on, the landscapes continued to change – from rising, jagged peaks to flat farmland with lots of corn crops and rice fields. After that, we came to some flatter areas with rolling green hills, before the scenery changed yet again as we approached the border town of Erlian, revealing dry landscapes dotted with industrial plants.

sunset from trans mongolian railway
A perfect end to a perfect day on the Trans Mongolian

The border crossing was a bit of an ordeal…a 4 hour ordeal! We pulled into Erlian around 8:15pm and didn’t end up leaving there until midnight. We knew it would be a long waiting time while the train had its wheels changed over from the Chinese size to Mongolian track size, so we decided to go inside the train station to exchange some money and buy some food.

As we were standing in line to buy our food, the train whistled and chugga, chugga, choo, choo’d its way down the tracks and out of sight. We both looked at each other with the same thought in our heads…did we just lose our ride to Mongolia?!

trans mongolian train ride
We wouldn’t want to miss our ride on this train!

In the end the train just had to move up the tracks (but totally out of sight) in order to do the wheel change over, which would have been fine if they had let us back on the train. We could have been laying down sleeping in our beds but instead we were locked inside the station, so bored and sitting in uncomfortable chairs for 3 hours. Not to mention the fact that our bags were left on board, totally unattended.

Around 2:00am, we were allowed back on the train and as soon as our heads hit the pillow, we fell into a deep sleep. The following morning was beautiful and we just sat and looked out the window at the flat, dry, dusty desert surrounding us. We had arrived in Mongolia and were in the Gobi Desert!

During our last hour on the train we left the desert scene and it really started to look like the Mongolia we had pictured in our minds all of the months leading up to this journey. Gorgeous green steppe, rolling hills, herds of livestock and the typical yurt homes dotted the landscape all around us.

scenery from the trans mongolian
Rolling green steppe and a yurt..does it get more Mongolian than that?!
trans mongolian railway ulan bator
Getting closer to Ulan Bator – a yurt settlement just outside of the city

The train was hugging the mountains while gliding its way effortlessly around the bends. After 30 hours of being on the train, we arrived in the capital city of Ulan Bator. Seeing the rolling hills and the yurts was the perfect way to end a perfect journey on one of the most famous trains in the world.

Here’s A Quick Video Of Our Journey. Check It Out!

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Our Trans Mongolian Railway Journey: From Beijing to Ulan Bator

Dariece Swift author's bio Goats On The Road

Written by

Dariece Swift

Dariece is a co-founder of Goats On The Road, and an expert in saving money, finance management, building an online business and of course... travel. She loves meeting new people, trying new cuisines, and learning about the unique cultures of our world. She has over 12 years of experience helping others to realize their travel dreams and has worked in numerous jobs all over the world to help pay for travel.

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27 thoughts on “Our Trans Mongolian Railway Journey: From Beijing to Ulan Bator”

  1. Enjoyed this post, we are doing this trip next year was good to see the 3rd class cabins…were the beds comfortable? They look ok I wonder if the 2nd and 1st class cabins are bigger.

  2. Cool! I did this journey just over four years ago(!), but carried on to Moscow without getting off! Your way sounds better. Enjoy!

  3. Looks like a really fun way to travel! I’ve been looking forward to doing some train travel in SE Asia and the one you went on looks great. I’ll make sure if we do go on it, we stay on the train during the wheel swap.

  4. Nice places,everything is green.
    But I think it’s dangerous to put your heads outside the window……

  5. Did same trip in reverse four years ago late Dec.-Feb. from St Petersburg-Beijing,stopping often in Russia and Mongolia eventually up to Harbin early Feb.for the ice festival in -25 C ,just like home (northern B.C.)It was off season,easy to obtain tickets.had no time limit like you guys.Only way to travel.Your reports excellent.

  6. This is one of my dream trips – it looks amazing. But I can just imagine the look that would have been on my face as the train chugged away without me!

  7. Hey Michele,

    The beds were fine for us. They are a bit thin, but we didn’t find them to be uncomfortable. They are the same as a “hard sleeper” class in China or an SL class train in India. The beds in 2nd class were a bit thicker (tiny bit more padding), but we found the 2nd and 3rd class trains to be practically the same. 1st class cabins are bigger and more comfortable…and more money 🙂

    Cheers, enjoy the journey!

  8. Train travel is the best way to go. You can walk around, stretch your legs and go to the bathroom!!

    Definitely recommend staying on the train for the wheel change.haha.


  9. Wow! That’s really brave of you. I hope the trains were heated 😉 I imagine the scenery would be really nice though. We really wanted to get to the ice festival in Harbin, but never made it there. Next time…


  10. Thanks Jen! We’re trying to incorporate more videos into our posts. It gives a more “real” feel for what we’re up to. Glad you liked the music and editing…that’s all Nick 🙂


  11. This looks amazing! Did you book the third class cabin online? Because I’ve heard that you can only reserve the first and second class online.

  12. We’re going to be taking this trip in July, and reading your post is just getting me more hyped!

    I do have a couple questions:

    1) We’re travelling with a 3 and a 5-year old. What sorts of things would you recommend we bring along on the trip, or consider before we go?

    2) How hot would the 3rd-class cabins get in July with no air-conditioning, leaving from Beijing? Would it be worth it to pay the extra to get 1st-class cabins?

  13. Exciting! I would make sure that your kids have LOTS of things to do, and that you have food that they want to eat. There is a restaurant car, but it serves Chinese food on this leg of the journey. It can get warm during the day, we weren’t too bad though, but kids can be more fussy.

    Good luck and enjoy!

  14. Hey Guys! thank you so much for this post, as well as the one about backpacking Mongolia – extremely helpfull!
    I’m planning to get the train from Moscow, straight to Irkutsk (5 days in that same train!). After a couple of days around Lake Baikal i’ll be going to Mongolia to backpack the country for about 3 weeks, before heading to China.

    Since i’m spending 5 days inside the train, do you think the 2nd class upgrade would be worth the money, opposite to getting a 3rd class train ticket? what about energy points? did you get one per cabin?

  15. hello,
    did you pre book your train tickets or is it easy to get them on the spot?
    i am thinking of travelling via beijing and going as far as i can via mongolia through to russia/central asia…
    appreciate any advice.


  16. Sounds like you have a great trip planned 🙂 The train we were on from Beijing to UB was fine in 3rd class, there wasn’t much difference between 3rd and 2nd. We did have plug ins in the train compartments. Bring things to do though for the 5 days!! movies, cards, games, music, food that can be cooked with just hot water (instant noodles, oatmeal, tea, instant potatoes), etc. So easy and good!


  17. We purchased ours ahead of time through CITS out of China, and through Real Russia as well, different portions of the train. You can get them on the spot, if there is availability!


  18. I am a solo traveller and would like to travel either by 1st or 2nd class from Beijing to Moscow with overnight stops along the way. Possible?

    As I see it the difference between 1st and 2nd class is that 1st class has better finishes and it is for single occupancy whilst the 2nd class is twin sharing. Do they fit the same sex together or mixed in the 2nd class cabin?

    Are all the meals included in the Long train ride from Beijing to Moscow?

    What about showers? Do we have to bring our own toiletries and towels?

  19. Ulan Bator a capitalzona do país de topografia invocada, ora extremamente nivelada ora imponentemente elevada em maciços e contrafortes dispostos suaves em vales e vastidões que enlevam corações. É que a magnitude de Deus assenhoreando nossa pequenez nos confunde no desenho imenso da superfície variadíssima do planeta onde provisórios fomos colocados. Se assim, colados e presos ao solo de um imenso globo ficamos extasiados, quanto mais não ficaremos quando desprendidos navegaremos na eternidade de terceiros Céus para cujas visões os humildes outrora incorporados serão contemplados…:)

  20. Ulan Bator parece estar em rota de ocidentalização inexorável. A história humana nos escapa à compreensão, é magnífica a coisa, quando a coisa é eterna e transcendental. Minha inspiração vem de que andando por Ulan Bator passo na porta de uma grande catedral, a única católica da cidade, catedral de São Pedro e São Paulo. Vejo outra cruz encimando um sobradão. Reconheço outra desta feita num teto dourado de uma Igreja Ortodoxa. Num lugar remoto de paisagem enregelada configurada por maciços e contrafortes suaves formando vales e vastidões imponentes na boca siberiana da Rússia, sinais fortes da consciência do Senhor gigante da história e do cosmos, o Senhor Jesus Cristo, particularmente turbina minha esperança…:)

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