My bed for four hours.

The town of Erlian during heavy rain.

Entering the Chinese gate to fill out exit forms. These people, all Mongolians, helped me cross the border in their jeep.

Said jeep. I was packed in with six other people.

A wonderful handpainted sign for camping supplies in cyrillic Mongolian.

/// Mongolian visa run ///

Last week I had to get an exit stamp to get my new work visa, so I decided instead of a costly Hong Kong trip, I'd try Mongolia. Americans are one of the only groups that do not need a Mongolian visa, a rarity in most countries Euro-positive visa laws. Below is what I exactly did, especially useful to other Americans in a similar situation.

First, I booked a bus ticket from Beijing to 二连 (Erlian) leaving from 六里桥路途汽车站 (Liuliqiao long distance station) at 5pm. Buy in advance, as seats sell out quick. Apparently, there are trains that also leave at infrequent hours.

The ride is a mostly enjoyable 11 hours through factory landscapes that gradually melts away to endless grasslands and a fire red setting sun. Passengers were mostly Russian and Mongolian, so Chinese won't get you so far. You'll stop at randomly for bathroom breaks and dinner. Bring snacks and water.

Once you reach the city at about 3 in the morning, you'll be hassled for a room. I'd recommend just getting a ride into the small town or walking yourself. Rain is frequent in late summer. The Mongolian locals will try to rip you off in a far more slick and intelligent way than Chinese usually do, so be smart.

In the morning, you'll need to look for someone to take you across the border. They will most likely come to you rather than the other way around, especially if you are not Asian. You need to find a car (almost all Soviet era Jeep copies) that has a Mongolian license plate. Another idea is simply head to the border (国门) and find someone willing to take you across. (I crossed for 60 yuan, far too expensive, because from Mongolia I returned for only 18 yuan.) Don't wait until too late, because after three everything shuts down and you'll need to wait another day. Regardless, it was fun and I met a Mongolian woman who lived in Washington for six years before being deported for overstaying her green card. Sort of sad and interesting.

If you need to wait in the town for any period of time, make the most of it. There are lots of interesting markets, 羊肉馅饼 (lamb pancakes) and Russian restaurants. I found a market with no Chinese on any of the signs, selling things from blenders for butter tea to henna to Mongolian language books for children to Indian snuff.

Crossing the border is easy and you'll be prompted when you need what and at what time. The whole procedure will take about two hours. Russian language skills are useful in Mongolia, but some working at the gate will know basic English and Chinese. Once you enter Mongolia, you really just need to turn around and head back out. The Mongolian side is incredibly strange, with abandoned train and construction materials, hand painted signs and flat land stretching endlessly. You cannot cross any part of the border by food, so it's another tedious search for a ride back. Even though I couldn't really communicate with the Mongolians at the border, they were gruffly helpful, literally dragging me along to different officers.

Anyway, once you get back to Erlian, you just need to head to the bus station and buy a sleeper bus ticket leaving for Beijing. If you're tall, specifically ask for seating near the front of the bus. It's very easy to head back, and if tickets are sold out, there are other private operators outside of the station. Trains are less predictable.

Good luck!


scott said...

This should be helpful for people in a similar situation. Did you speak with people who had done it before, or did you just figure it out along the way? It sounds like a potentialy nerve-wracking sort of adventure.
It sounds like you're definitely staying in China since you got a new visa. Let us know what your latest plans are.


scott said...

This morning I gave a Lower School presentation on Chinese folk toys. It went well- the girls enjoyed it and I got to stand on stage and play with toys.


Anonymous said...

Ross, what a great narrative of your adventure. You are bold. Keep blogging, I love to keep up with you.

Myra said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Myra said...

Good stuff to know. Thanks! Will bookmark your blog.