Sep 30, 2015

Misadventures by Bus to Mongolia

As part of my transsiberian adventure and desire to visit Mongolia, I decided to cross over to Ulan bator(Mongolia) from Ulan Ude (Russia ).

If you are here looking for information about crossing the UB from UU, then check out this other website and spare yourself my emotional roller coaster.

The horror of staying close to 24 hours on the train coupled with the high price, made me decide to take a bus over instead. With the help of my Ulan Ude Hostel owner, I was able to get my hands on a Ticket to Ulan Bator for 1500 rubles (no commission, nothing).

The plan was to stay 2 nights in Ulan Ude and then catch the 730am bus to Ulan Bator. Anna from the hostel indicated to me roughly where I should go to board the bus and I also went down personally (on the first day) to check the boarding station and route out.

But as fate would have it, I hit the snooze button and stayed in bed longer than I should. Rushed out at around 7am and after a short 5 minutes walk from my hostel, caught a Mashrutka (bus) to the bus terminal. But because it was a different bus and was so cold the bus windows had all fogged up, I ended up missing my stop!!

Aarghhhhhhhh If only I had shown the bus driver the name of my stop, then at least he would have told me when to alight! I did it the last 2 days but I didn't do it on this fateful day, what is wrong with you kaika?!! So much faith in your own ability to recognise the stop huh??!!

Anyway so I alighted after I saw our bus crossing a long bridge, something I haven't seen in my last 2 rides. Crossed the road and jumped onto another bus. This time, I made sure to show the bus driver my destination and was told when to alight. The bus conductor (the one taking the money ) even told me which direction to go after alighting. So I alighted and sprinted as fast as I could . It was probably 7:35am. The bus terminal was a short 4 minutes away and so I reached my destination and found a small mashrutka in front of the Mongolia bus Bay. I managed to catch my bus!

The Bus bay to Ulan Bator in the Bus Terminal. Taken a few nights before.
Or so I thought!

I decided to do some Intel (aka, asking around) and was horrified to find this bus is not my bus! And my bus had left punctually!

I showed my bus ticket to random Russians who looked like they knew what was going on and he directed me to a bus driver. Bus driver told me (with multiple use of sound effects and hands) that my bus had left and then ushered me and my luggage into his bus.
Let me just put this out here now, I have absolutely no idea what was going on. However I do know that crossing over was possible by catching a series of vehicles. A traveller I had met in Irkutsk had told me she crossed the border by taking a bus to the border, catch a taxi over it and then shared a cab to Ulan bator.

So I reckon this was what was gonna happen.

This particular bus ride was 400 rubles.

Halfway through the journey, the driver beckoned me to the front and told me something. The only thing I could make up was he wanted me to give him 500 rubles, and I know that only through the numbers he typed on his Nokia phone.

His messages wasn't getting through to someone who knew nothing about the russian language. After a few awkward moments, he conceded defeat and request me to seat back down.

We soon got near the borders and the first batch of custom officers boarded the bus and started checking everyone's passport and visa. During the short stopover, the bus driver again attempted communication. I stared at the custom officer/guards and asked if they spoke English. ... only to be returned with an empty look. The bus driver once again, heaved a sigh and asked me to go back into the bus while the other passengers giggled and laughed.


So the bus came to the very end of its route and I was the only one left, much to my surprise. Many others in the bus had big baggage too so the rightful deduction was that everyone's going to cross the border.

But it turns out that most of them alighted in the area between the first casual passport check and the actual immigration custom. I think that is the demilitarised zone. There was also someone who just yelled something to the driver and proceed to alight in the middle of a barren looking land with no bus stop or pole. His destination was probably the few lonely houses across the road

The massive land of Russia is overwhelming, harsh, unwelcoming and yet gloriously stunning at the same time.

So back to my plight.

We had come to the end of the route and just 20 meter to the immigration custom. The bus driver pointed to the building and said a bunch of stuffs to me. And none of it, obviously, was comprehensible to me.

I had ran multiple theories and guesses in my head during the ride. I decided if he was asking for 500 rubles to bring me to Ulan Bator, I'd give it to him for sure. If he wasn't, then I prayed that a taxi over the border wouldn't kill my wallet. It was also sorrowful to note that by then, I was already down to my last 1000 rubles. At that point I wasn't sure what he wanted , but at the wave of his hand I quickly took my last 1000 rubles out. He sighed at the big note but took it anyway and ran towards the border guards. He spoke to the officer and the guard house while pointing to me in his car.

My Bus driver on his way back to the bus after speaking to the guards

He came back and asked for "bilet", which after 2 weeks in Russia, I have learnt means "Ticket". So I fumbled for my bus ticket (UU to UB) and passed it to him.

He ran back to the border guard and showed her my ticket, saying and gesturing at the same time. Next he ran back and asked me to alight the bus. He took my luggage and placed it inside a random lorry behind his bus.

The urgency in the bus driver's voice made the already very flustered me even more so. At that point I was just going with the flow and doing whatever I was told to do; which was to quickly board the lorry.

The Lorry.

I had thought the lorry would be bringing me to Ulan Bator but no, after we crossed the guard house and have the security officer checked our passports. They told me to alight and pointed towards a flight of stairs.

Not missing a beat, I alighted as fast as I could and dragged my bags along. The lorry driver had communicated with another custom officer stationed there and explained that I was from Singapore.
It's strange but that's the only thing I could make up with them saying " Singapour" in every other sentence. I'd have to take a minute to congratulate my nation as it seemed like "Singapour" was something of a magic word and found me a lot of favour.

So the officer, appearing just as rushed as the bus driver led the way and even helped me carry my bag up the stairs. He had taken my passport and after a short distance, he passed me and my passport off to another female officer. Female officer led me into a building with the usual X ray machines and that was when I started to feel a little relieve. It seems like I was finally getting across!

So one of the more effective english speaking officer (who was very beautiful btw ) asked me how I had gotten over. I showed her my bus ticket and explained that I had missed my original bus and took a mashrutka over. She laughed knowingly and told me to take my cellphone out from my pocket before I cross the scanning monitors.

Quickly picked up my bags and walked to the custom officer booth 2 meters away. I'm finally getting my passport chopped!

After a short but always awkward and fearful 5 minutes (which felt like eternity), I walked out with a chopped passport and joined the room full of people. I felt so relieved to see so many other travellers because that means I'm at the right place!

And you know what's more amazing? I met the belgium couple I befriended in irkutsk and olkhon island! That was an immediate relieve as it meant the UU-UB bus was still around!

What timing! Who would have guessed that my public bus would bring me so close in schedule to the UU-UB bus?? Like almost exactly the same time!

We bantered and they assured me the bus still had space so that was another rock off my chest.
We walked to the bus and I showed the guy who looked like a bus driver my ticket. He gave me a weird look and said something in russian which totally flew pass my head. But eventually he allowed me to put my luggage in the luggage compartment and up the bus I go!
I can't believe how everything panned out

The cross over the border was troublesome. After the first check in the russian immigration custom, we loaded our bags and the bus drove a distance to the mongolian custom. Before we boarded the bus, the bus driver gave each of us a white slip of paper. It was the immigration form for foreigners.

Our first problem with it though, was the fact that it was entirely in russian =_=;;
I panicked while staring at the alien Cyrillic words. Entertained thoughts of guessing my way through the form but eventually decided that is way too stupid. So I sought help. Spotted a bunch of Cantonese speaking chinese in our bus and started a conversation with them. Asking if they knew how to read this. Eventually when we reached the Mongolian customs, they passed us an english version (the Hong Kong travellers did actually) and we got through that.

After going through the Mongolian Customs and loading our stuffs back into the Bus, we drove for a short while and an officer came up again to check our passport.

We drove more and soon break for lunch.

Gertie judging the 3-in-1 instant coffee LOL

I sat down with the Belgium Couple (Gerite & Liselotte) along with 2 other caucasians I didn’t know.

We befriended a Mongolian guy called Ubat Naran in the bus. He was super friendly, helpful and spoke impecable english! He gave us a lot of advice for mongolia and translated for us. I casually asked him where’s a good place to buy kashmeer clothings and he told me to buy it from a fellow bus traveller from “Darkhan”. Apparently she is a money changer cum kashmeer seller cum sim card seller LOL.

These mobile money changer came in hordes on our bus after we crossed the mongolian custom lol.

And after one of our toilet break, she started to bring her kashmeer products out. I successfully turned the narrow bus aisle into a bazaar xD I really shouldn’t, but I lugged 2 cardigans, 2 scarfs and 2 socks back, Ubat Naran helped me ask for a better price and i paid 150,000 tugriks in total.

I hadn’t wanted to buy the kashmeer so soon but UbatNaran adviced that as Darkhan was the producer of Kashmir, buying from her would be cheaper than buying it in Ulan Bataar. He proceed to buy a few pairs of socks for his children too haha.

Ubat Naran turned out to be such an awesome guy as he was constantly worried about whether we’ve a place to stay or how we would get to our hostel. When he realised how… let’s just say nonchalent I was about getting to my hostel. He offered to call the Hostel Owner for me on his phone.

Our bus docked at the Dragon Bus Terminal and he even helped sent us downtown!

People like him make Mongolia shine!

He dropped me near the Shangri-la Hotel and helped me hail a cab. Apparently hailing a cab is like in Russia, there’s no rule -__-. Any car can be a taxi , you just have to flag it down and communicate. My Taxi driver was a young lad with delicate Korean features. I was a little worried at first because there was another guy beside him, but they seemed normal so I just went with the flow. I asked how much the ride would cost me but the driver said he didn’t know yet. It was freakin cold outside so I really wanted to get out of the cold so I jumped into the car with Ubat Naran’s blessings LOL.

The ride was a short distance but the traffic jam was so bad! It took maybe 15 minutes and I eventually paid 2500 tugriks. The guy beside the driver had wanted to charge me 5000 tugriks but I haggled, told him I didn’t have that much cash and just gave him 2500. Ubat Naran had told me previously that going from the state department store area to my hostel should cost maximum 3000 tugriks.

Anyway, i’m typing this from my Hostel which is Sunpath Mongolia. The place looks awesome by far and I’ve got a 6 days tour to the desert starting from 8am tomorrow. So I shall finally go take a shower and rest up!