What if you want to overland to China but don’t have 150 dollars a day to spend on permits? Or you don’t want to drive an itinerary that needs to be approved by the Chinese government? Or don’t you want to travel with the mandatory guide in your overland vehicle, who makes sure you stick to that itinerary?
Well, you don’t go..
Not by car (or motorcycle), anyway.
Fortunately, there is public transport. For the third time in our 15-year journey we parked the Land Cruiser in a parking lot and took the bus to China.
Here’s the lowdown of that trip of our bus trip from Ulaanbaatar to Beijing.
Read more: The Journey
General Information for the Bus Trip from Ulaanbaatar to Beijing
Currencies used in this post:
- U.S. dollars – US$
- Chinese yuan – ¥
- Mongolian Tugrik – ₮
Tips to Bring on the Bus:
- I brought my Kindle to read a book about China (recommended: An Armchair Traveller’s History of Beijing). Coen reads books on his iPhone.
- If you’re quickly annoyed by noise, bring headphones as it’s quite common on public transport in China for people to watch (loud) You Tubes without using headphones themselves.
- A bottle of water and a snack/some fruit.
- Bring toilet paper (everywhere in Mongolia as well as China)
- A warm sweater/fleece blanket (nights in Mongolia are cold).
- Make sure you have VPN installed before going to China if you want to access Facebook or other pages blocked by the Chinese government.
We have used VPN Unlimited for a few years now and it has been a great way to add overall safety when you depend on local WiFi. Not only will it allow you in China to access Google or your favorite social media, but it will also help you get cheaper airline tickets as well. This little cool video that will explain the benefits, especially if you travel to China.
Make sure you installed your VPN before you arrive in China.
If you are looking for a VPN with great service, we recommend VPN Unlimited. You will be allowed to activate up to 5 devices. Check it out and take it for a spin. VPN Unlimited is cross-platform and offers a 10-day trial for free.
Stage 1: The Bus from Ulaanbaatar to Erlian (also called Erenhot)
We parked the Land Cruiser at Oasis Guesthouse for the month for US$45, packed our backpacks and walked across the road to the Tenger Plaza, where the bus station sits next to the shopping mall. We took the bus because it was a much cheaper option than the train and we didn’t want to go by plane.
Price of the bus ticket: ₮ 55,000 per person, one way (US$22).
Time schedule: departure Ulaanbaatar at 9 p.m. / arrival at the border of Erlian around 7.15 a.m.
Type of bus: a regular bus with (slightly) reclining seats for sleeping.
Extras: In the morning we got a small bottle of water and a mono-packaged cookie. Also included was dinner, which was eaten in a roadside restaurant around 11 p.m. We didn’t know this and wondered why everybody needed so much time for a pee 🙂
Read more: Feeling Lost in the Gobi Desert
Stage 2: The Border Crossing of Erlian (Erenhot)
We arrived at 7.15 a.m. and had to wait a bit for the border to open. The bus drove to the Mongolian immigration office where we got out with our luggage because it needs to be X-rayed.
- Inside we bought a ticket at a counter. Foreigners pay ₮ 5000 (locals ₮ 1000). Whether this is tax or processing fee we have no idea. But make sure you have not spent your last Mongolian dime before you get on the bus so you can buy these tickets!
- We got stamped out of Mongolia.
- Everybody got back on the bus which then drove for a couple of minutes to the China Immigration Office.
- In the Immigration Hall we picked up an immigration form from a counter, which we filled in while we stood in line.
- While the officer checked the passport, machines took fingerprints and a headshot (watch the funny smiley faces for grading the service that light up after the process is finished).
- We were stamped into China.
- Everybody got back on the bus, which took us downtown.
Stage 3: Getting a New Visa for Mongolia
Because we wanted to return to Mongolia after our trip to China, we got our visa in Erlian, figuring it would be easier (quicker) than in Beijing.
This was correct. There was no line at all.
However, we were unpleasantly surprised to learn that a Mongolia visa is much more expensive than in Ulan Ude (Russia), where we paid US$25. Here, in Erlian, the single-entree visa (processing time 3-5 days) cost ¥340 (US$50).
Since we wanted to get our visa the same day, we paid a whopping ¥635 (US$80). We applied at 11 a.m. and could pick it up at 2 p.m. This allowed us to continue to Beijing the same day, which was great. Erlian is not a place of interest to stay.
You can pay the Mongolia visa only in Chinese cash. No visa, no US dollars. The ICSC bank right across the bus station no longer existed and the only other option for us to withdraw cash was at the Bank of China. To get there we took an electric pedicab (= enclosed three-wheeled vehicle).
Read more: How to Get a China Visa in Mongolia
Stage 4: The Bus from Erlian to Beijing
Price of the bus ticket: ¥220 per person (US$30).
Time schedule: There are several buses departing in the afternoon. We took the one at 4.30 p.m. and arrived in south Beijing around 5 a.m (find accommodation here).
Type of bus: A sleeper bus with bunk beds, which are short for Europeans, but that had good (thick) blankets
Extras: none. The bus stopped around 9 p.m. at a roadside restaurant where we could eat a quick set-meal for the equivalent of a couple of dollars.
Read more: Hiking the Great Wall Away From the Crowds
That’s it. Easy as that. Obviously, taking two night-buses was tiring but all in all, our bus trip from Ulaanbaatar to Beijing was very doable. It was great to already have our Mongolian visa so we could now spend all our time focused on our journey in China.
We hope you found this helpful. Questions? Fire away in the comment section below.
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