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Driving Miss Daisy’s Train


Irkutsk to UlaanBaator - 6th October 2011

The train from Irkutsk to Ulan Bator spends more time stationary than in motion. With all of the stops I have worked out that the average speed that we have done over the 33 hour journey was 31.8 km/hr. The total distance is only 1052km, of that there is 715km between Irkutsk and the Russian border, a 21km hike from one border to the other, and finally a 316 km slog from the Mongolian border to Ulaanbaator.

The 9 hour stop and customs exercise was a good example of what mass job creation does for the efficiency of a country like Russia and Mongolia. There are 36 passengers in the train travelling across the border. This means that it took 25 minutes to process EACH passport. All I can say is that they must have looked long and hard at every single one of those passports.

So just to breakdown what makes up a 9 hour Russian and Mongolian Train border cross works I have made another list.

The procedure goes something like this:

1. Stop at Russian checkpoint for 5 hours, for the first couple of hours you are free to walk up and down the train station, and if you like you can go into the village where the drunks and mosquitos hang out. Only after 5 hours will the Russians come and take your passports from you and disappear for an hour or two. But for a period i witnessed some nice things in this remote Siberian Village
a. When there I saw some drunks
b. I saw some feral cows roaming the streets
c. I saw a funeral procession, with an open top velvet casket box and some guy throwing evergreens to the side of the road.
2. They will send in sniffer dogs and people to search your cabin, different officials will come by and ask you to stand up, sit down, come outside take your bag here, put your bag there, hop on one leg, bark like a dog...
3. If you are me, then they will pick you out of the carriage like a guilty drugs mule and take you into a large empty room. An important looking Army official will then have to be disturbed to check you out, he will then look at a passport for a good 20 seconds, he will then look at you so intensely your bottom lip will begin to quiver…. He will not flinch nor show any emotion, 3 more officials will be beckoned over, they will look at a passport and then look at you with just as much venom, they will do this for until you are ready to confess everything, starting from the time that you ‘once wore your mothers tights just to see how it felt to be mammy.’ If you’re me and you’re in this position, you will also be surrounded by big ugly looking Russian thugs wearing Long Black Gestapo style leather overcoats. If it is you, then look at the passport and make sure it looks like it actually belongs to you, if it doesn’t then they could be comparing you to some Russian fugitive. You will probably, like me, tell them (in English) that it is not your passport, they will then tell you in no uncertain terms to shut the f**k up, you are not out of Russia yet….. After a while longer of complete fear and total intimidation they will turn the passport around to show you, if it isn’t you as it was in my case then they will laugh with their enormous bellies and tell you to get the f**k out of there and back on the train, you will then struggle to walk to the train as they have been overcome with a jelly like sensation, you may then wish to visit the toilet but will find that they are locked as you are at a station….. If it is indeed your passport then you have my sympathy.
4. Once they are through with you then you, your family, your friends and your soul, the train will crawl to the Mongolian border which is 21km away.
5. Mongolian Army mount the carriage at the first Mongolian checkpoint, you will be relieved to have made it out of Russia and into a friendly country.
6. If you are me and happen to take a photo of the lovely scenery outside you will shouted at by an Army Official, you will then be told to see the army official who is waiting for you at the bottom of the train, you will then be made to make the walk of death past all of the passengers on the same coach, who have also taken pictures, but if you are me then you will be made an example of….. You will be told to delete your photographs, and he will have to witness that you have done this……
7. If you are me at this point you will sit down and not say or do anything until you are safely out of harm’s way…..
8. Once at the Mongolian border you are given the same treatment.
9. Police, security officials, more Army and Custom Officials jump on the train with more sniffer dogs, you have to stand up, sit down, look at them, show them your bags, lift up your seat, part your cheeks!!!….
10. You fill out some forms
11. They take the forms and passport away with them
12. Two hours later they will return and your passport will be stamped.
13. Local Mongolian currency exchangers will then be allowed on the coach to terrorise the already nervous tourists, including me who has curled up in a ball in the corner of the carriage. Each of them will have a huge wad of cash with them trying to sell you Mongolian Currency at a favourable rate I'm sure….When one leaves another one arrives and goes through EXACTLY the same, the only words they know is ‘Maximum Price’, ‘Dollar’ and ‘Euro’….
14. The train will then crawl away in the wrong direction for a while, the passengers will panic as they think they are going back to Russia.
15. The solo cabin as we are in now containing the virus that is the tourist bubble then gets attached to a domestic Mongolian train.
16. We then begin to move in the right direction albeit a little slowly.
17. Whilst ALL of this is going on the temperature in the cabin is 28degC and the toilet is shut for security reasons.

So my advice to anybody doing the Russia and Mongolia train crossing is basically just, sit tight, don’t take photos, don’t get mistaken for a fugitive, and take a good book. Or if you are sensible, do it by bus, I later learned it will take half the time …

Feral Animals, tearing up the Hood
Some friendly dog..... i was bored
Static Train.....

Article By David Beattie of Rounton Coffee

Posted by beatski 23:22 Archived in Russia Tagged crossing into border mongolia ulaanbataar trans siberian

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Cant wait to go to Russia on my hols. You make it sound so fun.............

by david allan

man, its actually pretty good in some places, but totally off it as well......

by beatski

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