Unchartered / Day 27 of 64 / 05 June
Time to leave Ulaanbaatar and push on to Ulan-Ude, Russia. Today I got up at 5.45am: waking up early seems to be a routine now. My bus to Ulan-Ude (Bus, buy at Dragon Bus Terminal, 72000 MNT/40 SGD/pax) would leave from Dragon Bus Terminal at 7.30am, so I called for a cab in advance the night before. However, the cab company didn’t follow up with the number plate of the cab. So, I walked out to Peace Avenue and tried to hail one.
I read that in Ulaanbaatar, two types of cabs exist: official and unofficial. Both are perfectly legitimate ways of getting around, although many recommend taking only official cabs if travelling at night. Unofficial cabs are sort of like GrabHitch or Uber Pool: you state your destination, ask for the price, and hop in. The drivers don’t drive for a living, they just pick people up if there’s space in their car. As I was walking to Peace Avenue, a man pulled his car over and asked where I was going. I told him I was going to the bus terminal and he quoted me a price of 8000 MNT. According to the hostel, an official cab ride would cost around 7000 MNT, so not much of a difference there. I hopped in, and by 6.45am I had arrived at Dragon Bus Terminal [Драгон худалдаа үйлчилгээний төв, Dragon Khudaldaa Uilchilgeenii Tov].
I looked around the terminal for my bus, and eventually, I found it. There was a huge group of people waiting to board the bus, some Russian, some Mongolian. There was also a backpacking couple from Switzerland, and a German couple headed to Russia for the World Cup. The bus left the terminal at 7.30am and made its way to the Mongolian-Russian border. Every two hours or so, the bus stops so passengers can alight and use the toilet, or buy snacks from the nearby minimarts.
At 1pm, the bus stopped at a restaurant so that we could have some lunch before crossing the border. I had my final meal in Mongolia: goulash.
Around 2pm, the bus reached the border with Russia. Unlike most borders crossings I have been to, this crossing took quite a while: 2.5 hours to be exact. Checks on both sides are thorough, and the bus has to wait for all passengers and their bags to be scrutinised before moving off. We finally left the border area and drove into Russia at 4.30pm.
First rest stop in Russia!
At our first Russian rest stop, a girl that was headed to Novosibirsk, Russia need to borrow a light. She asked me where I was from, and I asked her where she was headed. She was headed home after working in China for two years. She had gone through Mongolia to reach Russia, where should we take the Trans-Siberian home. She said it was cheaper than flying, although the entire journey would take five days. Coincidentally, she was also leaving Ulan-Ude tomorrow, but she would be on an evening train instead. She said she’s been to Indonesia and Malaysia, and she always couchsurfs when travelling. She even suggested that I could try couchsurfing in Russia.
The bumpy bus finally reached Ulan-Ude at 8pm. Although I was exhausted, my first objective before heading to the hotel was to visit the world’s largest statue of Lenin’s head. It was truly spectacular, although a bit anti-climatic. With my curiosity satisfied, I walked to my hotel: Hotel Shumak (36 SGD/night), located near the railway station where I would be leaving from tomorrow.
I asked an elderly Russian aunty to help me take this photo. Her grandchild didn’t look too pleased.
The owner of the hotel, Igor, was very helpful. He helped me settle my Russian visa registration, and thankfully, his hotel also sold data SIM cards. We talked for a bit as his staff sorted out my registration. He told me lots of people come through Ulan-Ude to get to the Trans-Siberian. Just last week, a couple of Singaporeans had stayed at his hotel. And currently, there were two Thais and a Vietnamese staying here. I told him about my journey from Bangkok, and he laughed. “You want a big adventure while you are young right?”. I nodded and smiled. As I headed to my room to rest, Igor told me to get some rest, and I definitely did.