In this article we will explain you in details how to cross the border between China and Mongolia via Erlian and Zamiin Uud, the cheapest way to go from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar.
If you want to plan the transmongolian railway you will soon realize that the direct train between Beijing and Ulaanbaatar is very expensive. In fact, a second class ticket (there is no third class) costs a minimum of 150$ and, since there are just two trains per week, it may be also hard to find tickets, particularly in high season.
The solution for whoever want to save money is then avoiding international trains and change transports at the two border cities of Erlian and Zamiin Uud. We did it in November 2019 and we spent 40$ from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar. Here how to do it:
- Beijing —> Erlian (also known as Erhenot). There are two options to go from Beijing to Erlian:
- Train —> you will need to get the trains K3/K23 directed towards Ulaanbaatar that stops at Erlian. They depart daily at 7:27 am and arrives at Erlian at 8:18pm. The cost is 140¥ for the train but you will probably have to spend one night in Erlian and cross the border the day after.
- Overnight bus —> from the bus station next to the Beijing South Railway Station (exit A then walk towards “bus to Erlian” on maps.me) there is a daily bus to Erlian departing at 5:30pm. Inside you will find three rows of bunk beds for a total of 37 beds in one bus. The beds are not very spacious (tall people, over 180cm, may actually struggle to fit in) and you won’t be able to turn that much in those beds. The bus is decently clean but we advise you to bring your own sheets if you can. The journey took a total of 14hrs and a half (we arrived at 8am) with a stop for dinner and 3 hours sleeping break for the drivers in the middle.
- Erlian —> Zamiin Uud. Once arrived at Erlian a bunch of taxi drivers will approach you. You are only allowed to cross the border with one of those jeeps and the cost of the journey from Erlian bus station to Zamiin Uud train station is 50¥ per person. If you are tourists, they will probably ask you more money. Refuse, locals pay 50¥! The two towns are quite close one another and the passport control was pretty straight forward. However, we waited a while our taxi driver and we arrived at Zamiin Uud at 10am.
- Zamiin Uud —> Ulaanbaatar. You have three options:
- Taking a shared taxi —> Some of the people we crossed the border with took it. It should cost around 60000 MNT and it takes 7-8hrs.
- Taking a bus —> We heard that there are buses from Zamin Uud to Ulaanbaatar but we don’t have any information about timetables and costs unfortunately
- Taking the train —> one train departs daily at 6:15pm and it takes 14h and a half (we arrived at 8:45am). On Tuesday and Friday you can also catch the K3/K23 from China. The third class (hard sleeper) costs 25100 MNT per person, the second one 37700 MNT. We tried to buy the tickets in advance on the Mongolian railways website but we failed because it didn’t accept our card. You may be luckier than us, try it!
** At the time of writing (November 2019) 1$ = 2700 MNT
We opted for the cheapest option so we took the bus from Beijing to Erlian then the train from Zamiin Uud to Ulaanbaatar. Because we travelled two nights in a row, we didn’t spend for accommodations so we spent a total of 40$. We think it’s a pretty straight forward way to cross the border between Mongolia and China and we reccomend it to you. You may struggle to sleep on the overnight bus from Beijing to Erlian but, once arrived at Zamiin Uud, you can have a good meal in one of the restaurant nearby the train station or chill out in the modern waiting room of Zamiin Uud train station. There, you will also find WiFi and money exchange at a pretty good rate as well!
Hope you found these information useful, have fun on traveling low budget between China and Mongolia!