It’s a fairly simple process to get a Mongolian visa in Beijing but it helps to know what you’ll need and where to go.
[UPDATE – 25 October 2016 – a lot of the information here was out of date and it was too hard to keep up with all the changes so I have kept only basic details – sorry]
What you need for a tourist visa:
One passport photo
An address and telephone number of the place where you will be residing in Mongolia (hostel, hotel etc)
Your passport Money to pay into the bank * (costs have now been removed as I don’t know what’s accurate – sorry)
Please search online for information about the form you need to fill out – some say you can get it at the embassy now, I had to print it off beforehand in 2013.
Address and opening hours of the Mongolian Visa Office in Beijing:
2, Xui Shui Bei Jie, Jian Guo Men Way, Beijing China 100600
Nearest metro: Yonganli Station
How to get to the Mongolian Embassy Visa Office in Beijing:Take the metro to Yonganli Station and walk North up the street that has some restaurants on it (see map). After the restaurants and shops cut left then right, then left, walking past the US embassy. Take the next left, then right after the Irish Embassy.
You will see the Mongolian visa office which is a cabin on the street. It’s not obvious that it’s the Mongolian embassy but it looks like this…
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If you’re thinking about buying a ticket for the Trans-Mongolian or Trans-Siberian railway in Ulaanbaatar, here’s where to go and what to do:
Firstly, BRING YOUR PASSPORT. Don’t make the mistake of walking all the way there without it like I did. I ended up walking for 3 hours just to buy a train ticket!
Use the train station as your starting point and stand in front of it with your back to the station. Cross the main road ahead of you and walk to the next street so that you are now on the street parallel to the main one in front of the station.
Turn left and walk for about 3 minutes until you can cut right behind the buildings.
Look for a big yellow building set back off the street. Do NOT go into the tour company building which is also yellow (pic below) – I made this mistake and was almost vastly overcharged.
THIS is the correct building…
Once inside the correct building ask the person at the counter where to go for tickets and name the place you wish to go – they’ll point you in the direction of the correct room. When I bought the tickets the staff didn’t seem to speak English but the lady was able to read my clearly written instructions, which I advise doing, for example –
ULAANBAATAR TO BEIJING, SATURDAY 29 JUNE, 1 PERSON, HARD SLEEPER.
I’m on the trans-Mongolian train right now heading from Ulaanbaatar to Beijing. I was both excited and nervous about this journey; excited because I love train journeys and this is one of the most famous, but nervous in case I was put in a cabin with three burly drunk Russians.
As it happens, the Saturday train leaving at 7.15am is a seasonal train and starts in Mongolia rather than Russia, so it’s mostly tourists, Chinese and Mongolians, and I’m in a cabin with a Dutch lady and two Chinese men who all seem nice and well behaved.
I’ve settled down with tea, cake and a book – life is good with these three things. There’s a free hot water dispenser in each carriage and a power socket in each cabin so I’m all set up for the next 36 hours. I went a little overboard on the snacks though and pretty much only bought chocolate, sweets and crisps.
We’ve stopped a couple of times now and it’s quite hot outside – I expected a cool breeze forgetting that we’re going south.
I like it when we go around bends so I can see the rest of the train out of the window.
The Dutch lady has cracked open a beer for us to share and I’ve eaten Pringles, snickers, jelly sweets, nutella bread and at least 8 mini cakes so the food baby is growing rapidly.
The landscape is sandy and barren now. There are wild camels and bleach blonde horses sharing the dry tufts of grass.
You’d think I’d be sick of all this time spent staring out of the window after 2 weeks of it but I love it. I can quite happily daydream for as long as it takes.
Just had to help an old lady with her pot noodle – the first in her life by the look of it. She was worried she’d emptied the sachets in the wrong order and didn’t know how much water to put in.
7.15 – 9.45pm Border Crossings
The train stopped at the Mongolian border and officials boarded to check passports, documents and to glance at our bags. Meanwhile the train was shunted back and forth multiple times. No Man’s land between Mongolia and China lasted for longer than I expected and once again, officials boarded and took our passports at the Chinese border.
9.45 – 11.30pm The Changing of the Bogeys
Russian/Mongolian train tracks are different in width to Chinese tracks so every carriage must have its wheels, or bogeys, changed. While the train is stationary the toilets are locked and the Dutch lady just told me she needs “a number 2, and when I have to go I have to go.” TMI lady, TMI. She was eventually allowed to go as soon as we left the bogey warehouse, but the toilets were locked again straight after.
11.35pm – 1am
I would have loved to go to bed around about now but we pulled into a main station straight after the wheel change and the sink/toilets are still locked. I was shouted at by the megabitch on duty when I went near the sink so I had to wait. I’m sure I could have found a toilet at the station but I had no idea how long we’d be here for, and being on my own I didn’t want to risk the train leaving without me.
8am the following day
Woke up to grey industrial China. Not a bad night’s sleep though, probably the best I’ve ever had on a sleeper train thanks to some ear plugs the Dutch lady donated to me (the best gift a traveller could ever receive). I could quite happily stay on this train for days and I’m looking forward to reading for a few hours.
We’re now cutting through a gorge with steep red rock mountains emerging from the mist.
The Dutch lady just handed me a pair of tweezers and asked me to pluck the hairs from a mole on her neck. Yuck.
Arrived in Beijing!
Tips for the trans-mongolian railway: * Bring toilet paper, ear plugs and a cup with tea bags/coffee for refreshments. * My carriage had a shower, sink and two toilets, though I hear some aren’t as nice. * If you need the toilet, just go! At major stations the toilets are shut 30 minutes before stopping and opened 30 minutes after – and stops can be over an hour long!
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The drive from Khovsgol lake to Ulaanbaatar is a long one so it was split into three days with a couple of small stops along the way.
One stop was Baibalyk city ruins which is now just two large pock-marked walls in the middle of nowhere.
As we were pulling away our driver potted some horse racers ahead and we stopped to watch. It’s Naadam Festival in a couple of weeks and all across the country people are practising for the three main events – horse racing, archery and wrestling. I will have left Mongolia before Naadam so I’m really happy we got to see some trials. (I’ll upload the video soon)
We passed through Uran Togoo National Park, stopping for a night and then doing a small hike up another volcano but I’m finding these uphill hikes a struggle with the cold I’ve had since day 3. On the way down I walked straight into an evil bush that stings with a searing and lasting burn that left lumps all over one leg. “Yes, that one burns” said the guide after watching me walk into it.
Our final cultural stop was Amaerbayasgalant Monastery where a fourteen year old monk clutching an iPad walked us around. The imagery, colours and patterns in the monasteries here really capture my imagination and I think this is a taste to come if I make it to Tibet.
Mongolia has been magical. I was surprised to discover that the nomadic families are all switched on – they know what’s going on in their country and in the world, the kids all go to school, and they adapt to not only their environment but to changes in materials and technology too. Many have mobile phones and solar panels but still live in a traditional way, combining new and old seamlessly depending on their needs.
Everybody helps each other out so it’s quite normal to turn up to a ger and be given milk tea and sweets without a second thought on the part of the homeowner.
It’s a country very different to any I’ve seen so far, and for that I feel very lucky.
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Yesterday was pretty sedate as some early morning rain prevented us from doing our horse trek so we had a day off to walk, dip into the icy lake, read and play cards. When the rain ceased and the sun burst through the fog the lake looked magnificent; calm as a mill pond and reflecting the bright sky and clouds on its shimmering surface.
It was a joy to wake up to hazy sunshine today (day 9) and we mounted our horses for a four hour ride North by the lake and through the woods.
The three of us had black, white and ginger horses, which I named Black Beauty, Merrylegs and Ginger (from Black Beauty of course) – Ginger was mine and we got on well from the start.
The guy in our group spooked Black Beauty so swapped to another, which tripped and threw him off so he didn’t have much luck. Merrylegs was slow and passive, preferring to be at the back and usually miles behind.
With sore bums and knees we made it to a beautiful clearing by the lake and set up our tent for the night. The lake turns azure blue in the afternoon and reminds me of the Mediterranean.
Unfortunately the battery from my camera dropped out when Ginger started trotting unexpectedly so I can no longer take photos until I can get my phone which I left in the van for the horse trek.
Day 10 started with a morning trek which sent us three hours up a mountain to view the lake which was shrouded in fog and cloud until gusts of wind revealed the glistening water below. Around us on the other side where white and grey jagged mountains and it felt very exposed.
After lunch and still sore from yesterday we mounted our horses again and set off for the journey back to base. It took me some time to get comfortable but I got into my stride eventually and enjoyed the trot through the forest.
The pack horses (loaded with all our stuff) was let off his lead due to unmanageable behaviour so our horses sparred with him the whole time – he wouldn’t let anyone pass him and would bite our horses if we tried. It provided some funny moments and distracted us from the pain. I don’t remember horse riding hurting this much so I must be getting old.
We were shattered by the end and couldn’t wait to sit down as we were welcomed back into the family’s cabin for more milk tea. A hot bath would have been the perfect end to the day but it was just the usual wet wipe routine in the toilet shed (yep, a shed with a hole, utter luxury!).
We have an early start tomorrow so we’re going to bed still in daylight, which here means just before 10pm.
After a short drive we arrived at Khovsgol Lake, the second oldest lake in the world after Baikhal in Russia. I’m trying to think if I’ve seen a bigger lake than this but I don’t think I have.
We took a short detour to the ‘black market’ to pick up supplies – the guide bought meat and potatoes and we bought Snickers, our new obsession.
When we arrived the old lady who owns the gers invited us into her wooden lodge where the ‘milk tea’ (as they call it) she poured actually resembled tea this time, and wasn’t salted like all the other yak’s milk we’ve been given, plus she gave us bread with sugar on so it was an enjoyable welcome.
I’m contemplating a swim but it feels even colder than White Lake, I suppose because we’re further North.
We met an American couple who are also on a tour with our hostel and sat drinking beers and laughing with them and their guide all night. They have a really great guide and ours is terrible. It rained on and off so we split the time between our ger and a table outside overlooking the water. The moon is almost full and is casting a glow over the shimmering lake and the whispy clouds are floating by.
Mongolia is messing with my mind a bit. All these open spaces and long hours driving, sitting, waiting, staring into space, are setting my mind off. My dreams are full of faces from the past and family and things I’d long forgotten about. I’m missing home quite a bit, especially as the other two people in the group are going straight home afterwards and I still have 6 months to go. I’ll have to find a way of coaxing my thoughts into something more constructive.
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