How to cross the Bulgan Border: Khovd (Mongolia) to Urumqi (China)

Tommo Fun, Travel Tips 12 Comments

Mongolia’s western border at Bulgan is not frequented by foreigners – but it is certainly open to us! Find out how we made the crossing from Khovd to Urumqi in August 2013. Similarly to when we arrived through Erlian & Zamiin-uud in the east, border corossing between China and Mongolia are not straight-forward, you just have to put the time in and plod through the process – expect your passports and bags to be checked multiple times and for staff to be very confused by you!

Getting to the Bulgan Border (From Khovd)

Bulgan is not exactly a tourist destination… in fact, it is about as far removed from the tourist trail as is possible and, for Mongolia, that is quite a significant detour! It’s about 12 hours of dusty mountain roads by jeep from Khovd, to be exact. Still, apart from the eastern border at Zamiin-ud, this is the only other Mongolia-China border open to foreigners as of 2013.

If you have made it to the western side of Mongolia, you can save yourself days of bumpy travel back to UB by exiting to China and then getting the sleeper train from Urumqi to wherever your next destination in China is, or just check out the west itself.

Getting to Bulgan is cheap and simple though not necessarily comfortable. Head to the south end of the Black Market in Khovd and you will find a mass of jeeps, minivans and Russian vans bound for multiple destinations waiting for people.

Where to find drivers in Khovd

Where to find drivers in Khovd

A van leaves for Bulgan in the afternoon almost every day (unless they can’t get enough people, in which case you can offer more money if you have to leave that day) and normally cost 30,000MNT (about $21) per person. Walk around asking for “Bulgan” (Булгана) and people will point you to the right van, which will normally have the destination written on a card on the vehicle.

We got lucky (for the first time in Mongolia!) and our 5 seater jeep only had 5 occupants… previously, similar jeeps had had 7 to 10 occupants, which is not a comfortable choice on Mongolian roads I can tell you! We arrived at the market at 11.30am and the van picked us up from our hotel at 13.15pm. This, we are led to believe, is more efficient than usual, its better to arrive a little earlier to book your space and don’t expect the van to leave before 4 or 5pm.

We stop at a Ger in the Altai mountains for a pot noodle!

We stop at a Ger in the Altai mountains for a pot noodle!

The drive to Bulgan took 12 hours. It is quoted as being 10 to 12 hours and our driver was fast (in fact, insane) even by Mongolian standards. Even if we hadn’t stopped for dinner I don’t believe you could make the trip in 10 hours in this sort of vehicle.

We arrived in the middle of the night and the driver kindly let us sleep in his Ger for free – and fed us! Although this sort of hospitality is common in Mongolia, don’t rely on it.

Getting to the border from Bulgan

After a short night’s sleep, we managed to get our driver, who spoke no English at all, to call us a taxi from Bulgan to the border. This costs 5,000MNT per person. Bulgan is a border town so getting to the border is a frequent request and is pretty easy.

Simply pointing at your passport and saying “China” and “Teksi” (Taxi) should do the trick. Mongolians are normally very helpful and will probably call a taxi for you, even if you have just met them.

The ride to the border is on paved road (what a relief!) and takes about 30 minutes. The Border opens at 9am, it pays to get there early.

Crossing the China/Mongolia Border

The border opens at 9am and closes at 6pm. The earlier you leave, the higher chance you will have of easily getting a taxi/bus to Urumqi on the other side. One of our Mongolian guides informed us that the border will sometimes close for up to 2 hours for lunch too, so we aimed to get there before 11am. It took us about 1 hour from arriving at the Mongolian border gate to walking out on Chinese soil.

The actual crossing itself is somewhat long-winded, but unlike the eastern border you can cross on foot or by bike/motorbike. Make sure you have a valid Chinese visa before arriving. Here is our story:

The taxi dropped us at the gate. Soldiers (friendly ones at that!) check your passport and you walk towards the immigration building. Through a small door you line up, they scan your bags, check passports again and you get to a desk where they take the passports and tell you that you should have filled out an exit card (we’d asked for one whilst in line, but to no avail). We were led around to the immigration office on the inbound side where they checked passports again and filled out a tiny piece of paper for us (How we would have known about this office in advance and why they did not direct us there when we first arrived, who knows!).

Back to the exit desk for more passport checks (yes, the checking of passports is going to be an infinitely reccurring theme in this story!). They do the scanning and then we head out past the duty free shop (closed). Out of the gate for the Mongolian compound where, you guessed it, our passports are checked!

Passing through nomansland into China we get a sneaky photo.

Passing through No-mans-land into China we get a sneaky photo.

We head the 50 meters across No-mans-land to the gate of the Chinese compound. Passports checked. We are directed to bag inspection. Now it gets interesting, our bags are pretty much emptied, they go through everything including checking our ipad and camera for “sensitive photos”… It just so happens that we took the photos here of the border crossing on our video-camera, the only thing they didn’t check! phew! They also didn’t notice we’d put vodka into a plastic bottle… They did check our passports again though!

We make it through inspection and head to Chinese immigration. They check our passports at the door. We fill out the entry card whilst they check our passports again. We line up with the pushy biscuit importers, desperately trying to get through the line quicker than us to get there valuable biscuit cargo into China ASAP.

Whilst in the line an official comes and takes our passports and studies them carefully – note that Mongolians/Chinese have not had anywhere near the attention we’ve had, even though they could have piles of cocaine in their trays of biscuits, disguised as sugar!

We finally make it to the immigration counter, the Chinese officials consult on our passports. After some deliberation they stamp us in. Our bags are scanned, opened and fully inspected again. They find our stash of medications and ask what the white and pink ones are for, Megsy points at her belly and says “No Babies” which amuses the official somewhat! Not enough to stop him needing to check our passports again though!

We leave immigration and with a final check of passports at the gate we are released into China to a flurry of taxi drivers shouting “Urumqi” at us!

For those of you who were counting, our passports were checked 14 times, but possibly we missed a few! This is the most thorough identity check I’ve ever been subjected to. lol.

Getting to Urumqi from the Bulgan Border

There are two options. Bus or Taxi. From what we’d read, the bus costs upwards of 170 yuan, could involve at least 2 busses, detours and waiting around. We can’t confirm any of these stories as, by our 3rd day of straight travel, very bumpy roads and minimal sleep, 250 yuan per person for a direct taxi sounded like a pretty good option.

There were plenty of taxis waiting at the border gate, mostly to collect Mongolian biscuits, but more than happy to take our money too. We arrived just after midday (which was actually 1pm Chinese time).

The taxi took us to the local town of Takishiken (about 7Km away) for Lunch. It turned out this was not our taxi at all, just a humble biscuit trafficker giving us a lift to town so his friend, the taxi driver, could take our money. Still, he didn’t charge us anything and lunch was tasty (25 yuan each)!

Our first non-Mongolian meal in a month had vegetables in it!!!

Our first non-Mongolian meal in a month had vegetables in it!!!

We got in the taxi at about 1.45pm Chinese time. After just under an hour of phone calls and driving around the town we finally had a full car of 7 people. Unlike Mongolia, everyone gets a whole seat to themselves!

The journey to Urumqi took just under 7 hours. Estimates online had told us that the local bus would take 5-8 hours. Given that our taxi driver hit speed of 140Km/h, I somehow doubt the time estimates for the bus. Still, if you have done the bus ride, please leave us some comments!

7 hours riding through the Gobi Desert south to Urumqi

7 hours riding through the Gobi Desert south to Urumqi

We arrived in Urumqi at 9.30pm to discover that both the cheap hotels we’d picked out were full 🙁 But thats another story…


Comments 12

  1. Hi ! I was inspired and encouraged by this post to cross the same border while in Mongolia (hello from UB!!). and as I too will be heading to Urumchi, and then Kashgar on my way to Osh, Kyrgystan. I applied for my chinese visa today and my bus ticket to Hovd was enough proof and added that the western border is not international and only open to Chinese and Mongolian people. I went to the train station and bought a train ticket to Erlin (which I can cancel anytime). With my Mongolian friend we asked at the border information center next to the train station if the border is open, the lady said of course it is. We also called the border protection office at Bulgan, they said the border is international, and if the Chinese say differently, Mongolians haven’t received any notification so far — and I hope they won’t by next week I’m leaving, which seems unlikely anyway. So as soon as I get my visa in 4 days, I am cancelling the train ticket and proceed as planned with my bus to Hovd and onward with a shared taxi. Thank you so much and Cheers xoxo

    1. Post

      Let us know how you go with the crossing. I haven’t heard any accounts of it being closed recently, but our personal information is a little dated from when we were there. But we know other travelers have done the same trip following our posts. My understanding is they now have many more roads in Mongolia which will make the trip easier. The one from Hovd to the Bulagan border was being built when we were there in 2013. Maybe it has been finished now!

  2. Sure the border is open. From UB there are 2 buses one may catch. One bus goes to Khovd (65.000 tugrik) many times during the week and twice a day, 10.00am and 13.00pm. The 10.00am they say arrive to Khovd next day 12 noon. There’s another bus that goes from UB straight to Bulgan city (73.000 tungrik) and arrives next day after midnight at 1am. All it takes is go to the Dragon station and find the timetables on the counter. Shared taxi from Khovd to Bulgan city is 30-40.000 tugrik (if one decided to take the Khovd bus). The roads sound like they are ok now. From Khovd to Bulgan city is said to be a 5-hours ride with a shared taxi. Taxi from Bulgan to the border is still said to be 5,000 tugrik as you mention above. If anything different will let you know after I cross. Thanks.

  3. Hey. I’m thinking of doing this in a few days tine. Thanks for the info, your post is the only one I could find on the subject. Varvara, how was your crossing? Is it safe for a solo female traveleer to do? (Arriving at midnight). I couldn’t find a hotel in Bulgan. Any recommendations?

    Thanks in advance, guys!

    1. it was an odd occasion but our driver let us sleep at his place. Obviously not something you can replicate that easily. The crossing is quite full on but I couldn’t see it being an issue for female travelers. All the best on your travels

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this info. My girlfriend and I are looking to get into Xinjiang from Mongolia in a couple of months and will definitely use this advice! However, we plan to get a bus to Turpan rather than to Urumiqi. Border sounds like a headache but still better than heading all the way to Inner Mongolia.

  5. I plan same travel as Eric from the post above. I am curious did anybody else make it lately?
    I want to go from Xinjiang, China, through Mongolia, to Altay in Russia.
    How many days I need from China, across western Mongolia, to Russia’s border? Even 3?
    It is short distance, but obviously not so visited area. Still, maybe it is possible to cross Mongolia there faster than in 2013? Best regards from Yugoslavian in China:)

    1. Post

      Mainly depends on what mode of transport you intend to use. We still don’t know what state the new roads will be in now, and how many were completed – maybe someone else does. If you plan to travel by public transport, there may not be a direct route. And you may have to wait a day or more between transport legs. If you are paying for private transport, you could get their faster, but Mongolia has sensational landscape and you should spend a little time exploring if you can, rather than just crossing as quick as you can. We spent 30 days in Mongolia.
      Even from Urumqi to the Mongolian border, on proper roads, was about 7 hours… The distances are pretty big. 3 days seems ambitious even if all the roads in Mongolia have been perfected.

      1. Thank you very much for fast answer, Tommo.
        Well, if I can cross the borders in similar way like you, it is great…….as what can be my other option, to go even to Kazakhstan, and then from there to Russia.

        My aim is to go from Gansu province (Dunhuang or Turpan) in China to Altay mountains in Russia, then Novosibirsk and to east to Baykal, then to south through Mongolia all the way to Shenzhen where I live.
        If I go from Gansu through Mongolia to Russian Altay, it sounds much cheaper, and in any way faster, in my impression. Do you agree?

        So, for that way through Mongolia, I need 1) to find the car to Bulgan border, 2)car or cars from there to Russian border. Even if I must wait longer time, I guess it is everywhere somehow possible to find any place for sleeping (anything is better than to stay out in the night in desert:P)…

        and my main question is that border still open right now??

        As I can see here, it should be, but I can’t find anywhere in internet any official information from this year.

        Aside of that main dilemma (or a need for confirmation), do you maybe have any electronic contact for any of those people who drive you in any part of that travel from Rossia to Urumchi?
        Same questions for other people in this forum, do you have any contact with those people who know more or even can drive visitors along this route (any part of it).

        Grateful in advance,

        1. As we haven’t been since 2013, I can’t promise our info is still 100%. But I would be almost certain that you can get a shared mini bus from Urumqi to Bulgan border. Many were running. When we travelled lots of articles said the border was closed to foreigners, but it wasn’t at all. That’s not to say it is open, only our experience. You must have a Mongolian visa before arrival.
          I don’t think you’ll get direct transport from Turpan to the border. The route is from Urumqi. There are some hostels in Urumqi with English speaking staff, I’d search out some of them and email for latest info.
          Once across, unless you are willing to pay a very high price to hire a driver for two days (probably about $300 USD), then you’d get a taxi to the local town, then a share bus to Khovd (might have to overnight first at Bulgan), then overnight in Khovd, then a share bus to Olgi, then try and get a taxi or share bus to the northern border to Russia – we’ve never used that border so I can’t help you much more than that. So it’s a pretty longwinded journey that is only worth it if you are excited to explore Mongolia, otherwise you might be better of searching for flights. Good luck!

  6. and, please, write me when you got new information from hotels in Urumqi, is the border still open and about transport.
    Thank you very much once more, your information and texts here are fantastic:)
    All the best, Mario

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