We’ve put together a 4 part series on how to reach Ulaanbaatar from China for under US$60 per person (The international train from Beijing normally costs $250). This is a quick post to summarise the costs and some links to help you read more in-depth about all of the stages we went through to make this happen.
Obviously visas are not a part of your transport costs but if you are a long term traveller, like us, then you may not have been able to simply pick up visas at home. In which case you will need to get them in China before you arrive at the border crossing.
If you need to learn more about getting your visas in China and some alternatives to the obvious “Mongolian Embassy in Beijing” option then please read part one of our guide: Getting our Mongolian visa in Hohhot.
We paid 465 RMB (about $80) for an express same day service in Hohhot.
There is really not much in Hohhot to see or do, so we’d probably recommend getting your visa at the consulate in Erlian instead – plus the hotels in Erlain are cheaper!
China is a massive country and its impossible for us to give specific advice for every destination you may be coming from! Some of the major cities in the north than you may use as a jumping off point for Mongolia are Beijing, Datong (via Jining railway junction) and Hohhot.
We got our visa in Hohhot and travelled to Erlian to cross the border. In retrospect it would probably have been easier and cheaper to get our visa at the consulate in Erlian and skip Hohhot altogether! If you want to visit to Hohhot, or you are arriving from the west then it may be worth stopping in Hohhot to get your visa or to transfer onto a train from Hohhot to Erlian (Which costs only 29 RMB for the day train!)
Erlian is the most popular border between Mongolia and China and the easiest for foreigners to cross. If you are a budget traveller and hence are not taking the expensive international train then stopping briefly in Erlian and crossing the border by jeep or bus is almost a certainty.
Read about the specifics in our full post: Crossing the Erlian to Zamiin Uud border
It cost us 110RMB per person and to 2 hours + the time to find and negotiate the jeep.
Although we’d read that sleeper tickets would be hard to get, even if we arrived at 7am, we managed to pick up two sleeper tickets for $21 each at 13:30 in the afternoon in order to travel on the 17:35 train the same day. Although we were not in the same compartment, we were in adjacent rooms.
Read the complete story of this part of the trip in the final part of the guide: Zamiin-uud to Ulaanbaatar.
Travel Hohhot to Ulaanbaatar:
Hohhot to Erlian, hard seat 29 yuan per person = $5.50
Erlian to Zamiin-uud by jeep 110 yuan per person = $20
Zamiin-uud to Ulaanbaatar Soft sleeper 27,300 MNT = $21
Total = $47.50
If you took the hard seat from Zamiin-uud to UB, rather than the sleeper, you could, rather uncomfortably, get that total down by another $13. Riding the public bus across the border, rather than a jeep is also possible, apparently, with the price closer to 60 yuan – saving you another $11. Giving you a total of $23.50 from Hohhot to UB – now that would be super budget!
If you are travelling from Beijing you can either take a regular train to Hohhot (about 76 yuan), or an overnight bus to the border (about $30, apparently.)
1 Night in Erlian, double room 100 yuan (50 per person). = $9
30 day tourist, sameday express visa: 465 yuan = $80
Total Travel time: 47.5 hours.
Although there are quicker ways to get there, this was the more comfortable way. One night in a nice but cheap hotel and one night on the sleeper train. No rushing, we actually arrived pretty fresh.