Getting to Mongolia by Land
Ulaanbaatar, is connected via the Transmongolian Railway to China and Buryatia. In Ulan Ude, capital of Buryatia, the Transsiberian Railway (leading from Moscow to the Russian Far East, Khabaravosk, Nakhodka etc.) connects to the Transmongolian Railway.
Trains from Moscow to Beijing run once a week in each direction and take about five days for the whole trip. There are also `local trains’ between Irkutsk (Ärxüü) and Ulaanbaatar which take about 24 hours one way. Similar local trains run between Ulaanbaatar and Beijing, which is both slower and cheaper than the direct train service. Catch trains from anywhere in China to Datong and then onto Erlian, where you can cross the border by jeep. From the Mongolian border town Zamyn Uud you can continue to Ulaanbaatar by road. Since the Transmongolian Railway sports only one track this is a bottleneck for railway traffic which results in these one train/week schedules.
For many tourists that are coming in Mongolia, train is the only practical and cost effective method of travelling within a country that spans eleven time zones and two continents, for foreign travellers it is a unique way to view the grandeur of Russia, Mongolia and China and experience real Russia, Siberia, vast Mongolia and its people first hand.
The only land route open is at Erlian-Zamyn Uud, the same place where the train crosses. There are lots of Mongolian jeeps that ferry passengers back and forth all day. In Erlian you catch them at the bus station and in Zamyn Uud you get them at the lot in front of the train station. A ride in either direction costs around 12,000 tugrik (US$10), you also need to pay a 5 yuan border tax. The border is open every day except holidays. From Zamyn Uud you need to hang around for the train to UB or Sainshand, usually departing around 5pm. From Erlian you can plunge into China by bus or train (buses are more frequent).
There are four open land borders (three road borders and one train border). The road borders include western Mongolia (Tsagaanuur-Tashanta), northern Mongolia (Altanbulag-Khyakhta) and eastern Mongolia (Erentsav-Solovyesk). The train border connects Russia with the town of Sukhbaatar.
For overlanders with their own vehicle, the western Mongolia route is a good entry or exit point because it brings you right in the Altai Mountains. The northern entry at Altanbulag is easily connected to Ulaanbaatar (about a six hour drive). The eastern Mongolia border crossing at Erentsav is pretty remote and as far as I know nobody has used it. (send me an email if you have!). The crossings are open 9-noon and 2-6pm daily except holidays.
Posted by: pktan
Having spent a few months in the amazing Mongolia for the past few years, PkTan is fascinated with this beautiful, complicated country. He love advising travellers to Mongolia and have developed this site to share all his knowledge of Mongolia with everyone.