Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Day 87 North to Mongolia

China has been beyond our expectations in so many ways, particularly as we considered it somewhat of a 'stopover' on the way to our grander adventures through Russia and to Europe. As a small band of travellers we have largely been wowed by the culture, history and cuisine. The people too have been amiable and accommodating, though apt to stare - en masse - way too long.

A big negative has been the pollution, which has been to the point of unbearable at times.
To wrap up, we have very much enjoyed China, but feel it was the right amount of time for us all.
When we arrived at the train station in Datong we were expecting to sit in the departure hall amongst the 'travelling starers' - Rosie's term for the ogling Chinese. Instead we were sat in a secluded space, being the only passengers to board the Trans-Mongolian at this station.
We had a pretty police officer process our departure documents, who was quite enamoured with Rosie, asking to be photographed with her and making her best attempt to strike up conversation.

When our police officer escorted us to the train - and to make up for the lack of 'travelling starers' - a pair of railway officers photographed our progress all the way through to the train. Quite bizarre.

We were all pretty excited with the thought of heading to Mongolia, though amazed at just how excited we got as soon as the train arrived.

The excitement built more and more for us all when we were on board and underway.

We chose the 'hard sleeper' four person cabins, as opposed to the slightly more spacious soft sleeper, or the first class two person cabins with self contained shower - but shared loo. We were told by a few sources that the hard sleeper cabins were more than adequate, and we would have to agree. There's plenty of storage, enough space, they're clean...though the toilet hygiene and cleanliness left a lot to be desired.
What is it about Asians and their ignorance of toilet hygiene?
We're booking each leg of the Trans-Siberian as we go, and are going to book a Russian train for the next leg, as we're told the toilets are clean. Lets hope?
The journey through Inner Mongolia (a province of China) presented very different country very quickly. Gone were the grey brick and tiled dwellings and bland tall apartment buildings. The countryside was full of charming low farm dwellings of red clay brick and tile. The countryside appeared more fertile and quite undulating.

And the odd bit of industry, of course.

After our 'free dinner' in the dining car, we were happy to celebrate with a couple of bottles of surprisingly decent Chinese red - Great Wall - quaffed with a couple of Aussies we met in the dining car.

We knew that the train was to stop on the border at around 8.30pm for immigration processing AND to have the undercarriage (wheels) changed to cater for the Russian vs. Chinese railway gauge.
The reality was not a lot of sleep till around 2am. What with the Chinese wanting their paperwork first, then the incredibly noisy and somewhat violent jostling of the train for the undercarriage process, then the Mongolian's wanting their share of paperwork...
At bed time, the kids were overly excited. But then slept through the whole thing.
Shane, Helen, Rosie, Tom and Lee

Location:Ulan Bator,Mongolia

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