Chinggis Khaan International Airport (IATA: ULN) in Ulaanbaatar is currently linked to most major airport hubs in Asia and a few in Europe, thanks to a growing mining industry. MIAT Mongolian Airlines, the national airline, offers daily flights (daily during certain peak seasons) from Beijing and Seoul, as well as twice-weekly flights from Hong Kong, Berlin, Moscow, and Tokyo (during some peak season – from Narita). It boosts flight frequency and conducts flights from Berlin to Osaka through Moscow during the summer high season. Berlin, Moscow, Hong Kong, Seoul, Tokyo, and Beijing all have branch offices. Hunnu Air, headquartered in Mongolia, has begun flying three times a week to Bangkok, in addition to five times a week to Hong Kong and two times a week to Shanghai.
Korean Air has nearly daily flights from Seoul, as well as additional routes through Beijing and three flights each week to Istanbul. Ulaanbaatar may also be reached by flying from Tokyo’s Narita Airport. If you’re traveling to Mongolia, don’t purchase a non-refundable or non-changeable ticket since planes don’t always happen.
Eznis Airways also offers three weekly flights between Choibalsan, Mongolia and Hailar, Inner Mongolia.
The famous Trans-Siberian Railway’s Trans-Mongolian Line connects Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar with Moscow and Vladivostok, Russia, and Beijing, China. This is Mongolia’s sole railroad, with the exception of a small line between Choibalsan and Russia in the east.
Because each train car has a tiny water boiler that distributes free hot water, it’s a good idea to stock up on instant noodles and tea for the journey. On the train and at the stops, don’t expect to see any English-speaking personnel.
In the Russian town of Naushki, the Trans-Siberian train crosses the Mongolian border. Trains depart from Moscow or Irkutsk and go to Ulaanbaatar or Beijing, making numerous stops along the way. Ulan-Ude, Naushki, Dozornoe, and Khoit are located between Irkutsk and the border. Sühbaatar, Darkhan, and Zuunkharaa are located between the Russian border and Ulaanbaatar, with potential stops at Erdenet and Salkhit.
From Beijing to Ulaanbaatar, second class (hard sleeper) costs about USD200 (March 2011). Although the journey takes almost 30 hours, you will be provided a berth in a sleeping vehicle. The train departs Beijing twice a week. Tickets are now unavailable for purchase at the Beijing station (as of March 2011). Instead, you will be referred to the Beijing International Hotel’s China International Tour Service (CITS) office on the 2nd floor (10 min walk north of the station; large, white building).
Beijing to the Border
If the Beijing – Ulaanbaatar train is sold out, as it often is, or you require a more regular alternative, you may take a local train from Beijing to Erlian, as detailed below, and then take a bus and train to Ulaanbaatar. As of March 2011, morning flights from Beijing to Erlian departing from Capital Airport Terminal 1 cost just 160 yuan, much less than the bus.
Beijing to Jining (Inner Mongolia) or Hohhot trains operate every day. You may change trains there for Erlian, a border town on the Mongolian-Chinese border. The K89 travels from Beijing to Jining in the morning and returns in the evening. Jining offers a plethora of hotels near the railway station, as well as karaoke bars to keep you occupied while you wait. A leisurely train runs from Jining to Erlian, departing in the morning and passing by the Great Wall many times before arriving in the early evening. This will take an extra night compared to using the sleeper bus.
Crossing the border
Be cautious of border scams when uniformed individuals try to sell you “necessary travel insurance.” You may safely disregard them since there is no such thing. Then, as stated in Erlian to and from Mongolia, cross the border from Erlian in China to Zamiin-Uud in Mongolia. Once you’ve crossed the border, follow the instructions for getting from Zamiin-Uud to Ulaanbaatar in Zamiin-Uud get in.
Every year, a large number of daring individuals opt to drive to Mongolia, typically from Europe. Many of these individuals are supported by the Mongol Rally and the Mongol Charity Rally. In many ways, driving to Mongolia may be very difficult. Not only are there few highways in Mongolia’s western half, but car registration, import taxes and paperwork, visas, and everything else must be prepared for each nation along the route. There are four land border crossings with Russia and three with China for individuals who still want to go by vehicle. It should be emphasized, however, that driving through, into, or out of China with your own vehicle is considerably more costly and complicated.
The major border is open 24 hours a day at Altanbulag-Kyakhta (Sühbaatar), which is closest to the capital. The Tsagaannuur-Tashanta crossing in Bayan-Olgii, which is open 09:00-18:00 except Sunday and is the most popular with adventure drivers, is located in the extreme west. Borshoo-Khandgait crossing between Uvs and Tuva Republic, also in the west, is open 09:00-18:00, excluding Saturday and Sunday. The Ereentsav-Solovyovsk crossing at Choibalsan, in the east, is accessible daily from 09:00 to 18:00.
Mongolia has just recently completed a paved road linking Ulaanbaatar to the Chinese border, although one has existed between UB and Russia for many years. More buses linking to the borders are likely to be added shortly, but at the moment only buses run between Altanbulag (Sühbaatar) and Ulaanbaatar.
One-way elektrichka (regional train) tickets from Irkutsk or Ulan Ude to Naushki are available for those who want to save money. For USD0.50 per hour, one may spend the night in Naushki’s newly refurbished railway resting rooms (komnati otdiha). From there, a marshrutka may be taken to the Russian land border crossing town of Kyakhta. Although crossing the border by foot is banned, travelers have little trouble arranging for Mongolia-bound vehicles to transport them over the border for a modest price or at no charge. As all southbound traffic is directed towards Sühbaatar or UB, hitchhiking, taxiing, or taking the bus to those cities is quite simple.
It is possible to cross the land border at Tsagaannuur, Bayan-Olgii, from the west, from Russia. There are daily Russian Kamaz trucks transporting fuel and wheat bound for Olgii, and it is feasible to hitchhike to Tsagaannuur or perhaps Olgii. Regular buses and marshrutkas also run from the border, but owing to the absence of a timetable, service is erratic. Every ten days, a bus runs between Astana or Almaty, Kazakhstan, to Olgii.
The bus ride from Beijing to Erlian costs CNY180 and takes 12 hours.
The bus ride from Hohhot costs CNY88 and takes 6-7 hours. Every day, there are numerous buses.
After arriving in Erlian, go to the Crossing the Border and From the Border to Ulaanbaatar sections.
If you’re traveling during a popular period (e.g., around Naadam on the 11th/12th July) and want to be sure of obtaining tickets for the last part of your journey in Mongolia, you may take advantage of one of the packages offered by Beijing’s guesthouses. These will set you back about CNY570 (July 2009). They will include a cab to Beijing’s coach station, a sleeper coach from Beijing to Erlian, a night’s stay in a hotel near the bus station, a bus from Erlian to Zamyn-Uud across the border, and a soft sleeper overnight from Zamyn-Uud to Ulaanbaatar. The tickets would cost approximately CNY360 if purchased individually. The Saga guesthouse in Beijing offers them, and despite the fact that they claim the train is a hard sleeper until they’re blue in the face, it’s really a soft sleeper!
By thumb or foot
At the border town of Zamyn-Uud, the road comes to a halt and gives way to an open desert, with trails leading in different directions but primarily north toward the capital city. Hitchhiking in Mongolia is difficult, and a tip for the driver is customary. Every hour, one vehicle is driven into the desert on average. The rules at the border stipulate that you must pass by bus or vehicle, not by foot. They are, however, unconcerned with how you get there or where you go afterwards.