When I made firm plans to visit Mongolia I promised myself that if I did nothing else .. I would take a trip on the Mongolian Railway. The first phase of this promise to myself came to fruition here in Ulaanbaatar one week ago on Tuesday August 11th 2015 when I rode the Trans-Mongolian / Siberian Express North from Ulaanbaatar to Sukhbaatar near the Russian border a 6-1/2 Hour journey of approximately 380 Kilometers or 235 Miles.
Mongolia above and the beginning (lower balloon) and ending (upper balloon) of my trip from Ulaanbaatar to Sukhbaatar ..
The second phase came to fruition on Thursday August 13th 2015 when I returned South from Sukhbaatar to Ulaanbaatar. I will do a separate post on this return train trip which was on a Mongolian local train.
First things first. I had to purchase my ticket. For one of the few times in my life .. I used a travel agent. Teke of the SOLIDways travel agency was my agent.
I told Teke that I specifically wanted to ride the Trans-Mongolian / Siberian Express Train on the Northbound leg of the trip. So Teke consummated the purchase of the one-way ticket North to Sukhbaatar. On my own at the Sukhbaatar railway station I purchased the Southbound ticket back to Ulaanbaatar.
Using Teke’s services to ride the Trans-Mongolian / Siberian Express in a first class cabin I paid Mongolian 246,500 Tug or U.S. $125. Going the ‘do-it-myself route’ in the Sukhbaatar railway station I purchased a ticket on the local train also in a first class cabin. For this return trip I paid Mongolian 25,400 Tug or U.S. $12.88.
YIKES!! IF YOU JUST SKIPPED-OVER THESE NUMBERS IN A HURRY MAYBE YOU WOULD LIKE TO REVIEW THEM MORE CLOSELY!!
NORTHBOUND .. 246,500 Tug .. US $ 125.00
SOUTHBOUND .. 25,400 Tug .. US $ 12.88
A DIFFERENCE OF 221,100 Tug .. US $ 112.12
SOMETHING IS HAPPENING HERE .. WHAT IT IS AIN’T EXACTLY CLEAR ..
I know and I fully understand that a for-profit company MUST show a positive cash and earnings flow. I have no argument whatsoever with the free market economy. At the same time .. it is my money we are talking about here and profit is one thing and ‘gouging’ a tourist is quite another. I was stunned when I paid US $ 12.88 in Sukhbaatar to come home after I paid Teke US $ 125.00 in Ulaanbaatar to go North.
So I did some research into this rather radical difference in fares.
Step 1 – I asked Teke a ‘loaded question’ .. KNOWING I actually paid 25,400 Tug (US 12.88) .. I asked her what would it cost me to come home from Sukhbaatar on the local Mongolian train. She said it would cost me 138,100 Tug (US $ 70.00). This told me their gross profit margin (of course they have costs that must come out of their gross profit .. I understand this) was US $ 57.12. This seemingly high gross profit margin did not matter one-whit to me because I did not purchase my ticket from Teke and company actually paying US $ 12.88.
Step 2 – Today .. Tuesday the 18th of August .. I went in person to the Ulaanbaatar Railway Station International ticketing office.
My discussion with a ticketing agent went thusly ..
“What would it cost me to get a ticket on the Beijing to Moscow International train getting off in Sukhbaatar?”
“We can’t sell that ticket Sir.”
“I rode this train last week on the 11th of August from Ulaanbaatar to Sukhbaatar. What do you mean you can’t sell me the ticket to Sukhbaatar?”
“We do not sell tickets on this train for local travel within Mongolia and there are no seats available either Sir.”
HELLO GOD! THANK YOU! HOW DO YOU ARRANGE THESE THINGS?
At this point a very well dressed distinguished elderly CEO-type Mongolian gentleman .. extremely fluent in English .. overheard our discussion and came over to me asking ..
“May I be of assistance?”
So I laid it all out to him. The works. Teke and her travel agency charges and that I wanted to do a fare comparison with me purchasing the ticket myself here at the railway station.
In A Nutshell .. To protect its railroad economics from pricing competition with China and Russia .. Mongolia does not allow China or Russia to sell tickets on the International train for within-Mongolia destinations. If you are traveling within Mongolia .. you can only purchase tickets on the Mongolian Railway system period.
To beat the system and to get me onto the International train .. God Bless Her .. Teke purchased a ticket for me to go into Russia. So I did not pay to go to Sukhbaatar .. I paid to go into Russia. I will never know how far into Russia my ticket was good for. Was I ticketed to go all the way North to Ulan Ude? Was I ticketed to only go just across the border to Khyagt? My money is on my being ticketed to only cross the border.
“Forgetting the fact you have no seats available .. IF you did .. What would it cost me to go to Khyagt on the International Train in a First Class berth?”
“112,000 Tug.” .. US $ 56.80. I actually paid 246,500 Tug or US $ 125.00. So Teke and company had US $ 68.20 gross profit to work with costwise.
Now knowing the facts of the matter here .. I have absolutely no problem with Teke and company! I asked Teke to get me onto the train. Teke had a proven valid ticket in my hand in three (count them) hours. Without Teke and her expertise I would never have gotten onto the train because to book a ticket into Russia myself I may have had to show that I was in possession of a visa and that would have been that.
I just-like-to-know for my own self edification what is happening when it is my money being spent .. That’s all folks ..
Teke saved me from the below fate .. That certainly was worth-something ..
I love the colorful outfit on the man in the foreground above.
Without my distinguished well dressed elderly Mongolian ‘Eskimo’ .. I would have been dead-in-the-water. He did far more than merely translate for me. He explained the facts of the economic issue concerning the Mongolian railway system and said system not being willing to compete with either China or Russia for within-Mongolia train travel.
Set to go .. Lock .. Stock .. Barrel .. YOUNG CHILD IN INDIA .. WHAT DO I MEAN?? .. ASK MOMMY AND DADDY ..
Should I say my ticket(s) plural? I never found out what each of the individual tickets were for. The train conductor took all of them in one-fell-swoop and I never saw any of them again. The conductor (one gigantic Russian Bear-of-a-Man say 6-ft 5-inches tall weighing about 300-lbs) was pretty ‘surly’ towards me the entire trip. I would have snapped a photo of him but I had a good healthy respect for him. Accordingly I did not want any issues that I could avoid to come up between the two of us.
“A photo! You took a photo? Give to me the camera!” .. As he probably would have lifted me into the air with one hand and taken the camera (never to be seen again) away from me with his other hand.
When he calmly walked away with the entire set of tickets I was left with absolutely no proof-of-purchase what-so-ever. Things like this are more that just a tad unnerving.
Well not quite .. I did have my camera with me along with these photographs. That did assuage my fear(s) to a large extent.
My train was scheduled to depart at 4:25pm (1625 Hours). I planned to walk to the railway station. Having done this twice before I knew it would take me about 30-35 minutes because my suitcase would slow me down a little. My plan was to leave my apartment at 2pm sharp. This would put me at the Ulaanbaatar railway station in good time well before my train was scheduled to depart. So out and off I went .. at 2pm sharp ..
Thank You Lord God of Abraham! The elevator was working! I did not have to lug my suitcase down twelve stairway flights of nine steps each plus six steps from the first landing to the street level amounting to 114 steps!
Out the door I go ..
It was a very nice day .. Clear and sunny with some intermittent clouds ..
I have two obstacle(s) that I have to deal with .. My two road-lakes .. One right in front of my building ..
“Give us break Dad! Don’t you agree we make very nice reflecting ponds Dad?” .. “Um-m .. Well Yes .. Kindda Sortaa ..”
And the above road-lake between my building and the main avenue ..
The Good Lord seemed to be on my side last Tuesday .. The road in front of my building was dry ..
And for the very first time ever .. the really HORRENDOUS road-lake was also dry as well. So I faced THIS ..
I did NOT FACE this!
When I am HOT .. I am HOT !!
“Sir would you like a little help Sir?” .. “How much My Man?” .. “As you like Sir!” .. “Four Thousand Mongolian Tug.”
I believe this with all-of-my-heart : You can not successfully make-it in any location in the world unless you like .. and I mean you REALLY LIKE .. the people!
Talk about a win-win! This gentle little man probably has never ever been treated as I treated him. Photo shoot .. the works ..
TO FEEL GOOD DO GOOD!
Facing a half-hour walk pulling my suitcase with my back-pack on my back .. I happily paid the U.S. Dollar equivalent of $2.02 for my ride. This gentle-man made a few Mongolian Tug on his way to where he was going anyway. Why is it that we in the U.S. seem to think that we have things all-figured-out.
How did I learn this little trick? Taa-daa .. Changer taught and showed me how this person-to-person private bartering for a ride in a private automobile is done all-the-time here in Ulaanbaatar ..
I rolled into the railway station about 2:20pm having taken a few minutes for my photo-shoot of my driver and also visiting with him as well. Well what do you know .. what just happened to my sunny day ..
The below letters sound-out as Ulaanbaatar ..
I think that I will set-up-shop in my favorite waiting room ..
I am so proud of Mongolia and this railway station ..
I just sat and chilled-out in this exceptionally nice waiting room .. I wrote Patti a post card ..
This man is from Brazil and spoke perfect English .. He is on the phone with Patti ..
Below is a photo I snapped later of him with his wife. At one time they lived in .. of all places .. Homer Alaska! They were going into Russia. Brazilian citizens do not need a visa to enter Russia.
The time has come to actually board the train ..
The excitement is contagious .. I LIVE WITH DICTIONARY.COM ..
I was in Coach 6 ..
I am now aboard the train ..
Cabin 8 .. Berth 15 ..
Nice .. First Class ..
Ample room for luggage .. Below the seats ..
More room above the seats for more luggage .. Yes .. That is a television .. I did not turn it on ..
Luggage stowed and ready to enjoy the trip.
I did not take advantage of the berth but had I wished to .. It was ready and waiting .. All made up .. All I had to do was to pull it down ..
I was needlessly concerned about the facilities in the necessary-room ..
After all I was in First Class ..
We were not served dinner. I thought we would have dinner because the trip was 6 – 1/2 hours in duration and leaving at 4:25pm we spanned the normal dinnertime hours. Such was not the case. In this one respect the train fell short of the trains in India where you are constantly offered snack food in addition to a formal dinner. Below are snacks and hot water for tea and / or coffee. My Russian bear-of-a-man porter had eyes in back of his head. I helped myself to one package of crackers. I later went back for more and he was on me like white-on-rice making it plain that I had consumed my allotted allowance of snacks. I mean to tell you .. That was that .. No back talk to this giant.
On the right above is the below schedule .. You will notice that Ulaanbaatar is spelled Ulan-Bator. Sukhbaatar is spelled Suhe-Bator. The train timings shown below did not match our reality. As one for-instance .. We left at 16:25 NOT 15:25. As another example .. we did NOT get into Suhe-Bator at 21:50 but at 22:50.
I heard the long slow deliberate moan of the train’s air horn and at precisely 4:25pm .. with Patti on the cell phone .. we began to roll ..
Slow and easy gradually accelerating ..
Just a few photos en route. I was not particularly satisfied with the photos through the train window glass. But this is absolutely nothing new. In India it is the same except I can get into the area between coaches and shoot photos with no glass between me and the scenery .. Below you can see that shooting photos out an open door provides sharper photos ..
I swear my Russian-Bear-Conductor was absolutely uncanny!
I actually thought that I had him fooled as I was hanging out of the door to snap the above photo. I had opened the door hoping to get some decent photos. Suddenly I felt a tug on my arm and simultaneously I hear a gruff ..
“Go!” .. “Sit down in your seat!” .. “Stay in your seat!”
I wonder what his name was .. Boris .. Sergei .. Ivan .. I could probably have found out ..
I absolutely love .. I mean I positively love the words .. Mongolia and Mongolians .. I always called my pet Hamsters my Hambolians .. I knew you would arise on that word my friend ‘spell check’ ..
How about my Mongolian Hambolians .. AND THE DINKEY BIRD IS SINGING IN THE AMFALULA TREE CAPTAIN !!
IF … It truly is an IF .. But IF I got any half-way decent photos these are the few I managed ..
You are seeing Mongolia ..
They really are not all-that-bad ..
I liked the sky and the clouds behind the hills .. they reminded me of Northern Lights ..
Kids are Kids no matter where you go! .. A summer day and water to cavort in ..
You certainly get-the-idea .. The Mongolian countryside is very nice ..
Sheep .. Sheep .. and .. More Sheep ..
There really are a lot of sheep grazing in the Mongolian countryside ..
We did pass through some ‘urban’ areas ..
I did not shoot many ‘urban’ area photos however ..
Hello Mongolia ..
I have gotten used to the somewhat marginal quality of the photos. They certainly do show the countryside ..
Then I sat back and just relaxed .. Night and darkness overtook us .. When we arrived into Sukhbaatar it was pitch black dark .. the wind was just howling and it was raining very hard! Luckily two friends were there waiting for me. However we did walk to the hotel which is a short half-block from the railway station and I got soaking wet in the process.
I am going to call this a ‘wrap’ and post it ..
I hope you have an idea of the accomodations as well as the scenery on the train ride from Ulaanbaatar North to Sukhbaatar .. First Class on the Trans-Mongolian / Siberian Express Train ..
In a future post we will be returning from Sukhbaatar to Ulaanbaatar on the local train .. Some (count them) thirty-nine (39) whistle stops and a nine (9) hour ride as opposed to 6 – 1/2 hours on the express train with three (3) stops.
I will sign off GIGGLING as ..
- AUG 17, 15 .. CRANK-IT-UP CAPTAIN .. I’M TRYING JULIA I’M TRYING ..
- AUG 21, 15 .. PART 2 .. A TRAIN RIDE ON A ‘LOCAL’ MONGOLIAN TRAIN ..