Trains and Mongolia

**Slightly delayed due to firewalls**

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I’m not quite sure what I expected Ulaan Baatar to be like, but certainly not what it was. I have odd recollections of reading ‘Long Way Around’ by Ewan MacGregor and Charlie Lastname and they talked about visiting the city and being shocked by the poverty and the children living in drains. Most likely we just weren’t anywhere near those districts, but what we saw of it (in the 24 hours we spent there) it felt vibrant and youthful. There were lots of new buildings, a surprising amount of English – and a lot of friendly faces. We had to wander to a random apartment block to pick up our onward train tickets and felt no compunction just walking around. Actually we’ve done a surprising amount of walking around the cities we’ve visited – mostly at day, but also at night – and I haven’t yet felt even slightly threatened.

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After our brief stop, it was back on the train – now to Beijing. This was a slightly more modern and clean train, albeit not helped by one of the two loos on our carriage being broken. The provodnitsas remained grumpy regardless of nationality. More than any other train journey we’ve been on (including the 4-day transsib) this overnight trip had biggest variation in scenary. From rolling green pastures and lakes just south of UB, to scrub desert toward the south, and finally stunning river canyons when we were over the border in China. The border crossings weren’t quite as painful as the Russia/Mongolia ones, but still took the best part of 4 hours. We changed bogies on the Chinese side, a process that involves hoisting the carriage on a hydrolic lift while shunting around beneath it. It was surprisingly smooth, and slightly unnerving.

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We’re now in Beijing for a week, before taking the fast train down to Hong Kong. This is the first place on our trip that I’ve actually been before (visited about 9 years ago thanks to my cousin Louise’s help) it will be interesting to see how it has changed.

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