This complete guide will explain everything you need to know about getting from Beijing to Ulan Bator (sometimes spelled Ulaanbaatar, or UB to sound like a local), including your different options, the schedule and the price. It’s as up-to-date as it gets, because we did this trip in July 2019 and we will update it frequently. Going from China to Mongolia is not too difficult, but you’ll need at least one day and a half to go from Beijing to Ulan Bator, and it should cost about 40$.
Make sure you have a visa for Mongolia beforehand if you need one, you can apply for it in Beijing, Erlian or Hong Kong. We chose the last option and it was straightforward.
Beijing to Ulaanbaatar is part of the Trans-Mongolian Railway, connecting to the Trans-Siberian Railway in Ulan-Ude, a city in Russia. There’s a train connecting both cities directly, but it is much more expensive than the alternatives introduced in this post.
There’s also a decent amount of traffic between these two cities, so you could consider hitchhiking without struggling too much, but you’d better prepare a note in Chinese explaining what you are doing.
- Step 1 : Overnight bus from Beijing to Erlian/Erenhot – 180¥ (~26$)
- Step 2 : From Erlian (China) to Zamiin Uud (Mongolia) – 50¥+ (~7$)
- Step 3 : Taking a night train from Zamiin-Uud to Ulaanbaatar (15 hours) – ~10$
There are plenty of different options for the step 1, make sure you check them all !
Step one : Overnight bus from Beijing to Erlian/Erenhot – 180¥ (~26$)
Erlian (二连; Èrlián) is a city located in China, right at the border with Mongolia. It is the main border crossing between these two countries. It’s open everyday from 9am to 7pm, except during public holidays (such as Naadam or the Chinese New Year). Erlian has different names, the other famous one being Erenhot.
Where to take the bus ?
As of July 2019, you can take a bus to Erlian from the Xinfadi or Yongdingmen bus station, inconveniently located in the southern part of the city.
What is the schedule ?
Buses are leaving between 5.30 and 6.30pm. You’d better arrive around 4 to 5. There was very little queue in Xinfadi when we paid for our tickets.
How much does it cost ?
It costs 180¥ (~26$) for a sleeper bus, meaning you have a bed to lay in.
One of the buses departing from Yongdingmen is possible to book online through ctrip.com
Any other options ?
Take a train from Beijing to Erlian
You can take a train between Beijing and Erlian. There are trains (K23 and K3) only on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The train leaves at 7.27am and arrives at 8.18pm for an almost 13-hour ride. It might be the cheapest option, because you can get a (standing?) ticket for 141¥. However you’ll have to spend a night in Erlian because the border will be closed at that time. It’s very hard to find information online, even in Chinese on the Railway official website (12306.cn).
Train from Beijing to Jining/Ulanqab, then bus to Erlian
The most comfortable way to do this trip would be to take one of the daily night trains from Beijing to Jining/Ulanqab and then take a bus the next morning to Erlian.
From Beijing to Jining the daily train costs ¥163 for a hard sleeper or ¥93 for a seat. The train leaves at 11.26pm and you’ll arrive at 8.07pm.
There are many buses connecting Jining with Erlian, the price seems to be ¥86. Here’s the schedule from two years ago : 07:30, 08:00, 09:10, 10:20, 11:30, 12:40, 14:50 from Jining long-distance bus station. It takes about 5 hours.
It’s slightly more expensive, and take a bit more time. The advantages are that the train is more comfortable than the overnight bus, and the road between Jining and Erlian is in much better condition than the road between Beijing and Erlian.
The cheapest option : Bus from Beijing to Zaamin-Uud in Mongolia – 220¥
That’s what we did, we made a detailed account of our trip. We don’t really recommend this option though. It cost 220¥ to get from Beijing to Zamiin-Uud, the border city in Mongolia.
Fly from Beijing to Erlian
If you’re in an overland trip it definitely kills the purpose, but there are cheap flights available, connecting the two cities in about two hours for around 300RMB.
Step two : From Erlian (China) to Zamiin Uud (Mongolia) – 50¥+ (~7$)
You can’t walk across the border even though it’s in walking distance. Therefore you’ll need a vehicle.
Take a shared Jeep
You can find many Jeeps willing to take you from Erlian to Zamiin Uud. They will wait for you while you pass each border before dropping you in Mongolia. There’s no fixed price so you’ll have to bargain. The lowest you can get seems to be about 50¥ while the highest amount is around 100¥.
Take a bus
There are two buses crossing the border, the first one is leaving at 1.30pm. It costs 40 or 50¥. It is a slower option because you have to wait for everybody before continuing through each border post.
Step three : Taking a night train from Zamiin-Uud to Ulaanbaatar (15 hours) – ~10$
There’s a train leaving daily from Zamiin-Uud to Ulan Bator. The train takes about 15 hours, it leaves at 18.05 and you’ll arrive at the main station at 9am.
You can book a hard seat for about 5 dollars, but if you want a bit more comfort you can have a bed for about 10$. A real good deal for a 15-hour train ride.
As of July 2019, the prices were 22.800₮ (8.70$) for the top bunk bed and 25.600₮ (9.70$) for the bottom bunk bed. I’d suggest getting the top bed, simply because you can sleep whenever you want. Oddly enough, the guy from the bed above you seems to be entitled to sit on your bottom bed before 10pm and after 7am.
Last option in this train is to take the soft sleeper option for about 20$.
Be careful, the train seems to be often fully booked, or the bed tickets could already be sold-out. Better arrive in the morning to make sure you’ll have a ticket available. We arrived at the station around 4.30pm and we still managed to get a hard sleeper for the same day train. Luck?
You can also take a shared taxi from Zamiin-Uud to Ulaanbaatar (6 hours)
We were surprised to learn that, while the train takes 15 hours, going by road takes only 6 hours ! You can find some shared taxis leaving from the main square. I’m not sure of the price.
Good luck for your journey, and feel free to comment about your experience below the post ! You can also read about our detailed experience crossing the border by taking a bus from Beijing to Zamiin-Uud and then a train to Ulaanbaatar.