As a general rule, one should always confer with Seat 61 – the guru of train travel – on the how of railway adventures around the world. As an aside, I have been greatly guided by Seat 61 for travel from London to Budapest via Munich; from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and on another occasion to Vientiane; and now from Ulaanbaatar to Beijing.
Purchasing a ticket in advance of travel
Allow me to elaborate on how one actually buys a ticket to board the Trans-Siberian No. 4 train in Ulaanbaatar.
Generally, tickets are sold the day before the train departs. If your travel plans are fairly relaxed then this is not an issue. If, however, like me you have a rather more fixed itinerary, then you may want the peace of mind of having a ticket to ride in your hot little hand more than 24 hours prior to departure. This is where the fun begins…
Tickets cannot be purchased at the train station (at what I later worked out was the “domestic railway ticket office“). Oh, at this point it may help to let you know that there is only one train station in Ulaanbaatar, and hence no further identifier is needed other than ‘the’. I digress.
Tickets are instead available for purchase at the international ticket office. It is located across the road, set behind the offices that face the street, in a faded lemon coloured building.
Source: All Things Go!
Now my number one tip is to venture to the ticket office with someone who speaks Mongolian. I did and it was still an exercise in patience and possible futility.
We were shuttled along from the “Russia train” office (which, fair enough, the train does travel from Russia) to the “China train” office (makes sense, that’s the train’s final destination) and were told that tickets are not sold until the day before departure. Word to the wise: this is true for hard sleepers (ie third class cabins).
The official in the “China train” office explained to my friend that there was a waitlist to (optimistically) prioritise one’s ticket purchase. “Sign me up,” I eagerly requested. To another room we were sent.
In this room I once again made it known (and translated) I was interested in a luxury class berth. A breakthrough was made. It transpires that the Mongolian ticket office has the discretion to sell in advance four first class berths per train (ie once a week). I expressed my firm interest in purchasing one (of the two remaining bunks) then and there and so was redirected to yet another room that looked suspiciously like a bank.
At first the official in this final room wasn’t inclined to sell me a ticket but once it was made clear I had the permission of the woman from the previous room a purchase was indeed made. My passport and credit card were handed over, and for the sum of 255,000 Tughrik (approx. AUD 170/ USD 130) I was issued with a ticket six days in advance.
TBC in The Trans-Siberian Railway Part 2: The Trip