Permanent Vacasian

The traveller sees what he sees; the tripper sees what he has come to see. – G. K. Chesterton

We’re In Mongolia!


After an overnight train from Ulan-Ude we arrived in Ulanbaatar – the capital of Mongolia – this morning. On the ride down, the tourist-to-local ratio was opposite from every other train ride we’ve had – the car was full of tourists, mainly European, and only a couple Russians. It was nice to hang out in the corridor and talk shop and hear other traveler’s experiences. However, it felt like we where tourists, which isn’t something we have felt that often.

We got on the train in Ulan-Ude and rode for about five hours until we reached the Russia/Mongolia border. Once we got to the border, all the cars were uncoupled from ours and we were told that at 4pm customs and security would board so we should be in our compartments. This gave use about three hours to explore the little town.

We hopped off the train and walked towards what looked like an exit from the platform. Tina then pulled me around and we saw some armed guards walking about six prisoners – on a chain – to a train car. They got near the car then the guards made the prisoners get down on their knees. Then they uncuffed them one at a time and put them on the train. We noticed that the car had only a couple windows at one end with bars over them. The guards then got about seven prisoners off the train, cuffed them, then marched them to the paddy wagon. Then they got out SEVEN MORE prisoners from the wagon, and marched them to the train! As they were passing us (Tina, me, and maybe 10 other travelers standing there) one prisoners yelled “Hello, Americans”! Tina and I walked around town a bit then went back to hang out in the train.

Not soon afterwards, a Mongolian woman and her friend boarded and sat in our compartment. They stayed with us until we got to the Mongolian boarder, then they got off and got on a local train. The woman and I walked to a market to get some water and food. Turns out she was a Russian teacher at a college in Ulanbaatar. Once back in the train, the two women started talking in Mongolian. It didn’t sound like Russian and was way more throaty.

So, at 4pm, the customs officials boarded the train and got our passports, made us get out of our compartment as they “searched” them, collected our customs papers, then left to process everything. We had to wait about 30 minutes until we got our passports back and were cleared through customs. At this point it had been almost five hours of just sitting at the platform – with no other cars coupled to ours, and no other trains at the station.

Once the train finally started moving, we looked out the window and saw Russian solders riding on the ends of the car – making sure no on hopped off. Then we passed a big electric fence and the guards hopped off. After about 30 seconds of no-mans-land, we passed another fence and some Mongolian solders hopped on the back of the train until we got to the Mongolian customs station. Once there, the solders walked around the train and people came with more customs forms and collected our passports. This process took another couple hours or so making the entire border crossing a 10 hour experience.


  1. MONGOLIA !!!!!!!!!!

  2. Holy smokes…. you’re in MONGOLIA. Don’t forget to take it ALL in… remember what it smelled like, sounded like etc. I’m looking forward to reading more entries as you post them! Be safe 🙂

  3. 10 hours to cross the border? MEOW!

  4. Really enjoy your narration and photos. Let me know if you see any dinosaurs.

  5. Hay! what happened to the pictures?

  6. Hi, just got caught up on all your posts, we were mostly out of touch for the last month, it was wonderful not having any cell phone or internet access. Sounds like you are having a great time, love the pictures. We just got back from our road trip and will spend the next two weeks getting the boat ready to head for Mexico. I’m also starting my own blog page, I like this format and think it’s the best way to let people keep tabs on our travels.

  7. I’m guessing internet access is a little sketchy in Mongolia since we haven’t heard from you for a while. Your postings are very entertaining, I really look forward to them. What a fascinating trip!

  8. so great to read up your adventures – I love the details you provide – it’s like I’m there! (which I’m not – hello cube . . . ) But, vicariously, it is thrilling to share your journey. xoxo

  9. Hollie. It should be real easy to remember Mongolia. Aside from being awesome, there is a very distinct taste to the food here, which can only be described as “Mongolian”. It is nothing like Mongolian BBQ (which is an American invention), btw. I think it must be the mutton, be it can be found in the bread and water as well, so I’m not really sure.

  10. Tina, I started having these weird thoughts about you a day or so ago, like maybe you slipped on some ice and broke your arm or something. The thoughts were so vivid and seemed so true. STILL seem true! I wonder why I’d think that? Couldn’t have really happened though ’cause you’d post a blog entry about it or something, right? Oh – maybe the broken arm would make it hard to type? Could be – but no, ’cause you typed that comment above this one, and also Stuart could post something like that for you if it happened, which it probably didn’t. Or you type it yourself if it was just a hairline fracture or something. But it couldn’t have happened, right? It would be so weird if it did – I’m usually not psychic!

  11. As for the “distinct taste to the Mongolian food”, to you, yes, because it’s MEAT!!!!!

  12. Robert we have figured out the “Mongolia” taste. It is some kind of animal fat that they use to cook with. We are not sure which animal, but it is most likely sheep. I’ve spent the majority of this past month picking meat out of my food and eating bits of it when I had no choice – so you can’t get my goat with telling me its meat – I know! As for my arm, thanks for scooping my story. We’re getting to to blog posts, really. Its a lot of work and we are in Mongolia – give us a break. Awesome posts like ours don’t get written in a few minutes. We’re artists, we need our time and space to work. 🙂

  13. “You can’t get my goat with telling me it’s meat”: yes, but could I get your meat by telling you it’s goat?

    I have no idea what that means.

    Hey, did you hear – Obama won!

  14. We heard, the whole word was watching this election and hoping for Obama and we all celebrated this morning together.