Russia-Mongolia border crossing
Overland crossings are incredibly exciting; I love entering a country by land. Arriving by plane sometimes strikes me as a little too straightforward and almost uninteresting.
There are two ways to cross on public transport into Mongolia from Russia- via train or bus. I chose to take the bus from Ulan-Ude to Ulaanbaatar not only because the duration of the journey is half that of the train ride, the ride itself is also cheaper (train ticket: approx. US$144; bus ticket: approx US$51).
If you plan to take the bus from Ulan-Ude (which is quite a pleasant and interesting city for a stopover), stay at UU Hostel because the staff can buy the ticket for you in advance if necessary.
My bus, which was a comfortable 45-seater, departed Ulan-Ude at 7.30am on the dot. We reached the gate at the border checkpoint at 11.15am where a very friendly, matronly woman in a dark red vest came on board and checked our passports. I’m not sure what purpose she served because all she did was flick through our documents and chat with the bus driver and conductor.
At 12.10pm our bus entered the checkpoint area, after which we were told to alight from the bus with our bags and stand in line. A couple of grim-looking Russian officers approached us, checked our passports and asked us to open our bags. The officer who spoke to me didn’t seem to be terribly concerned about whether I might be carrying any dodgy substances and barely looked at my rucksack when I unzipped it.
Things began to get interesting after this. As we were all lining up for our bags to be checked, our bus went through what I would describe as a mobile scanning machine. It looked very much like a giant x-ray machine, only it had wheels and was larger than a truck. This machine had an overhead arm which buses, trucks and other vehicles passed under to be scanned. The nerd in me would have loved to take a few photos but that would’ve been a very silly thing to do in the circumstances.
After getting back on the bus and getting our passports stamped, we finally cleared Russian immigration at 1.50pm and entered Mongolia.
On the Mongolian side, once again we had to get down from the bus with our bags. This time our luggage was scanned, just like how it would have to be at an airport. The process was fairly straightforward.
We left the Altanbulag Border Control Complex at 2.30pm and made our way to Ulaanbaatar, where we would arrive that same day at 8pm.
By bus, the entire process on both the Russian and Mongolian sides took three hours. In comparison, if I had travelled from Ulan-Ude to Ulaanbaatar by train, the wait at the border could have taken up to eight hours in total.
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