Trans-Mongolian Train Time…Or Not


130am- Finish packing for our train journey and set the alarm for 530am.

530am- The alarm drags us out of our stupor.  That was 4 hours already!  The Great Wall hike from yesterday exhausted us.

545am- Jump on the subway and promptly take the wrong connection.  Takes a stop to get us righted.

6am- Get to Beijing Railway Station and it is a circus (like everywhere in this city).

610am- Reach the front of the line to get into the station and “talk” to 4 different people who all understand English to varying degrees.  We are told to go to a ticket office inside the station.

630-645am- Wait in line inside the station.  Upon reaching the front the rep waves us off.  “No English,” he shouts.  Someone takes pity on us and leads us to another area with “English Speaking Line” which is #16.

650-7am- After reaching the front of line #16 the attendant tells Nug, “You go to line #1.”

700-725am- Line #1 sends us to Line #33.  We are skeptical so on the way we ask no less than 20 people if they speak English.  The ones that do offer us conflicting info on where we “must” go.

730am- A girl who might be 12 and speaks the best English yet tells us Line#33 is the E-ticket line.  Things are looking up!  We booked our tickets online through Real Russia.

735am- On the way to line #33 Nug spies E-ticket machines.  She takes out our passports and waits in line.  The machines only take Chinese IDs.

750am- We are at the front of Line #33.  The teller takes our passports and looks back blankly.  We speak no Mandarin and he speaks no English.  He kicks us out of line.  Someone tells us we need an E-ticket number.  What is that?!?!  We are frantic and desperate.

Where do we go?!?


8am- Our train leaves the station…without us.

830am- After wandering for 30 minutes with bags that feel like they are full of lead we finally find a hotel that will let us use their wifi.  Wifi access is terrible in Beijing.

845am- Nug finds a cheery email from Real Russia saying we need to pick up paper tickets at a location other than the train station…sent at 1130pm last night.  The included map to find the Chinese agents office is laughable.

845-945am-  Walk around on our own and ask a minimum of 40 people how to get to the ticket office based on the map we have pulled up on our computer.  Half the people shrug and the rest invariably send us in assorted directions.  Eventually, looking like we went for a swim we walk into the office.

955am- We finally catch a break…kind of.  We are told that our $700 tickets are worthless after 10am.  We can change the date before that for $80.  Sign us up!  The next train is in 3 days.  Do we want to wait in the office for the tickets or come back?  We wait.

1130am- We walk back into the hostel where we started at 530am this morning…defeated.  We book for 3 more nights.  We must look pitiful because they upgrade us from the dump we stayed in before to a much larger and nicer room…for the same price.  We fall on our faces and immediately pass out.

The Wall

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Once we had spent several days visiting the local Beijing tourist sites we worked with our hostel to set up a hike of the Great Wall.  They originally kept trying to push a bus tour because “It includes jade and silk shopping!  Plus it visits Great Wall section that over 130 million people have visited!”  We were eventually able to get the point across that this sounded like a horrible idea and found info on a small group hike.  The next morning we were off at 7am and joined our group of 3 others for the day.  We were headed to Shixiguan where we would hike 8km to Badaling.  As we walked past a sign that read “No Admittance” I asked our Chinese guide “Jerry” if he did this hike often. “Haha…No I think that would be quite terrible.  It’s very steep,” he stated.  The section we scrambled across was overgrown with  vines, shrubs and wildflowers.  It was left in its original condition and large sections were in disrepair.  The wall snaked through the surrounding mountains and the views were sublime.  To visit one of the most famous attractions in a congested city and be the only ones was a remarkable experience.

Hey Nug

The hike







Several days later we gave the wall a 2nd shot at the Mutianyu section.  This time our bus had 11 other people and we spent an hour and a half navigating the city to collect everyone.  This section was completely refurbished and had several hundred tourists along a fairly condensed portion of the wall.  The views were beautiful once again but the hawkers and tour buses certainly detracted from the surroundings.  Not wanting to walk the steps down we took a slide from the top which weaved through the mountainside forest.  At the bottom we were surrounded by touts each pushing some POS that we neither wanted nor needed.  It certainly made us appreciate our original, less commercial Great Wall excursion.




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