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Ulaanbaatar to Beijing by train

Thursday 14th July

We got up at some ungodly hour, said our goodbyes to Gabi, and set off, having memorised the phrase for "station" — galt tergenii buudal. We hitched a ride with the first passing car, which happened to be a policeman on his way to work, for the princely sum of 2000 tögrög, or about US$2.

Waiting on the platform, we watched the workers taking down Nadaam flags. Our train turned up on time and we settled into our first class cabin, which was clean and comfortable.

The cabin window couldn't be opened and was very dirty, so the best view was from the corridor, where the top of the windows could fortunately be opened. (Waiting to leave, we noticed some "through" passengers cleaning the outside of the windows.)

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There were views of the steppe from the train, with scattered gers and the occasional attraction — walkers checking the cattle fence that ran alongside the railway line (about 20m out), birds on power poles, a fox, and what I thought was a marmot. We had a snack in the plush dining car and nibbled some kind of red preserved fruit we'd picked up in a UB supermarket (not cherries).

We got off at Choir, which seemed like a reasonable sized centre, but one without much colour; I bought a small watercolour from an artist selling them on the platform.

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selling her paintings on the station
abandoned train carriages

We missed out on dinner, since the restaurant car had been booked out by some tour company. This wasn't something we'd expected — we had only snacks with us — but fortunately some Dutch backpackers offered us spare packets of instant noodles, which combined with the continuous supply of hot water gave us something solid to eat.

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changing bogies in the railway workshop

We sat at the border for what seemed like ages and it was dark by the time they started changing the train bogies — the Chinese and Mongolian rail systems have different gauges. I went to sleep while it was still in progress.

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