We survived the first 30 hour leg of our journey on the Trans Siberian railway, arriving in the Mongolian capital early this afternoon. The train was plenty sociable as we mingled in the halls and shared meals and drinks with fellow passengers from Canada, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Germany, and Australia. The biggest contingent we met was from Australia, and most of them were pretty serious partiers. Incidentally, we did not meet any other Americans.
While we were still in China the dining car served Chinese food, which disappointed everyone. We’d had great food in China, but the train food was strangely colorless and bland. They just plopped some dull food and a bowl of rice in front of us, and that was it. Our guidebook (Lonely Planet’s Trans-Siberian Railway) said the Chinese dining car had the best food, and since everyone we met had the same guidebook, we all dreaded what was to come.
Every few hours the train stopped at stations along the way, and we’d have 10 or 20 minutes to step off, stretch our legs, and check out the food carts lined along the platform. At one stop in China we stocked up on ramen noodles and beverages. Since there is always boiling water available on the train we were now prepared to deal with the disappointment of the food car.
The Mongolian border crossing was a five-hour affair lasting from 8:15 pm until 1:40 am. We had to go through Chinese emigration and Mongolian immigration and customs, naturally. Engineers removed the wheel assemblies under all the train cars and replaced them with wheels for the wider gauge tracks used in Mongolia and Russia. They also added more sleeper cars and switched out the Chinese dining car for a Mongolian one. When this ordeal was finished most everyone settled into their beds, and I know I slept like a baby until morning.
We woke up to the sun rising over the Mongolian steppe, a stark but beautiful landscape of gently rolling grassy plains. But all the buzz in the hallways was about the new Mongolian dining car. It featured elaborately carved wooden paneling, a big menu to choose from, and super tasty food. Major improvement!