We woke up this morning, thinking we have enough time to get to the train station. But we were told differently by the hostel management. One minute we were late but we still have an hour before the train departs, then 5 minutes later we were told our train is delayed. What an unnecessary stress at 6am!
Anyhow we made it to the train station in good time. We met the 2 Americans who was traveling on the same train with us from Russia to Mongolia. They look tired. Apparently they had been partying the whole night (it was Halloween the day before) and was trying to recover from the night out.
We were quite confused when we reached the train station. A week ago we received an email from the travel agent who bought the train tickets informing us of the change in departure time. It was very good of them to inform us of the time change, if not we would have miss our train. Then this morning we were informed again the train is delayed. At the end we departed around the same time as the original departure time.
The train station in Ulan Bator is quite small. It does not even have departure/arrival information sign. The only way to find out which platform the train will depart is to listen to the announcement which is in Mongolian or to ask the information counter. Luckily when the train arrives, someone from the hostel came and inform us that our has is here and even gave is direction to our carriage. Now this is what we call good service!
I was quite disappointed that our train was not the modern kind. It was the same old train we took before. For this journey, our traveling companion turns out to be 2 Dutch couple who’s traveling for 8 months. They started their journey from Moscow and will be heading towards South East Asia, including a visit to Malaysia. We provided some tips on where to go and what to see. I guess it is always good to share some local knowledge with other travelers.
The Dutch couple is very friendly. They carries quite a lot of stuff with them. On top of a macbook and a DSLR camera, they also had various kind of games. We tried a puzzle game which is very interesting and a good way to spent the time. We played the puzzle game while waiting for the border crossing process to complete and for the train to change their wheels again. Mongolia and China has different wheel size, thus the wheels need to be changed before we continue our journey.
By now I have finished reading another 2 books since leaving Irkutsk. Which brings the total of books read to 5!
We woke up early today as we were given free breakfast and lunch meal voucher. The voucher is only valid at certain times. So to maximise our free meal we have to be at the restaurant carriage on time. Our allocated breakfast time was from 0730 to 0830. We were in the restaurant carriage by 0745 with the Dutch couple. Breakfast consists of 2 hard boil eggs, 2 slices of bread, butter, jam and a cup of chinese tea.
The rest of the morning was spent looking out the train window looking for the Great Wall of China. After several hours, I did see some part of it but didnt manage to take a pic. The information in the guidebook is outdated as the train now takes a different route and does not pass the Great Wall anymore. Instead now it meanders along a river passing a dam which is quite picturesque.
We reached Beijing Railway Station at around 1400. Without any local currency, our first task was to change some. But we couldnt find any money changer. We did find ATM machines in the ticketing hall, so we withdrew some monies and bought our train tickets to Shanghai. Luckily we didn’t have problems getting the train tickets. We also needed money to get ourselves to the hostel.
As we didnt know how to get to the hostel as we didnt do research, we decided to take a taxi which costs us 10 times more than taking the metro. This really thought us a lesson to always do research!
We stayed in the Red Lantern House, located in a hutong. This was a good decision because the hostel is in the middle of a local ‘village’. It provided us with an opportunity to see and experience the local lifestyle and most importantly try the local food.
After settling in our room and changed more monies at a local bank, we went and search for the best Peking Roast Duck restaurant for dinner. The hostel has recommended Quanjude at Qianmen. We were told this is THE restaurant to go to for the best peking roast duck. We were surprised when we arrived, the restaurant is full and we had to take a number. The waiting time was 1 hour!! We were so hungry so we decided to have some pre-dinner snacks around the restaurant and went back to the restaurant an hour later.
Surprisingly Dav didnt quite enjoy the meal. It was also quite expensive. We can’t really leave Beijing without trying at least one peking roast duck.
After dinner we walked around the pedestrian shopping street at Qianmen. There was nothing much to see after, so we went back and had an early night.