Saturday, August 30, 2008

Mongolia: Transportation

Transportation is probably one of the most difficult aspects of traveling in Mongolia. The roads turn pedestrian journeys into all day affairs. When planning your route, assume an average speed of 30 km/hr (around 20 mph).

There are several ways of arranging transportation. Most people seem to take the chartered van route. In many ways, this is the easiest. You'll have plenty of space for you and your bag, and you won't have to haggle for prices every day. On the flip side, it is a little more expensive. Figure $30-40 per person per day, depending on the size of your group and the distances you travel. An alternative is finding rides as you go. It will be a bit cheaper, you'll have more freedom to change your plans, but the ride will be cramped and uncomfortable. You will also have to spend a lot of time waiting around for people with no idea what is going on.

We chose the later method, and I think overall it was a better experience. We were able to meet more Mongolians and better experience their daily lives. But it was also some of the most uncomfortable rides I've ever experienced. We were on a mini-bus with 30 people crammed onto it. For 20 hours. We were also stuck with 20 other people in a 12 passenger van. That was only for 9 hours though. But we also got a few nicer rides, including a couple of free hitches.

Based upon my limited experience, it seems like transportation in and out of Ulaan Baatar is cheaper than transportation between other cities. Between other cities the costs were approximately 100 Tukrig per kilometer per person.

To find a ride, the best method we found was to find the road going in your direction and wave down cars and vans. It helps to have the name of your destination written in Cyrillic as well. In every town, there's usually a bus center where the vans all depart from. But you will have a harder time negotiating there. In addition, once you have negotiated a price, you will have to wait around until the van is full. And then you will drive around town picking up everyone's luggage. And then pick up more people. And then back to the market so people can buy snacks. If you're on the main road, you may have to wait 2 or 3 hours before someone will give you a ride, but they will already be in route. So it works out about the same time wise. You also have the freedom to reject a ride which is too crowded or appears to be on the verge of a breakdown.

Remember to buy plenty of snacks before leaving. You might not get any chances to buy food or drinks along the way. And when the van or bus stops in the middle of nowhere, that signifies a bathroom break. Get out, find a spot in the field, and do your business.

Here is a summary of our transportation expenses (price in Tugrik):

UB to Moron (bus) 24,500T, 20 hours
Moron to Hatgal (van) 7,000T, 100 km, 3 hours
Moron to Tariat (tourist van) 25,000T, 280 km, 9 hours
(This was a special deal because the driver was already headed that way and we were just a little icing on the cake for him.)
Tariat to Tsetserleg (car) 20,000T, 170 km, 6 hours
Tsetserleg to Kharkharin (van) 15,000T, 135 km, 3.5 hours
Kharkharin to UB (van) 15,000T, 8 hours

A sampling of some of the roads you will encounter:

No comments: