A nice surprise awaited me when we boarded the Trans-Mongolian train at 7 a.m.—it was far nicer than any of the overnight trains we’d been on in China (we’d paid a bit more, too). There were only four bunks to a compartment and the door slid closed for privacy. And we had plenty of storage for the three of us who started out in our room.
Our compartment-mates included a Finnish woman who recently completed her schooling in fine arts, is currently living in Thailand, and is studying Estonian. I don’t think she had a single nice thing to say about Estonians. She was almost helpful when it came to interacting with the Mongolian carriage attendant, who spoke no English or Chinese but could sometimes catch the idea of the gal’s Russian. Our fourth roommate was a Mongolian guy studying in Beijing. He was very friendly and not at all upset that we hadn’t left him much storage space.
Besides an incident involving some early-morning instant coffee (the attendant brought it to our compartment without a word, then expecting payment seven hours later), the ride was uneventful. We watched China fade into Mongolia, but didn’t reach the border until nightfall, which comes quite late so far north. The Soviet-laid tracks in Mongolia are different than the Chinese tracks, so our train’s bogeys had to be changed in a two-hour long process for which most passengers got off.
By the time our passports were returned by the Mongolian border agents, it was 1 or 2 a.m., but we pulled into Ulaanbaatar mid-afternoon the following day well-rested and eager to see Mongolia.