Want to travel overland to Mongolia? Read this advice

Travel to Mongolia by motorbike or car

First things first, to travel overland to Mongolia will take some planning, but it is a fantastic idea! Once you get past all the painful bureaucracy, you'll have absolute independence traveling in Mongolia -something most people never achieve.

In China, the border town of Erenhot is the main border open to foreigners. Erenhot lies on the railway from Beijing/Datong, and the train is quicker and easier to take from there. If the trans-Siberian is booked out, there are local trains that can get you to the border from Beijing. You can get a ride on public road transport to Erenhot if you have to; it can save a few dollars, but there can be lengthy delays at the border and the immigration officials will make your life difficult.

May 2011 Update: for those wanting to travel overland from Western Mongolia into beautiful Xinjiang province in China, the remote border crossing at Bulgan (Khovd province, Mongolia) and Takashiken (China) is now open to foreigners on weekdays. This border isn't marked on many maps but tour operators in Mongolia and Urumqi (China) will know about it. The border lies over 200km from Khovd and 500km from Urumqi, so it is remote and you will need to find adequate transport. Tours doing this route will likely start operating in the next 6 months. Note the below rules about not taking vehicles into China: it will be much easier to start in China first, as if you're heading from Mongolia you'll have to arrange separate transport to meet you on the Chinese side. [end update].

Note foreigners cannot take their own car or motorbike through China without paying for a full-time guide; this will hopefully change in the next few years, but the rule is still in place now and it ensures most people doing their own overland trips enter Mongolia through Russia rather than China. I met a guy who was riding his motorbike from Singapore right up to Vladivostok in Russia. These Chinese rules forced him to ship his bike from Vietnam up to Russia, and buy a different motorbike to take through China.

Those traveling through Kazakhstan should note that it unfortunately doesn't quite border Mongolia, so you should consider flying there, or travel overland via Russia rather than China if you wish to travel to Mongolia with your own vehicle.

Russian border crossings, particularly at the more remote entry points, can test the limits of human patience, and offer a wonderful demonstration of Soviet-era bureaucracy. Any deviation from the standard process and required documentation -no matter how logical the explanation- can create real problems for you. To be safe, any irregularities should be explained by a stamped letter from your local Russian embassy or consulate. Ensure you have a good understanding of all visa documentation and vehicle import requirements before you leave.

The main border crossing to travel overland is at Naushki, or Sukhbaatar or the Mongolian side. This is where the train crosses, 600km north of Ulan Bator. There's another crossing only 20 miles east of this, at Kyakta, but stick to the main one unless you have a hankering for adventure/ bureaucratic delays.

In the far west of Mongolia, there's a less-traveled crossing at Tashanta, and Tsagan Nuur on the Mongolian side. This is quite close to the aimag capital city, Bayan-Olgii. In the far east, there's a crossing at Borzya (Russia) and Erdenstav.

There are rumors that the remote border crossing at Khank, at the northern tip of Lake Khovsgol is now open to foreigners, but I haven't heard of anybody who's actually done it. Given how difficult and remote the journey from Khatgal to Khank is, you'd want to be extra certain the border's open before you headed up there. Coming from Russia, without your own wheels you couldn't be certain there'd be any transport south from Khank.

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