I was lucky to travel to Mongolia in the trial year (2015) of Visa-free travel to the country. Unfortunately, my boyfriend arrived on the 1st of January 2016 and exceptionally needed pay 60 dollar in the airport and gambol on. Therefore, I cannot provide with any valuable personal experiences.
The tours offered in Mongolia are total rip offs. I have read some reviews of people admitting that the tours are overpriced, but that we should be grateful to be able to travel.
Yak-shit, according to me.
I keep an eye on the local economy and prices and there is no fucking way that they are going to charge me more than one month of income for two days not eating your food and cleaning your shit.
The perfect cheap tour, you can organise by yourself. Since this is actually impossible, because we are foreigners and you sure will get ripped off somewhere on the road, I highly recommend you to get social (CouchSurf) and have a local to come with you for a weekend outside the city. In this way we did a tour that would have cost us 150 euro for 6,50 euro instead. Bargain!
I think it is not fair to overcharge people just because they are tourists, because I have never seen any tourist shop lowering the price for someone from a third world country. Tourist organisations that try to squeeze out money out of every single opportunity they see, can kiss my ass.
Transportation from West to East-Mongolia
The roads in Mongolia are very underdeveloped. They are trying to optimize the roads (which means, actually building roads, because there are none), but at the end 2015 I haven’t seen to many of them.
Luckily, I knew where the bus station was, since my host had shown me on the way to his house. If you are walking from West to East on the main road, you will have a yellow building on your left hand side. It could be handy to have a picture of a bus and let locals point you out the direction.
The person at the counter spoke a little bit of English, so booking it was not such a big deal.
If there is any tip I can give to you: take the paper with the seat-numbers outside and walk to the bus with the plan, so you can see how the bus looks like. I firstly booked a seat in front “next to the driver”, but it ended up to be one big seat to be shared with 6 people facing the backside of the bus. Driving for two days with your back towards the direction you are driving to is just another way to consider to commit suicide.
There is a bus that runs every day at 16h from the main bus station directly to Ulaanbaatar.
Knowing that you will be on a school bus for 2 days packed with luggage and people and no comfort at all, you will think 37 euro is quite expensive. However, it is an amazing way to see whole inner Mongolia and get a hard-core feeling of the local culture. I optimized it by thinking about the two nights of accommodation that I had saved, but most of all the adventure, which was very much included.
From Ulaanbaatar to Beijing for 36 euro.
From Ulaanbaatar we took a train to Sainshand, since there are the beautiful temples of Shambala to be found. The train has cost us 5 euro per person.
From there on we took a train a Zamiin-Uud, which has cost us 2,50 euro. We arrived very early in the morning in the station where the Jeeps were thrown at our heads. The normal price was 9 euro, but I never take an offer without bargaining, so we paid only 4,5 euro per person. The Jeep brought us all the way to Erenhot, where we took quite a long time to find a way to get out of there.
We were squatting a bar for hours in order to find transportation. Due to the language barrier, we missed every possible bus or train, so we needed to give that up and find a host.
Since no one answered us on CouchSurfing (which is quite normal if you are travelling by three) we discovered the wondrous world of Wechat. We searched for people in the neighbourhood and soon got an answer of a local willing to help us. A Mongolian-Chinese took us into his house, cooked for us and cracked his finest bottle of vodka for a night of communication with Google translate.
He brought us to the bus station very early in the morning and heavy headed we embarked into a bus direction Datong.
The bus was very comfortable, but had cost us 17 euro; quite expensive compared to the prices of the trains, but lost in translation and just following the motions of our hosts, we did not ask too many questions.
From Datong we took a train to Beijing. The ride was about 5 hours of pure joy (please remark the sarcasm) being seated in a train with bright lights shining in our faces and people staring at my blond hair all night long,… for 7 Euro you can not miss, I guess.
In total we can make the calculation that, from Ulaanbaator to Beijing, I have paid 36 euro, whilst the Trans-Mongolian route would have cost me almost 200 euro.
It would have been more comfortable, and way much more faster, but stopping over in Ehrenhot and Datong, once again brought me to places I would never have seen otherwise.
All information about low budget vegan travel in Mongolia you can find here.