From Kansas City to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia is one hell of a long way, somewhere in the vicinity of 8,500 miles and 23 hours of travel time. I sure don’t look forward to that part of this adventure. But imagine what Genghis Kahn or Marco Polo had to go through.
You can get to Ulaanbaatar by train from either Moscow or Beijing. Sure it would be fun – I loved my train trips in Russia from Moscow to above the Arctic Circle and from Moscow to Sochi on the Black Sea – but the time, cost and hassle factors just don’t make it an option for me. That leaves flying. Two routes are available, via Seoul, South Korea or via Beijing, China. Prices via either gateway city are about the same $1,650 +/-. The Seoul and one Beijing option get you into Ulaanbaatar late at night – after 10:00 – and the other Beijing option has you overnight in Beijing and leave for Ulaanbaatar at just after 5:00 the next morning. If the Beijing overnight option includes lodging in the price and you don’t have to get a visa it might not be too bad. Getting into Ulaanbaatar late at night could be a real pain and you still have lodging cost on arrival. There are several hostels in Ulaanbaatar that are very reasonable but I’m not sure about getting to one of them from the airport. I’ll have to e-mail them to see about it. I’ll let you know later what I decide to do.
According to the US State Department a visa is not required if you http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_973.html are visiting for fewer than 90 days; however, if you plan to stay in Mongolia for more than 30 days you must register with the Office of Immigration, Naturalization, and Foreign Citizens in Ulaanbaatar within seven days of arriving in Mongolia. Since I’m only planning on being there for three weeks it won’t be an issue. The only down side to no Visa is that I won’t have a cool one in my passport to “one up” my son and traveling buddy Dan. He is winning now with his China Visa!
Traveling in a foreign country always poses some risks. Just the language barrier can be an issue if you need help. Ask my friend Ray the Chilean Felon. He had to try to explain to the police about his trespass issue via Google Translate. In the less developed world the risks are even greater and Google Translate doesn’t have a Mongolian option.
Before our adventures, STREAM SIDE ADVENTURES registers with the State Department Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). This is a program that allows you to enter information about your upcoming trip abroad (https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/ui/index.aspx) so that the Department of State can better assist you in the event of an emergency. In the second world, third world and location with the possibility of natural disaster such as Chile this program is very reassuring to your loved ones.
What about other stuff like money, safety and health issues? The State Departments Mongolian page covers many of those issues and my blog entry (http://normcrisp.blogspot.com/2010/04/basic-survival-stuff.html) covers some additional items. Here is a travel “nugget” we found: Before you leave contact your bank and tell them were you will be so they can make a note on your credit card file. That will keep them from issuing a fraud alert and blocking your card use. It happened to a client in Chile. We were able to help him out. Without access to your money it could be a tough trip.
Now I have to start seriously working on the in-country details! That will be the fun part.