In true adventure spirit I decided to go there anyway and check it out. It helped a lot that a buddhist monastery and Dadal, a presumed birth place of Chingghis Khan with a nice monument, were on-route, I wanted to visit these places anyway, so it only made more sense to go. Furthermore: the prospect of seeing the 'real' plains of Mongolia was exhilarating. My experience with the roads in Mongolia was at this point sufficient to expect any road and weather condition, or as some would say: I was prepared for the 'worst'. However, personally I would call it the best!
After visiting Baldan Bereeven monastery (two days from Ulaanbaatar) I decided to go all the way off road to Dadal. It took me three days, averaging about 80kms per day since I left Ulaanbaatar. Luckily it was dry, but it had obviously been raining a lot in the past week, many river crossing were impossible and even a ferry (on the road from Bayan Adraga - Dadal) was unavailable because the river was too high. Finally I found a bridge on the road from Norovlin - Dadal. Later I left this swampy region via Bayan-Uul to arrive in Choibalsan.
So far most of the road was muddy earth dirt tracks with many river crossings, the joy of Mongolia . The last stretch was good gravel to speed things up a bit, this started approximately 30kms after Bayan-Uul. The normal 'highway' from Ulaanbaatar to Choibalsan is supposed to be in reasonable condition and partially tarmac, but I cannot confirm that.
A few kilometers after Choibalsan the gravel ends and the next 230kms are the usual winding Mongolian earth roads, which are heaven on a motorcycle. Even though it seems on Google Maps that there is an actual road: there is not. Normal navigation is useless here. Finding directions is easy, just follow the train tracks North and make sure you end up on the West of the tracks about 20kms before the town of Chuluunkhoroot. After filling up on fuel and water I struggled a bit to find the right track towards the border crossing. At the stop sign I had to wait for a border guard to open the gate. So far I did not have a clue about whether the border crossing would actually be possible.
The Mongolian officials only processed one side (RU->MN or MN->RU) at a time and after 10 minutes an officer arrived and checked my passport. He did not reject me, everything looked like it would work out, I did not really feel like riding back to Ulaanbaatar anyways. Another 10 minutes later he opened the gate and I could ride into the compound. An english speaking official told me she would accompany me through the process. Now I felt sure that everything would be fine, and 20 minutes later, several stamps and quite a thorough search later I was out of Mongolia!
The Russian border was only 50m further and here all was smooth as well. No english temporary import forms, but the female customs officer helped me fill out everything correctly in Russian, then asked me to help her fill it out on the computer. 30 minutes and another thorough search later I was officially in Russia.
Immediately the road was better: first gravel, then potholed tarmac and then quite nice asphalt. The minute I crossed the border I noticed that suddenly there was an abundance of trees again and everything is obviously better maintained. I absolutely enjoyed my time in Mongolia, it is beautiful, but also rough, exhausting and limited in resources.
Some recommendations if you also plan to take this border crossing:
- From Choibalsan to the border I did not see any sizeable town with fuel, bring fuel for at least 250kms of off road riding
- If it has rained (a lot) I would not go here, my experience with Mongolia is that these dirt earth tracks all turn in mud horror
- If it rains: don't even attempt to do it
- From the highway to Baldan Bereeven (85km) you absolutely need off road (motorcycle) skills and a 4wd if you go by car, it is absolutely worth it though!
- The same counts for the track from Baldan Bereeven to Dadal
- Do not try to be a hero, especially if you are by yourself (like I was). Mongolia is unforgiving and if you cannot tell anybody about your adventures afterwards it is not worth it.
All in all I really enjoyed this adventure! Would I do it again: sure thing!
Further information about border crossings can be found here: Mongolia border crossings