Category Archives: How To

Crossing the border from Armenia to Georgia – Alaverdi to Tbilisi

The most common way to cross between Armenia and Georgia is the overnight train between the capitals, but as we wanted to visit the northern UNESCO monasteries of Sanahin and Haghpat we put them at the end of our Armenian adventure so that it’d be a short hop to the border. Here’s our account of the straightforward crossing using public transport, the only drama being the manufactured kind at the hand of taxi drivers keen for business at the end of the off-season.

~09:00 Alaverdi ↝ Bagratashen (500 Dram, 1hr)

Alaverdi, Armenia

The main road through Alaverdi – marshrutkas depart for the border from where the yellow bus is parked

We’d been told by our guesthouse that the marshrutka from Alaverdi to Bagratashen (the Georgian border) would leave at 08:50 so we got there about 10 minutes early, which just added another 10 minutes to the wait as it didn’t arrive until 09:15. One local taxi driver insisted that there wasn’t a marshrutka to the border that day, and another said that if it didn’t arrive by 9am then it wasn’t coming at all so we should obviously just hire his taxi instead. We politely declined and said we weren’t in a hurry!

Marshrutka to the border, Alaverdi, Armenia

The marshrutka arrived already pretty full with locals. They made space for our bags under the bench seats and I ended up on that small wooden stool next to the sliding door – at least I had a seat!

~10:15 Border crossing (15min)

No Man's Land, between Armenia and Georgia

The footpath follows the road over a bridge, and from there the Georgian border building awaits

The marshrutka dropped us about 100 metres from the border and the driver pointed us in the right direction though it was pretty obvious. After dredging up “hello” in Turkish to speak to some very friendly Turkish lorry drivers waiting to cross we walked through the almost empty Armenian Border Control building, had our passports stamped without a question or delay and continued through the building and outside.

It’s a 5 minute walk across a bridge spanning the Debed river to the Georgian Border Control building. Just inside the entrance is a bank counter – it’s a very good idea to change any remaining dram or withdraw some Georgian (GEL) money here as we didn’t see an ATM the other side of passport control.

All of our bags were X-Ray scanned before reaching passport control. No queues or questions for us here either and we walked out the other side into the small car park looking for our onward marshrutka – a Ford Transit or Mercedes Sprinter-style van.

~10:45 Sadakhlo ↝ Tbilisi (5 Lari, 1¼hr)

Fortunately for us the marshrutka driver had parked right next to the exit and was standing in front of his van having a smoke so we asked “Tbilisi?”, he nodded and waved us on board.

A taxi driver saw us getting on and had a bit of a go at him in Georgian – we presume because we’re tourists and should therefore have taken a taxi. His taxi. Our marshrutka driver didn’t seem at all bothered by his plight. We waited in the marshrutka for about 10 minutes to see if anyone else arrived before we set off.

Samgori Metro Station, Tbilisi, Georgia

The Tbilisi metro is 0.50 Lari to go anywhere, charged onto a contactless travelcard which is also handy for buses and the cable car, and costs a refundable 2 Lari which can be purchased from the counter inside any metro station

The final destination in Tbilisi is the western bus station which is also conveniently close to the Samgori metro station making it trivial to get anywhere in the city. Including a trip on the metro, the total cost from Alaverdi to Tbilisi was the equivalent of £2.70 each.

How to: Baracoa to Holguin via Moa – the adventurous route

The distance from Baracoa to Holguin is only about 150 miles (250km) by the most direct route, but the only option if you want to travel by the Viazul bus service is to take the bus back to Santiago de Cuba and change there for Holguin. In theory this is possible in one day – if you take the 08:15 bus out of Baracoa which arrives in Santiago 13:45, you could then catch the 16:00 which gets into Holguin at 20:15. This seemed like a very long day along roads that we’d already seen so when we were planning our route through Cuba we decided that we would like to try to go along the notoriously bad road to Moa and there transfer back to Holguin where our flight landed. During our pre-trip research, it was difficult to find any clear information on how to do this and so here’s our trip report from April 2016 if anyone else is planning the same journey.

In Baracoa, you need to go to the local transport yard at the corner of Calixto Garcia and Coroneles Galano, just a few blocks from the central square.

Baracoa local transport yard map

Early morning is best as there are no fixed schedules so you may have to wait for quite a while (we did). We arrived at 07:15. For Moa, wait at the far end closest to Rubert Lopez (see blue arrow in the map above) – place names are painted on the wall around the yard although we didn’t see them at first and asked around. While you’re waiting we recommend grabbing a fried egg sandwich for breakfast from the Terminal Cafeteria.

Baracoa local transport yardLocal transport yard in Baracoa

I get the impression that usually transport is a bit more frequent because by the time the first truck pulled up at 08:30 a LOT of people were waiting. Also, I understand that it’s usually jeeps that do the Baracoa-Moa stretch but in our case it was a passenger truck with bench seats down either side of a covered back section. The guy who takes the money shepherded us in – it’s a bit of a scrum – we were the only tourists and he charged us more so I think we got some kind of priority. Locals were charged 60-70CUP (2.5CUC), we were charged 4CUC each, I tried to argue about this but there was no negotiating he just repeated the price. Our big rucksacks were stowed under the seats and our small rucksacks on our laps. The truck was tightly packed.

Passenger truckJulie in the back of the passenger truck from Baracoa to Moa

The road from Baracoa to Moa is in a pretty poor state of repair with lots of potholes and it’s quite dusty as the back of the truck is open. We stopped after about 1.5 hours at a roadside cafeteria where it was possible to buy snacks (including cucuruchos at local prices = CUP5 each). The driver also changed the wheel as we had a puncture – lots of guys pitched in and we were on our way within 20 minutes.

Changing the wheelHow many Cubans does it take to change a wheel…

As we approached Moa we noticed a lot more heavy industrial activity compared to the more rural sights that we passed on the first part of the journey. The road passes the huge nickel plant and the wasteland stretching out around it. We eventually arrived at the bus station in Moa at 11:15 (a journey time of 2.75 hours) – this is the last stop so just get off when the truck empties.

Moa bus stationBus station at Moa

A local couple who came from Baracoa were also going on to Holguin and they adopted us – I don’t know their names but for the purposes of the story we’ll call them Pedro and Maria. We waited inside the bus station with Maria while Pedro went looking for colectivos (private taxis that leave when they’re full) out in front (after first checking the back to see that there were no trucks). The bus station has snacks available from various vendors and toilets (no running water) – follow the corridor behind the seating area to the right when you enter. I noticed on the timetable that the Omnibus Nacionales bus was due to leave at 1pm (37CUP) but Pedro asked at the ticket desk and it was no good for us as you must have a Cuban ID card to travel on that service.

After almost an hour, he found a car that was going to Holguin – if you’re on your own I would recommend just hanging around outside and asking each vehicle that pulls up. The only problem was that the price for Cubans was 100CUP (4CUC) each but the driver said that for us (foreigners) it would be 10CUC each! I tried negotiating, including walking away back to the waiting room where the driver eventually followed us but he absolutely would not budge on the price. If we’d been alone we might have hung around to see if we could find a cheaper alternative but Pedro and Maria seemed to be reluctant to leave without us so we agreed. He did move the other passengers into the back so that we got the whole bench seat behind the driver to ourselves which meant we had lots of space and access to the windows to take photos. We left Moa at 12:15.

Colectivo to HolguinOur large bags were stowed on the roof

Inside our colectivo taxiOur colectivo taxi from Moa to Holguin was a very old Pontiac (with a slightly newer Mercedes steering wheel!)

The road between Moa and Holguin is in a much better state of repair and we arrived in Holguin at 15:00 (a journey time of 2.75 hours) at the Intermunicipal Bus station on Avenida de los Libertadores, near the baseball stadium.

Holguin Intermunicipal bus station mapIntermunicipal Bus station in Holguin

Outside Holguin Intermunicipal bus stationColectivo taxis outside the Intermunicipal Bus station in Holguin

There are lots of local taxis and bici-taxis hanging around to take you on to your destination, or it’s roughly a 1.5km walk from here to Parque Calixto Garcia in the centre of town.

Another option to get from Baracoa to Holguin would be to arrange a tourist colectivo through your casa particular – we were quoted 30CUC per person based on a car with 4 passengers and our casa owner said he could ring around to find others who wanted to share the journey – obviously this would be much faster as there would be no hanging around at bus stations and it would probably also take you directly to your destination in Holguin.

Transport type (Baracoa to Holguin) Total price per person (CUC) Estimated time incl waiting (hours)
Public transport (via Moa) 14 7.75
Viazul Bus (via Santiago) 26 13
Tourist colectivo taxi (via Moa) 30 ~5

How To: 3 days in Zhangjiajie, China

Here’s our guide on what to see and how to see it in the Zhangjiajie National Park.

If you don’t like reading or following long, detailed instructions, you can do what we did and simply book a room at Zhangjiajie Yijiaqin Hotel, and the owner Shi Wan Tang or his daughter will plan your days for you!


Zhangjiajie National Park, the highlight of our second tour of China

Zhangjiajie National Park, the highlight of our second tour of China

Pronounced “Djang-Jar-Jay”, the Zhangjiajie National Park is stunning, and well worth the effort to see should your plans take you even remotely close, or even if they don’t.. ;o)

The city has a small airport, but we arrived by overnight train from Wuhan via YiChang, and although it is a little out of the way there are lots of trains passing through so it’s well connected and easy enough to get to.

Day 1 – Tianmen Mountain

Map of Tianmen Mountain

Map of Tianmen Mountain (source: Natural Arch and Bridge Society)

The easiest of the sights to visit is Tianmen Mountain. It’s south of the city and easily reached on the longest cable-car journey in the world from a station right in the centre of town (and one block away from the Zhangjiajie Yijiaqin Hotel!)

Tianmen mountain cable car

Tianmen mountain cable car, the longest in the world at almost 7.5km

Tickets cost ¥258 return (about £26/$42), and the journey takes about 30 minutes. Aim to get to the cablecar station around 07:15 (yes, AM) – the first car leaves at 8am, but if you turn up just after 8 then your queuing time will quadruple to 2 hours. At least.

Fearless Julie on the glass walkway

Fearless Julie on the glass walkway

On the top, take an anti-clockwise route along the edge and you’ll arrive at the entrance to the Glass Walkway – a section of the path that juts out of the karst with a glass bottom so you can shit your pants see all the way to the forest below. There’s a small extra charge for the Glass Walkway of ¥5 return (about £0.5/$0.8)

There’s a selection of food stands at the north near Tianmenshan Temple, and south-east near the cablecar station. While the bottled water is cheaper in the city, it’s not much more expensive at the top. There are plenty of toilets too.

Tianmen Cave

The “999” steps up to the natural Tianmen Cave (it’s not quite 999 steps, but it is pretty steep!)

After taking the cliff’s edge path all the way around, take the cablecar halfway back to the middle station, and after a short wait take the free bus to the foot of the Tianmen Cave. There are 3 restaurants here and it looks like there’ll be more opening soon on the same underground level as the toilets.

From where the bus drops you, climb the 999 steps to walk through the hole where Alain Robert, the “French Spiderman” had climbed to the top and back unaided in 40 minutes – see if you can find the bronze cast of him climbing up the wall!

From the cave, head back down the 999 steps, take the free bus back along the twisting valley roads and then the cablecar back to the city.

Day 2 – Huangshi Village

Huangshi Village Map

Huangshi Village Map (source: Zhangjiajie Tourism)

Another early start, again to beat the cablecar queues, but as it’s about an hour to the cablecar you need to be at the Zhangjiajie central bus station no later than 7am.

Pay on the bus, so after passing the x-ray bag scanner, walk straight through the bus station toward the buses, and once outside turn left then follow the fence as it turns right 90° then left 90° and it’s the second gate on your right, but you’ll be spotted by the helpful ladies at the desks and waved onto the right bus! (they’ll assume, correctly, that you’re heading for Zhangjiajie National Forest Park Entrance)

Boarding the bus from Zhangjiajie bus station to the National Park entrance

Boarding the bus from Zhangjiajie bus station to the National Park entrance

The bus costs ¥10 (£1/$1.60) and takes 45 minutes to reach the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park entrance, where you’ll need to buy either a 3-day or a 7-day pass from the ticket windows to the left of the path, which are ¥248 (£25/$41) or ¥298 (£30/$49) respectively. You get a nice plastic entry card which you can keep as a souvenir, and when you pass through the gates you need to touch it to the gate and offer a thumb or finger for the scanner.

Once inside the park, follow the path (and the crowds) and you’ll reach Oxygen Square in about 5 minutes. Take the road to the left and after about 100 metres there’s a bus stop on your left where you can take the free bus to Huangshi Village Cableway. The bus takes about 5 minutes, or if you want to walk to the top there’s a path from Oxygen Square which will take about 90 minutes.

If you took the bus, buy your ticket for the cablecar at the windows to the right of the stairs which is an extra ¥118 (£12/$19) return. We arrived here at 09:00 on the dot and the queue was about 30 people so we were on our way in about 10 minutes!

I think it’s better to get the backward-facing seats, because you can turn around and have unrestricted views of this spectacular journey, like this:

Huangshi Village Cablecar

View from the cablecar up to Huangshi Village – it’s short, but it’s our favourite because of the dramatic scenery passing between the karsts

On the top, turn left and take the cliffside path clockwise around the top as the views will just keep getting better and better. It took us about 2 and a half hours to circumnavigate but we’re slow as we take a lot of photographs. There are some snack stalls (we can recommend the fried potatoes) and toilets on the top to the east of the cablecar station, and if you want to walk down there’s a route that’ll take about an hour that starts near the cablecar station.

View from Huangshi Village

Just one of the many stunning views from Huangshi Village

Note that there are monkeys on Huangshi and if you’re carrying a bag in your hand they will try to snatch it from you – quite aggressively too – because they’ve learned that people carry their food that way. We had our food in our rucksack and the monkeys weren’t interested at all.

Monkeys stealing tourists' lunch

Beware: monkeys will go through any bags you carry in your hand!

Back at Oxygen Square which has a few statues and a nice garden, we took the Golden Whip Stream walking path, which comes with the same warning about carrier bags and mischievous monkeys.

The trail was busy with bunches of tour groups that were mostly going in the same direction, and the trees and karsts provide welcome shelter from the sun. There are plenty of toilets along the 3 hour walk, and there are a couple of food stalls too.

Golden Whip Stream walking path

The Golden Whip Stream walking trail can be busy at times. This is a rare narrow section of the trail

The trail ends at “Water Winding Four Gates” where you catch the free bus to the Wulinyuan entrance to the National Forest Park. As the trail ends the road opens up. Take the road to the right and look for the big buses and the bus station queue. Check with the driver that they’re going to Wulinyuan, and it’ll take about 30 minutes with 2 possible stops along the way. You’re at the right one when you see a massive pagoda.

Wulinyuan Park entrance pagoda

The pagoda that greets you at the Wulinyuan Park entrance. You’ll be seeing this again tomorrow..

Leave the park to the right of the pagoda, and stay on the footpath to the right of the road. After 300-400 metres you’ll see a beat-up old bus or two waiting for you – you want bus number 1. It’ll cost ¥1 or ¥2 (£0.20 /$0.32) to go about 3 blocks to the Wulinyuan Bus Station (which you could walk to if you prefer), then take the bus back to Zhangjiajie (“Djang-Jar-Jay”) which takes 45 minutes and costs ¥12 (£1.20 / $2).

Day 3 – Tianzi Mountain, Tianqiao, and Heaven Pillar (Hallelujah Mountain)

Map of day 3: Tianzi Mountain, Tianqiao, and Heaven Pillar (Hallelujah Mountain)

Map of day 3: Tianzi Mountain (circled top right), Tianqiao and the Heaven Pillar (Hallelujah Mountain, circled middle-left)

Day 3 starts by retracing our last steps from the end of day 2. It’s another early start – maybe even earlier as our destination is the biggest and busiest of the karsts in the park.

Quick recap: Get to the Zhangjiajie central bus station no later than 7am, preferably earlier if you really dislike queuing. Again you pay on the bus, so after passing the x-ray bag scanner, walk straight through the bus station toward the buses, once outside turn left then follow the fence as it turns right 90° then left 90° and it’s the second gate on your right, but you’ll be spotted by the helpful ladies at the desks but make sure to tell them you want Wulinyuan or they’ll point you at the wrong bus!

The minibus to Wulinyuan is about 45 minutes and costs ¥12 (£1.20 / $2). You’ll likely be dropped just outside Wulinyuan Bus Station, and there’s no need to go into the station itself as the No. 1 bus will pick you up from the same spot and take you pretty much to the Park Entrance.

Wulinyuan Park Entrance Pagoda

The massive Wulinyuan park entrance pagoda

Head straight to the massive pagoda, the turnstiles are inside to the right, and the free park buses leave just beyond the gates once you’re in the park.

Get on the free park bus, but check with the driver that they’re stopping at “Tianzi” as they might point you at a different one. It should take about 15 minutes to reach the Tianzi Mountain Cableway. We got here about 08:45 and the long queue that had already formed took 90 minutes to reach the front! Get here as early as you can, but be prepared to camp out as the cablecar starts running at 09:00. It costs ¥67 (£7/$11) one-way.

Tianzi Mountain cablecar queue and journey

Tianzi Mountain – the queue you’re trying to avoid by getting there earlier than we did, and the fantastic cablecar journey you’re queueing for

At the top there’s a free shuttle bus that takes 5 minutes to go from the Upper Cablecar station to the Helong Park stop, where you’ll find a big map of the area at the top of the steps to Helong Park. The steps take you to a row of souvenir shops and of all things, a McDonalds. Yep, even here you can buy a McFlurry. Follow the path to the left which should be signposted Tianzi Pavilion.

Tianzi Pavilion is about an 8 minute walk, and this Helong Park area is a criss-cross of paths to little sights including the grave of Marshal He Long, a decorated General who now has an enviable view from his final resting place.

There is a path down from here along Wolong Ridge that includes a ride on the park’s short train, which drops you about half-way between Water Winding Four Gates and the Wulinyuan entrance gate. We didn’t take route so I don’t have any more details.

Once you’ve seen all the sights at the end of all the little winding dead-end paths in Helong Park, retrace your steps north back to the road and follow it west where you’ll find a row of stalls mostly selling food. Just beyond you can pick up the bus again and take it all the way to Tianqiao. Again, check with the driver that the bus is going to Tianqiao, and the journey should take about 30 minutes.

You’ll find Tianqiao stop to be a busy, manic mess of people and food and souvenir vendors. We didn’t see any signposts, so we just took the most obvious looking alley between the souvenir stands to the right of the bus park. The trail takes a long, winding route over and then past “Greatest Natural Bridge” and a few more named viewing spots before you reach the most famous sight of the park – Heaven Pillar – otherwise known as Hallelujah Mountain from the 2009 film Avatar.

Heaven Pillar (aka Hallelujah Mountain)

The now famous Heaven Pillar, otherwise known as Hallelujah Mountain in the movie Avatar

Once you’ve taken plenty of photographs, including a few of you on the back of a Mountain Banshee, continue on towards “Enchanting” where the path forks. Right will take you to the “Back Garden”, left will take you to the Enchanting bus stop, where you can catch the free, 8 minute bus to the top of the Bailong Elevator – a giant outdoor lift with amazing views of the valley as you descend into it. Don’t forget to buy your ticket from the ticket office where the bus drops you off, as it’s a 5 minute walk to the elevator itself! Tickets are ¥72 (£7 / $12).

Bailong Elevator

The thrilling Bailong Elevator which has a tunnel exit almost as long as the ride up the mountain!

At the bottom, you’ll find a bus stop right outside the exit that will take you all the way back to the Wulinyuan entrance, which takes about 45 minutes. From there it’s the same trip back to Zhangjiajie as yesterday.. leave the park to the right of the pagoda, and stay on the footpath to the right of the road. After 300-400 metres you’ll see a beat-up old bus or two waiting for you – you want bus number 1. It’ll cost ¥1 or ¥2 (£0.20 /$0.32) to go a couple of blocks to the Wulinyuan Bus Station (which you could walk to if you prefer), then take the bus back Zhangjiajie (“Djang-Jar-Jay”) which takes 45 minutes and costs ¥12 (£1.20 / $2).

Getting a Chinese Visa in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

We’d read a number of tales from other travellers about their difficulties getting a Chinese Tourist visa while on the road, and that made us a little apprehensive, especially because Julie’s parents are due to meet us in Beijing!

After visiting the busy Chinese Embassy in Ulaanbaatar and picking up the 4-page application form, the attached 2-page supplementary form, and noting the supporting documentation required, we felt a little better, but knew it would still be more involved than extending our Mongolian visas.

20130806-174020.jpgAndrew’s Chinese Visa

The Chinese visa application is straightforward, but there are a few more additional requirements. I’ll list the information we provided with our applications, and where we got it, as our applications were accepted without question and 30-day tourist (L) visas granted.

What you need


  • Invitation letter – more on this below
  • Mongolian Resident permission card – for non-Mongolians like us, we took this to mean a photocopy of our Mongolian Visa, which we included with our application
  • Hotel booking in China – we understand you need a minimum of 3 nights accommodation booked in your arrival city
  • Round ticket – more on this below
  • Economic assurance – we didn’t provide this, and it wasn’t asked for when we applied
  • Proof of Kinship (if visiting family members) – didn’t apply to us
  • Visa application form (and 2-page supplementary form)

Invitation letter

We asked in a number of travel agents and flight booking shops (of which there are many) in Ulaanbaatar, but none of them could help us arrange an invitation letter from an individual or company in China, until we found Tatiana of Legend Tours, located near Sukhbaatar Square on Seoul Street.

Not only did she arrange 3 nights accommodation in Beijing and the accompanying and all-important Invitation Letter, but she also organised our Ulaanbaatar to Beijing train tickets. The Traveler Inn Hua Qiao hotel is a little more expensive than what we have been used to thus far, but it looks nice and seems to be in a great location in Beijing.

Round ticket

Essentially, China is looking for confirmation of your entry and exit dates. Even if you intend to get the train to Beijing, but don’t yet have your ticket, all of the (many) flight booking / travel agencies in Ulaanbaatar will print out and stamp a flight reservation for you – at no charge.

As we had the inbound train ticket, we asked an AirMarket branch near our guesthouse to provide details of an outbound flight from Beijing to Bangkok, 30 days after our train ticket said we’d arrive in China. The staff were very efficient (you’ll need your passport), and spoke enough English to help us.

If you don’t have a train ticket from Ulaanbaatar to Beijing, then you could submit flight reservations instead and buy your train ticket once you have your Chinese visa.

Application and Supplementary form

The application form looks daunting at first, but it’s mostly tick-boxes. We left sections we didn’t have answers for blank, or crossed through sections that we were certain didn’t apply.

There is a section that asks where you’ll be staying in China, and there are spaces for 4 addresses. We used the details of our Beijing hotel first, then we used, the Lonely Planet and google searches to find addresses and telephone numbers for the remaining 3 spaces, which worked out nicely according to our loosely planned itinerary. I don’t think you need to fill in 4 addresses.

We did not contact the other hotels, nor did we make online reservations.

The 2-page Supplementary form is attached to the Application form, and asks for additional information because you aren’t applying from your home country.

We crossed through the first 3 quarters of the form, filling in the last section with the details of our Mongolian visa.

At the Chinese Embassy

Their working hours are Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and they were closed for the entire week of the Mongolian Naadam festival in Ulaanbaatar (11th to 13th of July in 2013). Visa applications are taken in the morning from 9am to 12pm, and collections are done in the afternoon from 4pm to 5pm.


The queue was long, but moved steadily. We handed our applications and supporting documentation in together, and the very friendly and helpful gentleman asked only which service we’d like (i.e. how fast do we want them to process our applications). We opted for the standard 1-week, which meant collection on the same day the following week.

There are faster services available if you’re in a hurry, but naturally these cost extra.

In return for our application we got a receipt and a slip of paper with the service we’d asked for. We then took this to the bank opposite the Chinese Embassy (through a door that looks like it might be for staff only!), and queued longer to pay our visa fee than we did to hand in our applications! Prices are in USD, but we paid in MNT.


The queue was a little bit smaller for collections, and the friendly girl was very efficient! After handing her our receipt and proof of payment from the bank, she put her hand on our passports and applications almost immediately – despite the fact we’d actually left it almost two weeks because we’d been on a tour of the Gobi desert.

In summary, it was straightforward with a little help from Tatiana.

Mongolian Visa – Registration and Extension

Getting our 30-day Mongolian Visas in Irkutsk was straightforward, but extending our stay once we’d crossed the border wasn’t. Here’s a quick guide to pay forward the help we received.

If you wish to stay in Mongolia longer than 30 days, you have to register within 7 days of arrival. Registration and visa extension can be done at the same time with the same registration form in the Office of Immigration, Naturalisation and Foreign Citizens (INFC). Note that you can only extend your visa once.

What you need

You must bring the following with you:

  • Passport
  • Passport photo – there isn’t a photo booth in the building, so bring one with you
  • Money to pay for your registration form and extension: 1000 MNT (Tughriks) per form (required for registration and extension), ~$2.60 USD per day for extension, payable by cash or credit card
  • Full address and phone number of your current accommodation in Mongolia – If your accommodation is in Ulaanbaatar, you’ll need the District and Sub-district too

It’ll be faster if you can also bring the following with you:

  • Photocopy of Passport and Current Mongolian Visa – these can be on the same piece of paper, and on the reverse of your explanation letter (see below). The front desk does photocopies for 100 MNT
  • Explanation Letter (sample below) – a simple letter from you explaining the reason for your visa extension request
  • A pen

Getting there

20130706-222748.jpgThe right-most blue and white building is the The Office of Immigration, Naturalisation and Foreign Citizens (INFC) in Ulaanbaatar. You can just see the Ulaanbaatar welcome arch to the left, look out for the big red and white building with the circular roof which is next door and clearly visible from the main road

  • If you’ve arrived by aeroplane, the office is en-route to the centre of Ulaanbaatar, 1.8km from the airport. Head west along the busy main road (turn right out of the airport), and the INFC office is on your right before you pass under the Ulaanbaatar welcome arch, about 1.8km from the airport. It’s easily walkable, but there isn’t a footpath.
  • If you’ve arrived by train, bus, or are already in the centre of Ulaanbaatar, take bus #11 heading south from outside the Bayangol Hotel. Get off at the Ulaanbaatar welcome arch, about 30 to 40 minutes later. The bus costs 400 MNT (Tughriks)

Mongolian Visa Registration and Extension

When you enter the building, the front desk is on your left, and before the stairs in front of you are doors to your left and right. To your left is a branch of the Golomt Bank, and your first stop if you are extending your visa. To your right is the visa registration hall.

  1. Pay for your visa extension. (skip this step if you’re just registering)I know, it sounds absurd to pay upfront, but you need your receipt of payment to get your application form! Go the Golomt Bank in the left hall. There are 3 cashier windows, and you’re unlikely to get an English speaking clerk. If you’re told you need the form first, try a different window. We hit lucky on our first attempt, but a fellow tourist from Holland was knocked back, tried a different window and paid successfully! All you need to tell them is the number of days you want to extend by (minimum 7, maximum 30) – write it down if necessary.
  2. Collect an application form. In the visa registration hall (the hall on the right), you’ll find numbered windows facing you as you enter, and down the right-hand side. On this right-hand side is a lowered information window with chairs in front of it, and the first standing-height window to the left of this is where you show your bank receipt and collect a registration and extension form, paying the clerk 1000 MNT in cash.
  3. Fill out the form. There are plenty of tables to rest on, and there are glue-pens for affixing your photo.
  4. Write out a simple Explanation letter, if you haven’t already (see sample below). You can ask for blank paper from the front desk.
  5. Go to window number 4 “Tourist”, and hand over your Passport, copy of your passport, copy of your visa, completed application form with photo attached, explanation letter and payment receipt to the clerk. It’s likely there will be a queue, don’t take a number, just queue (the numbers are for the regular windows)

The clerk will check over your registration form, passport, visa, copies and receipt, and likely won’t read your explanation letter. After a few minutes on their computer, they’ll stamp your passport and return it to you with your payment receipt.


Sample Visa Explanation Letter

20130707-175649.jpgThe Visa Explanation Letter I submitted

[Home Address – same as on the Registration Form]

[Todays Date]

To whom it may concern,

I would like to request visa registration and extension of [# Days] days for the purpose of tourism in Mongolia.

Yours faithfully,


Passport # [Passport Number]