BOI Bucket List Travels: Mingling in Mongolia Part I

There’s my Boise Bucket List, and then there’s my overall life Bucket List. Collecting stamps on my passport is definitely one of those activities I’d like to cross off my #dianasbucketlist


Fortunately for me, that stamp collection was placed in overdrive because of my job.

For nearly 2 weeks, I’ll be in Asia traveling to 3 different countries: Mongolia, China, and Philippines.


Here’s my first entry: Mingling in Mongolia:

BOI –> SFO 

My travels to Mongolia was quite the adventure. For starters, my 7:25AM flight wasn’t without action. Boise airport was surprisingly busy for a Thursday morning. I mean, it took about 25 minutes to get through security. A LONG 25 minutes.


Why is it surprising?


Well, I’ll tell you that with Boise being a regional airport, I’ve had a short wait time for flights. Security would take about 10 minutes top. One flight, I got there an hour before my flight, and I even had time to (comfortably) grab a bite to eat!

Not this trip. Goodness the line was wrapped around the security waiting area. I barely had time to get my coffee!


SFO –> PEK

My first stop was San Francisco. The flight was without anything noteworthy. Got my usual coffee and snack. The airplane was empty, so I had no seatmate. Just me and my window seat.


I had about a 3 hour layover, so I decided to get some food and enjoy the free WiFi. I ended up at Joe and Juice Co — a modern and hip coffee and juice café in the international terminal. As you see on my @boise_bucketlist feed, you’ll see my essentials were a caffe latte + juice packed with essential vitamins.



After ordering from a hip young man with a strategically messy “man bun”, I headed to an empty booth.

Perfect.

I charged my phone, checked some work emails, and got some content for @boise_bucketlist and my blog.


Before I knew it, it was time to head to the terminal and prepare for the boarding experience.


That waiting area was PACKED. I saw lots of shopping bags as carry-ons:

  • Gap
  • Gucci
  • Michael Kors
  • Chanel
  • JCrew

I mean, it was like everyone got the same memo to head to USA to drop some major coins!


It was time to get ready for the longest flight of my life. The total flight time was… Wait for it… 11 hours!

Yes, I said 11 hours.

With this being my first international flight, I took everything in:

  • The flight service attendants annoyed by people who were not prepared with their passports when boarding
  • The well-manicured flight attendants with pearly whites & tight buns smiling as we boarded the plane, directing us where to go
  • The size of the plane ( those type of planes you see on TV, with 3 rows, huge TVs, business class with seats that convert into beds, and 2 floors)
  • Each seat had its own pillow and blanket ready for use during the flight

Yes,  I’m an observant person and I notice everything.


With the flight attendants preparing us ready for take off, I said a prayer for me and my fellow flight colleagues, prayed for the pilot and co-pilot, and hope we arrived safely (saying a quiet prayer is routine for me.)


And takeoff!


I’m on a 11 hour flight. With these type of flights, you get food served throughout the flight. Plus, there’s on-flight entertainment options.


So, I’ll admit that my stomach wasn’t up for all that processed food which came my way. Although the food was good, it was a lot. I’m not always the healthiest eater, but the food I eat is mostly fresh. The meals were as follows (in this order):

  • Lunch: saucy chicken on top of a bed of rice, side of black bean quinoa salad, baguette, and a small dessert (Mango sorbet)
  • Snack: peanuts + Sprite
  • Breakfast: potatoes topped with saucy eggs, baguette, and fruit cup

I’ll admit: those eggs toward the end of the flight put my stomach in a bit of a frenzy. I don’t know if it was the sauce or how the eggs were cooked. But something didn’t sit well after barely taking a few bites of the eggs.


The rest of the flight I took a few sips of water, took deep breaths, and relaxed. I wanted to try to calm my stomach down before it got too crazy!


PEK (Beijing International Airport)

After landing safely, my adventure to continued.

My domestic travel ways made me comfortable and assume a few things. One being that connecting flights and obtaining a boarding pass wouldn’t be an ordeal.


Here’s the scoop: generally when traveling to China, you need a China Visa. But wait – there are 2 exceptions:

  1. 24 hour Transit: if you are traveling to ANOTHER destination (in transit, basically) and it’s NOT another city in China, you do NOT need a Chinese Visa
  2. 72-Hour Visit: if you are in China for 72 hours or LESS, you do NOT need a Chinese Visa.

I knew something was off when United (yes, I flew United! despite all recent news lately) printed out all my boarding passes EXCEPT for the one to Mongolia.


Hmm, that’s odd.

Anyway, after getting off the plane, I initially followed the crowd thinking all I had to do was find Mongolia Air and obtain my boarding pass before I had to go through Customs.

Nope. WRONG.

After aimlessly walking around asking for help:

Me to Chinese Airport Staff #1: Excuse me, where do I get my boarding pass?

Chinese Airport Staff #1: Terminal C. Go out door

For the life of me, I couldn’t find this alleged “Terminal C.” After failing so many times to get help, I grabbed an airport map from one of those display cases, and tried to find where Terminal C was located.

Ok, so I have to take an internal shuttle to Terminal C? How do I get outside  [of the terminal]?

Maybe it was the jetlag. Maybe it was sheer ignorance. But whatever the case is, my thinking skills FINALLY turned on.

Wait, I need to get in the 72-Hour Visa Free Line. That’s what she [Chinese Airport Staff #1] meant by me having to go “outside.”

I get in what appears to be a relatively short line. I felt better that I made the right decision when I saw this tiny inconspicuous sign with handwritten instructions that this line was for those who have connecting flights to another country.


Even better was a young French girl behind me saw my boarding pass when I took it out, and she asked in, with her French accent, “Ulaanbaatar too?”

Yup.

I kid you not, the line did NOT move for over an hour. I was in the same spot for 60 full minutes. Slowly the line started to move. After 2 1/2 hours later, I was in front of the Chinese Customs staff.

Customs Staff: Passport, please?

Me: [hand over passport]

Customs Staff: itinerary?

Me: [Hand over printed out flight itinerary]

After a few minutes went by, with no verbal communication or confirmation that what I provided was sufficient, all I hear is the sound of stamps hitting my passport.

Click, click, click

Customs Staff: [looks up at my face] Here your passport. Go ahead

Phew, I made it!

IMG_4461


I proceed to get onto the internal shuttle to Terminal C. I finally get to Terminal C, and I proceed to find where Mongolia Air is located. I head over to the information desk, and I run into Ms. French Girl. I overhear her asking the same question I was going to ask — where is Mongolia Air?

Me to Ms. French Girl: do you know where we have to go?

Ms. French Girl: uh, yes. Follow me! We need to go to Air China.

Air China? That’s odd.

I didn’t bother to question it. I kept going with her. Hell, it was better figuring this out all by myself.

We head to the Air China “Lost and Found” office, and we asked about our luggage.

Why were we asking about our luggage?


Later during our visit to the Lost and Found, Ms. French Girl thought we had to grab our luggage once again before we had to board the flight to Mongolia. She didn’t realize that our luggage was already marked with “Mongolia” as the final destination.  That’s why we were at the Lost and Found.

After we resolved that ordeal, Ms. French Girl and I headed to find “International Flights” section of the airport.

FYI: PEK is a huge airport. It makes sense though. It’s an international airport with flights coming/going to a wide range of countries.

We ultimately found the Mongolia Air counter.

No

One

Is

There!

What? Ugh really.

But it was OK because Ms. French Girl and I had time to kill before our Mongolia Air departure time.


We decided to go outside for some fresh air. It felt good to be outside because I’ve been in a terminal and/or plane all day. We also had a chance to get to know each other a little bit more. Ms. French Girl:

  • Originally from France but lives in Montreal
  • Quit her job a few months ago to travel
  • Just visited Cuba (hence her deep & envy worthy tan)
  • Going to Ulaanbaatar to visit a guy she met in Cuba (yup!)
  • Plans to travel until money runs out (2 more months, according to her)
  • Next destination is to be determined

I told her I was traveling for work, and how I never been to Asia before. I was mesmerized by her confidence, her ethereal appeal, and her carefree attitude about traveling.


We headed back inside, went through security, and saw a line was formed at the Mongolia Air counter.

Yes! I can now get my boarding pass.

After grabbing our respective boarding passes, we accompanied each other to the Mongolia Air terminal. Never have I been more happy to see a terminal than that Terminal C!

The terminal was empty with a few people sitting down. We both grabbed a seat, plopped our stuff on the ground, and let go a deep exhale.

Ahhhhhh.

We have been on a feet all day. It felt great to be sitting still. After I fell asleep taking a mini nap, I looked up and saw Ms. French Girl across the way charging her phone. My nap was the perfect length of time because it was boarding time!

IMG_4463


With the size of the plane, there was only one boarding group. I get to my seat on the plane, put on my sweatshirt, take out my blanket, and I immediately close my eyes.


Boy, was I tired.

The plane wasn’t packed at all, resulting in me not having a seatmate. After everyone boarded and flight attendants did all the safety protocols, we were off.

I passed out the entire length of the flight. That was a deep and recharging sleep.


After a 3 hour flight, we were in Mongolia. It was about 12:30AM in the morning when I got off the plane. I had to walk through customs (again) before I could retrieve my luggage. Of course, I choose the line where there’s a complication with the visitor and his passport.


A serious looking Mongolian Customs agent with framed glasses starts pointing with aggression, instructing us to more lines open, go there!


I go to the shorter lines, and again, I choose the one with a complication. Ugh.

It’s OK. I was thankful I landed safely  in Mongolia.

I (finally) get through customs, and I head to get my luggage.

Hmm, why has the conveyer belt stopped? And why can’t I find my luggage?!

What felt like an anxiety attack, I calmed down and looked around. Let my observation skills kick in. I noticed everyone was going into this door near the luggage. There was no sign, no one helping passengers with missing luggage (like me).


Before I entered the walkway, I heard a familiar voice

Ms. French Girl: did you find your luggage?

Me: Nope

Ms. French Girl: maybe you need to go in there, yeah?

Me: I think so! (with as much energy as I could muster up)

I entered the walkway and saw my luggage in this dingy room. There were Mongolian airport agents everywhere. I tried to grab my luggage, and I hear wait, no cannot do that. I looked up, and I noticed that he was motioning me to bring my luggage to a bench and have it checked out.


I grab my luggage, lift it up (not one person offered to help me lift up my heavy luggage for inspection), and waited to be told what was next.

Mongolian Airport Agent: open.

Me: [unzipping luggage]

Mongolian Airport Agent: [rummaging through all my clothes and toiletries]. OK, good.

I quickly zipped up my luggage, yanked it off the bench and proceeded to walk out the door. I walked into Ms. French Girl; she came back to say goodbye.

I know, how sweet!

To Ms. French Girl: Thank you for accompanying me those latter part of my travels to Mongolia. I wish you safe and fun travels to wherever your travels take you.


After grabbing a cab, I headed to the hotel for what was going to be a deep night of sleep.  20 minute ride and I was pulling up to the Ramada. I had to run into the hotel to get money exchanged (sorry, no credit cards accepted!). Fortunately, a group of international businessmen from Germany (or a German speaking country) kindly let me go exchange my money ahead of them. Maybe my look of exhaustion had them pity me.


I gave the cab driver 35,000 Mongolian dollars (sounds like a lot, but it’s like $15 USD). I then checked in, headed up to my room, turned on the lights, and did another exhale.

Ahhhhh.

I quickly unpacked my pajamas, headed to the modern and deco bathroom, and immediately put on the shower. I moved that temperature dial to “hot.”


After a nice long hot shower, I put on my PJs, crawled into the soft and comfy king size bed. I then turned off the lights, switched on the TV to the E! (first channel I came across I recognized), and closed my eyes.


Stay tuned for Part II where I talk about my Mongolian visit!

 

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