Stumbling out of the restaurant and into the darkness, bellies stuffed with delicious stir-fry, we are more than a little relieved we decided not to backtrack our entire journey to the UK. If we had, we'd be leaving in an hour, driving through the night towards the Russian border. Instead, Tim and Charlie will be setting off in the Taxi by themselves.
Everyone is meeting at the Finish Line pub in twenty minutes to say our final farewells. Instead of heading straight there, however, we stop by our hotel (it is on the way) to grab a few things. We have some Lithuanian lita and Latvian lat to exchange with the lads. We'd also like to give them our Trans-Siberian Handbook; we shouldn't be needing it any longer.
Though we have managed to get our car sorted, the logistical hurdles have yet to end. Next on our list is how we'll be getting ourselves and our bicycles to Southeast Asia. I know that the question of how we're getting to sunny Vietnam or Thailand should not feel like a burden, but it does.
The rational part of me knows it is, in fact, a great gift that this is my main concern in life right now. We have food, we have water, we have shelter, we have each other. But at the moment, the weight of the task at hand sort of makes me wish I was back home in a cubicle.
The excitement we felt just a few hours earlier is slowly being decimated by the array of decisions before us. We just want to be there, but we have to get there first. There are still so many choices to weigh and so much work to be done before we can cycle blithely off into the sunset.
As we walk back to our hotel, here are the options we are considering:
Take the train from Ulaan Baatar to Beijing:
PROS: It's overland, no flying, maybe go with Alex and Tom, get to see a bit of China.
CONS: Two full days on the train. In our experience, trains + bicycles = awful. It will be China National Week, a nationwide holiday which spikes traffic to something like six million passengers in the space of seven days. Still have to get from Beijing to Vietnam. Still have to get Chinese visa which means more time in Ulaan Baatar.
And if we did that, then…
Take the train from Beijing to Hanoi:
PROS: It's overland, no flying, get to see a bit of China.
CONS: Takes about four days. Must buy tickets in Beijing and hope they'll be available since you can't get them online for international trips. All of the aforementioned issues with trains and visas with the addition of needing a Vietnam visa too.
Fly from UB to Hanoi:
PROS: Fast. No Chinese visa required for connecting flights through Beijing.
CONS: Tickets are expensive. We chose our route partially so we wouldn't have to fly with our bicycles more than twice, once to Scotland, once home. We'll still need a Vietnam visa, which means more waiting in Ulaan Baatar.
Fly from UB to Bangkok
PROS: Tickets much cheaper than those to Hanoi. Prices are comparable to train tickets, but much, much faster.
CONS: Flying with our bicycles. Having to re-think our Southeast Asia route (starting from Bangkok instead of Hanoi).
Back at the hotel, we have the money and the guidebook ready to go, but we have a few minutes to spare. So, we decide to spend a moment looking online for possible train and flight options. A bit of searching shows that flights to Bangkok are much cheaper than those to Hanoi. In fact, we've found a pair of cheap tickets on an Air China flight that leaves Ulaan Baatar on October 4th (exactly a month after we entered Mongolia) and arrives in Bangkok late in the evening. We'd have nearly a week to prepare for the flight.
Wanting to rid our lives of the logistics heap, putting to bed all uncertainty and indecision, we decide to go for it. Feeling the same excitement and nervousness we've felt about many decisions on this adventure (like purchasing tickets to Glasgow, getting a scooter in Tunisia, and buying a car in Germany)… we fill out the online reservation form. Credit card information entered, we click "accept."
And with that, an overwhelming world of options and pros and cons is obliterated. Now, with one plan clearly laid out before us, we cheer. Our lives are getting simpler already.
Reception at our hotel has been bugging us today, saying that the exchange rate changed during our stay and they want us to pay the difference. Even though we've already paid for our three night stay, and we're leaving in the morning, they accost us at every opportunity, saying that we owe them more money.
We have very little sympathy for their plight. Our firmly-ingrained American sensibilities instruct us that the customer is always right. It is unprofessional to make a customer pay for the company's error. At one point, Tyler tried to ask them if they would refund us if the exchange rate changed in our favor, but they didn't seem to understand the argument.
As we're wrapping up buying our tickets, the phone rings. Grrr. It's reception again. We've managed to sneak into the hotel without the front desk knowing, and now they've figured out we've returned from dinner. We let it ring and ring and ring as we gather up the money and the book for the cabbies.
We're running downstairs to sprint over to the Finish Line Pub, just a block from our hotel. As we open the front door to leave, the receptionist stops us, saying "scuse me, scuse me". Then, we listen when she tells us not that we owe them money, but that our friends were here, and they called us. When we didn't answer, they left.
Feeling a sudden blow to the middle and a wave of sadness descend, we run as fast as we can to the Finish Line pub, hoping catch Tim and Charlie before they leave. But before we get there, we meet Tom, slowly walking our way. From him, we find out that the cabbies left the pub, but they came to our hotel on their way out of town to say goodbye. Noooo! We feel awful and sad and foolish as we recount things we could have done differently. If only we'd have answered the phone! If only we hadn't booked our flight!
But, what's done is done. We'll just have to wish them luck from afar.
Have a great trip home! We're going to miss you!