What a fascinating trip. I just did this route -
Beijing -> Erlianhaote -> Zamyn Uud -> Ulan Bator
Why do I choose such circuitous, crazy routes? Well, lots of reasons.
I want to understand as much as I can about the world, and taking out of the way routes - especially through important border towns - teaches a lot.
Often, you can manage a route like this in a way that's much less expensive than direct flights. Yes, time is money, but money is also money.
A few weeks prior I was at an airport, desperate for something to eat. I got a poor quality sandwich at an above average price. I paid, and it served its purpose: to make me stop feeling starving.
When I visited Haiti I was staying with a couch surfer. My bus arrived just as dark was rolling in. I had my host's phone number, but I didn't have a usable phone. I was the only tourist on the bus (meaning the only white person), and I hadn't heard anyone else speak English. A cabbie spoke in broken English to get me to ride in his cab.
"Can I use your phone?"