The Trans Siberian Railway is one of the most epic train journeys that exist. This was a journey I have wanted to take for many years and finally seized the opportunity. The Trans Siberian Railway is a rail line running from Moscow to Vladivostok in the far east of Russia. Our journey was to begin on the Trans Mongolian line in Beijing before joining the Trans-Siberian line in Ulan-Ude, Russia. The rail line even today still remains an important transport link within Russia for both export of products and travellers alike.
This was to be a 21 day journey from Beijing to St Petersburg through Mongolia on the famous Trans Siberian Railway, with stops along the way to experience and explore the different cultures and countries visited. The adventure began in Beijing where I joined the rest of my fellow adventures who had chosen to experience this famous journey.
Over these 21 days we enjoyed stops in Ulan Bataar, Teralj National Park (more on this later), Irkstuk, Lake Baikal, Moscow and St Petersburg. For me, I think the train was almost as memorable as the amazing destinations experienced along the way. Some parts of the journey were longer than others. Beijing to Ulan Bataar was only one night, Ulan Bataar to Irkstuk was 2 nights and the longest part of the journey was four nights onboard from Irkstuk to Moscow. Just when I thought I could no longer eat any more 2 minute noodles we would roll on into a station where we could stretch our legs and buy some local food. The train was fun experience to do as much or a little as you liked. From playing cards and drinking beer and vodka with locals, viewing the spectacular scenery or relaxing with a good book – this train adventure was an amazing experience.
The most challenging part of the journey are the border crossings. The carriage attendants speak no English and the border officials speak very little English. These crossings take hours to complete and beware on some of the border crossings they do not allow the use of the bathrooms during this time!!
Life on board the Trans Siberian Railway
Starting our journey in Beijing meant we experienced Chinese and Mongolian trains in additional to Russian Trains. For our first night we were treated to a twin room with a bathroom shared between 2 cabins! My first thought was this is more luxurious than I imagined it would be. It was short lived.
The luxury was short lived when we boarded our Mongolian train. Whilst still comfortable, gone was the lovely sitting chair and the bathroom in the cabin. Instead the room consisted of two upper and two lower bunks. There were two washrooms per carriage one located and the front and one at the rear. There are no showers!
After a stop in Irkutsk we boarded the train again for the longest part of our journey. The train was very similar to the Mongolian carriages and there was a restaurant carriage if you wished to purchase meals. Staff would sometimes (not always) come around for breakfast selling perogies.
The cabins vary in terms of comfort and there are a number of different classes of cabins available from first class to third class. First class cabins have 2 beds only either one set of bunks or two lower beds. Second class has 4 beds per cabin which includes two sets of bunks. Third class any privacy is largely removed. Walls between cabins are almost non existent and is much like a dormitory with 54 beds. There is no need to bring a sleeping bag with you – the train attendant will provide you with sheets, pillowcase and a towel on boarding.
Planning your Adventure
The Trans Siberian Railway will no doubt be a trip of a lifetime. Before you board your train, there a few things you should do to make your journey more comfortable:
- Stock up on food and drinks. There is a restaurant carriage on most parts of the journey, however the food choices are limited and it can be expensive (for what you get). Between Irkutsk to Moscow you will be on the train for 4 nights. Stops at station plaforms are often very brief making it difficult to purchase to much in the way of food along the way.
- There is no wifi on board however the cell phone coverage through these countries is incredible! If you need to use the internet, make sure you have a plan which allows you to use data whilst overseas.
- If not showering for 4 nights bothers you – purchase some wipes before you go. There is a washroom on board which contains a toilet and small sink but is not the same as showering.
- Take a good book (or 2). The journey is long and if you easily get bored make sure you are prepared. The scenery is stunning but having the option of doing something else will make the journey so much more enjoyable.
- Take a pack of cards – you might not speak the same language as your cabin mates but card games tend to be universal and a fun way to interact with the locals.
- Make sure you have the necessary visas and these are obtained well before your journey. As an Australian citizen I required a visa for China, Mongolia and Russia.
If you are thinking about taking this journey, I recommend you just do it. Train is an amazing way to see the country and to meet some of the locals along the way and this journey is just incredible. Stop dreaming and just do it.