HOW TO travel THE TRANS-SIBERIAN railway
Last Updated: 08/14/21 | August 14th, 2021
I’ve always wanted to travel on the Trans-Siberian railway. It seems like an fantastic adventure that literally spans the width of an entire continent. until I make the journey myself, Katie Aune is here to share her experiences on the Trans-Siberian Railway.
In this guest post, Katie shares everything you need to know for the journey. She is a frequent traveler to Russia and knows this journey well. She’s here to share her wisdom with you to help you make the most out of your trip across Russia!
The Trans-Siberian railway is one of the most famous train journeys in the world. For me, it was the highlight of the three months I spent in Russia. I traveled in reverse, going from Vladivostok to Moscow (most people start in Moscow) and went slowly, taking nearly a month to complete the journey and stopping in five cities along the way.
In this post, I’ll go over everything you need to know to plan your trip. Začnime!
Planning Your Route
Booking Your Tickets
How much should You Budget?
What to expect on the Train
Step One: planning Your Route
The traditional Trans-Siberian route stretches 9,288 kilometers between Moscow and Vladivostok. two variations are also popular: the Trans-Mongolian (between Moscow and Beijing via Mongolia) and the Trans-Manchurian (between Moscow and Beijing, bypassing Mongolia). All three routes take 6–7 days if going non-stop.
Most travelers start their journeys in Moscow and go east. If you are anxious to interact with locals or improve your Russian skills, consider starting in Vladivostok or Beijing and heading west. You will likely encounter fewer tourists and more locals who are simply taking the train as a means of transportation, not as an adventure.
Beijing is probably a more attractive bookend to the journey than Vladivostok and likely provides easier onward connections — the best options from Vladivostok are to either fly back to Moscow (about $250 USD) or take a ferry to Japan or South Korea ($400 USD and up).
Chances are you will need to get a visa to travel to Russia, Mongolia, and China, so that may factor into which route makes the most sense for you. rules vary by nationality, so I encourage you to check out the consulate website for your home country several months in advance to learn what is required.
Where to stop Along the Way?
Unless you love the idea of spending a week straight on a train, I recommend making a couple of stops along the way. one of the best things about the Trans-Siberian is the opportunity it affords you to see more of Russia than just Moscow and/or St. Petersburg. the most interesting people I met and the best experiences I had along the way came not on the train, but during my stops, which included the following:
Technically a detour from the Trans-Siberian route, every Russian I met ooh-ed and aah-ed when I told them I was stopping in this 1,000-year-old city, exclaiming how stunning it is. Ignoring the foot of snow I trudged through while I was in town and the cloudy skies that loomed over me, I have to agree.
Kazan’s Kremlin is a UNESCO world Heritage site and in my opinion, has much more character than the Kremlin in Moscow. A large mosque dominates the scene, the main drag is lined with pine trees, and vendors gather along the Kremlin walls, selling mostly Islamic and Tatar-themed souvenirs. I spent several hours there, including a check out to the museum of Islam, the Russian Orthodox church, and the natural history museum.
Yekaterinburg is best known as the place where the last tsar, Nicholas II, and his family were murdered in 1918. My fascination with imperial Russian history made it a must-see — particularly Ganina Yama, the site where their bodies were discarded.
Now considered holy ground, seven chapels have been constructed on the site, one for every member of the royal family. I was most touched by a photo display showing the family in their daily lives — it really personalized the tragedy of their deaths.
The city itself is fairly bland, but my reason for stopping was to check out the Stolby Nature Reserve, a collection of fascinating volcanic rock pillars scattered throughout the wooded hills outside of the city. visiting in late November, I was surprisingly not alone in braving subzero temperatures and sometimes knee-deep snow to hike around to all of the rock formations.
My guide, Vitaly, provided sometimes inappropriate stories about the rocks, a much-needed hand as we climbed a few for incredible views, and some cognac for warmth before we started!
Irkutsk provides a jumping-off point to see Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world. If you are short on time, plan on a day trip to Listvyanka, a small town on the shores of Lake Baikal and about 90 minutes from Irkutsk.
If you have at least 3 days, Olkhon Island, the largest island in the lake, is a must-see. Its main town, Khuzhir, takes you back decades, with sandy dirt roads and cows roaming the streets. The ride there is half the fun — I shared the six-hour marshrutka (mini-van) trip to the island with a cute Belgian couple, a couple of babushkas, and a large Russian man chugging vodka out of a bottle stashed in his jacket pocket.
Once in Khuzhir, the couple and I split the cost of hiring a van and driver to take us around the island for an afternoon. Dipping my hand in the near-frozen lake, moving on the ice that formed on its shores, and playing in the fresh snow on the north end of the island provided some of my best memories from my entire time in Russia.
Just an eight-hour train ride from Irkutsk and not far from the Mongolia border, Ulan Ude is the capital of Buryatia, home to Russia’s largest native people, the Buryats. While I only had a day and a half there, I made the most of it, visiting the open-air museum just outside of town, stopping at a small museum on the history of Buryatia (some explanations in English), and enjoying the sunset from one of the highest points in Ulan Ude.
Ulan Ude is also a center of Buddhism in Russia. I hired a guide (about $12 USD/hour) to accompany me to the Buddhist monastery in Ivolga, about 40 minutes outside of the city. She taught me the basics of Buddhism and, being a Buryat, she provided me insight into their culture. It was well worth the price!
Step Two: Booking Your Tickets
If you are on a tight schedule, it makes sense to book your tickets ahead of time. Tickets can be issued up to 45 days in advance and many travel agencies can do this for you. I used real Russia and highly recommend them — they can also help with obtaining a letter of invitation for visa purposes. It is also possible to book online yourself at www.poezda.net if you can read a little Russian.
For more flexible travelers, you can purchase your tickets at the stations as you go along. However, be prepared for the possibility that the train you want may already be offered out, and don’t be surprised if none of the cashiers speak any English. and routines posted at the stations will be on Moscow, not local, time.
Most trains offer three classes of sleeper service: spalny vagon (1st class), kupe (2nd class), and platskartny (3rd class). Spalny vagon compartments have just two berths, with both beds at the lower level. Kupe are four-berth compartments including two upper and two lower bunks. Finally, platskartny are open six-berth compartments with both upper and lower bunks.
Both spalny vagon and kupe have doors that lock, while platskartny compartments are open — this makes third class a little more social, but a little less secure.
Step Three: how much should You Budget?
How much you spend on your train journey will depend on all of the factors mentioned above, but I would say around $1,000 for tickets, accommodations, and food is a good starting point.
For example, booking through real Russia, a kupe ticket from Moscow to Vladivostok might run about $900, while platskartny would be less than half, at just $360. On the other hand, splurging on first-class would cost you nearly $1,800. prices for the nonstop trip to Beijing are similar. You can save up to 33% by taking one of the lower-quality passenger trains instead of the cosmetically nicer firmenny trains.
Note that breaking up the journey into separate legs may add some additional cost to your trip. For example, making stops in both Yekaterinburg and Irkutsk en route to Vladivostok would increase the total to $1,130 for kupe.
Price can also vary by day and time of departure, so if you are on a tight budget, be sure to play around with the routines and note that not all kinds of trains are available on all routes or run on all days. Russian Railways offered a sale this fall that offered up to 50% off fares booked at least 30 days in advance but also imposed a 5% penalty on tickets bought less than 10 days before departure. keep an eye out for similar offers in the future.
What to expect on the Train
When I boarded my first train, I felt a bit lost. everyone around me seemed to have their routines down, from the clothes they changed into and the food they neatly set out on the small table, to the way they effortlessly made up their bed. I just tried to watch and follow their lead, and by the time I departed on my second leg, I felt like an old pro.
Toilets Each carriage has a toilet on each end, and they will be locked shortly before, during, and shortly after most station stops (and border crossings if you’re heading into China or Mongolia). The toilet doors usually have a schedule showing these closures. despite my fears, they were kept quite clean and well stocked with toilet paper (though this is not always the case, so be prepared with your own toilet paper and hand sanitizer).
Food and water: You will find a samovar with boiling water on one end of the car, usually opposite the attendAnt’s priehradka. Ak si prinesiete vlastnú fľašu s vodou, môžete ju tiež doplniť pitnou vodou od sprievodcu. Zatiaľ čo jedlo je k dispozícii na zakúpenie v jedálenskom automobiloch a od predajcov, ktorí sa potulujú po chodbách, môže byť predražená a výber môže byť obmedzený. Možno by ste mali lepšie priniesť svoje vlastné ustanovenia, najmä na viacdňovú cestu.
Elektronika: Výstupy na nabíjanie mobilných telefónov a podobne sú k dispozícii na chodbách, hoci niektoré z novších automobilov a nákladných automobilov majú svoje vlastné zástrčky. Väčšina vozov má sklopné sedadlá, takže môžete sedieť so svojím zariadením tak, ako sa nabíja, hoci nebolo neobvyklé, že ľudia nechajú svojich bez dozoru visieť.
Počas môjho pôsobenia vo vlaku som zdieľal svoje oddelenie KUPE s Rusmi od podnikateľov a Babushkas po členov dievčenského volejbalového tímu. Niektorí z mojich „spolubývajúcich“ nastúpili a šli rovno spať; Iní cestovali s ľuďmi v iných priehradkách a väčšinu času trávili inde. Jeden chlap stál na chodbe a pozeral sa na prechádzajúcu krajinu celé hodiny. Len pár naozaj chcel hovoriť.
Babushka blikala jej zlaté zuby, keď prepadla nonstop každému, kto by počúval. Učiteľ sirotincov bol úžasne trpezlivý, keď som s ňou praktizoval svojho Rusa počas našich dvoch dní spolu, zatiaľ čo inžinier sa snažil vyskúšať svoju angličtinu, otvárať sa cez môj slovník a položil mi starostlivo formulované otázky. Nikto sa nehľadal na večierok-nápojom voľby pre väčšinu bol čaj, nie vodka, čo je v rozpore s mnohými príbehmi, ktoré počujete o trans-sibírskych.
Na konci mojej cesty som bol vyčerpaný, uľavený, spokojný a nesmierne vďačný. Moje obavy pred cestou boli neopodstatnené, ľudia, ktorých som stretol, boli v mojich troch mesiacoch v Rusku jedny z najpriateľskejších a zážitky boli nezabudnuteľné.
A späť v Moskve, zdieľam svoje príbehy s kamarátmi tam, začal som skutočne oceniť skutočnosť, že som práve videl viac Ruska za mesiac, ako väčšina Rusov kedy za život uvidí.
Cestovanie po trans-sibírskej železnici je skutočne úžasným zážitkom a dúfam, že vám tento sprievodca pomôže pri plánovaní!
Katie Aune je rodákom z Minnesoty a bývalým prokurátorom, ktorý nedávno opustil svoju prácu v neziskovej získavaní finančných prostriedkov, aby strávil rok dobrovoľníctvo a cestovanie cez 15 krajín bývalého Sovietskeho zväzu. Môžete sledovať jej dobrodružstvá na Katie Aune alebo na Twitteri @katieeune.
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