A trip on the Trans-Siberian can be an incredible way to travel to or from the Far East. It’s a journey that will take you a third of the way round the World on a single train, through vast open plains, powerful Soviet cities, snowy forests and around giant frozen lakes. You will see peoples’ faces change as you cross continents and you’ll meet the most extraordinary mix of characters that lay behind them. With a bit of adventure and time you can delve deep into the heart of Russia, Mongolia and China, three epic countries bristling with history and tradition.
It needn’t be expensive. Buying my ticket at Moscow train station (they have a counter for tourists so with a Russian phrase book it’s a piece of cake), a second-class ticket all the way to Beijing cost me under two hundred pounds, with stops. So rather than seeing a seat-back TV and some aeroplane meals, I saw a thrilling mix of people and their incredible lives. Mongolian traders practically living
on the train; buying clothes in China and selling them at impromptu markets at every station to Moscow and back (see my blog to read more). Businessmen travelling four day round-trips for an hour long meeting in Moscow. Kyrgyzstanians taking bottled honey to sell in China. Travelling overland also allowed me to witness, first-hand, the grand, multi-coloured palaces of Russia’s capital and the delicate, wooden homes in icy Siberia.
I, like many, imagined the journey would be boring, long and uncomfortable. The reality was far from it! The days raced by. Meals, complex washing routines and brief bursts of local life at stations became the focal points of my days. These, sandwiched between fascinating chats with fellow passengers (I spent two whole days ‘talking’ with the Kyrgyzstanians armed solely with a map, some photos and improvised sign language) left very little time for anything else. Yet outside an endless show of nature and man’s finest work continuously slid past the windows. Add all
that to some dog-sledging in Siberia, some horse riding in Outer Mongolia and some hiking along the Great Wall of China and I hope you’re convinced, or are at least
considering a trip on the Trans-Siberian railway. You really should......
Here are my top ‘tips and takes’ for a smooth journey;
Make friends with the Provinista
(the female guard in each carriage). It will be her that will keep an eye out for you and call you back whilst you’re off the train at a platform. She will also wake you up before your stop and will refill, fix and maintain the Samovar, constant lifeline of hot water.
Get off at every station!
Stretch your legs, buy some food from the locals and breathe some seriously fresh air.
Always take your passport and money with you whenever you get off the train.
If it leaves without it you will need them!
Try and get a top bunk.
It’s not you woken up by clambering cabin-mates then.
Break up your journey!
How anyone can travel the entire length of Russia without any stops bewilders me. Get out there and explore!
Saves constant trips to the samovar, helps with the daily washing attempt (there are no showers on board!) and prevents spillages of tea and noodles.
Pack of cards.
Whether travelling alone or not, they are universally recognised as fun and are a fantastic ice-breaker.
More help when attempting to wash.
For slicing lemons, limes, tomatoes and sausages to bring the numerous pot noodles to life. To butter bread, to open tins and, of course, to open beer bottles.
Pillow case and sleeping bag liner / bed sheet.
Whilst bedding is always provided it may not be the cleanest and it’s very comforting to have your own.
Always useful for tying bags together, securing them to overhead shelves and for impromptu clothes lines.
To read of course!
Don’t let the train leave without you! The provinista will tell you how many minutes you have at each station (usually ten to twenty five) and you’ll want to have a wander.
World map / Atlas.
Great for communicating with passengers regardless of language.
The cold weather seems to bring out the best snorers in everyone. Myself included I’m told!