Trans-Siberian Railway Travel (Aug 2015)
The Trans-Siberian trip was one of my dream for decades. I finally could do it during August, 2015. A month long trip which was exciting, emotional, adventurous and a new linguistic which was born in me.
Many were surprised, many encouraged and few dampening feedbacks i received as well, when I said “I’m a solo traveler”, they called me “a crazy traveler”. But, all thanks to my husband Ravi for his support and planning for this excellent Trans-Siberian Train trip.
A Traveler’s Guide for future travellers
It took me 3 months of planning which includes
- Applying visas (Russia, Mongolia and China)
- Train schedules (not all the trains run daily, the schedules are like once a week, bi-weekly )
- Stop overs
- Moscow to Beijing is 8 days travel ,
- 25 station stops – I took 4 breaks , booking tickets
- (PS: Russia train ticket booking only opens 45 days before the departure date)
- Russia – Moscow — 4 days – Peter One Hotel.
- Russia – Yekaterinburg- 2 days –Centralyni Hotel.
- Russia – Irkutsk – 4 days
- Russia – Irkutsk (Hostel Baikaler)
- Lake Baikal – 2 days – (Usadba Demidova)
- Mongolia — Ulan Baatar – 4 days – Zaya Hostel
- China — Beijing – 3.5 days – Sunworld Hotel
- China – Xian – 1.5 days – Bell Tower Hotel
- China — Shaolin Temple
- China – Shanghai – 1.5 days – Central Hotel
The Railway Route
The railway is often associated with the main transcontinental Russian line that connects hundreds of large and small cities of the European and Asian parts of Russia.
- At a Moscow-Vladivostok track length of 9,289 kilometres (5,772 miles), it spans a record eight time zones. Taking eight days to complete the journey, it is the third-longest single continuous service in the world, after the Moscow–Pyongyang 10,267 kilometres (6,380 mi) and the Kiev–Vladivostok 11,085 kilometres (6,888 mi) services, both of which also follow the Trans-Siberian for much of their routes.
- The main route of the Trans-Siberian Railway begins in Moscow at Yaroslavsky Vokzal, runs through Yaroslavl, Chelyabinsk, Omsk, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, Krasnoyarsk, Ulan-Ude, Chita, and Khabarovsk to Vladivostok via southern Siberia.
- A second primary route is the Trans-Manchurian, which coincides with the Trans-Siberian east of Chita as far as Tarskaya (a stop 12 km (7 mi) east of Karymskoye, in Chita Oblast), about 1,000 km (621 mi) east of Lake Baikal.
- From Tarskaya the Trans-Manchurian heads southeast, via Harbin and Mudanjiang in China’s Northeastern Provinces (from where a connection to Beijing is used by one of the Moscow–Beijing trains), joining with the main route in Ussuriysk just north of Vladivostok. This is the shortest and the oldest railway route to Vladivostok. While there are currently no traverse passenger services (enter China from one side and then exit China and return to Russia on the other side) on this branch, it is still used by several international passenger services between Russia and China.
There are 2 routes in Trans Siberian route :
- One from Moscow to Vladivostock and the other one
- Moscow to Beijing
I chose the one which starts in Moscow and goes to Beijing.
My First destination: Moscow
Moscow has a long history and is named for the river that runs through it, the Moskva. It began as a medieval city and developed into what was known as the Grand Duchy of Moscow, an administrative region ruled by a prince. The grand duchy preceded the formation of Russia as a nation. It replaced Kiev as the most powerful territory in the area during a time when cities were under constant threat of attack and invasion.
I arrived the Moscow airport at 11:50 pm, It was a quiet a cold night even though they claim it was Summer. The airport taxis were quiet safe to travel, the taxi driver who drove me to the hotel was a very nice guy and he dropped me safe in the hotel by 2 am in the morning. It was a 45 mins drive from the airport to the centre of the town.
First day in Moscow :
The night after a long flight & relaxing sleep in the hotel, the next day morning I firstly went to local shop next to the hotel and got myself a sim card. Then, I started with my travel around the city.
GUM Mall : Moscow’s most famous shopping center
This is the entrance of the GUM mall. GUM ,it is just off of Red Square,it is Moscow’s most famous shopping centre. As the facade that faces into Red Square has maintained its 19th-century appearance, it’s easy to pass it by if you don’t know it’s there. The variety of shops contained within are a testament to how far Russia has come since Soviet days. You’ll find all manner of boutique represented in GUM.
St. Basil’s Cathedral
Just outside the Kremlin, is the famous Red Square. There you can watch the changing of the guard at the Eternal Flame or visit Lenin’s Tomb (be prepared to stand in line for more than an hour for an ‘attraction’ that is less impressive than it sounds). If St. Basil’s Cathedral is open, explore it! it is as beautiful on the inside as it is the outside.
A final suggestion: Visit the Red Square in the evening and experience it without any hustle. It’s magical!
Second day : Boat tour through the city
In summer, boat tours are pleasant and relaxing, and this alternative view of the city is charming. The towers of the Kremlin, as well as other significant architectural monuments, will peak over the treetops. Stand on the open-air deck and use your last roll of film to snap pictures of the buildings on the river’s banks.
FACTS : Moscow is home to the Moscow Kremlin, the seat of government of Russia, and a popular tourist attraction. These walled fortification preserve cultural and historical monuments important to Russia. The crown jewels of the Russian tsars are kept here, and the Russian president has his official residence here.
Quick Tip : If you plan to visit Kremlin leave very early to avoid the long queue. It was quiet confusing and it takes some time to figure out where to get tickets and go around this place.
Third Day :
Old Arbat Street is Moscow’s most famous thoroughfare. Old Arbat Street is tourist-oriented, and you’ll be able to find some not-so-unusual souvenirs here. You’ll have more than one artist, musician, or juggler vying for your attention, depending upon the season and the time of day. Old Arbat Street is completely pedestrian, which means it’s great for people watching.
Hard Rock Café :
An Advice, I wish somebody told me : Anybody travelling to Russia, I would strongly suggest people to at least learn a little to read Russian. It takes only 8 to 9 hours to learn to read Russian. I did that and it really helped me a lot, to take metro trains & to read the place where I wanted to go. It is very difficult since, people there don’t speak English.
Last day in Moscow :
After the wonderful time I had in Moscow its time to say Goodbye to Moscow.
Finally, starting with my journey in the Trans Siberian rail.
The Trans-Siberian Rail Journey :
My first train from Moscow to Ekaterinburg which is 1.5 days travel by train. I decided to take 2 days break in Ekaterinburg.
The Church on Blood in Honour of All Saints Resplendent in the Russian Land is a Russian Orthodox church built on the site of the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg, where Nicholas II, the last Emperor of Russia, and his family, along with members of the household, were shot by the Bolsheviks during the Russian Civil War. The church commemorates the Romanov sainthood.
Quick Tip : In Ekaterinburg, one need not look for a guide to travel around. There is a red line around the city which is around 8 kilo meters. Just follow this red line and it takes you to all important tourist places.
This was a useful information for me and without asking anyone or struggling to explain. I could just comfortably see the entire places all by myself.
After spending 2 wonderful days in Ekaterinburg leaving to Irkutsk. Now boarding the next train to Irkutsk.
The Trans-Siberian Rail Journey Continues..
FACT : The lake is located in Eastern Siberia, between Irkutsk Oblast to the northwest and Buryatia to the southeast. It is the planet’s deepest (1637m) and oldest lake, as well as it’s the largest body of freshwater, containing over one fifth of the world’s supply.
DAY 1 :
Here comes the Ullaan Baatar station in Mongolia. I arrived here in the morning around 5 30 am and the hostel guys have sent a taxi driver who took me to the hostel. I stayed in Zaya hostel, which was very popular among back packers. They had simple and clean rooms and simple break fast.
The Genghis Square lies at the heart of the city surrounded by theatres, government buildings and banks. There is a bronze statue of Sükhbaatar astride his horse, who is hero of the revolution, declared Mongolia’s final independence from the Chinese. The square now features . site of interest is the large construction site of massive bronze statues of Genghis Khan and his four warriors in front of Parliament House.
FACTS : Today, for a memory of the man of the millennium, a 40 meters high stainless steel statue of Chinggis Khaan on a horseback is the largest among the statues in the world.
Inside the statue there are restaurant, souvenir shop, two museums and conference hall. Visitors can go up the statue using the elevator or the stairs to the head of the horse where they can have a panoramic view of the beautiful landscape.
If you have very limited time to see Mongolia, this is a perfect tour for you. Terelj National Park, is a great place to visit because it is only a short ride away from Ulaanbaatar where you could enjoy natural scenery with open fields, gorgeous mountains, and many more. On this tour, you will be taken on a horse ride, meet a nomadic family, and visit the tallest statue in the world. So many activities have been packed into this day trip so that you could experience Mongolian lifestyle and wanting to come back again!
Quick & Useful Tip for people travelling to Terelj : It is very expensive if you take a taxi for yourself, so if you are a solo member talk to the hostel guys and join with other travelers and share the amount. I was a single traveler and I could work out ¼ th of the price since I joined with others.
GOBI DESERT :
Travelled to Gobi desert and it was an experience by itself. Generally it needs 2 days to travel and come back. But I had only one day in hand. But I was quiet interested to see Gobi desert, so I decided to do a day travel. Though my husband was not interested in me doing a day trip, I decided to do it. The hostel guys were very supportive and they booked a taxi for me. It was 16 hrs travel up and down, though it was hectic I did it and it was worth all the struggle.
On the way back from the Gobi desert the driver stopped in a local restaurant where I could see only the local people dining. I had a chance to taste the authentic local food. Thanks to the taxi driver.
Visit Hustai National Park, home to the Takhi (Przewalski wild horses), to see the endangered horse species roaming freely on rolling hills of beautiful Mongolia along with other wildlife animals. The Park covers a vast area providing visitors a variety of outdoor activities to enjoy, including Takhi and bird watching, hiking, horseback riding, photography, ancient ruin sight-seeing & more.
You need to trek 1.5 hrs to reach this monastery. It was quiet tiring, carry a water bottle and if you can get a stick it would be of help. On the way you will cross a small forest kind of places and a hill to climb.
After the wonderful visit to all the places I could possibly cover in Mongolia, Waiting in the Ulan Baatar station (Mongolia) for the Beijing train to arrive.
The Trans-Siberian Rail Journey to Beijing
The train left the Ulaan Baatar station in the morning 8 AM and it was supposed to reach Beijing the next day morning 8 AM. The total train journey from Ulaan Baatar to Beijing was around 24 hrs.
The train stopped in the China – Mongolia border (Sukhbataar station) at around 7 PM in the evening. The immigration officers walked into each coach and collected everybody’s passport and all the passengers were asked to get down from the train and get into a station room. We were locked in that room for 2 to 3 hrs.
Later all the passengers were asked to get back to the train. Then the train left from that station around 1 pm and all the passports were returned to the passengers after verification. The train reached Beijing at 8 AM.
Phones and Data connection
- There are only 2 telecom companies in China
- One China Mobile and other (…)
- The China mobile is cheaper, I paid 50 yuan for 1GB and 150 mins talk time
- But the China mobile network only supports 2G in the phones that are bought from outside China.
Which means, in my phone I got only 2G data connection, So, NO maps & translators or anything at all! The other network company gives 3G even for phones bought from outside China, but was quiet expensive around Rs.3000 for 1 week which I though was not worth while!
Google not supported in China
None of Google application were supported in China, which means no Google Translator, no Google Maps, no Face Book, no Google Messenger.
That made my life even tougher, since Google Maps was one application that saved me in most of the places in Russia and Mongolia – I dint have to ask people for the addresses, since hardly few people spoke English And Google translator was one other application which saved me in many places. Now, that I have to find some replacement for Google Translator and Google Maps, that’s when I got the Bing.com which was a translator and worked in China. This was quiet helpful in China travel.
This is when I landed Beijing station.
Hardship I faced as soon as I reached the station.
Landed Beijing in the morning at 8 AM. After I landed, I realised my phone wasn’t working to reach the hotel to send a pick up & I didn’t have money to take a taxi. I went out of the station looking for Money Exchange and could not find a single money exchanger. Then I got to know that Money exchangers are very rare in China. We need to exchange currency in Banks.
I checked with the staff in the station and she directed me to Beijing Bank which is located in front of the train station (front as in, not right in front of the station which nearly took me 30mins to locate the Bank going around.)
Finally I found the Bank and went there and noticed most of my train passengers were waiting there. I took a token and waited for 1 hour and then changed the Chinese currency.Walked out of the Bank and took a metered taxi and reached the Hotel.
The Hotel was located close to Wangfujeng st a happening street in Bejing.
Well! It was all quite an experience.
Train station info
- There are four train station in China. So when you buy ticket check carefully which station you need to board in.
- Station names – North station, West station & something – so when, you are boarding the train you should be very careful to know which station you need to go.
In wangfujeng st, there is a food street, this is a must visit place where you get authentic Chineses food. People throng this place in the evening, It is so packed,you will probably not get a little space to stand.
You get everything from scorpion, snakes, sea horse, to squid & etc… I only tried the squid though!
The Great Wall Of China
My first view of Great Wall from the train.
This is the picture I took from the train, before it reaches the Badaling train station.You need to buy 100 Yuan ticket to take a winch to the top of Great wall, and with the same you can return back down.
After buying the ticket there is a big queue to take the winch to go to the top of Great Wall. You can walk arround for some time and while coming down take the same winch to come down.
- There weere 2 options to go to Great Wall
- Book a tour from Hotel which costs Rs.4000 (with ac bus pick up, lunch, tour guide and drop back to hotel) or
- take a train yourself (which would be lil more adventurous).
I wanted to explore the place all by myself, so I chose the second option which I guess will be better for you as well.
Early morning, I went to the train station to buy the tickets for 8 am train but it was sold out and they had tickets only for the 11 am train. I took the ticket for the 11 am train, the cost was Rs.60. I had to wait in the queue for 2 hours after which they allowed us to get into the station.
In the station we had to wait for an hour. During that time I met this girl called Xang, she was a student and had come from Xian to visit Beijing, it was her first trip to Beijing as well.She was a nice company and I went arround with her to The Great Wall of China. The Badaling section of Great Wall of Chine was very crowded and by evening, I tagged along with Xian to Birds Nest. It was beautiful!
Market area in the Summer Palace with Xang.
This is the market area in the Summer Palace. There were lot of soveigner places and you get very nice stuff, but it is highly. I did buy quite a few items, and later found that they are much cheaper in the other places.
Next day Xang was suppose to go to Summer Palace, I told her that I too would join her. We both decided to meet in front of a metro station near her Hostel.When I reached there my phone dint work, with great difficulty I finally met her and we took a pass for 30 yuan, with which we could use it in Train , Bus etc…
The Summer Palace was a beautiful place and it was a whole new experience. Nothing like you would have seen before!
The Mutyanu section of Great Wall of China
On the 4th day I wanted to see the Mutyanu section of Great Wall of China. Since, I had a train to Xian in the evening, I decided to go with a tour operator.
In an AC bus they picked me up from the hotel in the morning at 8 AM, took me to the Great Wall and provided lunch and drop me back in the evening. For all of this, they charge Rs.4000. I feel if you don’t have time to explore yourself this is the best, since it is hastle free.
The tour guide claimed Muthyanu section of Great Wall was 600 yrs old and all other sections were 26 yr old rebuilt ones.The guide advised us to climb to Tower 6 and walk till Tower 1, it was quiet a hike, but was good.In Tower 1 you can see the old trees and plants grown on the Great Wall which implies this section is a very old section.
By evening, I could reach the train station on time to take the train to Xian.
This is the Tower 1 section where you can see the trees and plants grown on the Great Wall of China.
Fact : This is the section that was done by Michelle Obama when she visited China. This became a good marketing point.
Quick tip : I would suggest going to this Mutyanu section, there were hardly any people there, and it’s quiet good to walk on this stretch. I think the main reason for not many people in this area is because it is not very easy accessible and it takes time, so it’s a good idea to go with the tour guides.
Xian – Terracotta Warrior
I was supposed to reach Xian station at 8 AM but the train was delayed by 2hrs and I reached at 10 AM. I got out of the station and took a taxi to the Hotel, Quickly freshened up and started my way to the Terracotta Warrior.
I got all the information like where to take a bus? How long it takes to reach? etc…
I got the Receptionist to write down in Chinese for the sentences like ‘ Where is the 420 bus stop?’ ‘where is the return bus stop’, ‘what time the bus will start’ and it actually helped a lot, with these details it was quiet easy to identify the 420 bus stop which goes to Terracotta warrior. It took 1.5 hours to reach Terracotta warrior.
The Terracotta warrior
It was an amazing place, there were 3 Halls : Hall 1, Hall 2 and Hall 3. Where, Hall 1 has around 6000 life sized soldiers , According to preliminary calculations hall 2 has around 80 war chariots, about 1,300 terra cotta warriors and horses, and thousands of bronze weapons.
Got back to the hotel at 6 PM and later went out to visit Muslim st. The muslim st, was similar to wangfu jeng st. in Beijing but around 10 times bigger than that place. Here you get chicken, mutton, squid, scorpion etc .
Next day morning I had a train to Luoyang at 6.30 AM.
I guess, everyone would be familiar with this place. Yes! it’s the Shaolin Temple where many movies had been taken. I got a chance to see the Kung Fu show done by the Monks themselves.In the very less time I had, I was lucky enough that there was a show happening at that very time and I could see the show. The show happens only once a day at 2 to 3 PM.
We need to buy separate ticket for the show apart from the entry to the place itself.
Shaolin temple was one hell of an experience!
How I got there? This is a little story of my risky adventure!
The plan was to reach Luoyang by 8 am, leave my luggage in the Drop Luggage facility in the train station and take a bus go to Shaolin which will take 2 hours and see the place. Return back and collect by luggage and reach to my last stretch of train to Shanghai at 11 PM.
But what happened was..
When I reached the Luoyang I got to know that the luggage facility is only available till 6 pm.I had to take a decision whether to drop the Shaolin temple or take a risk and go to Shaolin temple because I need to reach back to the train station by 6 PM or my luggage will be stuck in the place where as I have a train to take at 11 pm. A dilemma I was stuck in!
Finally, I decided to take a risk and go to the Shaolin temple.
I quickly left the luggage where the security guard was confirming if I will be back by 6 PM?, I promised I will be back and took a bus to main bus stop and the time was 10 AM then.When I reached the main Bus stop one man asked me if I need to go to the Shaolin temple, and he was trying to sell a ticket, when I demanded to show the bus, the bus looked very old a mini bus I suppose, so I denied to buy the ticket from him.
I went to the Ticket counter, and there was a lady who helped me , buy the ticket and showed me the bus which goes to Shaolin Temple, this bus was the same one which the other guy showed me. Without having an other option, I got into the bus and it was 11.30 am and I was worried when the bus will start, finally the bus started at 11.45 am.The bus was very slow and stopped in many places collecting some parcels and dispatching it to other places.
At 1 pm the bus stopped in a place and the conductor told me to get down. I had a major fight with her saying I cannot and I wanted her to arrange a taxi for me, she could not understand what I said and I could not understand what she said. I tried to take help from BING.com and tried to translate what I wanted to tell. Nothing helped, and she told me get into another Bus, I dint have an option after confirming that it will start in 15 minutes I got into the bus.
The bus finally started at 1.30 PM, this bus was even slower and there were fumes from the engine, the driver stopped in a workshop and filled water in the bucket and pouring on the engine. I was doomed at this point! This place was in the centre of nowhere, I thought if I should get a hitch hike and carry on since it was already 1.50 PM, but dint do so since the place looked very lonely and at least the Bus I was in was a Gov. Bus.
Then by 2.10 PM I reached the Shaolin temple, my dream place! But, I had to reach back by 6 PM to the train station, calculating the time I took to reach this place it was almost 3 hrs. So by that calculation I had to leave by 3 PM, which leaves me with 50 mins.
This place was on a foot of a hill, and not much vehicles could be seen. It was quiet an isolated place. Before going into the place I decided if there is any other option to travel back other than these horrible buses, and I noticed a Taxi waiting. I spoke to Driver telling that I would pay double the amount if he can drop me in the station for which he did agree.
I told him I will be back by 3.15 PM, and he had to drop me back, with that agreement ran into the place and to my luck there was a Kung Fu show that was happening which was performed by the Monks and I could see that show.I Came out of the show, and the place was so huge and I wanted to see the Damo cave (where Damo from India went to China hundreds of years ago and taught the monks Kung Fu and he meditated for 7 yrs in that cave and his face was engraved in the wall) which was 1.5 km away and the time was 2.10 PM.
I had to take a decision if I had to return back or take risk and go to the Damo cave.I decided not to take a risk because tonight is the last stretch of my 1 month journey and my flight was on next day from Shanghai which I can’t afford to miss!
Ran back to the taxi, thankfully that person was waiting for me, and to my surprise he dropped me in the station at 5 PM. I had my food in a small place outside the station and took my luggage from the station and headed to Shanghai.
I never thought I could make it, I was amazed how it all fell in place finally!
Shanghai, a place one must visit, particularly the Bund was awesome. This is the Bund picture at night. Bund was nothing but a river side view.
Fact : The Bund, also called Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu (East Zhongshan 1st Road), is a famous waterfront and regarded as the symbol of Shanghai for hundreds of years. It is on the west bank of Huangpu River from the Waibaidu bridge to Nanpu Bridge and winds 1500 meters (0.93 mile) in length.
How I got a paid luxury stay in a 5 star hotel.
The Next day my flight was at 4 PM, the airport is out of the city and it takes Rs.2500 by taxi and by metro it is Rs.30, but you need to carry your luggage till metro station. With great difficulty I carried my entire luggage and went to the station.
I came to know that the flight was delayed, which means I will miss my flight from Kuala Lumpur, because I had only 1 hour left for my connecting flight from Kuala Lumpur.
When asked for the next flight to Bangalore from KL, it was after a day.
Reached KL, and demanded the Malaysian Airline guys to give me a hotel outside airport with a transfer visa, which they did ( How amazing! Right? )
Had a paid holiday in a 5 start hotel and roamed around in Malaysia’s Bukit Bintang st. for a day and blew up some more currency in shopping.
Returned to Bangalore after a nice day break in Malaysia. An extended trip I would say!
- I noticed shopping in China was very expensive for branded stuff, where as other things were cheap. Though people told me to bargain, the sellers were not ready to reduce the price much.
- I found Malaysia was very cheap to shop for branded items.
Finally made it to home, this marks the end of the Trans-Siberian journey. I’ve learned so much during this trip and I can proudly say that I have crossed Russia/Siberia, Mongolia and China all alone.
I made many friends during the journey and learnt the beauty of cultures I encountered. All the struggle was worth every bit. What is the fun without a little adventure right?
Final thoughts : One hell of a trip, I loved it every bit & it was wonderful. I’m sure it is natural to be worried & scared of the unknown, but it will all be worth it.
Hope this was helpful & thank you for reading through my journey. Feel free to comment below if you have any questions or concerns.