Riding the Trans-Siberian Railway has been towards the top of my bucket list for 20+ years. I first heard of it from the liner notes of Loreena McKennitt’s album The Book of Secrets, in which she describes riding it while reading Dante’s Divine Comedy (her inspiration for one of my favorite songs, “Dante’s Prater,” which you should listen to here!. Such a trip seemed magical, nostalgic, and introspective, and I knew I had to do it before I died.
Flash forward to 2013, when I’m preparing to move to Japan to teach English, and I realize that this dream could actually come true! In my research online, I discovered that there are several routes: the Trans-Siberian, which crosses from Moscow to Vladivostok, an eastern port city of Russia; and the Trans-Mongolian, which splits off from the Trans-Siberian around Ulan-Ude in Siberia to head south through Mongolia before finishing in Beijing. Sources all said that the latter is the most interesting due to varied landscapes and views. So when it came time to plan my adventure, the latter is what I chose.
Because my ultimate destination was Eastern Europe, I started off in Beijing. Here is the station and the waiting area inside:
And looking down over the waiting trains:
So exciting at 7:25am! I’m ready to go!
The ever-so-serious cabin attendant, checking tickets:
For the first leg of the journey, I had purchased a ticket in 2nd class. This meant that I had a semi-private cabin with 4 beds and a door. Each cabin also had a container to hold hot water (for tea etc.), which I could refill elsewhere in the carriage.
The hallway of my 2nd-class carriage:
The dining car:
Nice views between Beijing and Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia!:
At the Chinese-Mongolian border, we paused for a couple of hours. The rails are different sizes in the two countries, so the train wheels needed to be changed to fit the new Mongolian size. We also picked up quite a few newcomers. Fortunately or unfortunately, no one wanted to share a cabin with the white foreigner (me), so I had a private cabin for the entirety of the Beijing-Ulaanbaatar leg. One older lady was shown to her bed in my cabin, but she looked at the bed, then looked at me, and shook her head “no” to the carriage attendant, so he brought her to another empty cabin.
The landscape of Mongolia is just a little different….
And then there was snow!
After about 31 hours, I disembarked the train in Ulaanbaatar and spent a week in Mongolia, sightseeing the city and staying with the nomads. Read about it here!
Early November, I continued my journey on the train. Here is northern Mongolia:
We entered Siberia and passed by Lake Baikal, the deepest lake (and largest by volume) in the world. Here is a shot of a tiny village with the lake in the background:
~23 hours after boarding in Ulaanbaatar, I again disembarked to spend a day and a half walking around Irkutsk, a city in Siberia. Then, at 3:50am, I got back on the train to head to Moscow.
This time, I picked up the train that was coming from Vladivostok, not from Beijing, i.e. a Russian train, not Chinese. There were marked differences: now there is the option to stay in 3rd class, which I did. This, I quickly realized, was a mistake to do for the entire 84 hour journey to Moscow:
My bed was across from this woman’s:
Unlike 2nd class, there is zero privacy. This is not a ride for tourists; the majority of passengers were Russians traveling for work or school (such as this group of middle schoolers who were adorable during the afternoon when they wanted to chat with me via Google Translate, but became absolute monsters when it was 1am, everyone else was asleep, and they were STILL chatting loudly amongst themselves and moving around):
Because this train was Russian in origin and not Chinese, it looked different:
… And the dining car looked VERY different!
A typical meal on the Trans-Siberian Railway: this was chicken with cheese, boiled potatoes with a sour cream sauce, and a roll stuffed with a hot dog, with bottles water to drink, all for about $11 USD:
Most people, however, brought their own food. One nice lady shared a snack with me: rowan berries (whatever the heck those are):
In each carriage was a timetable of all the stops the train makes along the way. I took a picture of the segment that was relevant for me so I could reference it from my bunk (Irkutsk towards the top, Moscow at the bottom):
Many of the stations along the way had small kiosks in which to purchase drinks, snacks, and instant noodles:
We passed lots of trees with snow:
And a number of Siberian villages and towns:
There really wasn’t a lot of variation in the landscape during the Trans-Siberian segment of the overall journey. I’m glad I opted for the route from Beijing through Mongolia. And I’m very glad I broke it up into three segments with sightseeing between each. I met a group of Australian guys who were going from Vladivostok to Moscow non-stop; that’s a full week on the train, with no shower or break!
Are you interested in riding the Trans-Siberian Railway across Russia? If so, I highly recommend the website Seat 61 for complete information on it. It’s where I found most of the answers I was looking for during my own research. Good luck and have fun!