What is it about the Trans-Siberian/Trans-Mongolian Railway that somehow everybody wants to try it???


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Asia » Mongolia
November 18th 2011
Published: December 3rd 2011EDIT THIS ENTRY

As we already finished our journey on the Trans-Mongolian railway I thought we could give it a go and summarize our feelings and experiences of it. We read a lot of blogs, articles, websites etc about the journey but I guess everybody is different and the perception of this particular train ride remains somehow very subjective.

Kupe (2nd class) vs Platzkart (3rd class):

We have never had an opportunity to try the 1st class but I guess it would not impress us anymore than 2nd class. After what we read about the Platzkart our intention was to go with 2nd class all the way. Only after we tried Ukrainian 3rd class we got really curious if the Russian one looked the same. We actually felt that the 3rd class conditions exceeded our expectations and it was quite pleasurable to travel that way. Yes, of course there could be some minor discomfort due to the fact that you don’t know who is going to travel next to you but that is also part of the fun.

Our first 3 day journey to Novosibirsk was in Kupe. Now when we look at it we should not have paid this insane
Our KupeOur KupeOur Kupe

Moscow-Novosibirsk train
(when compared to other options) amount for this journey (14000Rub/285£ for both). We shared it with an old lady, who was really helpful with Russian translations (she could understand a bit of Polish) and from time to time there was somebody coming in and out of the Kupe depending how long their ride was. So in fact we did not get any extra security in the Kupe at all. As the compartment was not full all the way we could not have simply closed it for the night as there could have been someone coming in. Maybe our berths and the toilets were a bit bigger than in Platzkart but really the differences were hardly noticeable. We read about showers in 2nd class however we have not come across any, so why paying more than double for quite the similar? Also it is really so much less fun to be in 2nd class. There only seem to be empty Kupes or filled with elderly people or families with children. Yes, you get to read a lot and talk but 3 days of this is too much.

Trains from Biysk to Novosibirsk and then to Irkutsk were Platzkart. The second one was a Belarusian train almost brand new so our Platzkart looked better then the previous Kupe. And of course the people we met (we shortly described them in our Irkutsk blog) were just fantastic. Yes, it was loud and the lights were almost always on but it was so much fun. The hospitality of people, sharing food and drink as well as music, games and long talks were just entertaining. This made the long journey quite short to be honest and we wish we could have spent more time with some of the people. Of course we attracted a lot of attention as well – don’t know how they know we are travelers but I guess we do look different to them in a way ;-) People were constantly coming over to us, telling us stories about their life, asking questions about ours and trying to speak some English. As one of the guys said to us – in the middle of Siberia they don’t have many opportunities to do so.

Unfortunately we had to buy a Kupe to UlaanBattar (2 times higher price than 3rd class) as we left it to the last moment and we had no other choice. Sometimes this is the price you pay for a bit of flexibility when travelling.

There was actually train we took in Mongolia that was lower than 3rd class (UB to the border). Not sure if there is any class attached to it but we know for fact that it was lower than Platzkart. We decided to take it because of our lazyness and a bit because of interest in how it looked like. In order to book any other class you have to que up at 6 am in the morning. We like our beauty sleep so we just took the one available on the day we went to the station. Mongolians are very nice but also very loud no matter what time of a day or night it is. We were offered one sleeping place extra but we also had to listen to all night long games, phone calls, eating fiestas and shouting. There was no bedding provided and hot water was to be paid extra so already visible differences between this and Russian trains. Also all the food packaging and leftovers landed on the floor ;-( On the other hand it was so cheap that we cannot complain at all. For 15h journey, we only paid 20,000T (10GBP) for both of us;-)

Interesting observations:

The first thing that struck us when we boarded the first train was the outfit etiquette. And what I mean by that is the ‘changing into the sleeping gown’ protocol. We were looking around the train for several minutes how ladies were asking the men out so that they could strip to the sweat pants, sleeping gown or what ever else they found comfortable to sleep in. They would be wearing the same stuff all the way to the end. Men seem to have been more ready and wore sweat pants underneath their trousers so it was quick and painless. And then they all took out their sandals, sleepers or ‘klapeczki’ (flip-flops). So they all look like they just walked out of their bedroom in the morning hahha I guess this is a way to feel comfortable and like home. On the train to Irkutsk we saw something that really surprised us. There was a young Russian girl with a small dog (how great that they can take them on the train) and she stripped down to almost
Tomek in the trains restaurantTomek in the trains restaurantTomek in the trains restaurant

not once we ate over there but we had to see it ;-)
nothing. She walked up and down the corridor in her pink, cotton panties and white t-shirt with no bra. Yes, I was looking at the dog when she was picking it up from the floor but you can imagine where all the men were looking;-) Another thing - especially noticeable amongst elderly travelers - was the tea pot walks. So imagine some old lady in her night gown walking 3 times an hour to the hot water dispenser with a tea pot. Really something you cannot see anywhere else;-)

Another interesting thing for us was the Moscow vs Local time. Maybe we should have made a better preparation to this trip but not once I have read anywhere about this or maybe I just thought it was not so important. Oh it is quite important as all the departure and arrival times are given to you in Moscow time. So the first time we leave from Moscow so luckily we did not miss the train but we were very surprised later on, that the train does not call the station at 14:00 but at 18:00. Oh well, every day is the school day;-) Good that we did not miss the 14,000Rub (280GBP) train though haha It could be quite confusing to stay on top of the time when you move around and every time you wake up is a different time zone. Once we were coming out of the train and the train station clock showed 3 am and it was in fact 8 am in the morning.

We were so impressed with the behaviour of local people in the train. Not only they all treat the train with respect and we have seen no sing of vandalism or damage, even on the older trains. Everybody puts there bedding nicely on and when they are about to exit the train they take it out and gave it back to the staff member. It was something we could have maybe expected from the older generation, but seriously everybody no matter what age, behaves that way. Very nice;-) The cleaness of the train was impressive as well - even in Platzkart. There are minimum 2 cleaning sessions a day and nobody is dropping leftovers on the floor intentionally. This happened to be completely opposite on the Mongolian train, where everything was thrown at the floor and my shoes were almost gloed to it when walking ;-)

The price difference between online agencies' price and real ticket price is amazingly high. Checking online is the only source of information when you try to budget for this trip. If you go in the winter season you don't really have to buy tickets up-front and you can even get them at the day of your departure. You may have less choice but at least you don’t have to plan too far ahead. Just out of interest we can share that we budgeted around 1,000 GBP for both of us and we ended up paying 550 GBP for the whole Trans-Mongolian journey (just to the Chinese border not Beijing). Where did the discount come from? Well, agencies put such a high commission on tickets so we managed to avoid those and also we chose few Platzkart trains instead of Kupe. It can be done even cheaper as Lukasz, the guy we met in UB paid only 3000Rub/60GBP for the Moscow-Irkutsk journey which is practically more than half of the route.

Also when in Russia you can use the website www.tutu.ru to check times and prices of all the trains. Surprisingly, same distance trains can very in price up to 30%. This page will not allow you to buy tickets but you can get the train number you want and use it in the ticket office when buying at the train station.

And of course the train journey is just the beginning. The places you see on the way are incredible and the choice of stop -overs is wide. No matter if you choose the Trans-Siberian, Trans-Mongolian or Trans-Manchurian trip you won't be disappointed by what you experience. We wish we could have stayed longer than 20 days in Siberia. Oh well, we are going to have to come back again ;-)

Happy Travels ;-)


Additional photos below
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behind the trainbehind the train
behind the train

on the way to UB we were in the last carriage
looking at some items for salelooking at some items for sale
looking at some items for sale

at each station there we different products on offer, starting from jewellery and woolen stuff, through food and fur to small furnishings and paintings


3rd December 2011

Hi Beata and Tomek, I like this entry a lot, thanks for providing valuable info on all things Transsib. Still keen on doing it one day. Cheers, Jens
3rd December 2011

Thanks
Hi Jens, No problem at all. We thought it would be useful for people planning the trip so very happy that you found it informative ;-) B&T
25th April 2012

Hi, I'm just wondering which train did you took, the Platzkart looks much nicer than the one I saw in other blogs :)

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