Transsiberian Railway

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October 5th 2008
Published: November 21st 2008
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Steam EngineSteam EngineSteam Engine

The Transsib was water powered
The Transsiberian Train is a journey by itself. There are many travelers leaving their countries just to take the longest train ride in the world. To be precise we didn't ride across the Transsiberian line, this one connects Moscow to Vladivostok. We crossed the Transmongolian line, from Beijing in China over Mongolia finishing in Moscow (The Transsiberian and Transmongolian join they journey around half way near lake Baikal in Siberia).

There are so many ways to do this trip. From a nostalgic direct, super luxury coach to a cattle-class hop-on hop-off vodka filled adventure. It all depends on you (and your budget!!), what exactly you want and expect from the trip. The direct train from Beijing to Moscow or Vladivostok to Moscow are the most well known, but that's not the only way you can do it. It's possible to follow the exactly same route using a diverse combination of trains.

Beijing was the furthest place from Brazil that we have been. So anything going westward is to be called “going back”. This is how we started our trip back. Since we wanted to travel always by land nothing better than a train all the way to Europe.

No tickets no ride.

More than one year ago we met in Africa on guy from Mongolia and he gave us a precious advise. Amai, the traveling Mongol () told us that all the international trains would be twice more expensive than take a train just to the border, cross on foot and take the same train in the other side.
From Beijing we took the our first train to the Mongolian border. The whole train was sleeper class. We had no choice but take this luxury ride, and we were happy for it. The only detail; it was during the day. (Well, we can't always win!)
We arrived in Erlian, the Chinese border town by night. With the help of an American guy that spoke Chinese, who was in the same train we got a room just across the station.
Next day in the morning we had to go to the border and find out how to cross it. We have heard that is forbidden to walk across the border even if it is only a few hundred meters. One option is to join one of the jeeps that do the trip many times a day, but the price was prohibitive.
We arrived

Just across the border into Siberia
a bit before the border opening and by chance had a chat with the guard at the first gate. He told us to wait and after all the high officials had passed, he told us to walk fast at the side of the street so we wouldn't be noticed. Cool, the first part was done!
Immigration duties done we had to cross to Mongolian other side now.
We were lucky that one of the officials saw us heavy loaded waiting for a ride and decided to help us. The first car that had some seats free was asked to take us. The driver didn't want to take us saying he was in a hurry. The official replied, that if he didn't want to take us was OK, but he wouldn't have permission to leave before we got another ride! He immediately changed his mind! Our driver dropped us in the Mongolian immigration office. After all the paperwork, we saw that the Mongolian city started 1Km from the office. So we tough was cool to walk the last part. Half way though our little stroll, we stopped on the side of the road to eat some sandwiches we had taken with

The first station
us without realizing that we were still in the forbidden area. Few minutes later a soldier appeared, waived down a truck and took us out of the forbidden area. There he gave us a warning, wish us good luck and let us go. At this same spot the driver of another truck waived to us offering a ride to the train station. We couldn't believe, such a lucky day! Such nice people are the Mongolians.
In the same day we took the train to Ulaan Baatar. One night on the train and we would arrive in the capital. Our friend Amai was correct, the price for the international train from Beijing to Ulaan Baatar was around 70 dollars, and we spent less than 20!
We stayed a few days in U.B. applying for the Russian visa and went for a small trip in the countryside. (check 17 horses per Inhabitant)

The next leg of the journey was to Irkutsk, the capital of Siberia. This border crossing was going to be exciting. The first part was easy, we took the overnight train to the border. We bought 4th class tickets (sitting class) and jumped on the top berth where we could sleep. The
Irkutsk StationIrkutsk StationIrkutsk Station

In the center of Siberia
train arrived in the morning. At the border we bought the international ticket to the other side of the border. The pedestrian border was in another city this time, so we would cross by train, but if we'll have to pay double for the international ticket it will be for only 17 km! Even like this we payed two times more for this part than for the last 600km overnight train.
The border crossing was funny, the 17Km took many hours to cross and the Russian border police has checked EVERYWHERE in the train. They came with screwdrivers and opened the panels, took off parts of the roof, squeezed the seats, checked the lamps... the best part was... the only place they didn't check was the people luggage.
In the other side of the immigration. We jumped off the train and run to the ticket office, we knew the train was going to leave around 10:30 and it was 10:00. Desperate we tried to find in the time tables (written in Cyrillic alphabet) the correct train number, departure time and destination. By the time we manage to translate all the information and get to the counter was 10:45. Disappointed we

Bringing electricity to the Line
asked the seller about the next train and she pointed the one we just missed.
“How come?” We asked, and she replied “Easy, it depart at 10:35 Moscow time, 15:35 local time!” Great!
There we go again, taking a sitting car, but always jumping on the top berths that were empty. The only down side of the train we took is that it will run along the Baikal lake, the most beautiful part of the trip, during the night.
From Irkutsk we did a small side trip to visit the lake Baikal. During this time of the year it is not so impressive, but during the winter it has to be amazing, lots of people come here for the huge frozen surface, there are all kinds of activities to do, from dog sled tours to kite boarding!

The last and biggest part of the trip is still to come, it will be 4 nights and 3 days non-stop across 5 time zones. We had to decide whether to take the Kupe class (2nd) or keep traveling in the hard sleepers.
Normally when we are traveling, if we take a train and find out to be horrible, after a few
Outside our compartmentOutside our compartmentOutside our compartment

Our compartment, Claudio outside and Aliona (RUS) inside.
hours we are off and fine. But take a crowded train without being able to sleep, having to keep an eye on your belongings all the time for 4 days will ruin our trip. After lots of thinking we decided to splurge. We bought the Kupe, and boarded the train next day.
This train now has two provodniks, a "train attendant". Olga and Ludmila. They greet us at the door, check our tickets and show our places. They are responsible for keep the car always clean and help the passengers if they need something. We heard lots of stories about nice and evil provodniks. They can arrange you extra pillows, a mug if you don't have one, even built up a kind of shower in the toilet if you feel like washing yourself on the way. But if they for some reason don't like you very much they can deny you any help, complain about you walking around the train, lock the toilets when you want to use it or just not try to speak any English leaving you alone and isolated among the Russian speaking community.
Olga and Ludmila were the opposite, they came every second hour to see

She can make your live hell or heaven. For us having Olga and Ludmila was heaven.
if we were fine, if we wanted some more water for the tea, they changed Claudio from the other compartment into Fernando's so we could travel together, they offered us fresh fruits, helped us buy food at the train stations and even told us the last gossips about the other passengers!!

Sharing the same compartment was Aliona, a joung Russian doctor going back to Moscow after a weekend at her parents and a short trip to China to buy some cheap stuff. We were lucky she could speak some English and would translate all the conversations with everyone who boarded the train and was curios to know about us. At the beginning she would translate the questions and translate the answerer's, after the 10th time she knew our biography by heart! We laughed a lot with her stories, and learned about Russia, the culture and economic situation.
At one point Fernando pulled out of his day pack the book he has been reading since Laos. Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky, a Russian writer from the pre-revolution era. Aliona shocked with the sight asked Fernando: "Do you read Dostoevsky?"
"Yes" Fernando replied, and with a smile in her face she

Claudio going to buy some food.
pulled a magazine out of her bag and said: "I read Cosmopolitan!"

The long journey crosses 5 time zones. We thought that traveling by train we wouldn't be able to feel any difference, but in the reality, was easy to notice. Every night we went sleep a bit later and by the time we woke up it was still early in the morning! Life in the Transsiberian resumes in talking to the people around you, drink a coffee, watch the trees rush outside the window, drink some tea, read a bit, drink more coffee, listen to music, and wait for the next station so you can go out and buy more food. What surprise us the most is we didn't get bored, there was always something to do!
After the fourth night we arrived early in the morning in Moscow. For us it was just amazing to be here, back to Europe, so close to the start point of our journey. The usual noise from the brakes announced the end of the longest train ride in our lives.
Leaving the train was easy, hard was to say good bye to Olga and Ludmila without being able to show them

Detail of the window
how grateful we were for the hospitality on the train.
We helped Aliona with her bags, exchange emails and left the station to explore Moscow.

Resume of the train rides:

Beijing to Erlian 13/sep 08:20, 10hours, U$ 20, Sleeper class
Erlian to Ulaan Baatar 14/sep 17:30, 14hours, U$ 6, Sitting class
U.B. to Suck Baatar 27/sep 21:20, 08hours, U$ 4, Sitting class
S.B. to Nauschk 28/sep 09:00, 04hours, U$ 17, Sitting class
Nauschk to Irkutsk 28/sep 15:35, 14hours, U$ 16 Sitting class
Irkutsk to Moscow 01/oct 18:18, 86hours, U$ 200 Kupe

If you want more informations about the Transsiberian train, we used the website

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