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Trans-Siberian: best way?

Travel Forums Asia Trans-Siberian: best way?

1. Posted by wendelin (Budding Member 10 posts) 10y

So I had a brainwave this morning that in April my husband and I should do Russia, and take the Trans-Siberian railway. We've been learning Russian - what fantastic timing!

Anybody has any advice, suggestions? This is obviously VERY early in the planning stage, but I already have some definite ideas. I don't think we want to do China (I understand two of the three trans-Siberian routes end up in Beijing), though Mongolia might be nice. Might be an idea to go all the way from Moscow to Vladivostock - the traditional, all-the-way=across-Russia ritual, but from what I am reading on the web, that might not be too interesting. We would of course want to make stops along the way and not just hop on the train and stay there for seven days straight! The Baikal lake area sounds awesome.

So I'm just fishing around for information... any travelogues/journals online you can point to, or experiences you can share, will be greatly appreciated. At this stage, I'm just looking to get a feel of the place, and an idea of the must-dos.

[ Edit: Edited at Oct 5, 2006 3:31 PM by wendelin ]

2. Posted by Utrecht (Moderator 5595 posts) 10y

Although I have`nt done it myself, it`s a high priority trip of mine and sure to be done in the near future.
Actually i agree that ending up in china is not that nice, i did not like beijing in general for example and on the whole it`s just a country ruining all of the treasures over there.
This in contrast with russia or mongolia. Mongolia is nice to spend a week in the green north (lake kovsgol or something) or go to the Gobi desert.
Russia has some opportunities as well, for example Jekaterinenburg (on the ┬┤border┬┤of asia and europe), Novosibirsk or Irkutsk and Lake Baikal. If you want to travel to Vladiwostok and don`t want to do any backtracking, try to take a ferry from here to Japan (Niigata on the norteastcoast), take a train to Tokyo or Kyoto and fly back from there (tokyo or Osaka international airports).
Michael.

3. Posted by bernardTEF (Budding Member 5 posts) 10y

I too am thinking of making this trip and continuing to Thailand overland.

You must read the Man in Seat Sixty One. Follow the link to this great site.

www.seat61.com/ - 37k

Be careful though because you cannot just hop on or off trains in Russia nor just roam around Russia due to visa requirements. For the Russian leg I will use a tour company to ensure there is no problem with sight-seeing etc.

4. Posted by DocNY (Respected Member 403 posts) 10y

Well the cheapest fares are from Beijing going east but you pay a huge markup to get someone to help get them for you (from beijing about two months ago they were starting about $280 direct -more depending on the on/offs that you want).

I won't post about Russian visas but let's just say that most of the details given for the average traveler are fake and the government knows it. They even told me that at the Russian Embassy. It's about the money not the management although they do hope to keep an eye on illegal dealers that way.

5. Posted by GregW (Travel Guru 2635 posts) 10y

Hey Wendelin,

How much time are you planning to be in Russia?

I did the Trans-Mongolian route in October of last year, and wrote up my advice on my blog here: GregWTravels across Russia. You can also poke around and find a bunch of other entries from the trip, which might be less practically focused buy hopefully funnier (mostly at my expense).

As has already been suggested, the Man in Seat Sixty-One is one of the most usual sites you can find.

Anyway, if you have the time (and given that you can speak Russian), you can just buy tickets at the rail stations. You need to buy point-to-point tickets, as others have noted, there is no hop-on, hop-off rail passes available. A tour company can arrange all the tickets for you, but you'll pay a pretty steep premium.

I got pretty bored on the longer stretchs on the train, so I would definately suggest making stops along the way.

I liked China and Beijing, but to each his own, I suppose. Mongolia is very nice, but requires another visa (obviously). Whereever you end up, you'll have to get out of there. I think flights from either Vladistock or Ulaan Baatar would be pretty limited. You might want to do some research on that to determine the best place to end up.

Greg

[ Edit: Edited at Oct 6, 2006 9:03 AM by GregW ]

6. Posted by Gelli (Travel Guru 2457 posts) 10y

Be careful though because you cannot just hop on or off trains in Russia nor just roam around Russia due to visa requirements. For the Russian leg I will use a tour company to ensure there is no problem with sight-seeing etc.

Actually, that's a load of rubbish.

You can get on and off all that you want and go anywhere in Russia, regardless of what is on your visa (in the "old days" you could only visit places listed on your visa, now you can go anywhere legal). You still have to register your visa anywhere where you are for more than 72hours in business days, but any hotel will do that automatically, and your visa company should also have a list of partners who can help you if you needed (although you have to pay). The only thing that you can't do is overstay your visa (not advisable, to say the least), and with a tourist visa only lasting 28days, you don't have that much flexibility if you plan on a few days in St. P and Moscow plus travel time.

You CAN'T get off the through trains from Russia to China. However, there are plenty of Russian trains you can use for internal sections, before getting on an international train to cross the border. Most trains you can book the day before, certainly 2 or 3 days before without problem, and there are normally several a day. Having said that, teh international sections through from Moscow book up well in advance (often even before the 40day period when they are released to the general public, so sometimes agencies are best for that. The exception is the every otehr day Irkutsk - Ulan Bator train which you can generally book a couple of days in advance and be fine. But if you will be cutting your visa end tight with that train (and remember the date when you cross the border, not when you board the train), try and book that as easrly in advance as possible.

(I understand two of the three trans-Siberian routes end up in Beijing),

Despite what 99% of foreigners think, the Trans Siberian does NOT go to Beijing at all. The Trans Manchurian (avoiding Mongolia, via Manzhouli and Harbin) and Trans Mongolian (via Mongolia) do. Also, thethree names are the routes of the trains, and baring a couple of hugely expensive guided tour tourist trains only, there are no trains called any of those 3 names.

I've spent a chunk of time in Russia (on trains) been into Siberia a number of times, and done both Trans-Sib and Trans-Manch in the past, so feel free to ask any questions

7. Posted by wendelin (Budding Member 10 posts) 10y

Wow, thanks for all the info, you guys.

Gelli, I am planning to get a dual-entry visa to Russia and a Mongolian visa, do Moscow-Irkutsk (spend a few days in the Baikal area); Irkutsk - Ulan Bator (see Mongolia a bit) and then head back to Moscow. From your post, I can see that I won't have problems with the train tickets on the forward part of the journey, and I've read that it's difficult to get straight tickets back from Ulan Bator to Moscow... so maybe we'll have to break journey in Irkutsk again.

It's going to be a 3-week trip - my plan is to spend a week between St Petersburg and Moscow and take the rest of the time to do the train journey. Is that a fair allocation? Any visa restrictions I should know of? And any other stops I should be making?

We also want to hike and camp in the Baikal area, but are unsure about doing this ourselves. How tourist-friendly is this place? If we got lost, would we, I don't know, die out in the wilderness? Is there a visitor's center of some sort? We actually wouldn't mind going hiking with a tour guide or a group for this part of the journey - how would we go about finding one?

Thanks again for all the info... If the planning is this exciting, I can't imagine what the real thing will be like!

8. Posted by Gelli (Travel Guru 2457 posts) 10y

, and I've read that it's difficult to get straight tickets back from Ulan Bator to Moscow... so maybe we'll have to break journey in Irkutsk again.

It's definitely harder, although certainly not impossible. The problem is that very few places in Russia will sell you a single FROM UB (or any foreign place) back to Russia.

From UB, there are 3 trains a week back to Moscow (trains 3, 5 and 5) plus train 263 to Irkutsk which is sometimes daily, sometimes every other day (they keep talking about making it every other day, and periodically do so for shorter periods before reverting back). Of the through trains, 1 comes from Beijing (train 3)and is hardest to get on.

The other 2 trains start start in UB (i think on Tuesdays and Fridays), so if you book your return as soon as you get to Mongolia, you have a decent chance to get places. Its worth asking agencies even if they are all sold out at the station, as many take a number of tickets (more than they need) and try and sell them on, for a small commission.

Note that on the 3 through trains, there are NO Platskartny 3rd class carriages; only First and Kupe class. So if you want cheaper Platskartny tickets, you will have to take the 263 to Irkutsk or Ulan Ude and change there.

I am planning to get a dual-entry visa to Russia

Note that this means you will have to get a business visa, and slightly different rules apply. There IS a double entry tourist visa, but they are not available much - the total time is only 28days still, whilst you also have to specify (officially, at any rate) when and where you will be leaving/entering Russia, and you are generally only allowed to enter certain countries. These are often refused by consulates/embassies, and often only permitted if you are going to another former Soviet country, and even then can be hard unless you are going to Kaliningrad (transit on through Russian trains via Belarus and Lithuania requires a double entry) or via, erm, Petrovlovsk (i think)in Northern Kazakhstan, which is again passed through in transit by Russian trains.

Is that a fair allocation?

More time would be btter, but in 3weeks, that is fair. Use a night train between them (lots each night).

Any visa restrictions I should know of?

You will have to register your visa both times, but this is standard. Note that random checks are not uncommon in the two cities, and increase with frequency in Touristy areas of both cities, especially Red Square, and if you have darker skin (so could be Chechen). Very few Russians use Rucksacks, especially fancy ones, so if you don't want to stand out in less touristy areas, not carrying one is not a bad idea - Russians tend to use carrier bags if anything. The way you walk can also give you away as a foreigner. You need to keep your passport on you, although if in any doubt, hand over photocopies (or passport and visa) to whoever stops you, and say that passport is "in the hotel being registered" - that often stops most opportunist cops looking for a bribe, especially if you hold your ground.

And any other stops I should be making?

Entirely up to you. NO absolute must stops, but plenty of options. The golden ring cities can be good for a trip (a ring of old cities a couple of hours outside of Moscow) either in transit, or some as a day trip from Moscow. Kazan is lovely and recently redone for their anniversary (although train reservations Moscow - Kazan and vv are notoriously tricky to get at short notice as they book out). But you might get lucky.

Nizhny Novgorod (Gorky in the old days) is quite nice. Ekaterinburg (Sverdlovsk on railway TTS and in the old days), the first city you get to in Asia is worth a stop for the history etc. Tyumen has nothing much, although it is the first place in Siberia, and it's oldest settlement. Omsk is large, oddly green and industrial. Novossibirsk, the capital of Siberia is big but has very few sights or things to really do and is an odd kind of place. Krasnoyarsk has a couple of interesting things nearby, and I quite like it. Then it's Irkutsk/Baikal.

After that, Ulan Ude is the only place of relevance before the border. However, i reallly like it (the Head alone is worth a stop...) and there are a couple of nearby-ish places worth a visit. If possible, try and take a train which leave sIkutsk in mid morning-ish, so you travel to Ulan-Ude in daylight, as you skirt the coast of Lake Baiakl for a few hours and the sceneray is generally good.


We also want to hike and camp in the Baikal area, but are unsure about doing this ourselves. How tourist-friendly is this place? If we got lost, would we, I don't know, die out in the wilderness? Is there a visitor's center of some sort? We actually wouldn't mind going hiking with a tour guide or a group for this part of the journey - how would we go about finding one?

Listvyanka, the easiest/closest place on Lake Baikal to get to from Irkutsk is small but very touristy (in relation to anywhere else outside of Moscow and St. P). Having said that, English isn't hugely common even there. You can walk along the coast of the lake northbound from there to Bolshie Kuty, easily, and camp along the way. You can camp in the Northern end of Listvyanka for free as well. Follow the road to the end, past the half built large house and then down onto the beach, and a couple of hundred metres later you reach the start of "wilderness" and lots of old camping spots dotted about.

There are lots of tours around - search on google, or places like waytorussia.net - especially ones involving Olkhon (sp?) island which can be customised to your needs, and involve you spending time seeing traditional way of life. If you haven't fixed a tour before then, you can normally arrange one easily enough in Irkutsk through most hostels (not as if there are many) or through travel agents.

In terms of getting lost and dying in the wilderness, sure it's a possibility, but not a really dangerous one providing you are well prepared, know what you are doing, and somebody knows where you will be (roughly). bear in mind that there can still be lots of snow in April and temps can still low.

And I hope some of that is of use to you!

9. Posted by wendelin (Budding Member 10 posts) 9y

WOW.

That is useful advice, I'm printing this out and taking it with me! Gelli, I really owe you one.

10. Posted by Gelli (Travel Guru 2457 posts) 9y

Gelli, I really owe you one.

I accept suitcases of drugs money, manilla envelopes of non traceable bonds, bank transfers via the Caymans and most major credit cards (And i'm not fussy. They don't even have to be your own).

No problem. Glad it's of some use, and my apologies for not checking my typing properly before i posted it

If you have any further queries or more specific questions, feel free to ask or post them up.

[ Edit: Edited at Oct 12, 2006 9:26 AM by Gelli ]