On the verge of booking a trip from Beijing to St Petersburg...
Havent decided exactly how to go about it yet...
Im seriously thinking of booking a tour (not something i would normally do but organising visas and all sounds pretty daunting The Vodkatrain is one that has caught my eye so far...
Anybody got any tips??? Would you reccommend any tours... or should i go it alone??????????????????
Any help would be amazing thanks,
I have absolutely no experience with this, but I heard from a good friend who did the Trans Siberian recently, and he strongly recommended doing it as soon as possible, while there were still real (non tourist-package) trains riding. I don't know what experience you're looking for of course, but if it was me, I'd definitely put in the extra work needed to ride on the same train as the locals. (Note: the same friend told me some tales that makes me want to add this disclaimer: not for the faint of heart.)
[ Edit: Edited on Jul 18, 2007, at 3:06 AM by Sander ]
Certainly trying to visit Russia is a lot harder than trying to visit any other country I've been to, but it's not impossible. It does take a little bit of planning (as does China and Mongolia, both of which you'll need to get visas before hand for), but actually I found that being part of the charm of arranging the trip - kind of like you were already on vacation when sitting in the dull Russian consultate in Toronto.
I took a look at the VodkaTrain website, and basically I don't think they are providing you any more service for getting a visa than you would get independently. You still need to go to the consultate / embassy and apply. ("...received a completed booking form, full passport details, arrival/departure details, and notification of at which Embassy or Consulate you will be applying for the Russian visa."). Obvously, they'll probably figure out your departure and arrival dates for you, given when the tour leaves, but other than that, it's all the stuff you'd need to do independently.
Looking at the itinerary, it appears that they organize some stuff that like tours to the Mongolian steepe and Lake Baikal, which you'd obviously have to do on your own.
So, for prices, I would say that the itinerary with the stops would probably come to less than $US 250 - $US 300 dollars for the train tickets (Beijing - U.B., U.B. - Irkutsk, Irkutsk - Moscow, Moscow - St. Petersburg). You'd need to arrange your own hotels (3 nights Beijing, 1 night U.B., 1 night Irkutsk, 3 nights MOscow, 2 nights St. Petersburg) - say even at $40 - $50 a night that's still only $500. That leaves two tours - Lake Baikal and the Ger in Mongolia. Say $100 a day for those (that's a complete and total guess) is still $500. That's a total of $1300, versus the cost of the tour which comes in at $2300. Is the planning worth $1000?
(I took a guess at the prices of the tours, if anyone has done Lake Baikal / Mongolia steepe tours, please feel free to provide actual costs).
Finally, when I rode the train (independently), I ran into very few english speaking foreigners. If you do the tour, you'll have more english speaking company. That could either be a good thing or a bad thing depending on what your preference is.
For more stuff, check out Trans-Siberian entry from the destinations guide, and also the Man in Seat 61.
Having poked around a bit, I also came across a thread that might be of interest, especially seeing as resident expert Gelli posted some excellent advice in there: Trains in Russia, Mongolia and China advice.
If you can speak some Russian to be able to buy the tickets I'd think it'd be better to go independently, but when travelling independently getting a visa to Russia is a nightmare. For me to get my visa whilst travelling independently overland, I had to show a RTW ticket which had me flying out of Helsinki after I was going through Russia, so without some sort of proof such as that which shows you plan to leave Russia when you say you are, well you may have trouble getting the visa. Also do not leave it until the last minute to get the visa invitation and apply for the visa as they are dreadfully slow. To put it in to perspective as to just how slow they are, you can get an Indian Visa, Vietnam visa and Egyptian visa all in the same length of time that it took to get a Russian visa with the normal processing time.