Trans-Siberian and Trans-Mongolian Railway – My Travel Guide

by Gaetano
Trans-Siberian - Trans-Mongolian Railway

Perhaps only a few people know that the Trans-Siberian railway is the cheapest and fastest method for many local inhabitants to cover long distances. Asphalted roads do not abound in Siberia, and big cities are sometimes more than 1000 km apart. Yes, exactly, a thousand not a hundred.

So the train which for many Westerners represents a mythical journey, for most local travelers is nothing but a necessity.

A lot of people can’t believe that I have traveled through Siberia and Mongolia and that I have done everything myself, from the organization to the bookings. That’s not impossible, actually, it is easier to do than to say.

That being said, if you really want to plan a journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway (up to Vladivostok) or on the Trans-Siberian and Trans-Mongolian Railway (up to Beijing) do not get stuck in twisted reasoning, missing holidays or scarce money. Arm yourself with enthusiasm and start organizing it!

Below I put pen to paper some of the information, tips, and memories of my journey.


The trains

General information

As already mentioned, the Trans-Siberian Railway is not a tourist or luxury railway, like the Orient Express. It is a kind of standard rail line, which, however, covers a considerable distance (about 9000 km) and takes about 7 days to reach the destination.

All trains are numbered, and the general rule is: the higher the number, the older the train. But the numbers don’t say everything about the condition of the wagons, so you will know how the train is, only when it is in front of you.

The only difference between high and low numbered trains, in my experience, concerned the comfort and the power supplies. The mattresses of the older trains were a little less comfortable, and the newer trains sometimes had more sockets.

Personal experience: I chose the trains following only my timetables, rather than looking at the numbers. And it all worked out fine.

Trans-Siberian - Landscape from a train window

Trans-Siberian – Landscape from a train window


Speed

The trains travel around 75-100 km/h, and you quickly get used to their rocking on the tracks.


Schedule

Every day there are about 3-4 trains per direction. You can reach a city in the morning (for example after traveling at night), get off, visit the city, and then jump on the following train in the afternoon or in the evening.


Stops

The train makes over 150 stops, from 2 minutes until an hour or sometimes even more.

Most of the stops are short, but in big stations, you have enough time to get off, buy something or stretch your legs.

Personal experience: this beautiful lady was selling smoked fish and a sort of caviar dough.

Trans-Siberian - Fish seller

Trans-Siberian – Fish seller


Air-conditioning

The trains are supplied with air conditioning systems (in summer) and heating systems (in winter).


Staff

Each wagon has a provodnitsa (or provodnik if it is male, but it rarely happens). The provodnitsa takes care of the wagon, checks the tickets, brings you the bedsheets, keeps everything clean, etc.

The onboard staff will notify you if necessary (or wake you up if you sleep) between 40 and 60 minutes before arrival at your destination.

Personal experience: in the collective imagination, the provodnitsa is a sort of austere matron, who speaks aloud, does not say a word in English, and has grumpy ways. Actually…it is just like that! But believe me, they have a lot to do and a big responsibility: take care of an entire wagon from a to z!

In my opinion, try to be very kind to the staff, it works! Sometimes it was even funny to me. For example, to communicate with me, they typed grinning directly on my mobile phone translator. Or sometimes, when we got off the train, they said us goodbye with a smile.

In the Trans-Mongolian trains, I have seen male-only staff.

Trans-Siberian - Trans-Mongolian

Trans-Siberian – Trans-Mongolian


Classes and beds

As you can read everywhere, and for this reason, I don’t dwell too much, there are three classes, the higher the class, the more expensive the ticket. The third class is a 52-seater open sleeper, a sort of military dormitory. However, if you want to say that you have actually traveled on the Trans-Siberian Railway, you must have done at least a piece of the journey in 3rd class!

The second class is a 4-seater bunk bed wagon, and the first class is a two-seater bed wagon, with the addition of some extras (more sockets, digital screen, DVD player, etc.).

The second and third class beds are bunk beds, and the lower ones are absolutely more spacious. I recommend them, especially for those who are 170 cm upwards. It is customary, depending on the circumstances (chat, have a tea, etc.), to let the people on the upper beds sit on the lower ones.

Personal experience: I made the entire trip in the third class, and I haven’t regretted it at all! I have met a lot of people, mothers with children, local workers, foreign travelers, elders, etc. I even shared the wagon with an entire team of dancers between 7 and 13!

This description may seem like a nightmare to someone, but for me, it was the best part of the Trans-Siberian Railway! How would you feel if, instead of traveling comfortably and relaxed, you had to share your 4-seater bunk with people snoring like crazy?

I think that the enclosed space of a bunk amplifies each sound and smell, while the open sleeper softens them. Here the sound of the train mixes with human noises.

Trans-Siberian - Third class

Trans-Siberian – Third class


Safety

Trains are absolutely safe if you follow all common-sense rules, for example, not leaving money or valuables unattended for a long time. The local travelers were, in my opinion, very disciplined, maybe because they are used to traveling long distances.

Personal experience: during the first trips, I paid a lot of attention to where I put my wallet, documents, mobile phone, and other valuables. Anyway, I think that from the second night on the train, I didn’t think about them anymore. I slept peacefully with a mobile phone and wallets on the table next to my bed.


Services

Cups of tea

Cups of tea

Each wagon has at the two opposite ends at least one bathroom and the samovar (the hot water dispenser, beware that it is really hot). The beds at the ends of the wagon are therefore a little less comfortable: there is a lot of people coming and going.

If you don’t have your own teacup, you can ask the provodnitsa to give you one.

Personal experience: first, do not overfill the cup, the water is pretty hot, and you can add cold water from a bottle. Secondly, you will get burned if the water comes out of the cup because of a jolt or a curve!


Luggage

You can put your luggage under the lower beds (sometimes it is a closed compartment and to access it you have to lift it) or over the upper beds.

Personal experience: although we traveled with 2 big backpacks per person, and we were surely not the only ones, there were never any problems of space.


Life on the train

Getting in

Getting on the train is a proven ritual. If you made the tickets online, the provodnitsa asks you your passport number and checks your reservation. You can then get in, find your bed, store your bags, and wait for the train to leave.


Prepare for the trip

After departure, the provodnitsa brings you a sealed laundry bag containing two sheets, a pillow cover, and a towel. The blankets and pillows are already on the beds or in the small luggage compartments. It was late spring, and I never used the blankets, but I have seen someone using them.

Having received the bag, the first thing you do, no matter what time it is, is to put on comfortable clothes and prepare the bed.

It is very important to have a suit, or pajamas and slippers, and some tea bags in your luggage always at hand. Something to eat is essential, and sandwiches or freeze-dried foods are a good idea. The last ones are almost on sale everywhere and can be prepared immediately with the hot water from the samovar.

Personal experience: some travelers lie down almost immediately on their beds and sleep like a log, no matter what time it is. I have seen many people get in at 9 am, or even 1 pm, and sleep nearly all the way.

It may seem like laziness or unkindness towards other passengers, but there is a better explanation for this. Many Russians already travel hours and hours, or even whole days, to reach a Trans-Siberian station. And then they still travel on the Trans-Siberian Railway one, two or three days in a row. And then they maybe change on another train or bus, until they reach their final destination. Siberia is immense, the distances are enormous, and the people are tired.

Trans-Siberian - Third class

Trans-Siberian – Third class


The night on the train

Other accessories to be kept obligatory at hand are toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, and wet wipes. If you are a light sleeper, I also recommend earplugs and a light mask.

Usually, when it gets dark, the hustle and bustle of the toilets and the samovar end, and silence begins to fall.

Trans-Siberian - Night stop

Trans-Siberian – Night stop


The day on the train

Okay, the night is easy to describe, everybody sleeps. But how do the hours of the day pass by on the train?

Well, the simple answer would, of course, be reading a book, chatting, taking photos, playing cards, sleeping, and listening to music. All very true, so don’t forget to bring one or two books (or an e-book), headphones and a pack of cards. It’s all very light and not bulky stuff.

The less simple answer is: open your eyes like you never did, and look out the window!

I love to observe nature and landscapes, and Siberia never bored me. No wood was the same as the other, small villages passed by and disappeared in a flash. Sometimes you could only see an immense expanse of steppe that stretched to the horizon.

It is an unbelievable feeling to see up to the horizon from a train window. I only knew this from being in the middle of the sea.

Trans-Siberian - Landscape from a train window

Trans-Siberian – Landscape from a train window

Personal experience: Siberian summer days are very long, depending on the time zone, I think that the sunset is almost 11 pm and the sunrise before 5 am. In other words, looking out of a window, it is just late at night while looking out of the opposite window already dawns. Fantastic? Yes!

Speaking of time zone, keep in mind that you will change 4-5 of them depending on the route: from UTC + 3 of Moscow up to +10 of Vladivostok or + 8 of Beijing.

Trans-Siberian - Landscape from a train window

Trans-Siberian – Landscape from a train window


When to go

The Trans-Siberian Railway is a journey that can be done both in summer (the most popular period) and in winter.

In summer the days are very long, the landscape changes a little more, and at the stops, you can get off and stretch without freezing. Obviously, you have to expect fairly full trains.

In winter you can enjoy a snowy Siberia and a completely frozen Baikal lake. This is definitely a unique experience and, obviously, the trains are less full. However, the days are short and getting off the train to stretch your legs may not be the most pleasant thing, if you do it at Siberian temperatures.

Personal experience: in Siberia (but also in Mongolia and China), the summers are short but very hot. So I decided to avoid the high tourist season (July and August) and its temperatures. I was aware of the risk of having some rainy days.

I, therefore, left in late May and returned a month later in late June. Fortunately, I was lucky and had only one rainy day, but I didn’t care since it rained while I was traveling!

Trans-Siberian - Landscape from a train window

Trans-Siberian – Landscape from a train window


Choice of destination

The first decision to make is whether to follow the Trans-Siberian Railway route from Moscow to Vladivostok or to change on the Trans-Mongolian Railway up to Beijing.

According to some, the Trans-Siberian route, that goes from the Mongolian border to the Sea of Japan is rich in landscapes but less compelling. You can also travel a long stretch only at night and, finally, it has fewer cities that can be visited. For this reason, many travelers, myself included, change on the Trans-Mongolian Railway traveling through 3 Nations: Russia, Mongolia, and China.

Please note: the Trans-Mongolian Railway does not leave every day but passes through Ulaanbaatar (towards Beijing) only every Thursday and Sunday. During the high season (between June and October), there are also trains every Saturday.

The classic route starts in Moscow and goes from west to east. But you can also travel from east to west, from Vladivostok (or Beijing) to Moscow.

Trans-Siberian - Landscape from a train window

Trans-Siberian – Landscape from a train window


Itinerary

After passing the first mental block and choosing the destination, here we go to step two: the definition of the itinerary. In other words, where to stop and how long to stay.

Consideration number one: if you don’t have at least two weeks, it doesn’t make sense to make the whole Trans-Siberian Railway. The reason is simple: the route is 6-7 days of travel, and you probably want to visit the cities of arrival and departure. If you stop there for 2-3 days, the two weeks are already over. Basically, you traveled without stopping, and you didn’t see anything.

Trans-Siberian - Landscape from a train window

Trans-Siberian – Landscape from a train window

It took me about 2 weeks to define my itinerary. I mean two weeks working on it every now and then in my spare time. This was the first step of my workflow: make a list of cities or places along the route that other travelers recommend visiting.

Step two: I scrolled the list and googled place after place, looking for things to see, from monuments to points of interest, from churches to museums, etc.

The places that had the most things to see or that I simply liked the most entered the final list. It was, in the end, a mix of big cities (the three capitals Moscow, Ulaanbaatar, and Beijing), small towns, and natural parks (Stolby Nature Sanctuary, Lake Baikal, Terelj National Park and the Great Wall of China).

Here is my itinerary in detail:

Moscow

It is a very beautiful city, and I recommend staying at least 3 days.

Saint Basil's Cathedral

Saint Basil’s Cathedral


Nizhny Novgorod

It is a few hours by train from Moscow, I arrived here in the morning and left in the evening. The city can be visited in one day without having to stay overnight, but it is worth making a stop here.

Nizhny Novgorod - The confluence of the Oka and the Volga

Nizhny Novgorod – The confluence of the Oka and the Volga


Kazan

It is the Islamic center of Russia and is a lovely city. To reach Kazan from Nizhny Novgorod, you have to make a slight detour from the classic Trans-Siberian route, but it is absolutely worth it. Here too, I arrived in the morning and left in the evening.

Kul Sharif Mosque - Kazan Kremlin

Kul Sharif Mosque – Kazan Kremlin


Yekaterinburg

Between Kazan and Yekaterinburg, there is Perm. Some stop there instead of Yekaterinburg, others make both stops. Yekaterinburg is the geographical border between Europe and Asia, and you can visit it in one day without necessarily having to stay overnight. I liked more the cities I visited in the previous days, but this city has some points of interest that, in the end, make a stop here still pleasant. I got off the train in the morning and got back on the next train in the evening, without staying overnight.

Panorama view of Yekaterinburg from Vysotsky Skyscraper

Panorama view of Yekaterinburg from Vysotsky Skyscraper


Novosibirsk

Between Yekaterinburg and Novosibirsk, there is Omsk. Some stop there instead of Novosibirsk, others make both stops. Certainly, Novosibirsk was the less attractive city of the trip so far. However, it was almost an obligatory stop. It is 24 hours by train from Yekaterinburg, and I didn’t want to travel more days in a row in the Trans-Siberian Railway without ever getting off.

Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theater

Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theater


Krasnoyarsk and Stolby Nature Sanctuary

Krasnoyarsk is a small town that can be visited in a good half-day and, in my opinion, is more peaceful and graceful than Novosibirsk. The Stolby Nature Sanctuary, instead, is for nature lovers a real must. It is an immense wood from which funny shaped large rock formations emerge in scattered order. After visiting many cities, I think it is worth spending a whole day in the park.

Stolby Nature Sanctuary

Stolby Nature Sanctuary


Irkutsk

Thanks to its proximity to Lake Baikal, the city is from a tourist point of view well organized. There are several things to see, and it has a well-maintained city center. I recommend an overnight stay here, but you can visit it entirely on foot in about a half-day.

Triumphal Arch Moscow Gates

Triumphal Arch Moscow Gates


Lake Baikal and Olkhon Island

The lake is not far from Irkutsk (about half an hour), and from here several tours can be done according to the interests and time you have.

Olkhon Island is located in the middle of the lake and can be reached with a 4-5 hour drive by car. For this reason, a day trip isn’t recommended since you will spend most of the time in the car.

The landscapes all around the lake are amazing, and the whole surrounding area is absolutely worth a 2-4 day visit. It would be a shame to make such a long journey to get here, and then pack and leave.

Lake Baikal - Shaman Rock

Lake Baikal – Shaman Rock


Ulan-Ude

It is the last city before crossing the border with Mongolia. I was a few hours here, I arrived at dawn around five in the morning, and I only had the time to do a long tour with both backpacks on my shoulder. Starting from the central station up to the bus station. I did, however, pass through all the main places of interest.

Why did I go from the central station to the bus station? Because it is possible to cross the border between Russia and Mongolia both by train and by bus (it leaves at 7.30 every day) and I chose the bus.

The train is perhaps the most comfortable way to reach Mongolia, but you wast more time for the passport checks, some even say 6-7 hours or more. The bus is not so comfortable because the road, especially in Mongolia, is not very good (curves, holes, and crazy drivers). On the other hand, both border checks are quickly done (about two hours).

Odigitrievsky Cathedral - Ulan Ude

Odigitrievsky Cathedral – Ulan Ude


Ulaanbaatar

I am sorry to say this because Mongolia and Mongolians are absolutely genuine, but their capital is indeed a chaotic city.

The tourist is welcomed by a large number of skyscrapers, only partially finished, crazy traffic, and a lot of dust.

All points of interest must be carefully searched on the map. Unfortunately, the lack of a subway and the summer temperatures (there were 40 °) make some of them quite impossible to reach. For this reason, after a quick city tour, I recommend going to the Terelj National Park and spend your time there.

Mongolia clearly requires a separate journey and not just a stop along the Trans-Mongolian Railway. It is a Nation with incredible landscapes and where a large part of the population lives nomads in traditional tents. The best thing to do is to stay a week or more and go around with a nomadic family.

Street Life - Mongolian traditional clothes

Street Life – Mongolian traditional clothes


Datong

There is no direct train from Ulaanbaatar to Datong, you have to change in Jining (Ulaan Chab). It is a detour but, if you have time, it is a must. The Yungang Grottoes and the Hanging Temple are the two big wonders near Datong you should not miss.

Datong - Pagoda

Datong – Pagoda


Beijing and the Great Wall of China

Beijing, with its dizzying mix of ancient and modern, was for me incredibly fascinating. I recommend staying here at least four days, of which at least one to spend visiting the Great Wall of China.

Temple of Heaven

Temple of Heaven


The following table shows my itinerary, day by day, hour by hour. Sometimes, to make the table easier to understand, I have rounded the times a little bit.

I stayed in Ulan Ude and Jining only a few hours, both were change stations. The excursions are colored in green, the train/bus travels in red, and the stays in the cities in blue. If a train trip goes over 2 days, it means that I spent the night on the train. For the rest of the nights, I booked a hotel.

Trans-Siberian & Trans-Mongolian Railway Roadmap

Trans-Siberian & Trans-Mongolian Railway Roadmap

Trans-Siberian - Landscape from a train window

Trans-Siberian – Landscape from a train window


Reservations

If travel planning is perhaps the most compelling part of the organization, the operational part (making reservations) is maybe the one that scares you most.

There are actually only two options for booking the Trans-Siberian & Trans-Mongolian Railway.

The first is to go to a travel agency and let them organize and book the travel for you. Obviously, the journey will be much more expensive, maybe triple the price.

The second is to do everything by yourself, and this was my option. My modus operandi was pretty simple.

Trans-Siberian - Landscape from a train window

Trans-Siberian – Landscape from a train window

Planning

Since I had no unlimited holidays, I planned my journey day-to-day in my spare time, as shown in the table above.


Flight Booking

First of all, I booked the flight to Moscow for the first day of vacation and then the return flight from Beijing.


Train Ticket Reservations (Russia)

Russian Railway Website

Russian Railway Website

Secondly, I booked all the trains of the Trans-Siberian Railway in one fell swoop directly on the Russian Railways website. First of all, you have to register on the site, then choose the departure station, the destination, and the travel date (in the example below a sample booking from Moscow to Kazan for the 2nd of October, 2019). The search will return you a list of trains: The screenshot shows on the right side the train classes with the relative price. At this point, selecting your preference will open the list of coaches with the related services included. The last step is to choose the wagon and your seat/bed, and finally, go to the checkout.

Russian Railway Website

Russian Railway Website

Warning: tickets are available between 30 and 60 days before departure. You cannot buy a ticket in January to leave in July.


Crossing the border between Russia and Mongolia

Thirdly, I booked the bus ticket from Ulan Ude to Ulaanbaatar. I used a Russian travel agency, this is the link. If you search on the internet, several agencies offer this service upon payment of a small commission.

Making a reservation on-site can be dangerous because the bus could already be full.

Warning: the ticket can be booked up to one month before departure.

As already mentioned, it is also possible to cross the border by train. In this case, you can buy the ticket to Ulaanbaatar (if you want to stay here a few days) or to Beijing directly on the Russian Railways website.

Gorkhi-Terelj National Park

Gorkhi-Terelj National Park


Crossing the border between Mongolia and Cina

I then booked the train ticket from Ulaanbaatar to Jining (another name: Ulaan Chab) via this agency.

Warning: remember that not every day there is a train to Beijing, and the tickets are available in Mongolia only one day before departure.

For this reason, I booked them via a travel agency that maybe has contingent seats and was able to confirm the booking earlier.

At this point, if you do not make any intermediate stops from Mongolia (or from Russia) to China, then you have already booked the whole trip to Beijing. You only need to book hotels and excursions (if you want to do some of them).

Gobi Desert

Gobi Desert


Train Ticket Reservations (China)

On the route to Beijing, I made a detour and stopped in Datong. For this reason, I also had to buy two China train tickets.

The China Railways website (if you find it) is probably monolingual and does not accept foreign credit cards. For this reason, I booked them using a local travel agency, they were remarkably fast and professional. Upon payment of a small commission, they do everything for you. They also send you confirmation by e-mail and the instructions to collect the tickets at the station.


Hotel Reservations

Having done all flights, trains, and bus reservations, I started booking the hotels. For convenience, I made all reservations on www.booking.com. It’s easy, fast, and cheap.

My itinerary included 4 nights in Moscow, 1 night in Novosibirsk, 1 night in Krasnoyarsk, 1 night in Irkutsk, 3 nights in Ulaanbaatar, 1 night in Datong and 4 nights in Beijing. I spent the rest of the nights on the train and on Olkhon Island.


Excursions

Lastly, I booked the following excursions:
▶ Full-Day Tour to Stolby Nature Sanctuary with this travel agency;
▶ Two-day Tour to Lake Baikal and Olkhon Island with this travel agency.
▶ The excursions in Datong (Yungang Grottoes and Hanging Temple) can be organized on the fly with a taxi driver as soon as you arrive in the city. This post explains in detail how it works.
▶ I booked the tour to the Great Wall of China directly in Beijing. The reason is simple: even if you can do it in advance (there are plenty of trips, just search online), I preferred to check the weather first and then book it. If you have, like me, several days for visiting Beijing, this should be the best option.

Hard to believe, but to book 2 flights, a dozen trains, 7 hotels, and 3 excursions, it took me less time than to write this paragraph. It really is easier to do than to say.

Great Wall of China

Great Wall of China


What to do before leaving

The things to do before departure are few and simple, but you have to keep an eye on them. I am not talking about the visas, there are a couple of things you should think about.

Visas

A visa generally lasts a maximum of 3 months, and you need some documents to request it, for example, flight and/or hotel reservations.

So first you need to make the reservations or at least some of them, and then (I would say starting from about 6 weeks before departure) you can apply for the visas.

I recommend you google for “visa for Russia/Mongolia/China”, and you will find all the necessary information. I did so.

There are mainly two ways to apply for a visa:

  1. you do it in person (if you live in a city where there is an embassy or consulate of the country you wish to enter) or by post;
  2. you go to a visa agency (usually their fee ranges from 20 to 30 Euros).

I did it both ways: I relied on two visa agencies for my applications for Russia and China. Since they were asking for less documentation, I went to the Mongolian Embassy and applied for the visa directly there.


Travel Insurance

We can argue for hours if when you make a long trip like this, it is wort or not making travel insurance. On the internet, you can find everything and its opposite. I did it and I don’t regret it. The chance of having to use it is really remote, but why take the risk?

You can make travel insurance in two ways:

  1. you make it online. The most popular services are World Nomads, Allianz, Columbus Assicurazioni, and Europ Assistance, just to name a few. The disadvantage is that they are more expensive, compared to the second option, which has worked very well for me.
  2. Talk to your insurance company (if you have one, but pretty everybody has insurance on the car, house, bike, etc.). I first applied for an online quote (option 1), and then I called my insurance. I asked them if they had a similar product and if they could beat the online quote. They offered me the same travel insurance 40 Euros cheaper.

Cash card, credit card, cash

Maybe not everyone thinks about it: nowadays, you can have your cash card disabled for having made a withdrawal while traveling. The operation was probably done in a remote location, and the bank precautionary disabled the card. I could use my online banking to disable the geolocalized control on the cash card and recommend you do the same or at least ask your bank to do it for you.


SIM Cards

I researched the local telecom companies before leaving and bought in each country a SIM card.

It was always easy to communicate with the hotels and with my travel companions, as well as check departure and arrival times, find addresses, restaurants, etc. The roaming costs are, in this case, impossible to afford.

I bought a SIM card directly at the Moscow airport. The most popular companies are MegaFon, MTS, Beeline, and Tele2. There are stands everywhere and you don’t even have to enter a shop.

In Ulaanbaatar, I bought the SIM card in the first shopping center I came across. The most popular companies are Mobicom and Unitel. I used a Unitel SIM, and it worked great. Same in China (the three telecom companies are China Mobile, Unicom, and China Telecom). Here I used a Unicom SIM card.


Useful Mobile Apps

Maps.Me -> Offline Maps

Android Download  – iPhone Download

I don’t think it is necessary to explain why you need offline maps on a journey like this. Google Maps gives the ability to download them, but it is banned in China. So to avoid changing the applications and downloading the maps here and there, I recommend doing everything with this app that has guided me throughout the whole trip.

Download the app, and from your home WI-FI, move the map on the places you are going to visit. A pop up asks you if you want to download the related offline map, and you clearly confirm. In the end, you will have all the maps available offline. You can then search your points of interest (hotels, train stations, monuments, etc.), and with a click on the bookmark icon, you can also save them offline.

Maps.Me

Maps.Me


XE Converter -> Currency Converter

XE Converter

XE Converter

Android Download  – iPhone Download

Choose the currencies you will need and bookmark them.

If necessary, enter an amount and find the price in all the currencies you have just chosen:

  • Euro
  • Ruble (Russia)
  • Tugrik (Mongolia)
  • Yuan (China).

ExpressVPN -> Virtual Private Network

Android Download  – iPhone Download

Consider that google services, all social networks, and many news sites are banned in China. So you have no Gmail, no google maps, no Facebook, no Instagram, etc.

WhatsApp is an exception, but it only works for text messages, the attachments are blocked.

ExpressVPN requires a subscription (about ten euros for a month) but gives the chance of using the VPN on 3 devices. Very useful if you are traveling as a couple or with friends.

Very important: configure and test the app before leaving and not after. You find the instructions directly on the developer’s website.


Google Translate -> Online and offline translator

Android Download  – iPhone Download

It will be one of the applications that you will use the most. The most important thing to do is download the three languages (Russian, Mongolian and Chinese) for offline use. And that’s it.

google Translate

google Translate


Russian Railways “RZD Pass”

Android Download  – iPhone Download

Very helpful, you find here all the trains, your e-tickets, the routes, the timetables, the stops, etc.

RZD Pass

RZD Pass


Vaccine

They are not needed, and it seems to me that even ministries do not suggest any.

The only thing to say is that the Stolby Nature Sanctuary is notorious for the impressive number of ticks, or so they say. If you make a tour with a guide, he will even show you how to find them with the naked eye.

The positive thing is that, despite everything, the visit to the park follows paths that are tick-free. For this reason, it’s up to you to decide if to get vaccinated or not.


Things that should be in your backpack

Given that, of course, everyone has their own wardrobe and that the things you should take with you also depend on what you want to do on the road (excursions, yes or no? How many?). Here are some of my tips.

I had two backpacks with me, a big one and a small one. In the small one, there was everything that goes under the broad category of technology stuff. For example, e-book reader, headphones, DSLR camera, lenses, chargers, cables, battery packs, electric razor, etc. This backpack was always with me.

The big backpack contained everything else: from clothing to shoes, from bathroom accessories to things to eat and drink.

Although I have been traveling for a month, I took with me the clothing to wear for a maximum of 2 weeks. Below, you will find out why.

In this backpack there were:

  • Three pairs of trousers. Two of which were outdoors trousers, with the zipper to shorten them at the knee, and only one pair of jeans. I preferred outdoor pants because they are light, comfortable, and I also had several excursions planned.
  • A dozen T-shirts, one-third of which also for the outdoors (they were just running shirts).
  • Underwear for two weeks, including 2-3 pairs of sports socks (for hiking).
  • Two pairs of shoes: sneakers (comfortable and light for the city tours) and trekking shoes (to be used for the excursions: Stolby Nature Sanctuary, Teralj National Park, and the Great Wall of China).
  • One pair of slippers and pajamas (or a tracksuit or similar).
  • A sweater (maximum two). One was more than enough for me, I put it on only a couple of times in the evening.
  • An anorak. I didn’t use it much because it was pretty hot, especially in the last 2 weeks. But you never know how the weather will be.

Obviously, everything you need most often should always be kept at hand. I am thinking about things like a razor, toothbrush, toothpaste, slippers, pajamas (or comfortable clothing), as well as water, sandwiches, reservations, etc. Even if you put your luggage under the bed, it takes just a few seconds to pick what you need and put everything back in place.

Keep these two things in mind:

  1. regardless of the weight of your (big) backpack, you can leave it in the luggage storage. Every train station has one. When you make a stop and go for a city tour, you don’t need to take everything with you.
  2. It doesn’t make sense to bring a lot of clothes with you if you can have them washed in any express laundry service.
Laundry Service - Ulaanbaatar

Laundry Service – Ulaanbaatar

Some accessories that can be useful:

  • Earplugs and light mask.
  • Crossbody Sling Bag (to safely hold cash and documents).
  • Toilet paper, wet wipes, soap.
  • Picture dictionary. Useful if you cannot make yourself understood using the mobile phone translator.
  • Pharmaceutical. Maybe an antiallergic, an aspirin, something against headaches, stomachache, etc. Bring those you might need.

Who should make this trip and who should avoid it

Are you among those who need many hours of deep sleep? Or among those who will never get off of the train without being perfectly styled? Or among those who won’t enter the toilet without a cigarette?

The list could be longer, if you recognize yourself in one of these situations, forget it, and book a deckchair on a beach.

Do you enjoy exploration and discovery? Is every chance good to make new friends? Do you love observing the world?

This list could be longer as well. But if your answers are mostly yes, then do not hesitate for a moment and start organizing this trip. It will be an unforgettable experience!

Lake Baikal - Landscape

Lake Baikal – Landscape


Times required for organizing

This was my roadmap:

  • Two weeks in my free time to define the itinerary, the places to visit, to check all points of interest, hotels, train stations, a few restaurants, etc.
  • Half-day to make all reservations (remember that it is possible to book the trains only 45-60 days before departure).
  • About three weeks for visas (I started asking for them about 6 weeks before departure, a few days after making reservations).
  • I used the last three weeks before my flight to Moscow to purchase some travel accessories, to prepare the backpacks, to check travel insurance, etc.

How much the Trans-Siberian & the Trans-Mongolian Railway cost

The total cost obviously depends on the class of your tickets, the number of stops, how many days and nights you spend in the hotels, the number of excursions you plan and so on.

One thing to keep in mind is that in Asia, the cost of living, transportation, restaurants, and services is quite low.

But in the end, how much was this trip? Answer: about 2,000 Euros (in 2019).

Here some more detailed information:

  • The outbound flight to Moscow was 130 Euros.
  • The return flight from Beijing was 550 Euros (I took Emirates, Aeroflot was only 320 Euros).
  • The trains tickets (about ten) from Moscow to Beijing and the bus from Ulan Ude to Ulaanbaatar cost a total of 380 Euros.
  • All the excursions cost me a total of 350 Euros (two full days at Lake Baikal, a full day on the Chinese Wall, etc.).
  • The three visas cost me around 250 Euros.

Hotels or hostels must be added to the list above. It depends on where you want to stay and how much you want to spend.

At this point, I just have to wish you a great journey!

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