Posted by: rob | June 12, 2007

Surviving the Trans-Siberian train

We’ve done it! Or a good portion of it. To get from London to Beijing on public transport you

  1. Catch the number 76 bus from Moorgate to Waterloo (20 minutes)
  2. Eurostar from London to Brussels, Belgium (2h20m)
  3. Thalys train from Brussels to Cologne, Germany (2h50m)
  4. Jan Kiepura sleeper from Cologne to Moscow (34h – 2 nights)
  5. Trans Siberian/Mongolian #6 from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia (102h – 5 nights)
  6. Trans Mongolian #24 from Ulaanbaatar to Beijing (30h – 1 night)

Currently we are in Ulaanbaatar and have spent 7 of the last 8 nights on trains. The trans-siberian is one of the worlds great train rides. Strictly speaking, the transsib is the network of railways spanning across Siberia rather than any one train in particular. We left Moscow from Yaroslavsky station which must rank as one of the dodgiest stations on the planet at first glimpse, but in the end it was safe enough but certainly an eye opener. It just didn’t look it. Our train, the number 6, is known as the Mongolian traders train as a good 2/3 or more of the passengers are – you guessed it – Mongolian traders.

The train stops every hour or few and at most of the stops the train converts into a massive department store open for 15 minutes. For sale: Shoes, shirts, jeans, umbrellas, tracksuits, almost any article of clothing you can think of. Locals from siberian villages turn up for this weekly bonanza of cheap imports. With only 15 minutes to buy, the platform is hectic approaching mayhem, In reverse, the locals at the station stops ply their wares back to us, mainly in the form of food and groceries. Cured sausages and dried fish are the staples, but there is plenty of fresh fruit and bread for sale too. Even as the train begins to pull away sales are finalising and we all sprint to jump on the crawling train. This routine plays itself out every few hours. On the train food can be bought from the restaurant car (‘PECTOPAH’ in Cyrillic). Run by a stern looking russian with grey moustache, you poin at the food you want and he tells you the price. If you bill is too big, he gives peanuts for change. Literally. But most of what you eat is what you bring along with you. Lots of noodles, sultanas, porridge, fresh fruit, coffee, rice. All this cooked in our trusty Thermos.

I had read that the scenery was rather boring and kilometre after kilometre of silver birch trees, but we had a diffierent opinion. Every day the scenery was very different. Flay and dry one day, hilly and lakes the next. I never got tired of looking at the Siberian villages. Pictures to follow when we bring the right cable!

Each train carriage is looked after by a Provodnik/Provodnitsa, the car begins to resemble a B&B after a while. She vacuums, offers tea, cleans windows, makes sure we get back on the train. Most importantly she stokes the endless supply of hot water (the samovar) and ensures the toilet at least looks and smells clean. You get to know your fellow travellers. We had several Mongolian traders, Belgians, Dutch, Swedish, and Germans. Contrary to other reports I’d read, power sockets exist in the corridoor that are easy to use abd dont require bribing the provodnitsa.

The beds are comfortable and we managed to get 8 hours sleep most nights.. Some station stops in the night are rowdy, especially the russians barking train orders over the loudspeakers, but its not such a big deal. The only other downside is the border control to cross from Russia to Mongolia which took 8 hours. Again, this was less painful than I had expected as toilets outside were mostly available.

All in all it was an excellent experience and highly recommended to anyone. Its never boring and usually relaxing. There are few train rides where you can board clean shaven and leave with a healthy beard.

-rob

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Responses

  1. Hi! I read your article with great interest. Ive just finished a 9 month stint in thailand. i plan to go back in september…today a friend of mine said you can get the train from uk to thailand…what an adventure! I’m just looking but it’d be great if i could do it.

    your articles are well written and not rambling, very interesting!

  2. great adventure,how do me and my mate do it? cheers

  3. Heya guys sounds like an awesome adventure I’m keen to try it myself i was wondering if you could help by giving me some idea of the cost involved, cheers

  4. Hi Guys – so, roughly how much have you paid for the trains so far from UK to Beijing? and how much more to get from Beijing to Thailand?
    Steve

  5. Hey, I’m just wondering how much did this journey actually cost?

  6. What’s the price for this journey and is it save ? Where to book this. pls reply. Thks. kindly regards

  7. Hello.
    I really like your article. We actually plan for traveling from bangkok to London on Transaction-Siberian as you have done but some hesitation is still there.

    Is it possible that I can contact you on your personal email to ask questions.
    Thank you.

  8. How much did this trip cost ??


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