The main Trans-Siberian route starts in Moscow and terminates in Vladivostok (Far East, the shore of Pacific Ocean). In all, the route is 9288.2 kilometres long.
Soon after Ulan-Ude (Eastern Siberia, 5609 km of the railway), the Trans-Siberian route splits into three parts:
1) The Trans-Siberian itself (continues to the East through Chita and Khabarovsk to Vladivostok)
2) The Trans-Mongolian (continues to the South through Ulan-Bator in Mongolia to Beijing in China)
3) The Trans-Manchurian (the route continues to the South-East around Mongolia to China, passing Chita in Russia, then Harbin onward to Beijing in China)
In Ulan-Ude the Trans-Siberian splits into two directions: to the south through Gusinoye Ozero, Djida, Naushki (Russia) to Ulan-Bator (Mongolia) to Beijing China) – this is the Trans-Mongolian route, and to the east through Chita to Vladivostok – still called the Trans-Siberian.
Just 100 km after Chita (in Karymskaya) the Trans-Siberian splits into two routes: one route goes to the east to Vladivostok, while the other goes to the south through Manchuria to China – this is the Trans-Manchurian route.
RAIL TRAVEL FROM BEIJING TO MOSCOW
Departures from Beijing to Mongolia are on Train #23 which terminates in Ulan Bator.
On the other hand, Train #3 from Beijing to Irkutsk or to Moscow departs every Wednesday morning. Passengers cannot board Train #3 for the relatively short trip from Beijing to Ulan Bator.
MEALS ON THE TRAIN
Variety and quality of food have increased in the last few years – some people even know what a vegetarian is these days. Plenty of food is available during the train journey, from platforms at train stops, and, apart from the train between Ulan Bator and Irkutsk, the dining cars are usually well stocked and don’t run out of food, contrary to popular belief. Fruit is available most of the year and so is bottled water. The availability of noodless is worth a mention, since this type of food can be bought along the whole route.
Food on the train is not included in rail ticket prices. A meal in the dining car will cost approximately US$10-US$20. Cheaper food is available from the larger platforms along the way, so it is possible to eat quite cheaply during travel. The dining cars on the train have fairly standard food, and are run by the country they are travelling through, so travellers experience the local food and menu of each country.
In Russia the service is most often contracted out to catering companies and so the standard of food and service can vary between trains.
In Mongolia, there is a strong emphasis on tourism and the dining car has somewhat decent service standards and consistent quality, although there are sometimes reports of high prices and over-charging on the tourist menu occasionally.
There is a huge train infrastructure in China and dining cars provide cheap and consistent average Chinese food. This is the same on the international trains you will take from the Chinese border to Beijing.
The menu in the dining car remains pretty much the same through the day and so eating once or twice a day in the dining car tends to be enough. Simple local food can be purchased on the platforms, but it is a good idea to stock up on extra supplies so that a picnic style meal may be prepared with bread, smoked ham and cheese, mustard, fruit, snacks, chocolate and so on. Beer, bottled water, pot noodles and the like can be easily bought along the whole route.
It is also common to re-stock fresh bread and smoked meats at markets at each stop-over and often on the platform kiosks as well. You can also buy more interesting produce such as caviar, smoked herring and fresh salad at local markets in Ulan Bator and Irkutsk.
If passengers are travelling from Moscow to Beijing, then a visit to the Eliseeevsky Delicatessen on Tverskaya-ul in Moscow is a great source for goodies as well as a remarkable sight itself, as one of the oldest shops in Moscow.
Local Russian or Mongolian vodkas range approximately US$5 to US$50+ per bottle.
SAFETY FOR SINGLE TRAVELLERS
Safety is never a guarantee, however in general, travel in either direction from Moscow to Beijing or vice versa, appears to have been quite safe, particularly in the last few years.
In reality, a lone traveller is hardly ever on his or her own as there is always a fair number of other travellers on the train. The trains used to have a bad reputation back in the early 90s and this is hard to get rid of. However, in more recent times, it seems that safety on the Trans Siberian has not been an issue.
In some cases, women travelling alone prefer to be in a second class compartment rather than in a private compartment with strangers.
There are two conductors for each carriage who are responsible for the well being of passengers.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN 1ST & 2ND CLASS COMPARTMENTS
A standard second class compartment has four comfortable berths with 36 people in each carriage. There are communal toilets and wash-basin at both ends of each carriage.
In first class there are just two berths per cabin with a table in between the two berths. There are only 18 beds in each carriage, the toilet facilities are the same. On Train #3 and Chinese Train #23 out of Beijing, there is also a first class deluxe carriage, with a shower room shared between two cabins.
Second class tends to be very social with cabin doors left open during the day and people chatting in the corridors, whereas in first class there is a little more space in the cabin and so travellers tend to keep the door closed.
The advantage of first class rail apart from the extra privacy if you are travelling as a couple, will be less queues for the toilet in the morning and closer proximity to the dining car! In first class compartments, a passenger may buy both tickets if they wish to have the compartment to themselves.
USE OF TOILETS & WASHROOMS
All the carriages on the trains have a similar set-up, whether in first or second class. There are toilets and washrooms at the end of each carriage with western style toilets and a sink with hot and cold water.
If the water is not warm enough, there is a samovar with boiling water on each carriage for the use of travellers. In first class these toilets are shared with nine cabins (so possibly 18 people), and in second class there are nine cabins with a possible 36 people.
Chinese Train #23 and Train #3 in Deluxe Class have a different look. There are two bunk beds on one side, a sofa on the other and a shower cabin that is shared with another compartment. More space is available than in the other classes. The showers have to be paid for and the water pressure is low.
It is recommended that bottled water be used for washing and brushing one’s teeth.
A relatively new development on some Russian trains such as Train #9/10 and #1/7 is a special carriage that has shower facilities and some computers for Internet access. However, there have been mixed reports about these facilities ranging from “yes they do exist but don’t work” to “searched the train from end to end and couldn’t find them.”
AMOUNT & TYPE OF CURRENCY IN RUSSIA
US Dollars and the Russian Rouble are readily accepted in Russia. As a rough guide people spend an average of US$15-US$25 a day on the train. The main factor is likely to be the passengers’ level of consumption of alcohol and souvenir requirement!
Moscow and St Petersburg are generally more expensive, and a good arrangement would be for accommodation with breakfast to be paid for in advance. A bare minimum would really be A$50 a day.
In both these cities transport on the metro is cheaper but the cost of getting into the sights as well as eating out are almost the same as neighbouring European / North American levels…. Not cheap! Crisp and new (post 1996) US dollar bills are still very much king.
Almost all destinations have ATMs these days and in Moscow and St. Petersburg credit cards acceptance is widespread.
It is always best to use the local currencies if possible. Mongolia has become a good place to both convert your excess Chinese money and to also secure some Russian Roubles for Russia. Otherwise the borders have banks which exchange money at a rate which may be higher than expected.
SLEEPING BAGS FOR RAIL TRAVEL
There is no need for passengers to bring their own sleeping bag unless they have booked camping and trekking options at Lake Baikal or elsewhere. However, some people prefer their own sleeping facilities on the train as opposed to the bedding supplied by the conductors, although passengers are supplied with clean and fresh linen on the train. A small hand towel may be useful however.
ELECTRICITY ON THE TRAIN & FACILITY TO CHARGE APPLIANCES
On the trains there is normally a wall plug on the corridor (so the provodnitsa or cleaners can vacuum the carpet), and in first class there may be a plug in the cabin. Electricity is 220 v AC voltage. However, to use this, travellers will need a European type power plug with two round pins (similar to the two pin round plug in China as well).
It is worth mentioning however, that often the power on the train is switched off and there have been reports of entrepreneurial conductors charging portable devices in their cabin overnight, for a price.
BOOKING RAIL RESERVATIONS ON THE TRANS SIBERIAN
It is recommended that a booking be made a minimum of at least seven to eight weeks in advance, even further ahead of six weeks, during the peak summer months.
Pre-booking means there is more chance of travelling on preferred dates, and also provides the time to do advance applications for Russian, Mongolian and Chinese Visas, if necessary. It is best to book well in advance, especially if travellers wish to travel in a first 1st class compartment.
AVAILABILITY OF BEDS ON THE TRAIN DURING PEAK SEASON
This is yet another good reason to pre-book! The summer period from June to August is the busiest time on the Trans-Siberian for both locals and tourists and so it cannot be stressed enough that tickets may often be difficult to obtain. Therefore it is strongly recommended that bookings be made as early in advance as possible to ensure ticket reservation. Nothing is ever guaranteed however, and unfortunately there are occasions when, even after early bookings, there have been sudden changes to bookings, usually caused at the Russian end, over which there is no control.
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL ON THE TRANS SIBERIAN
There really is no “best time”. Late April/early May usually sees the thaw well underway across Mongolia and Siberia, with the ice breaking up on Lake Baikal around the beginning of May. This is when the local people issue a long sigh of relief that the winter is over and the countryside starts to come alive.
Summer is the peak season and the weather is warm with a good deal of sunshine. There are never really hordes of tourists but insects can be a problem. The days are long and the locals make the most of this with life being very much outdoor orientated. It is advisable to book well in advance for tickets at this time.
Autumn is a beautiful time, especially with all the colours around the end of September. The weather is great during the day but at night the first signs of winter can be felt as the thermometer plunges.
Winter is the least visited season but, many argue, the most beautiful. Siberia actually looks just the way that people imagine it with the landscape blanketed in snow, and by the New Year, Lake Baikal and most rivers are frozen solid. However, the locals know how to keep warm and everything, from the inside of ger camps to the train cabins, is usually well heated.
It is definitely worth travelling during the winter months as Siberia puts on its best show during this time with it’s wonderland snows caps! Although it can reach minus 20° in Siberia, this is not a real problem unless travellers are not sufficient clad and spend lengthy time outdoors. The trains themselves are kept warm and the locals know how to stay comfortable and keep travellers warm with lots of food, hot banyas (saunas), log fires and warm clothes!
There are excellent winter activities to choose from in Ekaterinburg and Lake Baikal (dog sledging, ice fishing, skiing). It is also a great experience to spend a night or two in the solitude of a ger camp in the winter surrounded by snow and little else!
HOTEL ACCOMMODATION IN MOSCOW AND IN ST. PETERSBURG
Unfortunately, Moscow and St. Petersburg are not cheap for hotel accommodation, as popular myth would have travellers believe In fact, in 2006 Moscow was rated as the most expensive city to live in! However, it is important to know that the advantages of staying in a reputable hotel far outweigh the risks often associated with staying in a cheap “economical” place in Russia.
Currently, hotels in the dead centre of town are all being classed as 4* hotels and charging more, even if they lack the facilities. These details need to be determined prior to the passenger’s travel.
VISA REQUIREMENTS IN RUSSIA
It is important that travellers depart from Russia prior to or on the same date of the expiry date of their visa. The days of cheap and easy extensions are long gone, and fines at the border can be very harsh for those who overstay (more than US$ 200!!), with delays and sometimes arrests being made for unsuspecting and unknowledgeable travellers.
GETTING OFF THE TRAIN AND RE-JOINING IT LATER
The Trans Siberian route does not offer ‘Euro-pass’ style tickets. All reservations are made for specific train and dates. Rail tours are set trips which don’t allow any kind of spontaneous side-trips! If passengers disembark from the train, they then forfeit the reservation for that part of their ticket and any guides and services that may have been booked further along the route will be wasted.
Additionally, passengers’ visas must be registered in each city, and if they don’t have the appropriate date stamps on their visa, to account for the time that they have been in Russia, they will be delayed, questions will be asked, and serious action may be taken by authorities.
TIME ZONE DIFFERENCES
The departure and arrival time for almost all trains in Russia are provided with Moscow time, not local time for the departing/arriving city. This means that depending where the traveller is in Russia, timings may vary by up to 8 hours from local time! Therefore conversion of Moscow time to local time is an important point for travellers to take into account when planning their itinerary.
It is also important to note that many hotels and apartments have set check in or check out times, usually around midday. So, if for example, a traveller is taking the midnight train from Moscow for St. Petersburg, the Moscow hotel that the traveller is staying in may require him/her to check out up to twelve hours before train departure time from Moscow, and at the other end in St. Petersburg, there could be a need to wait up to six hours before check in on rail arrival into St. Petersburg in the early hours of the morning.
In such cases, some hotels offer the option of either booking the hotel or apartment for a half day, allowing early check in or late check out, or availability to store luggage in an area in the hotel before check in time.
FINDING THE CORRECT TRAIN & TRAIN STATIONS IN MOSCOW
Moscow has eight major train stations and all have a local metro connection from the circle line. Travellers who are arriving at or leaving Russia on an international train will need to go through passport control and customs when crossing the border, not at the train station. The stations are:
Belorussky Station, 7 Tverskaya Zastava Ploschad
Phone: (495) 251 6093 & (495) 973 8191
Serves Kalliningrad, Lithuania, Belarus, Poland, Germany, Czech Republic and some trains to Latvia
Metro is: Belorusskaya
Kazansky Station, 2 Komsomolskaya Ploschad
Phone: (495) 264 6556
Serves Central Asia, Ryzan, Ufa, Samara and Novorossiisk
Metro is: Komsomolskaya
Kievsky Station, Ploschad Kievskogo Vokzala
Phone: (495) 240 1115 & (495) 240 0415
Serves Western Ukraine and South Eastern Europe
Metro is: Kievskaya
Kursky Station, 29 Ulitsa Zemlyanoi Val
Phone: (495) 916 2003 & (495) 917 3152
Serves Southern Russia, Caucasus countries, Eastern Ukraine and Crimea
Metro is: Kurskaya
Leningradsky Station, 3 Komsomolskaya Ploschchad
Phone: (495) 262 9143
Serves Estonia, Finland, St. Petersburg and North Western Russia
Metro is: Komsomolskaya
Paveletsky Station, 1 Pavletskaya Ploschad
Phone: (495) 235 0522/6807/1920/4109
Serves Voronezh, Tambov, Volgograd and Astrakhan
Metro is: Pavletskaya
Savyolovsky Station, 1 Ploschad Savyolovskogo Vokzala
Phone: (495) 285 9005
Serves Kostroma, Cherepovets and some trains to Vologda
Metro is: Savyolovskaya
Yaroslavlsky Station, 5 Komsomolskaya Ploschad
Phone: (495) 921 5914/0817 & (495) 262 9271
Serves Siberia, Russia Far East, Mongolia and China
Metro is: Paveletskaya
TRAIN STATIONS IN ST. PETERSBURG
There are five major train stations in St. Petersburg and all of them are easily accessible by the metro. International trains have customs and passport control checks at the border, and not at the station. As always, it is important to ensure that one’s visa matches with their travel dates.
Serves Moscow, Far North Russia, Central Asia, Crimea and the Caucassus
Metro is: Ploschad Vosstania or Mayakovskaya
Serves Helsinki and other destinations in the north western areas such as as Murmansk
Metro is: Ploschad Lenina
Serves Pskov, the Baltic States of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, and Eastern Europe
Metro is: Baltiskaya
Serves Local and suburban services – only generally by electric train
Metro is: Baltiskaya
Serves Poland, Belarus including Minsk, Ukrain including Kiev and Odessa
Metro is: Pushkinskaya
SMOKING ON THE TRAIN
Smoking is not permitted in the cabins or corridor areas, but is allowed only in a special area between the carriages with the connecting doors shut. There is an ashtray there for cigarette butts, and penalties apply, if caught, for throwing butts on the floor or out of the window. These smoking areas are very cold during winter as they are not heated. On some trains the restaurant car may also allow travellers to smoke but only within an allocated area.
WHAT TO TAKE ON AN OVERNIGHT/LONG DISTANCE TRAIN
Requirements vary from person to person. The following are recommended:
• Light clothes, such as T-shirts and track suits or shorts, open slippers or sandals – Russian trains can get hot and this is far more comfortable, also Russians don’t like the idea of people wearing outdoor clothes and shoes in an area in which they sleep and eat
• Toiletries such as toothpaste, liquid soap and deodorant
• Always bottled water (for drinking and washing) and soft drinks
• Bread, sausage, cheese and pickles also seem to go down well.
• A carrier bag for rubbish – although there is usually a bin area at the end of the carriage next to the toilet.
• A good book for reading when travelling on long distance trains, is always welcome
• Feminine hygiene products – it is very difficult to ask for this in a foreign language
FACILITIES FOR DISABLED PEOPLE
Only on some selected trains leaving from Moscow and St. Petersburg there are special carriages for wheelchair users with wide corridors, toilet facilities and larger cabin space, though in the main, there are no special provisions available.
CHECKING OF VISAS/TRAVEL DOCUMENTS
It is important to remember that the Russian militia often stop people to check their passports and travel documents, especially around train stations, metro stations, bus stations and areas such as the Kremlin. Therefore it is highly recommended that travellers always take their passport, migration card, registration slip and travel documents with them every time they leave their hotel or apartment. There is nothing unusual in this and there is usually no cause to be concerned if stopped by the authorities, so long as all arrival and departure details within every Russian city and region has been correctly registered. This is because, if stopped for any reason, the authorities would check that a traveller is registered to be in the city / town mentioned in the visa, and that the dates are valid.
Basically, visa/registration involves placing a stamp in one’s passport and obtaining a registration slip, which show the period for which a traveller is registered to stay in any one place. In addition to the dates it will also contain the name of the hotel, accommodation or apartment, where the traveller is staying and the name of the sponsor organisation.
A Russian visa is an exit as well as entry visa, and if there is no visa, then technically this situation will almost certainly lead to serious problems with the authorities including fines, detention, deportation and even prevention of leaving the country.
In practice, more often than not, if one has not registered their visa within the time required by Russian law, they would be exposing themselves to “fines” by the local militia or other officials who may stop and check their passports.
If, on the other hand, a traveller has registered his/her visa correctly, or had no need to register their visa when stopped by the Militia – for example if a traveller had only arrived the day before – and was told to pay a “fine”, then it would be well within the traveller’s rights to stand their ground and say “no”, since the law has not yet been broken.
If a traveller is stopped by the militia and has not registered his/her visa within the prescribed time, the maximum fine prescribed by Russian law is now about
USD 40.00 and, it is highly unlikely that a traveller would be deported as the militia do not have the power to do this, since this is only a civil not a criminal offence.
The militia can, however, take a traveller to the Militia Station for up to three hours to record necessary details and check on the incumbent, and if they choose after this, they may apply for the traveller’s deportation. This usually would only occur in extreme situations and unfortunately should this take place, then the traveller would not be allowed to enter Russia for at least five years. Needless to say, the best way to avoid such unpleasant situations is for all travellers to register their visa as soon as they arrive into Russia.
REGISTERING WHEN STAYING IN A HOTEL
If travellers are staying in a hotel, the hotel will register their visa (tourist or business class) for them on arrival and may or may not request a small charge of up to approximately USD10 for this service. The hotel may also keep their passports while they do this, so it is essential that travellers do not leave the hotel until they receive their documents back from the hotel, otherwise there could be problems if stopped by the police.
Once passport and registration are received back from the hotel, it is equally important that travellers check that the dates they have put on it are correct.
CONSULATE CONTACT DETAILS IN RUSSIA
10A/2 Podkolokolny per
Ph: (+7095) 956 6070 or (+7095) 9566075. Fax: : (+7095) 956 6170
E-mail for general requirements: postmaster@australianembassy.
In addition, Australian Consulates (headed by Honorary Consuls) are located in:
1 Italianskaya Ulitsa
St Petersburg Russia
Ph: (+7 812) 325 7333. Fax: (+7812)325 7333
42 Prospect Krasnogo Znameni
Ph: (+7 4232) 427 464. Fax: (+7 4232) 426 916
18 Kominterna Ulitsa Aptm 11
Kyiv 252032 Ukraine
Ph: (+380 44) 235 7586. Fax: (+380 44) 235 4481
The above Australian Consulates are headed by Honorary Consuls.
Disclaimer: Russian Travel and Tours does not take responsibility for the accuracy and update of this information, which is provided as a guide only for Australian travellers.