A Journey Crossing Two Continents: Riding the Trans-Sib

Posted by Anne Rhebergen • Tuesday, April 26. 2011 • Category: People and Places
From Moscow to Beijing via Ulan Bator in Mongolia. Crossing 7 time zones. If measured from start to end it accumulates to a vast total of 7622 km (4735 miles). You will have heard about it. It is the Trans Siberian Express. It is not just a train ride. It is one of the amazing experiences in the world! If you choose to not make any stops after departure from Moscow, the journey can be made in 6 days. However that’s not how I did it and I’m darn happy about that because otherwise I would have missed an amazing experience!

(c) by Anne Rhebergen

There are many different ways to travel with the Trans Siberian Railways and actually the way I did it does not include Siberia at all because I choose to go on the Transmongolian branch through Mongolia to Beijing instead of going to Vladivostok. Basically there are three different kinds of trains: Russian, Mongolian and Chinese. It sounds like not such a big deal but actually these factors change the whole atmosphere of the train. Not only the nationality of the staff changes but also the train designs are completely different. And most importantly: the people traveling on the train are completely different. Our train from Moscow to Ulan Bator turned out to be a Mongolian one, which in my opinion was the best we could have.

(c) by Anne Rhebergen

The fun part of traveling on the Mongolian train is that next to the tourists who are traveling with the train for the experience, there are also a lot of Mongolian traders traveling on it. They use the train as their means of transport to cheaply buy their products in Moscow and sell it with profit along the way. In general the trains are only stopping for 15 minutes at the stations or sometimes 30 minutes to get refuel. So only in that timeframe people have the opportunity to buy from the traders and it is very entertaining indeed to see how people are selling their products from inside the train to the people outside.

During the train ride you will get the opportunity to socialize a lot with other travelers as well. If you would walk from the beginning of the train to the end it will take you quite some time because you just keep bumping into other people and next to that it is also a nice way to stretch your legs since you’re staying for quite some time inside the train. Do not think too much about being in the train for such a long time though because you are really totally free to make any stops in between the ride. You do have to book these stops in advance though because all places in the trains are designated and otherwise you will not have a spot on the train when you want to get back on.

(c) by Anne Rhebergen

On the train the compartments are divided per 4 berths in general, two lower berths and two upper berths. During the day time you can fold up the upper berths to have more space in the compartments. It is possible to lock the compartments so you have to worry less about your stuff when you take a stroll around the train. Next to the restaurant wagon they also provide free hot water which you can use for making tea or some soup if you want to. As for food it is possible to buy it on every station you stop because people will be selling a lot of local specialties there. It is nice to see the Russian ladies selling their home cooked food at the station and if you’re not a fan of Russian cuisine it is also possible to buy instant noodles or just simple plain potatoes and boiled eggs.

(c) by Anne Rhebergen

Along the way there are countless amazing spots to explore. First of all you have to experience Moscow of course before departing. One of the famous sights along the route is the world's oldest and deepest lake, Lake Baikal. Even if you decide not to get off here, you can choose to have some nice fresh fish sold by locals during the stop. Normally I am not such a fish fan but this time even I liked it, so try it and broaden your horizon! After Lake Baikal you will finally cross the border to Mongolia and this is one stop I can certainly recommend. Get out of the capital city and use this opportunity to explore the Mongolian countryside. I myself went to Terelj National Park and it was astonishing.

The view you have in that country is unlike any other. It is quite normal that your closest neighbor is living 12 km away and that you can see him when you are standing on a hill. It is also possible to do some really nice trekking on horses here. Mongolia is the perfect place to do it since its people are horsemen by nature. It is recommended though to have some experience with horses before doing an intensive tour on horseback. After departing again from the Ulan Bator train station you will cross the Gobi desert, one of the world’s largest deserts, before entering China. During the border crossing there is something interesting which needs to be done though, the bogies of the trains will have to be changed because the rail gauge systems used in both countries are not the same. So they have thought of a smart system to solve this problem. They simply lift the whole train with all the passengers in it and then roll the new bogies under it. I mean, why would you make it complicated?

(c) by Anne Rhebergen

While entering China you really start to realize the size of the journey because now the landscape dramatically is changing. One can’t deny it anymore. Suddenly instead of endless steppes there are misty hills and very different people at the stations. This is also one of the things I found very fascinating during my trip. Normally you have this sudden change in landscape and culture when you travel by plane. Traveling by train is completely different since the landscape is changing so ‘slowly’ so you have more time to observe the world changing around you.

For me the Trans Siberian Express was an unforgettable experience. The nice people we have met on our journey, the time I spent drawing with this small Mongolian boy, the train chef who always made sure that we would be back in time before the train would leave, the evenings we spent playing basketball with Mongolian kids, the food which was different on every station… But like all good things, this train journey also came to an end. However, arriving in Beijing does not mean that the traveling experience has to end for all of us. You can still go on traveling! I would say since you are already there: explore China – it has so much variety to offer!

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  1. That's really a very interesting information. I like it. I want to visit this place and doing train ride from Trans Siberian Express. And I like to tell you mostly that your pictures are also very good. I think this is the great write up on his traveling experience. Thanks for sharing your views.
  2. Pretty! This has been a really wonderful post. Many thanks for providing this info.

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