Advice for westbound trans-siberian trip (from Beijing) in April/ May?
March 11, 2008 7:09 PM   Subscribe

I am trying to plan a 4 week trip back westbound on the Trans Siberian railway. I'm planning to travel through China via Shanghai from Osaka and then take the trans Siberian from Beijing. I'd love some advice on where I should stop over (I'm thinking maybe Mongolia, Irkutsk, Moscow and a stop in Eastern Europe) and what I should try and see and do in these places on my way back to London. Also, I'm on a budget of about $2000 is this enough?. I am arranging it all myself so any general advice/ experience would be very much appreciated.
posted by aikidoka to Travel & Transportation (5 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I've never made the trip, but I've been to Irkutsk, which has a mass of old Russian wooden houses, it's picturesque Siberia. Be careful of theft on the train: one scam is to pump sleeping gas into your apartment at night: the fastening on your door will be easily opened. So keep valuables kinda strapped to your tummy or something. $2000 seems ok, but hotels in Moscow can be very expensive so check out alternatives eg apartment rental.
posted by londongeezer at 7:38 PM on March 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Assuming that $2k is after air travel, that is more than enough. It is true that Moscow can be a bit expensive re: hotels. Apartments really are considerably cheaper although they may want to be paid in dollars not roubles.

Make sure to bring plenty of food with you on the train; the food served on the train is really terrible. Buy all the noodles, etc. in China. They will be better and cheaper. You absolutely should stop over in Mongolia, it is really beautiful.

Depending on the time of year, Irkutsk may or may not be that nice. Really I think that late spring until mid-August is the only time that Siberia looks nice. It starts getting chilly by the end of August (or at least it did when I visited) and Lake Baikal was, the day I saw it, gloomy and gray.

I'm assuming you are either planning to stop off in some locations in China, or at the very least have traveled there before? Please don't zip through China unless you have a very good reason -- there are some amazing things to see and do. And it will be the only decent food you eat for a long time. Yes, there are places in Russia that serve excellent food. In my experience, Siberia wasn't one of them.

Oh, and I assume you've visited this site.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:31 PM on March 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I took the trip from Beijing to Moscow a couple years ago. Some highlights for me:

1. A few days in the Mongolian countryside outside of Ulaan Bator. We were able to spend a few nights in a yert, rode some horses and camels, and even joined with some nomadic people in the first milking of their mares.

2. Irkutsk/Lake Baikal We booked an apartment in Listvyanka for a few nights. Due to a mix-up, we had to spend a night in Port Baikal. It turned out to be a great night, complete with campfire diner right on the edge of the lake. There was an amazing restaurant between the museum (simple but worth a visit) and the main part of Listvyanka. I can't remember the name, but the signs out front were in Russian, German, and English. The view was good and food even better.

3. Moscow - Yeah it was expensive, but well worth it.

I love a good train ride, so that alone was worth it. Do bring some extra food, a good book or two, and a deck of cards. By the end of the trip, our running joke was "What time is it? Time to stare out the windows, play cards, read, take a nap, or eat."

I never felt any threat or in danger. Be careful with your stuff, but I don't believe all the rumors. Do take advantage of the chances to jump of the train and stretch your legs a little, but always know how long a stop you have.

I highly recommend taking the trip, and really want to do it again.
posted by vagabond at 6:44 AM on March 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Here is who I used to book the train tickets, as well as visa support. For booking your stay in Irkutsk, I would check out this site.
posted by vagabond at 7:37 PM on March 13, 2008

I am doing something like this now, but west to east. I am in Irkutsk until I leave for Vladivostok tomorrow.

BTW The sleeping gas story is an urban legend. The trains here are quite safe in 2nd class and have modified locks that cannot be opened from the outside. That said a money belt is essential as there are pickpockets.

In Russia your greatest expense is accomadation. Most of the major Trans-Sib stop-offs have hostels with dorm beds at about 50 US or hotels at 100 US.

Whatever you do don't trust the Lonely Planet Russia guidebook. Unless a new edition is out the current one is 3 years old and in many places thoroughly inaccurate. I recommend the Trailblazers Trans-Siberian Handbook if you can find it. Its current and geared specifically for this type of trip.
posted by chewbud at 9:39 PM on March 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

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