Trans-Siberian: How to book train tickets
If you’re searching about booking the transsiberian train tickets then you’re probably about to set off to embark in one of the most interesting overland trips in the world. And that’s great! The transsiberian covers a vast distance and spanning multiple timezones. If you wanna know what’s it like riding the train then read this. If you wanna know what to see then read this.
Have you heard about the Man in Seat 61? The guy details a lot of information useful for transsiberian planning including ways for buying train tickets and I will share my experience about one of them.
But first here are some points in my trip
Route: Trans-Mongolian to Trans-Siberian
Stops: Beijing, Ulaanbaatar, Moscow
Time: July 2015
Class: 2nd class hard sleeper
Visas: China and Russia (Mongolia is visa-free)
It’s important that before you buy tickets, you more or less decided on those same points above already.
Now here’s how I got my tickets
Step 1: Research
During my research I was looking for two things: price and convenience.
I am not aware of what kind of price point to expect for the tickets so this means I don’t know if a price I was seeing was cheap or expensive. You will want to do this as well so you get the most up to date values for comparison. There were three places I got my data at the time:
- values cited by the Man in Seat 61
- Real Russia planner
- Russian Railways site
- prices quoted to me by local agencies
The fourth one was the cheapest option accessible to me then.
As for convenience, it’s a matter of how easy can I get the tickets. The Real Russia planner seems to be the easiest.
Step 2: Booking
At the end of my research and after a few agency communication, I decided to book with local agencies mostly for the reason of pricing. Of course this was after I made sure that the agency was authentic and vouched.
To book, I just sent an email then followed their instructions.
*Take note that the prices may now be different.
Once the agency confirmed everything, they sent either a voucher or an invoice. Both of which are NOT the ticket to be used on the day of departure. That train ticket is on step 3.
Step 3: Pickup
Depending on how the ticket is booked, you may need to pickup the ticket from the agency personally. When I arrived in Beijing, this was my first order of business. I went to the CITS head office in Dong Cheng district then gave my voucher. I did the same when I got to Ulaanbaatar. Only that I sent someone from my hostel to pickup the ticket since I was on a multi-day tour.
A friend of mine bought his ticket from Real Russia and he said that he also had to pick up from a local agency in the city.
Step 4: Departure
On departure day, I gave the ticket to the conductor for inspection along with my passport. It can be hard to read the ticket and know which cabin to go or berth to take so have a local at your hostel translate it to you. But just the same the friendly conductor will guide you as well.
Should I pre-book my ticket?
Generally I would say yes, for your peace of mind especially if you’re on schedule, meaning you can’t be bothered for departure changes. Otherwise, you can buy the tickets in the city, sometimes even same day.
How early can I pre-book my ticket?
I booked thru agencies and my guess is they’ll take bookings for many months before. But the actual ticket won’t be released until close to departure.
When is the peak season?
Summer is considered peak season. May – September.
Where can I get the cheapest ticket?
I can’t answer this based on experience but I read that the cheapest place is if you buy in the ticket office when you get to the city. Makes sense since there’ll be no third party agency to add a markup.
How often do trains leave?
One or maybe two times a week. This is also one of the reasons why pre-booking will be handy. Conversely, there are other daily trains where you can get on until you reach your destination albeit more stops.
How do I handle timezone in planning?
For this I used the Real Russia site since it’s very user friendly. I toggled between Moscow time or local time as needed.