Direction: East to West
Transsiberian lines: Trans-Mongolian and Trans-Siberian
Number of train changes: one
Major stops: Beijing, Ulaanbaatar, and Moscow
Time in train: Approx 127 hours
Visas: Chinese, Mongolian, and Russian
While the main (and probably longest at approximately 7 days) transsiberian route runs from Moscow to Vladivostok, there are other branching routes which goes through China and Mongolia. I would say doing the whole Moscow-Vladivostok vv train is quite extraordinary but I’ll probably be train exhausted in the other end. So the tolerable version is to make stops along the way and enjoy some scenery.
That is what I did when I took the railway last year. I passed by three countries (China, Mongolia, Russia) and made a stop in all three in a span of almost 20 days. The actual time spent in the train was around 5 days. Of course one could easily spend a longer time on each.
Terminus #1 | Beijing
Beijing is a destination in itself that is why I don’t see the reason not to make time and see some of it when passing through the city. There’s actually quite a number of things to see there but it’s no question that at the top of it is the Great Wall of China. This should take at least a day out of the train. Tip, don’t go there on a holiday or weekend.
Another one is the Forbidden City. This was a palace in the old days but is now a museum. The place reminds me of Chinese movies with kings and queens or royalties in red robes and women in silk dresses. On the flipside, what I didn’t like though are the unbelievable amount of visitors it gets.
Terminus #2 | Ulaanbaatar
Ulaanbaatar or Ulan Bator is the capital of Mongolia. I have to admit I didn’t quite experience much of UB save for the Naadam festival that I got to watch when I got back from the desert. The festival happens in July wherein competitions in wrestling, archery, and horse racing take place. It’s a weekend affair so allot 3 days out of the train for this.
Now I’m sure UB has it’s own charm too but what you’ll really like is a roadtrip in the Gobi desert. It’s a rough drive because the Gobi is mostly rocky instead of sand. There are wild horses, lone gers, sand dunes, vast landscapes etc. And if you really want to go deep in the desert you have to at least have 8 days.
Terminus #3 | Moscow
The transsiberian starts or ends in Moscow and here is maybe a good place to get to know Russia, the creator of the railway. The Red Square is pretty much where you’ll want to be. From here you can walk to Kremlin and St Basil’s Cathedral.
Here’s something interesting, the Moscow metro has some gorgeous stations. Hop on a train and discover the underground architecture.
There is also the Cafe Pushkin which first appeared in a song and was later built into reality but that is only after a lot of people have mistaken that it existed even before the song came out. And the setup, let’s just say you can either eat in an old library or a pharmacy.
Extra | Other possible stops
The stretch from Ulaanbaatar to Moscow is 4-days long. This can be further cut by adding stops in the Russian side.
- Ulan Ude – Ulan Ude is in Russia but there is a strong Mongolian influence.
- Irkutsk – If you want to go to Lake Baikal, this is where you should stop.
- Yekatarinburg – Also called Ekatarinburg. Yekatarinburg is an urban city but it has monuments, churches, and even a Mafia cemetery for the curious.
- Kazan – Kazan is predominantly Muslim. If you want to see how this looks inside Russia then head there.
It must be noted that all train tickets are point-to-point basis. This means it is only valid for the duration of your ride. If you plan to get off the train for a day of sightseeing in Irkutsk, you will have to purchase another ticket for the succeeding ride. Think flight tickets. Of course it is a different case when you go down the train to just stretch your legs for a few minutes.