Ulaanbaatar to Moscow
To tell you the truth I was terrified. I don’t know much about train travel, let alone a long one. What if I didn’t bring enough food? What if there’s no hot water? What if I didn’t like my cabin mates? What if I get held up in the border crossing? What the other thousand ifs!
“Going to Moscow?”
The doors to the train cars started opening and the steps lowered by the conductors.
“So what brings you in the transsiberian?”
He asked me this while we both watch the passengers park themselves beside the train ready to board.
“Cause it’s the transsiberian!” I blurted immediately and grinned.
My friends would probably raise their brows at me in question. Why would anyone subject themselves to days of train travel? To us who take on the journey, we just do.
He smiled too and answered the same. Yeah we get it, we get each other.
How long was it?
Four days. That’s four days inside a moving box. There were plenty of stops though to stretch, have some fresh air, and make a chocolate run.
What was my route?
I traveled from East to West – Ulaanbaatar to Moscow straight but there are common stops like Irkutsk for Lake Baikal if you have plenty of time. On the other hand, the famous lake can be seen on board too just wait in the morning, stand in the corridor, and wait for the show.
How was the train?
I was in a kupe (4-berth) so it’s pretty comfortable for me. Slept fine too. They gave out bedding so I slept like a baby. As for the toilet it was decent but no there are no showers but I was able to wash my hair by squeezing my head in the sink lol.
What about food?
No problem with this at all, thank goodness. I brought cup noodles and a few snacks but a big part of my ration was from friends on board! So make friends and you’ll never go hungry in the train. There’s also a restaurant car, a bit pricey though considering the portion. And there’s always the option to buy on shops in the platform/station, just make sure to be back in time for the train’s departure cause it won’t wait for you.
How were the cabin mates?
Oh they were awesome! (grin) Seriously this could be a deal breaker for me so I was thankful I got the good ones. She was a rocket scientist and he was a Mongolian businessman! (wink) But yeah they’re really nice. Since you wouldn’t know who your cabin mates will be, some suggest to go third class so you wouldn’t be stuck with people you don’t like in a confined space. Occasionally though you get more than just your cabin mates inside your cabin, no problem with that just squeeze in I think it can fit eight people for a good talk.
Was it safe?
I would like to say yes because I never encountered any security issues but it’s better to be cautious. I have locks and I always kept an eye on my stuff. I mostly have the important ones with me when I go out the cabin. It’s also good to secure your stuff when you go to sleep cause there can be passengers getting on board while you sleep.
Is speaking Russian necessary?
While my Mongolian cabin mate knows Russian so I had a good help, I think it’s not a must. The most I needed it was when talking to the conductor, but he spoke English so, or when buying from vendors, in that case I just point here and there. Even the border control officers spoke English so it’s cool.
How was the border crossing?
Gruesome. Kidding. It was fine, intense but fine. I think it took about two hours on the Mongolian side then another two hours on the Russian side. Heard it takes eleven hours some time ago but thankfully it wasn’t the case on my crossing. But those Russian officials really meant business. A camera on my face, a deep penetrating eye, dogs on board, and under the carpet checks. Overall I’m just happy I had the entry date on my visa correct or else I’ll be thrown out! (I think)
Was it boring?
Heck no! I had books ready to read my way to Moscow but I only finished a few pages. So what did I do? Oh not much just talk, eat horse meat, had fermented horse milk, drink vodka, play cards, hop off the train, sleep, watch the window, create mystery stories and read out cyrillics with my cabin mate, talk some more, sleep some more, put up a breakfast club, and take pictures!
What to wear?
I took the train during the summer so no need for winter clothes. But that being said the more north I got the more cold it got outside. A good sweater or jacket will do fine for that. On board the train you’ll want something comfortable (flip flops, t-shirt, shorts, leggings etc) though I suggest something that you’re comfortable hopping off the train with too.
Would you recommend it then?
Yes! Not only because train is now my favorite form of transportation but also because I think it’s very social. If you’re going to be stuck in a train for days then chances are you’ll be stuck with curious and friendlier than usual people around you so making conversation is easy. And the transsiberian has a nice mix of people. If you want to be left alone though then just close your door and watch the window, there are some pretty good Russian landscape out there.
I bought my 2nd class compartment ticket from Discover Mongolia for US$197. Once they confirmed my payment they gave me an invoice. The invoice was used to pickup the ticket in Ulaanbaatar.