My trip on the Transsiberian Express (Russia, Part 1)

Video: Transsiberian 2009 produced by Lluis Jané (yes, the one with long hairs it’s me).

I’ve already discussed in a previous article how to plan your trip on the Transsiberian Express.

This is the first of a series of three articles (Russia, Mongolia, China) where I will tell you about my own trip and impressions.

Itinerary: Trans-Mongolian (Moscow-Beijing) with stops in Irkutz and Ulan-Bator.

Goal: Reach Beijing in 23 days, that is before our return flight will take off!


The first thought I had when I arrived in Moscow was that money can destroy everything…

The utopian promise of an egalitarian regimen has indeed left room to the wildest capitalism, where the most atrocious misery coexists with extreme luxury.

I’m especially impressed by the light, similar to the one that you see on the top of police’s cars, featured by the vehicles of the rich people, who in this way can speed through the traffic without respect any law.

Another particular that I notice is that here in Russia are the women that take care of most of the every day tasks such as driving the public buses or handling the security at the exit of the subway stations. Talking with people I discover that the general opinion is that Russian guys are very good at having fun but not so reliable when it’s time to work.

Moscow Red SquareThe Red Square in Moscow

The first thing we do in Moscow is to ask to the receptionist of our hostel whether she can help us to buy a train ticket to Irkutz. She answers that it’s not a problem.

However five minutes later she informs us that the third class tickets are sold out and we’ll have to buy second class tickets, which are more expensive. I guess this is the downside of improvising your trip!

Frankly speaking I don’t have a great memory of Moscow so I won’t tell you more. I’m not that interested on big cities, I wanna go to Siberia!


Many people asked me how do you cope with boredom when you stay four days in a row inside a train. My daily occupations included the contemplation of the landscapes, play cards, study the time table that features the daily stops, read, drink vodka with the Russian travelers and, dulcis in fundo, the excursion to the restaurant carriage!

The “excursion” usually keeps us busy for about an hour. The restaurant carriage isn’t that far (only seven carriages away). However you can’t avoid to stop on the way to drink a glass of vodka with an old guy or talk with a eighteen years old soldier that shows you the video of a military parade and explains to you how great is the Russian Army. All that without speaking a work of English… the power of sign language!

Transsiberian TrainOn the middle of Siberia

The long stops are another of my favorite activities: a perfect occasion to get off the train, stretch your legs and look for other people that look like they don’t know where they are. During our journey we met plenty of foreigners with who we exchanged impressions, compare our respective itineraries and, most of all, complained on how much we miss a shower.

After crossing the Urals and going through Siberia we arrive in Irkutz. The truth is that time flied and I wasn’t even able to finish the first of the three books that I brought with me.

We say goodbye to our travel mates: the provonista, that is girl that takes care of the carriage, a fifty years old chemist that is going on a conference and a single mother that is going home with her son for holiday.

IrkutskA wood house in Irkutz

Irkutz and the Bajkal Lake

Even if I had the idea that Irkutz was an horrible town, I must say that it was worth a visit, with its waterfront and neighborhoods of small houses built on wood that vaguely remembered me of the west.

But the real attraction of Irkutz is the Bajkal Lake. It’s so big that I would have the impression of being in front of the sea, if it wasn’t for the mountains and the small villages that surround it.

Even if for me, Mediterranean guy, the day was a bit cold for swimming, I couldn’t resist and plunged into the lake. Bloody cold! I came out almost running while, some meters away, a group of Russian people enjoy the water in such a warm day (for them).

Bajkal LakeBajkal Lake

Finally clean and refreshed from the stop in Irkutz, we prepare ourselves for continuing our trip towards east. Well… it would be more exact to say towards south as we are now going to Mongolia!

Irkutz – Ulan Bator

The huge watch on the wall says that it’s five pm. In fact it’s already night when we arrive to Irkutz’s train station as the watch marks Moscow’s time. As soon as we get on the train I fall asleep.

Train IrkutskThe train station of Irkutz and the train that will bring us to Ulan Bator

I wake up early and watch outside the window: the landscape is slowly changing; it becomes more and more arid. I observe my new travel mates and, for the first time since we began this adventure, I feel we are in Asia. We’ll reach soon Ulan-Ude, the last town before the border with Mongolia.

The worst part of this trip arrives when it’s time to cross the border: we are forced to wait four hours outside the train without any way to repair ourselves from the sun.

Notice: if you have enough time I advice you to get off the train in Ulan Ude, reach the border with a bus or a local train and cross it walking. In this way you’ll avoid to wait four hours on the middle of nowhere while the policemen check the international train.

We’ll cross the border only late at night. It’s time to sleep again. We’ll wake up on the capital of Mongolia, Ulan Bator.

To be continued…


    • says

      I’m sorry but I don’t remember it so well, I think the 3 tickets Moscow-Irkutzk, Irkutzk-Ulan Bator Ulan-Bator – China border were around 600 USD, but I can’t tell you for sure.

      I checked the price from Moscow to Irkutzk in the official Russian webpage and it’s around 370 USD, (the prices of the international trains can not be checked in this webpage)
      I hope is useful for you.

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