20 Mar Trans Siberian Adventure in Practice, a Story by Weili
Read Weili’s story about his Trans Siberian Adventure and practical information about the trans Siberian train, tourist attractions, Irkutsk, Taltsy and Baikal.
“Traveling on the TransSiberian was a life changing experience. All my life I had heard of Russia; the cold, the vodka, its rich history, and I was really excited to experience the country.
While preparing for this Trans Siberian adventure I found some things really useful.
1) Internet sites – There is a lot of information on the Internet about the Trans Siberian, sites like seat61.com and Trip Advisor came in pretty handy. Especially helpful were the comments from other travelers, which gave me a good idea of what to expect.
2) TransSiberian guidebooks – I recommend the TransSiberian handbook by Bryn Thomas, which had useful information like maps of cities along the way, and places to eat or change money.
I traveled to Irkutsk from Beijing, which took two days. I paid for a cupe cabin, and each had four beds, two on the upper deck and two on the lower. I was lucky as my train cabin was only half full, so I had the luxury of sleeping on the lower bunk while using the top bunk for storage.
I met interesting companions during my journey, both locals and other English speaking travelers on board also on the journey of their lives like me. We exchanged stories, experiences, and helped each other through the unfamiliar customs procedures, or while buying food at the many small stalls along the train tracks.
Some useful information about the Trans-Siberian Train
1) Taking pictures – Not all of the windows in the train carriages can be opened, and the train attendants generally frown upon travelers who open the windows, as it lets the cold in, so be discreet about taking pictures. Also, avoid leaning out of the windows, as it can be dangerous. However, if you manage to sneak all the way to the end of the last carriage, you can get some fantastic pictures.
2) Restaurant car – There is a restaurant car in the middle carriage, which serves cuisine depending on which country you are in. I frequented it more on the Chinese side of the tracks. Each meal was about USD 5.
3) Samovar – At one end of every carriage, there is a coal-fired stove that keeps water at boiling temperature, great for cooking noodles with, not so great for drinking.
4) Buying food/drinks off vendors – You can buy food from vendors on pushcarts at the stations, but prepare the local currency on hand. You can change these with other travelers, or in the restaurant car.
5) Toilets – There are no showers on the Trans Siberian, so bring wet wipes if you are concerned about cleanliness
6) Power sockets – There are 220V power sockets at the end of each carriage, which are ideal for charging electronic equipment.
7) Cabins – Depending on your cabin, the doors may or may not lock properly, so always keep your valuables securely stored away. Below is how my cabin looked like
8) Train stops – The train stops at many stations along the way. Always check with the train attendant how long the train is stopping at each station if you wish to go down, so you do not get left at the stations.
9) Other travelers – The best part of the Trans Siberian adventure is mingling with other travelers. Whether it is in the restaurant car, or along the carriages, always strike up a conversation. While most of them are locals who may not speak English, the few that do always have interesting stories to offer.
Upon reaching Irkutsk, exploring it was like stepping into a page out of a history book, with many colorful log houses along its streets, leftovers from an older time.
However, as Irkutsk is a small city, I found that it was best to dedicate at most one or two days for exploring most of its sights.
Some of the main attractions of my Trans Siberian adventure included:
1) The colorful log houses – Everywhere you walk in the city center of Irkutsk you will see different versions of these, and some are better maintained than others. Most of these houses are private residences, so they are best observed from a distance.
2) The churches – Irkutsk has very brightly painted churches, which are definitely worth seeing, especially the beautifully restored Epiphany cathedral.
3) Taltsy Open-Air Museum – A museum of wooden houses dating from several centuries back, which gives an insight into how Siberian settlers lived back in the villages during the 1700s and 1800s. This museum is fairly large, so be prepared to dedicate several hours if you plan to fully explore it.
4) Listvyanka – A small sleepy fishing town one hour out of Irkutsk, this town is a great getaway for a day to tour the local market, where you can try the delicious smoked omul found nowhere else, or take a tour of the Circumbaikal railway arranged by the tourist information office in the center of the town.
View of Baikal Lake:
Walking along circum-baikal railway
Other useful information
1) The Irkutsk city center is extremely walkable, with two main streets ul. Lenina and ul. Karla Marksa, where many restaurants are located. Most of Irkutsk’s attractions are within walking distance from each other.
2) Transport – It was relatively easy to take a bus around the city. All buses cost 12 rubles, paid upon alighting the bus. Buses also have signs that indicate their destinations, in particular, learn to recognize the Russian word for airport so you can spot the buses going there. The airport is extremely near the city, just 8km away, and the journey there takes about half an hour from the city center.
3) Language – Almost nobody in Irkutsk or Listvyanka speaks English, so be prepared to learn some basic Russian to get around
4) The water in Lake Baikal is extremely clean, and you can drink it right off the shores in Listvyanka if you want to.
5) The tourist information office in Listvyanka is a great help for tourists who do not speak Russian, as there is often an English speaking tour guide. There is also a bus that runs from Listvyanka to Irkutsk that departs daily from the tourist information office. Tickets can also be bought there.”
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