Trans-Siberian: Planning Our Route

Why would anyone want to start a round-the-world trip with a 7 day train journey?

Before we left, we did a small test. On a Sunday afternoon, Timian set an alarm. In the time before it went off, Rebecca had been to London 4 times, Timian once, as well as to Liverpool and back, all on top of 3 days’ work. The timer represented how long we’d be spending on the train between Moscow and our first stop, Irkutsk.

This is precisely why we wanted to start our trip with the Trans-Siberian Railway. Our day-to-day back home involved so much rushing around, that if we arrived straight into the chaos of central Delhi or Bangkok with that mentality, we’d burn out within a month. The train forces you to slow down and adapt to a new pace.

By starting on the edge of familiar Europe, and travelling over-land, we’d end up somewhere completely unfamiliar having seen the scenery, people, architecture, and climate change gradually. In a time when you can get from New York to London in 5 hours, the world can feel very small. There’s nothing like travelling 1/5th the way round the globe, only by train, to give a sense of how big it really is!

It was only after making the decision to take the Trans-Siberian, that we realised how much more there is to decide. For starters, to see Russia, Mongolia, and China the route is actually the Trans-Mongolian rather than Trans-Siberian (which goes from Moscow to Vladivostok). Even the Trans-Siberian is just a part of the wider Russian train network, and there are a range of fast, slow, expensive, and cheap trains to choose from. Chinese trains are more frequent and a little cheaper whilst the Russian ‘Rossiya’ trains are more modern and comfortable.

To get all this straight in our heads, and pick our ideal route, we turned to the font of all train knowledge that is Seat61. This has everything from information on trains, carriage classes, and dining options (in each country a new restaurant car joins the train), down to how to buy and understand your tickets. We’d definitely recommend this blog to anyone else planning long-haul train travel pretty much anywhere in the world!

We wanted to experience both the comfort of the Rossiya 002 train, and more multi-national atmosphere of the 004 Chinese train. To find a route which allowed us to do both, we used the really helpful Real Russia Route Planner. We ended up using Real Russia to book the train tickets for each leg and arrange our Russian and Chinese visas.

There are 3 classes to choose from on most Trans-Siberian trains:

  • 1st – Spalny Vagon (2 bed cabin)
  • 2nd – Kupe (4 bed cabin)
  • 3rd – Platskartny (open-plan dorm cars with 54 bunks per carriage)

We chose to do the first and third legs of our journey (Moscow-Irkutsk and Ulaanbaatar-Beijing) in 1st class, and the shorter middle leg (Irkutsk-Ulaanbaatar) in 2nd class. Whilst we’d read on a lot of travel blogs about the fun atmosphere and opportunity to meet lots of locals in the dorm cars, we had planned 2 months of train travel in this style all around India, so chose to start our trip at a slower, calmer pace.

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