Are you ready for something different in terms of vacation? Have you seen backpacking through Asia, vacationing in Ibiza, city trips to New York or going to hotspots in Bali? Still fun of course, but sometimes it is time for something new. What has been on my bucket list for years now, I am going to share with you, namely the Trans-Siberian Express. And you want this too. This is quite different from traveling with the Dutch Railways.
The train journey has four different routes, of which the Trans-Siberian Express is the best known. Below is a rough summary of the route they all four take:
Trans-Siberian Express Moscow - Lake Baikal - Vladivostok
Transmongolia Express Moscow - Lake Baikal - Beijing
Trans Manchuria Express Moscow - Manchuria - Beijing
Baikal-Amur Express Moscow - Tynda - Vladivostok
All routes therefore start in the Russian capital Moscow, a city where you definitely want to spend a day or two. If you really want to get the most out of your adventure, you can also start in St. Petersburg (which is also a very beautiful city) and from there take the train to Moscow.
Which route suits you best is of course purely personal. I myself would like to do the Transmongolia Express, because it goes via Lake Baikal past Ulaanbaatar. This is the capital of Mongolia and seems to be a nice stopover. The official end point is Beijing - also a city not to be missed, but you can extend it to Vladivostok if necessary. You guessed it: that is the route that seems the most fun to me, but check all the routes yourself to see what suits you best.
This is the deepest and largest freshwater lake in the world. How big? Well, comparable to the whole of Belgium, so it covers a considerable area. All four routes go along Lake Baikal, only the Baikal-Amur Express goes along the top, the rest along the bottom. You can go snowboarding, ice fishing or hiking here (if you want). Do take into account the time of the year you are going. In winter it is not only very cold, but also a lot quieter in terms of tourists. If you go alone and would like to meet new people, these may not be the best months to go.
Lake Baikal is also the first stop for most travelers to get out. Provide plenty of entertainment on the go; this trip takes three days. So, 72 hours on the train, yes. At the stops you can stretch your legs for a while and I bet you will not get bored with this view. If you really don't want that, you can of course arrange a stop in between. And good to know: this is also the longest part of all train journeys.
This is the capital of Mongolia and you might not expect it, but this city is quite western. And it is not a small city either: Ulaanbaatar has more than a million inhabitants. And besides that, skyscrapers, four-lane roads and especially very chaotic traffic. It is nice to combine this city with the countryside of Mongolia. There it is especially useful if you book the excursions with an organization, because then you can go horseback riding and camel racing (how much fun?). You also eat and sleep with the locals. And that sleeping, you do that in a yurt. So make sure you wear warm clothes, because Mongolia is not exactly a warm country.
This is the end point of the Transmongolia Express, but you can also continue from Vladivostok by train to this Chinese city. Especially the train journey from Ulaanbaatar to Beijing seems to be very impressive because of the environment you drive through. Beijing itself doesn't really need an introduction anymore, of course. The highlights that you should not miss are of course the Forbidden City, Drum Towers, the Great Wall of China, Hutongs Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven. The best thing is to plan at least two days here, so that you have some quiet time to discover the city. And of course eat as much dim sum as possible.
The terminus of the Trans-Siberian Express is this Russian port city. The city is surrounded by nothing but green nature (and is also the habitat of the Siberian tiger, although the chance that you will spot it is of course not very great). The town itself is nice to see, but not to stay there for days. Take a break from the journey and continue on, or back home of course. Depending on how long it took you to make the stops in between, you will now be on the road from Moscow for about two weeks. You can of course take the plane back to Schiphol, or you can continue for a while (that is of course the best recommendation). You can go in many directions from Vladivostok. You can go to China, South Korea or Japan. Of course there are also flights to Southeast Asia. What secretly will be my final destination (hopefully)? You can take the train from Vladivostok to North Korea, which seems very interesting to me. Okay, maybe not the most relaxing vacation, but very impressive.
Like all trains, this Express also has several classes. Most trains have three classes: the first has a closed compartment with two beds, the second a closed compartment with four beds and the third class is an open space with dozens of beds. I would personally go for the second class: do you have the cosiness of people around you, but not the situation that you sit together like a can of sardines and have no privacy at all. If you go with the two of you and really want to experience it with the two of you, then the first class is of course a good option. Each train also has a restaurant wagon, where you can order Russian dishes. In other words, authentic borscht. Curious about what the train looks like? Check out the virtual tour here, so you get a bit of an idea of what the compartments look like.
As I mentioned earlier, you can book different tickets. Organizations such as Mevo Reizen, Tiara Tours and Bolsjoj are specialized in organizing these train journeys. They offer different packages, for almost every budget (for example, the cheapest train journey is less than € 600). You can also contact them with any questions if you want to make adjustments or plan your trip yourself.
Okay, I don't know about you, but I'm already planning the entire train journey in my head. It has not yet been determined when I want to do this insane voyage of discovery.