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Regarded as the world’s most iconic railway journey, crossing 8 time zones and over 4,000 miles of land, the Trans-Siberian is a traveler’s adventure to be certain. Here we won’t go into exhaustive detail about the trip, tickets, and experiences. Rather we will give a general explanation and layout for those looking to decide if the trip is worthwhile.
The traditional train route is a seven day (without overnighting in any cities along the way) journey between Moscow and Vladivostok. More popular in recent itineraries are the Trans Mongolian and Trans Manchurian routes. These trains run between Moscow and Beijing and many travelers would rather see the two capitals than Vladivostok.
Getting into Russia:
Any train seeker should realize that a trip’s expenses aren’t just the train. Getting visas for Russia (and potentially Mongolia and China) will cost money and take time. To avoid headaches it is best to get it all done at home rather than going to consulates in other countries. Plane tickets to Moscow, Beijing and Vladivostok are usually expensive for outsiders since these countries are so large and distant from their neighbors.
Many travelers do the travel agency bookings for the rail tickets. It should be noted that tickets purchased outline the whole itinerary. It is not possible to stop along the way for some days and just catch the next train. You can do this but you need to get a new ticket. Some travelers do the journey in stages buying tickets along the way between cities, but know that some stations have rules about how early a ticket can be sold and ticket sales can be tougher to find and more expensive at smaller stations. Travel packages put together by agencies are the best way to get trips with stops built into them.
Types of tickets:
There are three classes of tickets, the first gives some good privacy and living space but is nothing luxurious. The second is the most popular and ranges between $400 and $800 depending on the season of travel. This is a four beds in bunk style room with a closing door and access to a single bathroom per car. Most travelers who have their own groups or want to meet others find this safe and attractive. The third class is a bit more chaotic, often it is a more basic accommodation with a random gathering of backpackers, workers and military in transit.
The journey has disadvantages like basic accommodations, 20 minute stops at stations, lack of modern technologies and car workers who run the train like a boot camp in terms of orderliness and use of facilities. There is often on the positive side a good cross cultural exchange with Russians and other travelers. Friends can be made, experiences shared and the stunning wild nature that is rustic Russia comes alive just outside the windows of the train. All things considered it can be a cultural immersion and a transformative experience. Tourists should realize it is not the most cost effective, comfortable or convenient way to move about central Asia, but it offers a once in a lifetime, down to earth contact with the people and places of the great Siberian interior.