Travel Russia Guides
Also known as the "Vodka Train"
The Trans-Siberian Railway is the longest railway in the world. It is a network or railways connecting Moscow with the Russian Far East, with branch lines to China and Mongolia.
Main Sights In Siberia
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What to Prepare for my Trans-Siberian train ride ?
1) A metal Cup (preferably one that has a wide base)
2) A water bottle (you will be needing this)
3) A knife, Fork and a Spoon.
4) Bread and some meat. (Prepare enough for at least half your journey)
5) Sweets and Tea Bags. (Hot water is provided on the train)
6) Canned food.
7) Short comfortable pants. (Even during winter. It is quite warm in the train)
8) Flip-flops (Easy to get around)
9) Chess set, cards, pictures. (For entertainment and to make new friends)
For longer distance trains, it would be advisable to stock up on some instant noodles, fresh produce, bread and other canned food. This is what we brought along during our 4 day train ride from Irkutsk to Vladivostok.
Trans-siberian train sleeping booth and whats provided?
Here are some small tips from experienced travelers on the Trans-Siberian railway, to ensure a smooth sailing trip. Below stated are for travelers who choose the cheapest sleeper booth, known as the plazkart (3rd class)
Firstly, the type of seats available.
There are 3 types of seats on the train.
- Nizhnii (meaning lower beds.)
These are the best option available. You get the beds next to the table, and you get to store your luggage right below your bed. This bed option is often sold out fast, and are rarely available if you purchase your tickets 1-2 days before departure.
- Verkhnii (meaning upper beds.)
These beds are OK, if you are traveling in a group. If you are a solo traveler, this is not a good option. You can store your bags either above your bed (near the ceiling), or together with the passenger at the lower bed. This really puts you at the mercy of the traveler below you, as he might have a lot of luggages with him. And sometimes, depending on your luck, the 2 occupants of the lower bed are constantly using the table, or have loads of stuff put on the table, it can get a little awkward asking permission to use the table to have your meal.
- Bokovii (meaning the side beds)
These beds are at the side, ideal for a pair of travelers. They are 2 beds (1 above and 1 below) in a single compartment. They are good for people who want a some little privacy during their time on the train. Here, the bed below can be folded, and usually is, during the daytime, to allow the person on the top to use the table. Baggage can be stored below the lower bed, or above the upper bed.
This picture shows the upper and lower beds. The compartment above the upper beds can be used for luggage storage.
The table in between the 2 lower beds can be used for meals, games etc. But depending on the person occupying the lower beds, he might leave you little or no space at all on the table.
Secondly, your cabin number on the train
There are few bed numbers which you absoultely must avoid, on the 3rd class train (Plazkart). The worst seats available on the third class train are number 33-38. These seats are located right next to the toilet, and despite the aweful smell coming from the loo, you will also have to endure the constant door slamming throughout the night, where the passengers move towards the toilet and back.
The best numbers, are 1,2,3,4,53,54. These beds are near to the pravodnitsa (the train attendant lady in charge of the whole wagon). You have the nearest access to the hot water, to the toilet and to the electrical outlet, which is located above the hot water boiler.
This picture was taken from my seat, at the first compartment, where I could see the water boiler and electrical outlet.
Thirdly, What is provided in your russian train bed
When you enter the wagon and reach your seat, the pavodnitsa (train attendant lady) will check your ticket , and hand you a brand new set of bedsheets, blanket cover, pillow cover and towel. The mattress, pillow and blanket are kept at the upper beds.
You will have to make your bed with the new set of bedcovers. And it will look like this
Things to do on the Trans-siberian Railway?
4 day rides along the trans-siberian railway can be a dread, especially if you don't know the Russian language and conversations between passengers are kept to a minimum. Below are a few recommended books which I always bring along during my Trans-Siberian trip.
Besides that, it is always good to have a set of cards and a deck of play cards such as monopoly, which can be played without any exchange of words.
You can also spend some time writing post-cards along the train, especially those bought from Baikal, or Moscow, and mail them at the post office in your next destination along the trans-siberian railway.
How can I purchase my Trans-Siberian Tickets ?
There are 2 ways
1) You purchase it online. See Train Tickets. Ticket prices are a little more expensive. Tickets will be sent to you via air mail.
2) You buy it there and then in ANY of the Russian train stations. This way of purchase is not recommended unless you are living in Russia. This also requires a certain level of Russian Language competency, or else you might end up paying for a more expensive ticket. Below is a picture of how the ticket counter looks like.
Tickets are available for purchase approximately 1 month before departure. During summer and autumn, ticekts to the more popular destinations are usually sold out 1 week before date of departure, so it is advisable to purchase your tickets early.
It is better to purchase separate tickets along the Trans-Siberian route and stop along different cities for a day or two. This would allow you to purchase the necessary food supplies and have a comfortable shower and sleep in a hotel. Besides, there are many interesting cities along the railway which is definitely worth a visit. See our recommended travel itinerary.
Interpreting the Russian Train Ticket
What are the ticket fare options ?
There are usually 3 fare options for the Trans-Siberian Railway. On short trips there is a 4th options which they just provide you a seat, without a bed.
First Class Russian Train
1) First Class - 2 beds in a compartment. Ideal for couples. It is very expensive, but it is very clean, and you get more privacy. Has male or female only compartments, and some have meals provided. These tickets are often available even up to the day of departure.
Second Class Russian Train (Coupe)
2) Coupe - 4 beds in a compartment. Ideal for group travellers of 4. The price is reasonable, it offers more comfort and less noise. Has male or female only compartments, some have meals provided.
Third Class Russian Train (Plazkart)
3) Plazkart - 6 beds in a compartment. Cheapest option. You get to meet other people, chat with new friends. Downside is the privacy and noise. Avoid choosing beds near the head and end of the train (near the toilet). It is smelly and extremely noisy (doors slamming shut). You will be able to choose to sleep on the top bed or on the bottom bed (better choice). Bottom beds are more convenient and safe as you would not need to climb up everytime, and your luggage is safely kept under your bed.
How much does the train tickets cost?
An example here compares the fare difference between the 3 train classes of a 76 hour train ride from Moscow to Irkutsk (Lake Baikal).
Class 1 : £703.78
Class 2 : £386.53
Class 3 : £152.06
Each train wagon is managed by a train attendant (you must respect and be very nice to her). It is safe to travel, many Russian ladies travel alone. But do not leave your luggage or wallet unattended when you make a trip to the toilet. This is especially important if you are sleeping in the Plazkart wagon.
Rarely, there will be some Russian police patrolling the wagon, and they are on the lookout for foreigners. They will request to have a look at your passport, and try to find some missing documents (such as registration or immigration cards). They will usually speak in Russian, and might threaten to put you in jail if you dont give them a small "fee". If you do have all the necessary documents, just say you do not understand Russian, and stand your ground. In most cases, these policemen will just walk away.
Vaccination against Tick Borne Encephalitis Virus during Summer
Ticks are active during May, June and early July. Hence, you must be vaccinated if you will be travelling at those times, especially if you plan to travel to the forest or mountain areas of the Altai or the Urals. You should be vaccinated at least 45 days before departure.
Vaccination does not guarantee complete protection from the viral encephalitis infection, but considerably eases the course of disease.
When you are in the forest, you should constantly examine your exposed body surgace for ticks. You can also use tick repellants.
If you found that you were bitten by a tick, you should inform the tour guide, and he will bring you to the local hospital for Intravenous Immunoglobulin Injection, which should be done within 3 days. The injection should cost around 35 - 50 $. (It is free if you are covered by insurance, which is usually included in the tour program.)
Smoking is not allowed on the train. But you are allowed to smoke at the end of the wagon. (Open air)
There are electrical outlets in every room for Class 1. There are 2 Electrical outlets on the hallway in Class 2. There are 2 electrical outlets in Class 3 hallway, at the tail end, it is on the wall above the wastebin, and at the head end, it is on the wall, above the hot water boiler. Sometimes you can find them in the toilet. (for shavers).
There is not limit to weight, but you are given a limited space to put your baggage. Your baggage will be kept under your bed.
As long as it is small enough to fit in to the baggage space below your bed (it's not big) , you are allowed to carry it on the train free of charge.
Frequently Asked Questions about Trans-Siberian Railway
Q : Is the Trans-Siberian Railway Just one train going from Moscow to the Far East?
A : No, the Trans-Siberian Railway is just a railway track, run by many different trains connecting city to city.
Q : Should I take a one way train ride from Moscow to Vladivostok to experience the Trans-Siberian Ride?
A : Surprisingly, many have asked me this question, perhaps due to the misconception that the Trans-Siberian Railway is just one special train on one track from west to the east or vice versa. It is a real boring 7-10 day trip from Moscow to Vladivostok, I would recommend to stop every 12 - 24 hours to visit a city, especially the popular ones (see below).
Q : What popular cities do you recommend us to stop during our Trans-Siberian Journey?
A : If you are into big cities and museums, Ekaterinburg (Sverdlovsks) and Novosibirsk are the two major cities which have loads of museums as well as theatres. These cities are good for a short rest and warm bath, as well as to stock up some food for the rest of your Trans-Siberian Journey.
The most popular destination throughout the Trans-Siberian Journey is of course Irkutsk, which connects with Lake Baikal, the pearl of Siberia.
Other hidden gems of the Trans-Siberia journey are Tomsk, which is a serene university town, with beautiful surroundings and young crowd, Krasnoyarsk, which has a natural reserve containing the famous Stalby (remnants of volcano) as well as its famous bridge (which you see on the 10 rouble note), Ulan Ude, which has a mixture of Mongolian and Russian culture as well as their world famous Datsans (bhuddist temples) and is also the hub to the Trans-Mongolian journey.
If you love natural sights and wonders, love hiking, camping, rafting and horse riding, Altai has one of Russia's most greatest natural sight, The Golden Mountains of Altai. It is a UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE site, and is one of the favourite destinations of nature lovers all over the world. Ekaterinburg has similar activities in the Ural mountains, which is also very beautiful.
Q : How much time do we need on our Trans-Siberian Journey?
A : A minimum of 10 days would be needed for a 2 day stopover at Lake Baikal (Irkutsk), meaning there would only be one stop. Ideally, to really experience the Trans-Siberian Journey, you should have at least 20 days, with a few stopovers at major cities, experiencing the change of culture from each stop of the way. Each of the cities have something unique to offer, and every one of them have different cultures. Just by moving city to city you can see the change in the facial features of the citizens of the particular cities, from European to Asian faces. It is a real amazing journey.
Q : Is there something like a Monthly Rail pass (unlimited for a period of time) for the Trans-Siberian Railway?
A : No, there is not (as of 2011). If you would like to visit several cities in the Urals, Siberia and Far East, you have to purchase separate tickets city to city.
The amount of train tickets I had during my Trans Siberian Journey
Q : Is it possible to plan and purchase tickets upon arrival of the city along the Trans-Siberian Route?
A : It is possible, but not advisable. Tickets run out fast during summer (even winter) , especially the third class tickets. You might end up paying a much higher price, or you will end up with seats near the toilet (with constant door slamming throughout the night). If you are travelling alone or with just 1 partner, it is possible, but try to purchase tickets at least 2-3 days before departure.
Q : Is it possible to take the Russian Train without knowledge of Russian Language?
A : Yes it is possible. Many have done that. Often no conversation is needed with the cabin attendant. She will ask to check your passport and ticket before entering (does not require talking) , and once more 5 mins after the train departs. The cabin attendant will shake your leg to wake you up before you arrive to your destination. (does not require talking).
Q : Should I purchase my tickets online or should I purchase in Moscow. As I will spend a week in Moscow before leaving on the Trans-Siberia.
A: If you are travelling during the peak season (summer), I would strongly suggest to purchase in advance. Unless you are travelling solo, or with a partner. Tickets to the popular destinations are sold out very fast.