As we start thinking about what bucketlist items we can cross off in 2018 I wanted to share my experience of my number one bucket list experience – the Trans-Siberian Railway. Yes, I am that cliche – I quit my job and flat in London last year to embark on a six month adventure across Trans-Siberia, China, Japan, South Korea and South East Asia.
As I started to prepare for my Trans-Siberian adventure last year (having booked on a tour with VodkaTrain, I realised that even after reading what felt like 1,000 blogs about what to expect on the Trans-Siberian railway, I was no more clued up than when I started. I didn’t manage to find heaps of useful information online so this sets out some of the do’s and don’ts that I discovered along the way, facilities on board, and how to survive in third class (oh, yes I went in STYLE).
FACILITIES ON BOARD THE TRANS-SIBERIAN RAILWAY
Despite reading a lot online I wasn’t sure what would and would not be on board so here is the lowdown.
- There is a hot water tap – it will be your best friend.
- There are plug sockets -only one each end in second and third class so you will have to wait and snatch it when you can (the stops are usually a good length of time as everyone is making the most of the fresh air).
- There is no wifi or access to the internet. I got super lucky on day number three of third class and found free wifi at one of the railway stations we stopped at, but prepare to keep your Trans-Siberian Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat posts in your drafts.
- The food car is a lot cooler (temperature wise) than third class so most of our group went there every afternoon (I may or may not have made the most of our free seating booth to stare out the window and read my book #socialbutterfly).
THE PEOPLE ON BOARD
Our carriage was full of Russians who clearly used the train regularly. We stared in wonder as they gracefully glided up and down from the top bunks (our efforts solicited muffled laughter and sniggers from the locals). Most didn’t speak English, but by day number four those still left from Moscow nod to you and smile. We were lucky as we didn’t see any robbing or thievery going on – our carriage was full of people just going about their business.
Compact would be the word to use when describing both second and third class!
In third there are no doors, which means no privacy! Two lots of two beds face each other with a third lot of two on the side. One thing worth noting is that upper beds are half the price of the lower beds. We soon realised why as not only do you have to get up there, but some people staying in the lower beds kept it as a bed all day, rather than reverting it to seats which meant the person upstairs was stuck lying on their bed all day (and with no room to sit up, this severely limits your activities).
There is plenty of room for luggage. In third there is a storage shelf above the upper bunk and you can keep your valuables inside the lower bunk. In second there is a large gap above the door and also room below the lower bunk.
You get given bedding by your carriage conductor. The beds are not too uncomfortable in third at all. However, there is very limited room on the upper bunk – you can’t sit up, so moving around can be precarious! You will hit your head innumerable times. The window can also be a problem. Sharing a very cramped cabin with others means you want it open but you pass a surprisingly large amount of trains which are really noisy and can wake you up. In third class the attendant also shuts the lights off at a time of their choosing. Ours went off at 10.30pm and we were surprised how quiet the carriage was -everyone went to sleep early.
You also need to combat going through five time zones in four days – your sleep pattern can get a bit weird!
THE FOOD ON BOARD
Noodles will be your best friend and your worst enemy but you will need to stock up!
The Russian food cart was a lot cheaper than we had read about – you can get a beer for 400 roubles. Plus the menu was also more varied – it even served salads!! On the Russian train they also came through the compartment selling hot dogs and other pasty-type foods.
You can also rely on the stops for food too. It is a lot cheaper than the train and there is often more choice. Babushka ladies sell local produce in Russia and there is always a small shop too. We only saw a shop in Mongolia but at that point all we wanted was ice-cream so we were in luck!!
They aren’t luxurious by any means but still a lot better than we had feared. Third class (and Mongolian second class) had a bar of soap so bring your own hand sanitizer too (one bar between 52 strangers…). The flush is a pedal and you see your own business sprinkled on the tracks in Russia, Mongolia and China. Lovely.
I was terrified about the locking of the toilets when the train was in station. I had read horror stories about them being locked for hours at a time and as someone who needs the loo every half an hour I was fearful. But it was a lot better than I imagined. The first thing we recommend is taking a picture of the stop times to know when the toilets will be locked.
In Russia and Mongolia they usually lock the trains fifteen minutes before a stop and unlock them fifteen minutes after. The China train was even less. The main time the toilets are locked are during the border checks, which last a couple of hours each. There are two checks -one on each side and for Mongolia into China, the toilet did not re-open between the two. The longest wait we had was while they moved the train onto different train tracks from Russia to Mongolia. We were off the train for four hours (cards anyone?) and there was a toilet inside the station (you had to pay a small fee).
WHAT TO BRING ON THE TRANS SIBERIAN EXPRESS
I would recommend coming equipped with:
- A five litre bottle of water.
- Cutlery and a bowl (you can borrow it on the Moscow to Irtusk train but it depends on your carriage conductor and your ability to mime borrowing in hand gestures).
- Dried flavoured porridge for each morning – masks the taste of mixing it with water and not milk.
- Noooodles! You will have a love-hate relationship but ultimately, noodles are your core diet.
- Sweets and biscuits.
- Tea bags. As a tea-aholic I still drank it with no milk to hand.
- Roubles – for the stops and food cart.
- A pack of playing cards – frustration, bull sh*t and rummy got us through the long border checks.
- A book or fully charged kindle. Although I didn’t read as much as I thought I would – private time is limited.
- Two packs of baby wipes.
- Spray deodorant.
- Hand sanitiser.
- A loo roll or tissues- we only needed it on the last leg to Beijing. Once the first roll is gone, they don’t replenish!
- Eye mask.
- Ear plugs.
Have you ever been on a Interrailing Trip? We’d love to hear your stories, tips or questions in the comment section below! Read Next > Top 10 Budget Travel Tips And TricksYou Need To Keep In Mind
By We Are Travel Girls Contributor Anna Hatfield
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Such a comprehensive and eye opening (toilet situation) guide!
IG | @viviyunn_
Thanks vivian :)
Really interesting info!
Kate | http://www.petiteadventures.org/
Great post – found this really useful for my upcoming trip