Mar 26

trans-siberian railway independent travel (Riding the Rails)

The Trans-Siberian is a “bucket list” item for many and it’s possible for trans-siberian railway independent travel.

We survived about 2/3 of the Trans-Siberian express from Moscow to Irkutsk.  Our train ride was 80 hours – 4 nights and 3 full days.  We were in the 3rd class or “platzkartney” This means there are 52 berths in one car with no doors and no privacy.  Also in the car are two toilets, the attendant’s room where you can buy snacks and drinks, and the samovar (hot, hot water 24 hours a day).

Purchasing Tickets and Cost

We bought the train tickets from a UK-based broker.  We paid about a 30% upcharge but this wasn’t a huge deal because we had very specific dates we wanted to travel (advice on the internet was that travel in July/August is always sold out the day the tickets go on sale), and the tickets weren’t all that expensive in the first place.  We chose 3rd class which was about 1/2 the price of 2nd class, and 1/4 the price of 1st class.   And this was $1,000s cheaper than the cheapest “Trans-Mongolia” tour offered by the different travel companies.  Their 21-day trips started at $4,000 land only (would have been at least $6000 with flights and visas) and my entire 30-day trip, including lodging, food, tours, airfare to and from the US, and visas was around $2,600.

Platzkarney Class

The platzkarney car was full of bunk beds.  My travel companion and I had a top and lower bunk stacked on each other.  The lower bunk lifted and had storage underneath – large enough that we could store both of our large backpacks under and lock them when we were gone.  In the day, the lower bunk would be our seats.

trans-siberian railway independent travel

Many Days on the Train

The first full day on the train was tough – it got up to 90 degrees on the train!  Combine that with 4 days of no showers and you can image how much fun we had.  Let’s just say we were very stinky by the time we got to Irkutsk.   Something we discovered on day two we wish we had discovered earlier – the café car had air conditioning and wasn’t very crowded due to their high prices.  We should have wiled away the first day drinking overpriced beers.

The train kept very much on schedule.  We stopped at all hours of the day and night – as short as 3 minutes and as long as 50 minutes in the larger towns.  On the longer stops, everyone would get off the train and get fresh air and buy goodies at the stations.  We would search out other tourists at the stops and found only about 8 other tourists on our train of over 20 cars.  No western tour groups appeared to be out our train.

The views from the train were OK, not spectacular.  There were lots of little Siberian villages with wooden buildings and nice gardens.

Traveled Aug, 2012

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