EXPERIENCES SPECIFIC TO THE TRANS-SIBERIAN
?? ?? ?? THE Trains-Siberian trainsThe main reason for any Trans-Siberian trip, what better way to appreciate and experience the transition from one continent to the next by way of stunning scenery, fantastically differing cultures and warm friendly people.
?? ?? BIG CITY BUZZAt opposite ends of the Trans-Mongolian line, Moscow and Beijing are both vibrant world cities thrusting their way into the 21st Century yet with one eye on the past providing fans of megalopolises with a fascinating urban experience.
?? ?? ?? Astonishing & Varied ArchitectureThe Trans-Siberian offers fantastic architectural variety from the European architecture of St Petersburg, onion domes of Moscow, traditional wooden cabins of Siberia, practical simplicity of Mongolian gers to the power and pomp of imperial China.
?? ?? DELICIOUS FOODWell, even we have to admit that Russia and Mongolia are not particularly known for their cuisine although they both have their moments and particularly Russia these days. China, in contrast, is a culinary delight and Beijing probably offers the best all round experience in China for foodies!
?? ?? Remote SceneryThe vastness of Russia can only really be appreciated by train and you will pass through some stunning scenery, particularly around lake Baikal. Mongolia personifies remote whether it be the grasslands and mountains of the north or deserts of the south. The West and South West of China also don't disappoint.
?? ?? ?? Friendly PeopleWhether it is the extraordinary hospitality of the Mongolia’s nomads or breaking the ice with a few vodkas in Russia or the surprising little kindnesses in hugely populous China the people you meet along the way are an important part of the Trans-Siberian.
?? Rural Siberian HospitalityOne of the highlights of a Trans-Siberian trip is to experience a home stay in a traditional Siberian village where the pace of life is far removed from the cities. A warm and friendly welcome and delicious homemade food are just part of the experience.
?? Mongolia's SteppeA once in a lifetime destination for many the vast open steppe and endless skies of Mongolia are a relaxing and yet exhilarating experience which will leave you feeling refreshed and renewed and, like so many, longing to return.
?? The Endless Travel Possibilities in ChinaChina is a lifetime of travel in itself and the possibilities and travel experiences both in and beyond Beijing are deserve their own space. Thankfully we have that at our sister website “The China Travel Company.” Click here to begin your China experience.
THE BEST TRAVEL EXPERIENCES IN RUSSIA
Russia is vast and so is the range of travel experiences you can get from a trip there. Here we cover our favourites although there are many more smaller, daily treats on offer from the rich culture and traditions of this country that make it such a memorable place to holiday.
The reason why almost all our clients visit Russia is to experience at least part of the world’s longest single rail journey, the Trans-Siberian. We feel this is still the greatest rail journey in the world and a must for any lovers of rail travel. Maintaining good standards yet still being largely unaffected by the modern world this trip has a timeless quality to it which makes it a perennial classic for anyone who loves overland travel.
Ballet & Theatre
Russia has an exceedingly rich heritage of theatre and dance which her citizens are justly proud of. A trip to Moscow or St Petersburg is not really complete without experiencing this. In Moscow the Bolshoi Theatre, Stanislavsky & Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Theatres are the most famous. In St Petersburg you have the Mariinsky, Mikhaloivksy and Hermitage Theatres to choose form amongst many more smaller venues.
Homestyle Siberian Food
The fresh air of Siberia is wonderful and that along with copious exercise make it easy to build up a huge appetite. Thankfully, Siberia has the answer to this and no trip to Russia is compete without the delicious homestyle cooking that will fill you and up and keep you warm. Cheese, mushrooms, berries from the forest, bread, cold meats and soups are all very typical but every village and chef have their favourites to try.
Making the Most of Winter
Russia has a particularly long winter but rather than wish it over many Russians revel in the opportunity it gives for winter pursuits. These include downhill and cross country skiing, ice fishing and dogsledding as well as relaxing winter walks in the silent forests. Besides this, there is something magical about Siberian in the winter, especially when seen from your warm and cosy train cabin as you pass through it.
East Meets West Culture
Russia has a largely European culture particularly evident in major cities such as Moscow and St Petersburg. However, the nation spans two continents and the further east you go the more of the East there is that becomes evident. Ulan Ude is a good example of this with its mixture of Asian and Western faces, churches and Buddhist temples. Kazan and Khabarovsk are also good places to experience the mix of culture.
The onion domes of Russian churches and cathedrals immediately come to mind when we think of Russian architecture and during any trip to Russia you will come across these beautiful buildings ranging from small and modest village churches to spectacular and ornate city churches the most famous of which is St Basil’s on Red Square. Besides the domes the simple wooden architecture of Siberia is also a delight.
Relaxing Russian Banya
Available across Russia but most commonly in more rural areas especially in Siberia a Russian Banya (sauna) experience is not to be missed. Most welcome after a log day of outdoor activity it isn’t just about keeping clean as a good banya is meant to be a social event and relaxing. The set up is much as you would expect with hot stones, wooden benches and the obligatory cold drenches (or snow!) repeated as many times as you like with the option of being beaten by birch branches!
The onion domes of Russian churches and cathedrals are familiar to all. However, unless you actually visit these buildings themselves you miss out on the extraordinary atmosphere inside brought about by low lighting, splendid decor and the fact that unlike so many churches in the west, Russian churches are almost continuously in active use. The icon walls are what really separate the experience from that of home so make sure you enter the churches rather than just photograph the domes.
Vladivostok’s Military Sights
Vladivostok is the end of the Trans-Siberian railway and so a necessary place to visit if taking that route. Thankfully it is also a city with much of interest with its stunning location on Amursky Gulf. It is also an important naval port and in these days of cold thaw it is now possible to visit some of the old military forts and a submarine pictures right on the promenade making it quite a unique destinations and experience in Russia.
Luxury Private Train Tours
Most of our trips use scheduled Russian train services open to all. There are however, private train options designed solely for tourists and offering an experience that is far more luxurious (at a price) than the standard trains give. Te two train we offer are the Tsars Gold private train and the Golden Eagle luxury train (pictured right). Both offer a range of fixed date departures, varying routes and the possibility of extremely comfortable suites with excellent facilities.
BEST TRAVEL EXPERIENCES IN MONGOLIA
Mongolia is not only a wonderfully remote destination but also unique in what it can offer the traveller. Many visitors fall in love with the country and its people, the vast open spaces and pristine wilderness. Below we list what we think are the experiences that make Mongolia such a top and rewarding destination for the more adventurous traveller.
Meeting Local People
Any trip to Mongolia is as much about the people and their nomadic culture and routes as about the scenery or other factors. Particularly when out in the grasslands the warmth and traditional hospitality of the people is a big part of any Mongolia experience. Mongolians are very proud of their country and history and have a unique culture perhaps deliberately distinct to its giant neighbours of China and Russia. They are tough, no nonsense and resourceful people yet also very friendly and open to the world.
A Night in a Ger
Undoubtedly the top Mongolia experience for us is the almost unique opportunity to spend a night out on the open steppe in a ger – the traditional style home of Mongolia’s nomads and little changed in style over the centuries. Most gers used on any of our trip will be designed for use by tourists and are comfortable, cosy and clean. Little beats waking up early and opening the door onto a vast vista or the glow of the stove on a chilly night. All in all a Mongolia experience we never get tired of.
Stunning Unspoiled Scenery
If you are a fan of wide open spaces and remote, wild landscapes then Mongolia really is the place for you. With a population of less than 3 million in a country bigger than Alaska there is an awful lot of pristine scenery to see ranging from the mountains and lakes of the north to the grasslands of central Mongolia to the vast Gobi desert in the south of the country.
There are few countries in the world more suited to getting away from it all in remote country rarely visited. Generally you need at least two weeks and a reasonable budget to put together a worthwhile expedition but if you have those then the possibilities Mongolia provides are excellent and quite diverse from mountains to lakes to vast tracks of desert.
Train the Gobi & Grasslands
The quick and easy way to see Mongolia’s scenery is by train. The Trans-Mongolian line runs from the Russian border in the north down to the Chinese border in the south via the capital, Ulaanbaatar. This route starts in the mountains, passes through the grasslands and continues into the rugged Eastern Gobi and you can see all of this without even leaving your train cabin. This is the main reason why the Trans-Mongolian route from Moscow to Beijing is by far the most popular of the Trans-Siberian routes to travel.
Genghis Khan is one of histories most famous and charismatic leaders and his legacy and celebration is impossible to avoid on a trip to Mongolia. Despite brutal tactics as he tore through much of Asia, Mongolians are fiercely proud of their national hero and you are likely to learn a lot about him from your guides. His lasting legacy can be seen throughout Mongolia and much of Central Asia and the stories associated with his upbringing, consolidation of power and conquests bring your tour to Mongolia to life.
Not surprisingly such a vast and sparsely populated country as Mongolia has its fair share of wildlife. Of course, much of the nomadic existence is centred around horses and camels and you will see semi-wild herds of both across the country. The gobi has vast herds of gazelle and in the north are reindeer and wolves although both these would take quite a bit of effort to see. Mongolian rivers and lakes are full of fish as the locals seem to take little interest in fishing.
The vast majority of visitors to Mongolia come during the brief summer from June to August. Mongolia’s winter is long and about as harsh as winters get anywhere but it can also be a rewarding time to visit if you dress up well enough. One of our favourite experiences has been to spend a night in a ger in the depth of winter. Gers are super insulated and the stove keeps them cosy and warm despite temperatures outside being a good 50C lower than in the ger. For the adventurous, Lake Khuvsgul holds a winter festival in late February.
BEST TRAVEL EXPERIENCES IN CHINA
China is such a unique country and its size and millennia of history give it so much to draw on as a destination for the curious traveller. Consequently, the wide variety of experiences it can offer make a China tours here an extremely rewarding and unforgettable experience with some of the highlights listed below.
Overnight Sleeper Trains
Although some routes are now being eclipsed by the more practical and time efficient bullet trains an overnight sleeper train journey is still an excellent way to get between cities offering up a far better cultural experience than flying. If you can try to get at least one overnight train ride into your itinerary. Most trains have 4 berth “soft sleeper” cabins (similar to second class on the Trans-Siberian) and it is often possible to buy additional berths if you want sole occupancy.
In major Chinese cities and other well-visited tourist spots there are well put together cultural shows ranging from Chinese Acrobats, Martial Arts shows, Opera and music and dance focusing on traditional culture and very much part of the China experience. Beijing, Xian, Shanghai and Chengdu all offer this as well as outdoor shows in Yangshuo and Lijiang and on an epic scale directed by Zhang Yimou who also directed the Beijing 2008 Olympic opening ceremony.
Ancient Chinese Traditions
With thousands of years of history to draw from one of the delights of a tour in China is to experience the rich cultural traditions that define the Middle Kingdom. These can range from visiting a working temple to the vast and varied cuisine of the various provinces that make up the country. One of the most famous traditions worth experience is a tea ceremony. The Chinese way of drinking is very different to the Western way and milk and biscuits are certainly not an option!
Modern Bullet Trains
A quite recent addition to the list of China Experiences are the bullet trains. China is building this high speed network at a breathtaking pace with the aim to link up all major cities within the next few years. The trains travel up to 300 km per hour and are clean and comfortable. They start and finish at airport like stations but perhaps the most surreal part of it is that you can speed in 21st Century comfort through a very much more ancient landscape for a fascinating contrast.
One of the joys of China travel is the food. In the west most Chinese food we eat is actually Cantonese style from the Hong Kong area. However, there is so much more to Chinese food than that with each province having its own style of cuisine ranging from seriously spicy to delicately flavoured and including soups, dumplings, kebabs and even Chinese pizza to name jus a few. Don’t hold back, dive in and keep an eye on what is clearly popular with the locals.
Unique & Stunning Scenery
Although heavily populated China also has areas of stunning natural beauty. The most famous is probably Guilin and Yangshuo in Southern China. The scared mountains are also very unusual blending scenery with culture. Areas of Sichuan and Yunnan have beautiful lush mountains and the rolling rural countryside of Guizhou is the Chinese version of our English countryside. For a more wild experience Xinjiang and Tibet offer up remote and untouched landscapes.
Friendly & Diverse People
On the whole Chinese people are a friendly and curious bunch not shy to communicate with foreigners even if there is little meeting of language. Even in the big cities used to seeing foreigners you are accorded the respect of a visiting guest. The “Chinese” are also a diverse bunch with over 50 ethnic minorities each with their own look and traditions. Learning just a few words of Mandarin will get you a long way and bring out the welcoming smiles of the people.
21st Century China
Many people associate China with ancient traditions but much of the country is also hurtling towards the future with hardly a glance back at this past. Shanghai is the city most obviously associated with this with its increasingly impressive skyline of skyscrapers but many other cities also have their brand new business districts containing impressive modern architecture. Much of the transport infrastructure is futuristic as well including new stations, bullet trains and airports.
High Altitude Adventure
The western provinces of China including Xinjiang, and Tibet as well as parts of Sichuan and Yunnan offer up some truly magnificent mountain scenery including, of course, Mount Everest close to the Tibet Nepal border. The remote Karakorum Highway is also spectacular as is parts of the train ride from Urumqi to Kashgar through the Tian Shan range and the Sky Train to Lhasa. China also has sacred mountains throughout the country that offer a unique experience.
All across China are beautiful temples and although the most popular are somewhat less than tranquil due to large numbers of tourists there are also many that are rarely visited and quietly go about their business largely unchanged over the centuries. The scared mountains offer up this experience as they usually have dozens of temples to choose from but many cities also have some fantastic options – even tourist hotspots like Beijing. Your guide can make suggestions.
CONTINUE TO EXPLORE THIS SECTION FROM THE OPTIONS BELOW
Planning Route Options
Map of the Trans-Siberian railway showing the major stops and popular places to visit as well as the Trans-Mongolian and Trans-Manchurian routes.
Planning Where To Stop
The Trans-Siberian Travel Company's selection of the best places to visit in Russia, Mongolia and China for your trip of a lifetime.
Planning When To Go
The best months of the year to take a Trans-Siberian rail tour - and when not to! Do you prefer the idea of a summer trip, a winter trip or fall colours of autumn?
Planning The Trains
A guide to the main trains used in our The Trans-Siberian Travel Company's tours, differences between first and second train classes and life on board.
The staff of The Trans-Siberian Travel Company came up with this list of the best experiences on offer though Russia, Mongolia and China.
From modern to soviet hotels, Mongolian Gers, Siberian Home Stays to traditional style Chinese courtyards, the right hotel selection can make your trip!
Planning Money To Take
What currency to take on a Trans-Siberian tour - Russian Roubles? Mongolian Tugrik? Chinese Yuan RMB? US Dollars? Euros? Find the answers here.
Planning Visa Requirements
Most nationalities will need a visa for their Trans-Siberian trip - find out more information about Russian, Mongolian and Chinese visas here.
Vaccination and inoculations needed or recommended for a Trans-Siberian trip visiting Russia, Mongolia and China. Updated for Covid-19.
Our guide to the most frequently asked questions when planning your rail tour and holiday along the Trans-Siberian routes.
Planning Top Tips
Top Tips for a Trans-Siberian railway adventure based on experiences both good and bad from the trips we have done with specific lists for Mongolia and China.
Planning Reading List
The Trans-Siberian Travel Company's suggestions for a good read as you travel along the greatest railway in the world including reading lists for China, Russia and Mongolia.