Train travel is both an adventure and great experience. You experience the changing landscapes and get a much better idea of the country. As you’re watching the world go by, you can chat with local people, usually exchanging food and drink (yes, exactly what you think). Alternatively, getting off at a station (when the train stops for more than a few minutes) is an excellent way to try local food.
We are doing a lot of train journeys during our world trip. Started with a train trip from Rotterdam to Moscow, followed by the TME (Trans-Mongolian Express) from Moscow to Beijing. In China only used trains to travel, connecting the following city; Beijing, Datong, Xian, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Wuhan, Urumqi and Kashgar. Same deal in India: Dehli, Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodpur, Mumbai, Goa, Agra, Gorakhpur, Kolkota. By our estimate that’s about 25,000km of rail journey, so we know what we are talking about 😉
Before we started our trip on the legendary TME, we searched high and low for information on the TME. We only found bits and pieces on the Internet (the Man in Seat 61 was a very good resource), a week before we started we also got some information from our travel agent (www.treinreiswinkel.nl). What we would have really liked though, was a better source with all the handy information about the TMW or TSE (Trans-Siberian Express) in one page. So here it is, everything you need to know before starting your train adventure!
1. What tickets do I need?
- Most travelers will book a 2nd class ticket. Four people in total share this compartment and it has a door that you can lock from the inside. There are two bunks on each side, with the lower bunk serving as a seat. If there are two of you traveling, ensure your travel agent books you the lower and upper, as then you get your side of the compartment totally to yourself. It is quite luxurious
- People with a 3rd class ticket sleep in an open compartment with place for 8 people. Instead of 4 bunks, there are 6 and two in the hallway. There is no door, thus you have a bit less privacy. On the plus side, you’ll become much more quickly immersed in the culture of the people you are travelling with
- People with a 1st class ticket will have a 2-person compartment. But this is super expensive and we feel that you’d really miss out on the beauty of the trip, by hiding yourself away.
- In every wagon there are about 6-7 compartments and about 20 wagons for each train
2. What are the bathrooms like?
- In a word, basic. They are nothing if not functional, you can expect a toilet (emptying directly onto the tracks) and a sink with running water. This water is not drinkable, but fine for brushing teeth and washing yourself.
- Washing yourself. Take some wet wipes, a towel and your toiletries for a unique washing experience. Pro Tip: Bring a universal plug and fill up a bowl of hot water from the boiler, bringing it to the bathroom. This way you can have a warm wash!
- Every wagon has two toilets, one at each end. Watch out through, they will be closed about 30min before arriving at a station, so make sure you go when you can!
3. Dining/eating options?
- Every wagon has a boiler with hot water. Which you can use for tea, coffee, soup, noodles etc. We recommend going to your local supermarket (or even better, Asian supermarket) before you leave and stock up with a lot of really yummy noodles. Make sure you choose a variety of flavours 😉
- The train (depending on the part, but for the majority of the journey there is a restaurant wagon. No restaurant from Irkutsk to Ulaanbaator, for example) will likely have a restaurant compartment, but food and drinks in the restaurant are not cheap. Nor is the quality so high, so we skipped the restaurant car entirely.
4. So what does my compartment include?
- You get clean bedding, a mattress, a blanket and a pillow
- There will be electricity points in the hallway, but only some work.
- There is space for your luggage under the bottom bunk and above the door there is a big compartment that goes above the hallway for extra luggage.
- You will have a small table, which is attached to the window.
5. Arrange/buy before you start your train journey
- Cup for drinks
- Bowl for food
- Knife, fork, spoon
- Food: soup, instant noodles, sweets, etc.
- Drinks: tea, coffee, water etc.
- Games to play
- Books to read
- Spices: salt, pepper, sugar etc.
- Earplugs (to help with snoring passengers)
- Toilet paper (especially from Ulaanbaatar to Beijing you need your own toilet paper)
- Hand gel to wash your hands
- Powerpack for charging your phone
- Empty disposable bags which you can use as a bin bag.
- Russian money, you won’t readily be able to change once you get on the train.
- Download Russian on your phone with Google translate or bring a translation book, so you can also have a little conversation with your Russian fellow travelers.
6. Do’s during your trip on the TME
- Have nice conversations with your fellow travelers
- Share food and drinks with each other
- Hang with your head out of the window (but be careful)
- Get out of the train at stops longer than 5 minutes and stroll around the platform to buy some local food and beverages.
- Hang up your hammock in your compartment
- Miss your train (it almost happened a couple of times to us…)
- Make your fellow travelers so drunk with cheap vodka that they puke in your compartment.
8. Train stops
- If you don’t have a valid ticket, you can’t enter the train. So, no thieves from outside the train are able to get into your compartment, but common sense prevails when leaving your valuables unattended. You can also close the door of the compartment when you leave.
- Border Russia into Mongolia: 4 hour stop. You have to be back in the train after 2 hours though for passport control. In the 2 hours to spend in the city you could: Climb the ‘mountain’ behind the sport complex or walk to the river and wooden bridge for a nice swim in summer (don’t do both though or you’ll be late! Trust us 😉 )
We think these are the most import things you should know. But if you have more questions, please leave a message here and we’ll get back to you (and quite likely add it to the page for everyone else)
Have an awesome journey with the Trans-Siberia Express (TSE) or Trans-Mongolia Express (TME). We’re sure that you will have lots of fun and have an amazing trip!
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