Life on Board
What’s the Trans Sib like?
Let’s start with what the Trans-Sib isn’t - this isn’t a luxury train like the Orient Express. No, it’s a proper working train filled with Russians, Mongolians and Chinese people travelling home or on business. There are quite a few Aussie, Kiwi, Brit and European travellers, especially in the summer months, but this is not a Contiki tour – it’s a fully functioning working train.
100 years ago the train carriages were full of luxuriant carpets, oak furniture and gold fixtures that attracted the wealthy, but that’s mainly gone and your journey on 2007/2008’s Trans-Sib will be comfortable, rather than luxurious. But the train is clean, lovely and warm particularly in the winter, and the carriages offer more than enough space for a game of chess, or just to kick back and read a good book, or just to stare out the large frosted windows at the Urals, an Icy Siberia, Lake Baikal, the Mongolian Steppes, or the Great Wall
But what’s it like – Well we think it’s a great “once in a lifetime” adventure.
Whats the accommodation like on board?
Each Trans-sib train has about 10-20 train carriages, and each carriage is divided into about a dozen compartments, most of them 2nd class; Most of our trips you’ll be on have 4 berths - 2 up, 2 down – like two lots of bunkbeds. The beds are firm, and pretty long (our Sales Director is 6ft 1 and a big lad, and he thought them comfortable enough). You don’t have to bring a sleeping bag, but a sheet sleeping bag will add to your comfort. The compartment door is lockable, and most people lock there cabins at night or when they’re getting changed. Each cabin has a small table (about the same size as a small card table) with an attached bottle opener, beside the large window. There’s also two small ladders on each side of the compartment to reach the upper berths and hooks to hang your gear. By the way you can upgrade to 1st class on some of our trips. The main difference is that there will only be two people per compartment. See Dates and Costs for details.
Is the Trans-Sib for you?
We were discussing the other day what kind of person does the Trans-Siberian, and the answer seems to be those who’ve got a proper wanderlust, have a small travel twinkle in their eye, combined with a curiosity to see and do one of the last great travel adventures. We also noted that there was no typical age as our oldest passenger was 83 and our youngest was 9, but as a general rule most people who do the Trans-Siberian seem to be in their 20s, 30s or 40s.
Our Trans-Sib programs are emphatically not group tours and we guarantee you will be treated as an individual throughout. In fact we look at our programs as a skeleton on which you can add the flesh (or extra modules).
The cabins are bigger than they look and have quite a lot of room to store your rucksack and bags. In a typical 4 berth Russian train compartment, there’s a space above the door that extends into the carriage walkway that comfortably holds two large rucksacks. Moreover under the bottom two bunks, there’s room for another couple of large bags. The locals tend to grab as much of the space as early as possible so a bit so a bit of smiling and juggling is usually needed when you’re getting on the train for the first time. In ten years of selling the Trans-Siberian we’ve had one camera stolen on the Trans Sib, and the chap whose camera it was wasn’t sure if he hadn’t left it in the dining cabin after a supper heavily supplemented with vodka. But it’s sensible to keep your cash, cameras, and ipods on your person when the cabin is empty. There’s also a small net bag beside your head to store books and other personal items. Also it’s worth noting that the providnistas will lock your cabin if you ask them to so you can nip onto the platform when the train stops.
Is there a dining car?
Yes, all the Trans- Siberian trains have a buffet wagon, open from 9 till 9. The food is fairly basic (sausages, soups, salads and stews feature heavily), and a bit stodgy (No Gordon Ramsay 3 stars here, but its cheap and will fill you up.
Travelling with Children
There are no serious downsides, and the infrastructure of travel and accommodation works well if you’re taking children along. However, Communist-era thinking very much treated children as small adults, with little or no provisions or amenities. So priming your children is essential if they are not going to get bored. Take supplies of books and fresh comics secreted in your suitcase English reading material in unavailable for both children and adults alike. The journey is however the most fantastic introduction to a world they will have never known and they will meet many local children along the way, who will be very curious about their lives so take photos of home! Child prices are on application.
How much privacy is there onboard?
Aboard the train, most of our trips are based on 2nd class 4-berth mixed-sex compartments. If travelling as a trio, duo or solo, you will be sharing your cabin with one, two or three fellow travellers. Your fellow male or female travellers could be fellow Russian, Mongolian, Chinese, Poles, Aussie, Kiwi or Irish travellers i.e. it could be anyone. But as a general rule, the guards like to put Russian speakers together though. It’s possible to buy yourself more privacy than that with an upgrade to 1st Class (2-berth compartments) but this is in very short supply and some trains don’t have it at all. But generally what we’ve found is that privacy isn’t an issue if you stick to a few rules (like Gentlemen leave the compartment whilst a Lady gets changed) and then there’s no problems. There will be more etiquette do’s and don’ts in the info pack when you book, but basically its just common sense and good manners.
Are there showers on board?
Most of the main long distance (24 hrs+) on Russian Railways (but not on Mongolian or Chinese) now have a pay-to-use shower. You have to go to the “Special Services” wagon. One use is R50-90pp (prices are set by the varying train operators). No towel or soap is included in the price, so please bring your own.
What’s a Samovar?
Basically is a bit kettle that provides boiling water for drinking 24/7. Its powered by the trains extraneous gases and is great for dodgy Chinese noodles (The ones you'd never eat back here), our favourite Chicken and Mushroom Pot Noodles and for coffee and tea. We also had a passenger who used it to fill his hot water bottle before he went to bed at night...
Do I need Insurance or vaccinations?
We do require you to have Travel insurance to take any of our trips. We've got some pretty competitive rates, that cover the Trans-Sib and repatriation to your home country should you get ill - that’s unsusual - check out the insurance tab above.But ultimately which policy you purchase is up to you, just make sure you get some. The Russian Consulate also requires you to have Travel Insurance to obtain a visa.
No vaccinations are mandatory but you would be well advised to get informed advice on this (not every GP may be as well informed on the latest health developments in these locations). Particular concerns are Cholera, Typhoid, Hepatitis B, Tetanus and Diphtheria. Tick-borne encephalitis is a small risk on some Siberian trekking routes there is a vaccine available. But the risk is VERY small and our leaders observe safety procedures. We also suggest you take a First Aid kit, to include a Sterile Surgical kit, some plasters, some anti-septic cream and some headache tablets.
Why is it more expensive to stop over?
Well it’s a bit complicated but non-stop international tickets (ie the direct trains from Moscow to Beijing) are still priced accordingly to old bilateral agreements dating back to the Soviet era which cannot be broken. So with stops introduced into the your trip these sectors are now priced commercially by Russian Railways, so you only get the benefit of state-subsidised fares for part of your journey.
Can I stay extra nights before and after my trip?
In Moscow, St Petersburg, and Beijing - no problems at all. We always include two nights in Moscow prior to your Trans- Siberian journey and two in St Petersburg is the standard if you buy a St Petersburg add on (see our Before and After section within the trip itineraries).
Spending money - how much do you think?
We reckon St Petersburg and Moscow is about the same price as most European cities foodwise, so budget on US$40-$60 a day in the cities. On board, budget on about US$10-$30 a day, although this can increase rapidly if you start consuming alcohol at a Russian rate. When itineraries take you far from the shops or cafes we often include meals. Russian souvenirs tend to be fun and low priced so you will be able to stash your pack full of Russian goodies! Also we'll mention it in your info pack - but take US dollars. And while the Euro is getting easier to change the Yankee dollar is still king.
Links to more info