Trans Siberian routes and the trains
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step
– Lao Tzu
Follow the multi-part Trans Siberian Travel Series posts below.
- Ultimate guide to planning the Trans Siberian adventure
- Life on the Trans Siberian train journey
- Trans Siberian routes and the trains
- First Stop on the Trans-Siberian: Moscow
- Second Stop on the Trans-Siberian: Yekaterinburg
- Third Stop on the Trans-Siberian: Irkutsk
- Fourth Stop on the Trans-Siberian: Mongolia
- Last Stop on the Trans-Siberian: Beijing
The Trans-Siberian Trains
All of the trains on the route we took were pretty good, comfortable and clean, the train carriages are classed as platzkart (3rd class), open plan dorm, Kupe (2nd class) has four berth closed coupe and some train have first class with just 2 beds and wash basin and toilet facilities.
Each carriage is staffed by two attendants, one for the day shift and one for the night, they help keep the carriage clean, open the doors and let the steps down at stations, they collect your tickets at the start and give them back before your destination station, they even wake you up before the station which is quite helpful if you get off in the middle of the night.
The biggest challenge for a traveller is to try and make them smile, we tried quite a bit and were greeted with a stern face every time, they are more like a strict grandma keeping their kids in discipline.
Carriages have a free continuous supply of hot water via these hot tanks called Samovar, so stock up on noodles, dried food and plenty of tea and coffee.
Its best to travel light as there is limited space on the train carriages, also its easier to carry them up and down the stairs in most stations.
Trans-Siberian Time warp
On the trans-siberian route, all train run to Moscow time, all stations display Moscow time, so be careful about what’s displayed on your ticket and when your train is.
It would be a tough task to change time for a line that crosses 7 time zones, the train time shows it is only 5pm and the sun would tell you it is 9pm, the farther you go, the confusion becomes more amusing, you never know when to go to bed, when to have dinner. Your phone clock would say it is midnight, but the sun is bright and shining above your head.
Best is to listen to your body clock and eat when you feel hungry and change your clock to the local time, best is to have a few timezones on your phone so you know the exact train timings and the local timings.
Vegetarian food on the train
There are not that many options to choose when it comes to food on the train, so if you are a vegetarian its best to have a plan B to keep your tummy happy, we took freeze dried food packets, a cup of hot water and tasty meals are ready in minutes.
That still should not prevent you visiting the canteen, it’s the best way of spending time on the train and meeting fellow travellers. Food options wary quite a lot in different regions on the train route, the canteen cars are changed along each region and along key stations.
The Paris-Moscow express had quite a few vegetarian options and a very nice restaurant car, also met a nice polish student working on the train on his uni break.
Not so lucky on the other trains, most options were meat based and a rare veg salad was available on some.
Change of Wheels
Yes, you guessed it right, the wheels of the carriages are changed, and you can be a witness to all the happening while safe inside the carriage, we took the train from Paris, so we got to experience this twice, once in Belarus where the gauge changes from the european side to the Russian side and once again crossing from the Mongolian side to the narrow Chinese side. All carriages are separated and the bogies are raised high up using fork lifts and the wheels are changed, you are not allowed outside and the toilets remain closed during the time to keep the workers from getting drenched from all the waste water.
Photography on the Train
As carriages are air conditioned and to keep them warm in winter, most of the windows are sealed closed, so the challenge is to find a window that can open, even then they do not open completely, just a tiny wedge, these are normally found near the toilet areas, we used a monopod stick to attach a small camera and held the camera outside the window to capture some scenery.
Have you done any similar long train journeys ?, we’d love to hear your experiences.