What an adventure? We boarded the train at 9:35 pm after stumbling around Moscow for 12 hours on no sleep. The cabin was very small barely fitting four people. There were bunk beds on each side with the top bunk folding down and a small table in between. Our first roommates were Daniel and Katie from Manchester, UK. Katie loved making crisp sandwiches and eating chocolate. Daniel was a big fan of reading his lonely planet Tran-Siberian book and Katie loved to sleep. Daniel and Katie were traveling to Lake Baikal before spending couple days in Ulaanbatar and then going to China (Beijing/Hong Kong). At Lake Baikal, we got joined by Nicola and Adam from Sydney, Australia. They were probably in their mid 30s. They had done Moscow and St. Petersburg before continuing their journey on the train. They had stopped at a couple places to break up the trip. They were a fun bunch of people.
The train had about 16 cars with only one first class cabin and NO third class cabins. The last car was for employees and the second to last was the restaurant car. Since we were in the first passenger car, any trip to the restaurant car required us going through 14 different cars. Shades were often drawn to keep the cars cooler. The restaurant car was crazy expensive costing 200 doubles (6 dollars) for a beer and 120 roubles for a 20 oz coke. We had pancakes with jam for our first breakfast, but it was only meal that we ate there. We stuck with noodles, fruit, bread, and snacks.
I would estimate that 80% of people on train were Mongolian, 10% Russian, and 10% foreign. Next to our car, we had three French med students, who liked to party. On the second night, we joined them for the Russian version of UNO called Predo Presjo. Instead of last card, they called “Somalye”. I drank beer as they drank whiskey. We were joined later in night by a Kiwi and another person from the UK. The Kiwi in typical fashion got drunk and looked like he wanted to fight. Luckily, the crisis was averted and everything went well. On the other side of us were three Europeans that had some piercings and liked to smoke a lot. On our train, we also had the “King of the Mongolian” train, who was this big Mongolian man. If he came down the car, you moved to the other side. He did not and would not move. We also had a bunch of little Mongolian kids on our car that ran around nude or basically nude.
As for the journey itself, it provided unique perspective on Russia and was very different from the image portrayed in Moscow and St Petersburg. The houses were small and made out of wood. It seemed like each home had a small private garden. The trip began with wild forests composed mostly of aspen/birch trees and ended with mostly grasslands as we left Lake Baikal. An hour and half outside of Irutsk, we saw Lake Baikal, which was huge and beautiful. The cities were as you expected with big monolithic buildings all in cement.
Mongolian Sausage Smuggler
When we first got on the train, we saw a family with lots of boxes of various sausage products. We figured that they were in the import/export business and didn’t think twice. It was around the Mongolian border where I saw the family removing the sausages from the boxes. z thought that it was quite funny and took a picture. Immediately after the picture was taken, I hear “NO PICTURE, NO PICTURE” and the big Mongolian man grabs my camera. I was afraid that the camera was going to be thrown out the window. The Australian in my cabin and I convinced him that I would delete the picture. It was a very tense couple of minutes, but in the end, he felt comfortable enough that the picture was gone. He really didn’t want to pay the duties on those sausages. If it smells “shady”, it probably is “shady.”
Bring pasta/noodles – there is hot water and is cheapest way of eating
Bring roubles – you should have at least thousand or 2 of rubles for all the little shops along the way.