If you’re ever planning on doing this trip then don’t listen too much to the guide websites or books! Actually the Trans-Siberian Handbook Trailblazer book was the most accurate in the end, but not completely. The Trailblazer book is a must-have for the trip though (Bryn Thomas). If you look out the window you will see a marker every kilometre telling you how far you’ve come from Moscow, you can then that up in the handbook which will tell you exactly where you are, how far you are from the next stop and how long the stop is going to be and any notable landmarks/places. The book also has a very useful timetable of stops, distances, stop times time zones as well as a ton of other useful information.
We had lunch in the Russian restaurant cart on the first full day for lunch. At £8 for a small piece of chicken, and cold uncooked tomato and cucumber we weren’t impressed at all. The carriage didn’t seem too clean and the staff not particularly friendly.
We had packed a few packs of 11p noodles from Tesco, soups, some bread and apples which we planned on having every so often for a meal to save money, but we now had to ration the food to last the 5 and a half day trip. After counting the food and water we took with we had:
Our daily rations:
Breakfast: Half a cup of porridge + black coffee
Lunch: Bin Bon (pot noodle) noodle or 11p noodles for lunch
Supper: Soup with 1-2 pieces of bread
Snack: 1 black coffee with 1-2 biscuits
Water: 1l per day
After the 4th day our porridge ran out, so it was an apple or soup for breakfast.
A few times a day the train would stop for 10-20 minutes. During that time we did manage to find Big Bon noodles (the local equivalent of pot noodles) and some out of date/stale bread which helped with the food situation. Everything had quite inflated prices compared to the supermarkets we had been in in Russia; I guess they do that as they know the people on the train are going to be starving!
We did try the Mongolian restaurant cart when they attached it in Ulan Bator. Very nicely decorated and the food was nice, but at $14 a head we stuck with our noodles and bread.
Overall a really enjoyable trip though, we got to know everyone in our carriage – an Israeli guy to our right, followed by a Swedish couple, then on our left an older English couple followed by a guy in the military and another English guy. It was a bit weird getting out after all that time and all going our separate ways.
As a side note, the cold water in our shower room was a slight trickle and when the tap was turned to hot, nothing came out at all. A cold “shower” using a cup isn’t much fun!
- Don’t expect to be able to clean – take a flannel or sponge to make “showering” easier
- Take a mug. There is unlimited free hot water at the end of each carriage.
- Take loads of porridge/oats
- Take lots of snack type stuff – biscuits, crisps, sweets for yourself and to share with your neighbours
- Take lots of fruit, the stuff the locals sell doesn’t look great
- Take lots of noodles and cous-cous. Anything that can be prepared with just boiling water
- Bring something to wipe and clean the window with. A few days into the trip we could barely see out of the windows. We used water and cloth which really helped, but wasn’t ideal. Even if you buy a bottle of window cleaner and throw it out after the trip, it’ll be well worth it. Have a friend to give you a leg up as you won’t reach the windows yourself!
- Bring toilet paper. The Chinese man running our carriage was fairly good at re-stocking, but every so often there wouldn’t be any for a good few hours.
- Bring enough water to have 1.5l-2l a day. There is nothing worse than not drinking enough.
- Bring an MP3 player to drown out the repetitive noise of the train every so often. Don’t use it all the time though, you might miss out on something!
- Bring a Kindle (they’re only £69), or a thick book. If you’re travelling onwards from China after the trip then a Kindle is essential (in my opinion), especially if you don’t like giving away/throwing away books.
- Last of all, try keep up with local time. The train runs on Moscow time until you enter Mongolia, so if you’ve been living on the train’s time then once you hit Mongolia you’ll be massively jet lagged. We did lose track of time quite often travelling into a new time zone almost every day and were extremely tired on the last day. The alarm woke us at 4am on the last day due to a mix up of time zones!