Last week, I got on the Trans Siberian Railway train from Vladivostok to Moscow after an amazing week in the Russian Republic of Buryatia in Siberia. The capital of Buryatia is Ulan Ude, and it is about three hours away by car from Lake Baikal.
This train is on the bucket list of many adventure travelers because it travels between Moscow and the Russian Far East, Mongolia and China. The destinations along these routes are some of the most exotic places in the world. The stops include Ulan-Ude and Irkutsk, two major cities around Lake Baikal.
VISITING LAKE BAIKAL
On its way to Irkutsk from Ulan Ude, the Trans Siberian Railway train goes along the shores of Lake Baikal, the deepest lake and oldest lake in the world. This train ride is on the bucket list of most adventure travellers as it really passes through some of the most exotic scenery in the world.
Although not quite as glamorous as the Orient Express or the Blue Train of South Africa, this train experience is highly recommended.
1st CLASS ON THE TRANS SIBERIAN RAILWAY
The 1st class carriage of the train is spartan but spotless. It’s very comfortable for enjoying the most amazing views of Siberia. Most of the train staff do not speak English but foreign passengers somehow manage to communicate.
I traveled solo and long distance on this no-English train but I had no problems ordering lunch, asking for tea, or checking the arrival times of the train. Sometimes the train was late so it was good to double check.
THE SLEEPING CAR
Space-wise, the private compartments in the 1st class carriage have just enough space for two narrow beds and standing room in the middle. The beds are comfortable enough so I got to catch up on sleep. There’s a thin blanket, a thick blanket and a really fluffy pillow.
The windows of the private compartments only open at the top so it’s very nice to travel on this train during the cool season as you can keep the window slot open.
FOOD ON THE TRANS SIBERIAN RAILWAY
Passengers who book train tickets with meals will be served by the train staff. The food is not gourmet quality but then passengers on this train sign up for an adventure and not a luxury holiday anyway.
I would liken it to the economy class meals on an airplane. For lunch, for example, I had a plate of smoked fish as an appetiser and then beef stroganoff with potatoes as a main course. The beef stroganoff tasted like it came out of a microwave, but it was edible and tasty enough.
I also got a bar of Russian chocolate, a bottle of water and a bottle of tomato juice to accompany lunch. There were other drinks and coffee tea were also being served for an extra fee. A cup of black tea on the Trans Siberian Railway, for example, cost me an extra 50 rubles.
The 1st class carriage also had a hot water dispenser at one end so you can actually bring your own herbal tea assortment for the trip, especially as Siberia is so famous for its healthy herbal teas.
CLEANLINESS OF THE TRAINS
Finally, a word about the cleanliness of the Trans Siberian Railway trains. Everything was pretty old and used but spotlessly clean. My private compartment passed my squeamish test, and the two bathrooms at the end of the carriage were also decent.
If you’re lucky, as I was, you will get a carriage with very few passengers. This makes for peace and quiet, and also cleaner bathrooms in general.
Time passed very quickly on this train, enjoying the views from the window, taking naps, having meals and just getting some time for myself to think about Travel & Life.
If this experience has been on your bucket list, go for it. It truly is one of the great train rides of the world.
Read more about the great train rides of the world in Travelife Magazine.