Trans-siberian train

Hey guys,

Long-time lurker, first-time poster.

Im making a trip from Osaka to London by rail sometime in late July or early August, I wondered if anyone here has taken this route recently and has any tips? At the moment Im starting to think about visas and things, but it`s on the back burner.

My vague plan is as follows:

  • ferry to shanghai, spend some time there
  • train to x`ian
  • train to beijing
  • train to the great wall
  • then follow the trans-mongolian rail route to petersburg, probably stopping at irkutsk and moscow

I ll probably fly from russia to the UK, theres little along the baltics and northern europe that interests me enough to faff about with a belarusian transit visa just for the privilege of taking a train through that dump.

This will be my last time in China for at least a couple of years. My mandarin is pretty weak but I`m more than happy to buy tickets at the desk before departure (usually far far cheaper than using an english-speaking ticket agency), and rail travel in China is cheap as chips, so any suggestions for extra destinations to add are gratefully accepted.

I did consider Lhasa but its a massive detour and Im not so sure about how restrictive the permit system will be.


Don’t think you’d have to would you? From St. Pete you can cross into Estonia, down thro’ the Baltics that way.
If you want to go further and come all the way home (assuming you’re in the UK) by train IIRC, you have a choice of two routes from Lithuania into Poland - one from Vilnius towards Bydgoszc (can’t remember spelling) does traverse Belarussia with one stop but the other via a couple of places begining with S has a direct border. It might be worth looking into.

The best tip I can give you is to take me with you :slight_smile:

I know nothing of Siberia, trans, trains, or otherwise, but it sounds like a fabulous trip.

I’m sure a doper will pop in soon who is an expert on Siberian culture, a breeder of siberian huskies, a former leader of a small mongol village, an anthropological architect specializing in the Great Wall, two train conductors, a few meteorologists and a yak.

If history serves…

I used to live in Novosibirsk, Russia and I’ve takenl legs of the the trans-Siberian railway many times. My advice is to bring plenty to read, the trip can get boring at times. I assume you are going to get off at some places and spend some time in towns? If so you should certainly check out Lake Baikal and Irkutsk. Aslo, Sverdlovsk is an interesting city with some pre-revolution buildings still standing. Enjoy your trip.

Henry Rollins has an absolutely mesmirizing bit about his trip alone on the Trans-Siberian. If you can catch it on the IFC channel, do so. I don’t know if it’s available online or not. It’s worth a search.


Thanks for the replies.

I`d heard vaguely that it was possible to take this route and avoid Belarus, thanks for clarifying it.

I still think Ill fly from petersburg though - Im sure the baltics are very nice (never been there myself) but there isnt much on my must see` list there, and once I reach western and central europe rail travel will get a lot more expensive.

Also by that point Im guessing Ill be quite fatigued, and will welcome the chance to jump on a flight straight home.



Thanks for the reply.

Im definitely going to stop off, at least at Irkustsk and possibly at a couple of other places too. At the moment Im cursing the inflexibility of the train system which means I cant easily hop on and off at will - Ill have to book my stops in advance.

Im more interested in seeing china than russia on this trip, but Im definitely interested seeing in the harder to reach bits of russia too, including the rapidly-disappearing (?) lake baikal?


What are you interested in for China? Anything special you want to see? Museums, teapots, monastaries, daoist mountains, etc Do you want to have a Tibet experience without actually going to Lhasa?

Shanghai, Xi’an and Beijing - big Chinese cities. All three are quite different but big Chinese cities none the same. I’m assuming you’re willing to do some travel but trying to avoid zig zagging across the country.

Inflexibility and Russia is a pairing you would do well to come to understand. BTW, depending on your time, you might want to reconsider on the Baltics. Estonia, in particular, is amazing. Every time I’m there, I try to figure out a way I could live there.

Seconded on Estonia! Also seconded on Lake Baikal and Irkutsk. If you can, try to go out on Lake Baikal on some kind of non-motorized boat so you actually have a shot at seeing some of the wildlife - there are zillions of unique species there that don’t exist anywhere else in the world.

He came to my school last fall and told this story, among others. Most people left thinking he was absolutely nuts for voluntarily submitting himself to that ordeal, or wishing they could ditch class for a week on the trans-siberian railroad.

Forget Belarus.

Take the train out of Russia to Helsinki, catch the boat to Stockholm (“Across the Baltic by Shopping Mall!”), then take the train down through Malmö, across the bridge into København, then you can go all the way to England.

Alas, I can’t help you with anything further east. Though I would very much like to be able to.

It’s not as difficult as all that to get into Lhasa: I did it last year. From Chengdu, which is only an overnight trip from Xi’an, if you get the right travel agency, your travel permit comes as part of the plane ticket. You travel in a “tour group” that doesn’t really exist, and you never meet the other members of your “group”, even though they will be on the plane with you. And you never see your paperwork either. Worked a treat. And I speak almost no Mandarin, but got by on a Shanghai - Beijing - Xi’an - Chengdu trip pretty well.

And don<t forget that the Qinghai-Tibet railway to Lhasa will be running after July. It goes over a mountain passs at over 5000 metres–so hight that the carriages have to be pressurised.

I saw a load of the near-Lhasa tunnels and supports for the train line. Amazing engineering, even if I might disapprove of the social impact on the country.

Allegedly, according to what I heard from expats in Lhasa, last year the Chinese government flew some Swiss tunnelling experts in as consultants, and on arrival in Beijing, the Swiss said “it can’t be done”. The Chinese replied “oh, we already did it. We just want you to assess its quality.” :smiley:

Do they still have to change the wheels on the cars to match the smaller rail configurations?

Sorry for the min-hijack, but I saw a documentary on that several years ago.

I wish you a pleasant voyage, welshboy! I envy you!


I’m guessing yes to that - altho’ you don’t specify where. Back in '97 I went from Poland to Lithuania by train, the Belarus soute, and yes all our carriages did get jacked up in the middle of the night while our bogeys were whipped out and changed under us. I can’t see how (money wise) or why this would have changed unless there has been massive investement in international routes.

The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train through Asia by Paul Theroux has an account of riding the Trans-Siberian railway from east to west in the mid 1970s. Starting in China. I wonder how much has changed since then.

But the part I liked best about that book was how Malaysian place names sounded “like science fiction planets.”