Moscow – Ulan Bator (Trans-Siberian Railway)

Taking the Transsiberian Railway from Moscow to Ulan Bator was a memorable experience. You could do that journey in as little as five days, but I got off the train several times, twice (in Novosibirsk and in Orkhon, Mongolia) for almost two weeks each, so it took me around one month to get from the capital of Russia to the capital of Mongolia.
It was interesting to watch the landscape outside the window slowly transform from endless silver-birch forests into a steppe that became more and more dry and barren. It was impressive to cross numerous wide rivers; Volga, Irtysh, Ob, and to follow the endless shoreline of lake Baikal for several hours.

I travelled in third class (platskart), which was very good value for money and also quite comfortable, as I learned later (the hard way) in Mongolia.


On the Transsiberian Railroad

Most of the time I was the only foreigner in the carriage, and also the only one who seemed to know English. Once a young guy taught me a Russian card game – or rather we played and I had to figure out the rules through trial and error. (I wonder why I always lost?!) Another time there was a lovely old lady sitting across from me. She smiled at me and talked to me constantly, now and then realizing that I hardly understood a word of what she was saying. Still she did not seem to mind but continued sharing her stories with me, content with me nodding and smiling back.

On the Transsiberian
The cities I went out to explore resembled each other in many ways: they had more than a million inhabitants, a big statue of Lenin looking over the main square, and exceptionally few places of interest to the passing traveller. But I met really friendly people everywhere, which made visiting those cities more than worthwile.



Early in the morning on the last possible day (visa-wise) I boarded the train in Ulan-Ude that would take me to Mongolia. Although not far in distance, it took until long after dark before I finally arrived to Orkhon, a small village on the other side of the border: It had taken around seven hours just to cross from Russia into Mongolia!

On the way to Mongolia...

Russian Border Town Naushki
The four hours of waiting on the Russian side passed agonizingly slow in the border town of Naushki that had nothing but dismal-looking houses, a deserted train station and cows crossing the railway tracks. Half of the time the travellers were not allowed to get on the train, the other half we had to stay on it and were not allowed to leave our compartment. The actual process of checking passports and visas was professional though and went fairly quick, with the officials going from compartment to compartment, routinated controlling everyone several times. After a short train ride with a few stops at various checkpoints a similar procedure followed in Mongolia. And more waiting. Good weather in the morning and good company in the afternoon greatly improved this otherwise dull travelling day…

Mongolian Nature
In Mongolia the scenery changed yet again: The bare hills that had made up my view since around Irkutsk became higher, and the wooden cabins that I had previously glimpsed in the distance were now to a large extent replaced by white gers (traditional round tents); there were cows, horses and herds of sheep and goats. Also the trains themselves changed; they were somehow more noisy, the number of travellers increased and the level of comfort dropped considerably. So did the price, but although everything felt a lot more disorganized it still worked – and I arrived in Ulan Bator.

Gers viewed from the Train

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