Info Hostels photo 1066 © Titus Wilson


Trans Siberian Railway

Backpacker view

With a mixture of excitement and apprehension, I start my journey. 7 days in total, 9000 kilometres travelling, across 10 time zones, crossing 3countries. Travelling across deserts, lakes and forests. Probably most daunting of all a having to deal with the nightmare which is Russian bureaucracy.

As I board the train all the horror stories I’ve been told over the years come flooding back, friends being robbed at gun point, corrupt police, having to wash by water bottle in the train bathroom and various media sensationalist stories. Counter balanced with the romantic images in my head from all the books, films and articles which I have read over the years.

As I settle in to my new home for the next 25 hours, I meet my room mates.

A 26 year old policeman from Perm and 2 soldiers who were returning home after serving in Georgia. Commutation is difficult as they couldn’t speak English and my Russian being limited to cheesy chat up lines. We finally convey that I am from England by singing Beatles songs, soon I am introduced the favourite Russian past time, drinking Vodka and lots of it.

Drinking Vodka is serious business there, it is very rude to turn down any offered and it must be drunk in shot form quickly followed by a bite to eat such as sausage slice. After 16 hours straight drinking we are on our 6th bottle and we are eating raw potatoes. After gently passing out I wake up and instantly another shot glass is thrust into my face.

The terrain as we pass through it typically Russian, bleak but strangely beautiful, we cross fields and forests, I am intrigued to pass over black earth which I had heard so much about After being given many keepsakes by my new friends and invites to places all across the country I end the first leg.

After a 2 day break from the train in another city, I start another leg of my journey. The longest stretch by far, a whopping 47 hours on the train.

Shortly after setting off I come to realise I am woefully under prepared, for food I had bought 10 instant noodles, however after 5 hours I find I have eaten them all and now and without money or food for 42 hours. Luckily however I do have the entire compartment to myself for the first 30 hours,during which I do not speak to or see another living soul.

When I am joined by another passenger it’s an Old Russian Babushka, who promptly but grudgingly adopts me. She ensures that I eat at the same time as her, sharing her food. Wakes me up promptly and hassles me to the bathroom to brush my teeth, all very sweet although after 17 hours of having to listen to her slurp all her meals, tea and even bread, I am happy to say goodbye.

The final leg of my trip begins and geographically the most stunning.

Passing by Lake Baikal which is the world’s deepest lake and at some point in the next million years become the next ocean splitting the continent in half. Joining me at the last stop in Russia is a blond Dutch woman who tells me how popular she has been in the country and the number of proposals she has fended off.

We wake up on the train and are instantly shocked by the dramatic change in scenery, falling asleep to flat dusty fields of Russia and running over a cow, the next morning is the beautiful rolling green hills of Mongolia. Continuing through Mongolia we pass through the Gobe desert which is stunning we reach the unmistakable scenery of Chinas rice fields and architecture.

At the end of the journey I compare stories with other travellers, all are vastly different. Some complain that they met no Russians just tourists, some stayed on the train for the entire 7 days and went mildly insane, others stayed with Mongolian families the entire time and some were travelling in pacts of 4 so didn’t meet anyone new. However that is the beauty and excitement of the trip, it’s a gamble on who you share with and your ability to make friends for no 2 people will it is the same.


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