We were ending our time in China… and we needed to get to Europe. The prospect of taking the Trans-Siberian railroad on a seven-day (non-stop) train journey from Beijing to Moscow would be much slower, slightly more expensive, and a bit more work to organize. But it appealed to the romantic traveler in us both.
First, though, the not-so-romantic stuff: obtaining tickets and visas. Tickets proved relatively easy. Apparently, not many people take this train in winter so we were in luck! The Russian embassy in Beijing, however, was mysteriously closed on the day we arrived. Luckily, we secured a rush visa the following day.
The Bradshaws are going to Russia! The Cyrillic version of our names
Set up in style at the apartment of Tian-Tian, a friend-of-a-friend, we had a comfy stay in Beijing. The city was interesting and despite the cold temps and visa/ticket shenanigans, we had a fun few days. We must return one day to explore more when it’s not so frigid!
And we’re off! Beijing train station lit up at night
There she is, our ride to Moscow (on the left)
Despite our legit visas, Steve’s multiple temporary passports meant he got held in customs for a few hours at the border crossing. Luckily, the border guards were mostly interested in teaching him some Russian words, including how to ask for four liters of beer. Best not to include what they taught him on the reverse side of this paper!
As it turns out, we should have learned how to say, “How long will this stop be?” The train made several stops each day, with each stop ranging from 10 minutes to an hour. However, as none of the train attendants spoke English nor were interested in attempts at communication, we never knew how long we had to get out and stretch our legs.
We did brave the elements (and risk of being left behind!) a few times though
Smoked fish for sale at one of the stops. Unfortunately many of the Russian travelers loaded up on this odorous snack item!
Steve makes an uneducated stab at the menu in the dining cart. With an all-Russian menu, it was a bit of a guessing game!
Obligatory vodka shots. Just not for breakfast, like some of our fellow travelers. Nastarovia!
The time went quickly. We read. We watched movies. We soaked in the snowy vistas. We made good use of the free hot water dispenser, eating lots of ramen.
Steve, chilling in our cabin. Lucky for us, no one else was in our four-person cabin until the final night. Traveling first-class at the price of economy, score!
Only one other English-speaking couple was on the train–Brits Chris and Alex. Luckily, they regaled us with travel tales, shared movies, and generally proved to be great company.
As for the views: it was mostly snow, birch trees, and more snow over sweeping snowy landscapes. Did I mention the snow? This was broken up by tiny villages of wooden houses and the occasional rather industrial, cold-looking city. While chilly outside, we were warm and cozy in our train… some of our fellow Russian travelers basically passed the entire trip shirtless.
Not the best scenery shots (they’re all from peering out the train window) but a few to give an idea:
And… seven days, no shower, several books and many, many cups of tea later… we reentered the real world in Moscow
A few tips:
– At the time of our trip, this page on Seat 61 had the most comprehensive information on the railroad options.
– To take the Trans-Siberian from China to Russia, we used CITS (the nationally-owned Chinese travel agency). We ordered the ticket online from their website, payed using PayPal, and picked them up in person at their headquarters in Beijing. It was relatively painless except they needed a few phone calls to prompt them to process our order.
– The train took European plugs.
– Bring your own food! The dining cart options are relatively expensive and harken back to the harsh days of the Soviet empire (though nice to break things up every so often). We stocked up on ramen, coffees/teas, and snacks in Beijing.
– Bring a Russian-English pocket book and learn how to say “How long are we stopping for?”
Wow! You guys are braver than I am! Please be safe!
So glad to see it went well!! Miss you guys, lemme know when you’re back on the east coast!
Hi, many thanks for this. You mention about watching movies – presumably on a tablet – how easy was it to charge your equipment, were there plugs in your cabin? Also my one concern (particularly with sharing with strangers in security of personal belongings. We don’t really want to spend 7 days carrying all our valuables around the train. Is there anywhere to secure your belongings in your cabin?
Hi Paul. Our particular train had European power plugs in the hallway. We ran a long laptop cable from the plug into our cabin. I’m not remembering what we did with our valuables. There may have been a place to lock them up, but I can’t recall. As we went in winter, the train wasn’t very crowded so it wasn’t a big worry. And we spent the majority of our time in our cabin, which save for one night, we ended up having it to ourselves.
You say European plugs- the plugs are different in UK, Germany Italy-which plugs. Also I have a problem with people smoking in my face-smoking on the train? thanks
Hi Ken, Here’s the info on plugs: http://www.chinatraveldesigner.com/trans-siberian-trains/travel-tips.html
As for smoking, I don’t recall any smoking on our particular carriage. That said, we were there during low season and it wasn’t crowded. I can’t remember if it was permitted everywhere or rather just limited to certain parts of the train.
Just happened to come across your blog (via Seat61). We are contemplating a Moscow-Beijing trip, so this was very helpful. Thanks.
Guys, massive thanks for your blog detailing your adventure! It allowed me to pick up the courage to undertake this trip on my own (albeit the opposite direction).
Now enjoying Moscow for one final day before leaving on 23.45 train to Beijing!
Thanks again! :)
Hi Angie thanks for the blog. We are doing the same trip in September? Wondered what currency you used on the train? Roubles? Thanks
Hi Sue! Glad to hear you’re going adventuring. I hope you have a wonderful time. I can’t remember what currency we used, I’m sorry! :/
Very delayed response, but so glad you found our post helpful! Hope you had a most excellent time on your trip! If you wrote about it, please do let us know, would love to read about your experience.
Hi Angie, really enjoyed your blog. If all goes well I should be making the trip form Moscow to Beijing in early January. I’m curious, how much luggage were you able to bring? I’m really hoping I can bring two of my guitars with me, (heading to Vietnam to teach English and possibly guitar), If a similar situation arose for me where a four birth was vacant for most of the journey, do you think there’d be room for extra luggage? Apparently there is an extra storage space also…
Hi James, sorry for delayed response! We each traveled with a 60L backpacks + a carry-on backpack. Our cabin had space for that even if it had been full. I can’t remember specifics on luggage requirements but if you’re in off-season (winter) hopefully it would work out for you to bring a little extra. Enjoy your trip! Angie