The Trans-Siberian Railway from Omsk to Beijing

Nature
The wow factor for nature - does it show nature at its best? Doesn't need to be the wilder-beast migration or diving with hundreds of hammerheads. Rather make you pause as you realise just how awesome the natural world can be
7
Culture
How much does this experience showcase some of the better and finer things that us humans can offer? Sure, it can be ancient ruins and renaissance churches, but it can also be festivals or soaking up some of the great modern cities of the world
6
Fun factor/activity
Very simple - was it fun? This is usually linked in with doing some kind of activity - i mean, walking along some cliffs is nice, but paragliding from them, now that is fun. Its a vastly underrated factor in a truly great experience
6
Avoid the crowds
Big tour groups and being surrounded by loud fellow tourists can sap the life out of even the greatest of travel experiences. This score is to reflect just how much you can avoid this. But. . . The score also takes into account if the crowds actually add to the experience, such as with a party town or a bustling food market
6
World famous
How world famous is the experience?
9
unique
How hard is it to have a similar experience in other places round the world?
8
Overall Score
The highest score of nature or culture, + fun factor, + avoid the crowds, + the highest score of world famous or unique. Then turned into a score out of 100. More details at the bottom of the page
70 *What the scores mean and where do they come from
continent
Asia
country
China / Mongolia / Russia
Length of time
2-4 weeks
Rough cost
Obviously people have different tastes, so this will depend on those tastes, but this is a rough idea of price of the whole experience based on 2 people able to split the accommodation costs and excluding travel there and back
$ 1,200
Time of year visited
November
Primary Tags
Click on any of the tags to see all travel experiences with the same tag
RANKING
How this travel experience ranks compared to all the other experiences on this site
114th/334 This travel experience's ranking compared to all the other experiences on this site
Top 40% SUMMARY RATING: Superb

Summary

The world’s longest and most famous train journey.  Crossing all of Russia, the route takes you through a landscape that was previously so impenetrable that it used to be quicker to cross the Atlantic, America and the Pacific than it was to make the overland from Moscow to Vladivostok.  Considering there are unlikely to be any other ways you will get to see this vast expanse of territory, this feels like a must for an adventurous traveler

 

But two things to bear in mind – firstly, the route is not one single train / journey, rather it is a series of trains and with various stops.  Secondly, there are three final destinations – Vladivostok, Beijing or Zabaikalsk.   This provides a series of combination from where you could go, and the journey I took was from Omsk to Beijing, via Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk & Lake Baikal, Ulan Ude, Ulan Bator & its surrounding national parks.  Its a great adventure and one that can easily be combined with a trip around Central Asia

 

I’ve written below some Travel Tips for this journey, but my main two tips are: #1. Prioritise Lake Baikal – it is the highlight stop of the journey, and far more fun than the grey city stops of the likes of Omsk and Krasnoyarsk; #2. Finish in Beijing – the Trans-Siberian is know for Moscow-Vladivostok, but it is a no-brainer to travel to Beijing instead.  Vladivostok vs Mongolia and Beijing?  No comparison

highlights

#1 Looking out across the immense Lake Baikal. The world's deepest lake, holding one fifth of the world's unfrozen fresh water and with 300+ rivers flowing into it. Huge and awe-inspiring

#2 Hiking, horse-riding and staying in yurts in Gorkhi-Terelj National Park outside of Elan Bator in Mongolia

#3 Having time in your cabin to read some of the Russian classics - you have a LOT of time on the train

#4 Finishing your trip with 2 days in the world-famous city of Beijing and the Great Wall nearby

#5 Exploring the serene Olkhon Island on the west shore of Lake Baikal in an old school Soviet van and taking time to visit the old fishing villages

#6 The wonderful experience of staying a few nights on the Mongolian Steppes in complete isolation, with no other yurts or villages anywhere to be seen and being able to look up at the freezing starry sky

#7 Seeing the Gobi Desert whizz by - its basically this view for a day

#8 Seeing Siberia whizz by - its basically this view for nearly a week!

#9 Checking out one (only need one) of the grey Siberian towns

#10 Seeing some unusual sights flash by along the way

#11 Getting to hold some of the wonderful Golden Eagles on the Mongolian Steppe

#12 That feeling of adventure as you head off on the world's longest and most famous train journey

Travel Tips

  • Planning – I won’t go into all of the specifics around planning the trip as there are other websites that specialise in this – in particular I would recommend Seat 61 Trans-Siberian which is excellent.  The one bit of advice that I would give though is be prepared that getting things done in Russia can be painful – the need for confirmation of every night’s hotel accommodation before train tickets and before visas is a mountain of admin.  Instead, just pay an agent to do all of this for you.  Its not expensive and they save you hours / days of faff
  • Where to stop – the whole route from Moscow to Vladivostok / Beijing can be done in 6/7 days and, whilst the journey on the train is a key part of the experience, you’ll want to stop to see some of the highlights on the way, and also just to have a break from the train!
    • Lake Baikal is the highlight.   Everything about it is in the extreme -deepest lake in the world, largest by volume and second longest by length.  300+ rivers flowing into it and centre of the world’s largest landmass that its is slowly splitting in two.  Winters so extreme that the temperature can drop down to minus 50 Celsius / minus 57 Fahrenheit and freeze the lake so deep that trucks use it as a highway.  Yet it is the cute serene island of Olkhon on the western shore that offers the best experience and a journey on the Trans-Siberian wouldn’t be complete without it.  You can see more tips in the travel entry Three days by Lake Baikal’s Olkhon Island in October
    • Stop in only one of Omsk, Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk or Ulan Ude.  Considering you’ll be stopping in Irkutsk for Lake Baikal and Olkhon Island (you can access Baikal from Ulan Ude, but you’re on the wrong side for Olkhon Island), this means I suggest sacking off the other 3.  They are not particularly attractive grey Siberian cities that should be way down the priority list when it comes for the highlights to be seen on the railway journey
    • Definitely stop in Ulan Bator – so that you can have a wonderful experience accessing the surrounding national parks / steppes and staying overnight in an isolated set of Mongolian gers (felt yurt huts).  Ulan Bator itself is maybe a little more interesting than the Siberian towns, but only just!  You can see more tips on the trip out to the national park in this travel entry – Hiking, horse-riding and staying in yurts in Gorkhi-Terelj National Park
    • Give yourself the right amount of time for Beijing – one of the world’s great cities with one of the wonders of the world nearby.  A fantastic way to finish your trip and see this travel entry for more tips on how make the most of a 2 day stay – Beijing highlights for 2 days – 10 tips
  • Russians LOVE drinking – I’d like to think I’ve been exposed to heavy drinkers, but the Russians seem to take it to another level.  I remember (vaguely) the various dinners and toasts with no pause between the first and second shots and 8 toasts to love, Russia, whatever as a minimum.  I also remember seeing nearly a quarter of a morning bus in Krasnoyarsk putting their hands in the pockets to pull out a bottle of vodka for a swig and what felt like most of the people waiting for the bus having a drink at the bus stand (which also functioned as a bar).  This is great for the train as it encourages you to say hello, but just be aware when you’re off the train – drunk Russians can be a bit Russian Roulette with foreigners
  • Train etiquettebe sure to offer food and drinks to your fellow cabin passengers.  It’s good manners but also often gets the conversations started.  Bear in mind that chances are that one of you will be getting off at the next stop, so don’t wait for a day later to say hi.  Also, make sure you don’t get on the wrong side of the Provodnitsa (the lady in charge of the carriage, strangely almost always called Svetlana) – she is in charge.   No democracy, no second opinions.  Do what she says
  • Books to read on the way – you’re going to have a lot of time.  Sure it’s a great adventure, but you’ve got 6/7 days on a train.  Travelling across Russia it’s hard not to go with the Tolstoy classics of War and Peace and Anna Karenina, but I’d also really recommend, as you’re going through Mongolia, the Conqueror Series by Conn Iggulden – the historical fiction rollercoaster story of Ghangis Khan through to Kublai Khan and, in my opinion, the best historical fictions books in the world
  • Why start in Omsk? – there isn’t much in Omsk, but it is the part of the railway you would join if arriving from an adventure in Central Asia.  There are regular trains up from Almaty via Astana to Omsk, and I would highly recommend the stunning Charyn Canyon near Almaty and the wonderful, untouched hiking and thermal springs around the Ak-Suu mountain region just over the border in Kyrgyzstan.  For more details see Hiking near the hot springs of Altyn Arashan near Karakol and Hiking through the Charyn Canyon and staying overnight in yurts

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Score Detail

Background - how many times have you asked someone what a travel experience was like and the response was "amazing" or "awesome"?  That response is nice to know, but it makes it hard to differentiate that experience compared to others.  That is exactly what these scores are trying to do - differentiate the experience by giving a score out of 10 based on 6 categories and then giving an overall experience score

This overall experience score is calculated by:  take the highest of the "Culture" or "Nature" score (1-10) + "Fun factor" (1-10) + "Avoiding the crowds" (1-10) + highest of the "Unique" or "World Famous score" (1-10).  Then convert into a score out of 100

Extra detail - the logic being that I find all of the 6 individual scores important, but I don't want to mark an experience down just because it doesn't cover both "Culture" and "Nature", or because it isn't both "World Famous" and "Unique".  Take the examples of Safari in The Serengeti and walking through Rome - they both appeal at opposite ends of the nature / culture spectrum, and you can have a fantastic time without needing to appeal to both sides.  So, their overall scores aren't penalized for their lack of one or the other, and I've done the same for "World Famous" vs "Unique".  But . . . I do think that the "Fun factor" of an experience is important, irrelevant of other factors, and so is "Avoiding the Crowds" (or where there are crowds that add to the experience).  So, both of these scores are standalone