Sid's Siberian expedition

Here is the Trans Siberian train trip schedule, plus a bit of related info. I have given you my own abridged version. The Monkeyshrine company that caters for the Trans Siberian have an in depth online PDF downloadable brochure/info pack of around 100 pages - you can find it at monkeyshrine.com - and it is recommended reading!

TRAIN AND EXCURSIONS SCHEDULE.

August 2, 6pm. Yancheng to Beijing overnight sleeper train. First class perhaps. The Shanghai-Beijing overnight train is a beauty! I have travelled on it a couple of times. A lot of people will go to Beijing or Shanghai on the overnight if they have a long weekend available. A very comfortable train. Seats are available if you wish to do it on the cheap. The first class cabins are for four people with table and a few other additions, such as private toilet and TV. The second class are six berths and are a little less well equipped. The train staff are very courteous and will bring around a trolley every hour or so with drinks and snacks. If you like Tsingtao beer, no problem; if you want Heineken, no problem. The first-class berth will get an ice bucket to keep the drinks cold. There is now also a VFT (Very Fast Train) from Shanghai to Beijing reducing the 1200km journey to four and a half hours but it has had a few teething problems. Among those problems have been Very Fast Train crashes, so at the moment the overnight is the preferred mode of train travel for everyone. The VFT doesn't stop at Yancheng so it doesn't do me much good anyway.

August 3, 6am. Arrive Beijing Central Station. Walk across road, 300 metres, to the Zhonghan Hotel. Easy, eh!

Four nights at the Zhonghan - check out a few Beijing sights and sounds again, Tiananmen Square, The forbidden City, Summer Palace, the foreigners' quarter (Sunlitun area) and meet up with the Monkeyshrine train group at their offices in Sunlitun, to get final instructions.

August 7, 7am. Depart Beijing Central 8am for Ulan Baator (Mongolian Capitol city) via Trans Mongolian route..

The train has a restaurant car, it can cost $20AUS to $30 to eat in the dining car, so it is recommended we take such snacks as noodles. Can have a wash, as each carriage have facilities to freshen up, each carriage has hot water for tea and coffee or noodles. Can buy alcohol and stuff along the way at station stops (recommended) or on the train. Customer service on the train is apparently excellent during the Chinese and Mongolian legs, it drops off after entering Russia. I will find out about that, soon enough.

Sleeping cabins, first class or second class, or seated (wouldn't want to sit for 10 days). Am travelling second class, hobnobbing with the middle class. I am sure that they at least will have a wash. I will be sharing with a few people, so that in itself should be interesting, I hope. I could, however, end up with a bunch of demanding pain-in-the-arse Americans. It takes 11 hours to change the rail cars' running gear at the Russian border as the rail is a different gauge. You can hang at the station or go to have a look around town. Just don't be late getting back on board because they won't wait. Apparently the Russians don't like you taking photos of the people either, especially if they are in uniform.

The border crossing into Mongolia from China is a lot easier. The Chinese/Mongolian border guards are happy to have a photo taken. I'm going in summer so the weather should be warmish, excepting it can get a wee bit cool at night during the stay in Mongolia, so I'll need to take some warm clothing.

Supposed to be a few schemers and pickpockets at the station stops along the way, so it is recommended that you keep a close eye on your belongings. Every foreigner is seen as a rich man ... if only they knew.

August 8, 2pm. Arrive Ulaan Baator and picked up at train station for a city tour, which may well consist of a series of exclamations, "Oh! Look, a monument to Genghis Khan!" I don't think there is an awful lot to see in Ulaan Baator. Genghis Khan, mind you, was a mighty man and the Mongols love him. Greatest Barbarian ruler ever known, at his peak he ruled from China to Poland and even had a go at the holy lands. The Mameluke? (Saracen soldier slaves) however, drove him back. His grandson Kublai Khan ruled China (Ming Dynasty) and another grandson ruled India. The Chinese built the Great Wall to keep him out, and it didn't work. Nowadays he has his own brand of Vodka, his own brand of car tyre and I reckon you could probably find a chicken burger down at the local chicken take away named after him. Yep, Genghis rocks! It is rumoured that he was actually a Siberian, but say that to a Mongol and you'll have a fight on your hands.

Then a transfer to Elstei Ger Lodge, a tent community, for two nights. Hang around for the rest of the day and enjoy a real Mongolian BBQ and a bit of Mongol dancing. Sleep in a tent out on the steppes. The mongols have a fairly strict set of customs and it is advised not to cross the line, but I am sure that they would be used to foreigners screwing up. The guides should be of great help in that area as I am always one who inadvertently stuffs up. The Mongols are known to love a drink and a fight. After they've had a good "punch up" they're happy. Should be fun.

August 9. A day of horse riding, archery, Mongolian wrestling, horse racing ... start a fight, drink some fermented mares' milk, eat Mongolian style lamb, drink Mongolian style tea, sleep in a tent (gert) on the wide open steppe grasslands, and other Mongol cultural stuff. Sounds like I might really like the place.

August 10. Return to Ulaan Baator and transfer to train station, departing for Russia at 2pm.

August 11. Train crossing into Russia, includes an 11-hour border crossing and rail running gear change out. Have passports and visas scrutinised. Hang around or go into town, buy a few things, snacks, don't be late getting back.

August 12. Train across Siberia.

August 13. Train passing from Asia into Europe and the Ural Mountains. A short stop in the city of Irkutsk, which is near the Lake Baikal area and the lake's main island Olkon. Apparently a beautiful area. Biggest and highest inland lake in the world. About 750 kilometres long and 50 kilometres at its widest point. Water is crystal clear. Vision is to about 35 to 40 metres deep. If time and money was not a constraint I would like to stop over for a few days.

August 14. Arrive Moscow, at 3pm, transfer to hotel. 3 nights in hotel. Single room, with TV, Internet access and my very own toilet. Woohoo!

The hotel is just around the corner from Red Square. It is at a good price in comparison to others - Moscow can be an expensive city, from what I have read. I will find that out soon enough.

August 15. City tour at 10am - I don't remember what is organised, and I'll bet the tour guide's name is Boris, Ivan, Ivana, Sergey, Svetslana, Gregor or Tatiana!

August 16, free day in Moscow - I want to take a boat ride on the river through the city, a trip of about 90 minutes. It gives you a good look at the city and is apparently a pretty relaxing couple of hours. Then I want to have a drink in a seedy Russian pub that is frequented by ex KGB and Russian mafia, and while I'm doing this I won't dance with any of the women, I won't buy any watches and I hope to stay out of harm's way.

August 17. Free day in Moscow - will probably be nursing a hangover, however would like to see the Kremlin, Red Square (if I haven't already) and perhaps even the famed Moscow Circus, which is still regarded as one of the greatest shows on earth.

August 18. Depart Moscow 11pm, for Beijing via Trans Manchurian route (Siberia)

August 19. Crossing from Europe into Asia through the Ural mountains

August 20, 21, 22. Across Siberia. A long time on the train. A few stops along the way, but still a long time indeed, from the 18th to the 24th. Russian train carriage service as well. I am told not to expect anything too flash.

August 23. Across the Russian Far East

August 24. Cross border into China with another long stopover, due to changing of running gear. Then onwards to Harbin, which is by the way, one of the best cities in China to visit during the winter months. Even though it is significantly below zero all day, every day, the place has an annual ice festival where the whole place is full of many fantastically cut ice carvings. Harbin is turned into a winter wonderland place of magic. The hotels are all centrally heated, so inside isn't a problem. Harbin also has a big Russian influence, in terms of architecture, food and the like. The Harbin Beer is also very good. I like it muchly.

August 25. Arrive Beijing. two nights at Zhonghan hotel.

August 26. Beijing, maybe check out the Great Wall of China, again

August 27, 6pm. Overnight train to Yancheng (first class sleeper).

August 28, 6am. Home in Yancheng - probably have a coffee, unpack then sleep. If I have been responsible in regards to the consumption of alcohol, especially the Vodka, I will remember it all!

Total cost including visas for both Mongolia and Russia, train fares, hotels, excursions and additional spending, about 35000 RMB ($AUD5000), which I believe is pretty good value. I have had to take Euros with me as getting Russian roubles and Mongolian currency is not possible in Yancheng. Can change the Euros, if need be, in Russia.

The tour group that is helping with the arrangements called MonkeyShrine. These people have been doing the Trans Mongolian/Trans Manchurian/Trans Siberian trip for 20 years and have had about 20,000 people travel with them over the years.

Once in Moscow of course, it is easy to go anywhere in Europe. The train can go all the way from St Petersburg, then Moscow to Korea, via Vladivostok, Russia, with stop offs, stays and/or excursions to many places along the way.The Baikal lake area being one that I would have liked to have taken. By the way, you can buy anything for the right price in Vladivostok - submarines, nuclear weapons, AK47s, iPhones, Mickey Mouse Tee shirts, genuine fake Rolexes, real Vodka, brides, exotic animals, anything at all.

In Korea, you can take a ferry back to Vladivostok and then on to Japan. Two ports of call in Japan and then on to Shanghai. I am looking at the train to Vladivostok and doing the ferry trip at a later date. At around 10000 RMB for 10 days for the ferry plus the train fare and day or two on the train it seems a wee bit expensive but sounds like another great trip and in the long run will probably be reasonably good value. Perhaps next year? Or, when things cool down politically, I would like to take the train from Beijing to Lhasa, Tibet.

The beauty of traveling from here in Yancheng, Jiangsu Province, China, is that everything is easy. Apart from the obvious language difficulties, all you do is just learn a few key phrases, hop on a train, domestic plane, boat or bus, and you're on your way! Asia, Europe, Africa, all by land, if you so wish.

Chat to you all when I get back.

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