I am very much looking forward to taking one of the least known Trans-Siberian routes on my next adventure. It’s called the Trans-Manchurian, and the main train on this line is a Russian one, known as the “Vostok”, which translates simply as “East”. It is also known by it’s number – “20” going east, and “19” travelling west. Surely the “Vostok” must be one of the most evocative train names out there?
“Vostok” image courtesy of Local Life
In my experience nearly all Western travellers opt to travel on the Trans-Mongolian route, especially if it is their first Siberian adventure (and for most sane people, quite sensibly, also their last!). The “Trans-Mong” offers a great route, three diverse countries and a fantastic crossing of the Gobi desert on a rather characterful Chinese train (no. 003/004). I have used this route twice before, however last year I opted for the longer classic Trans-Siberian route on the “Rossiya” to Vladivostok (no. 001/002). This is a Russian train and I found it to be amazing by comparison. Why? Firstly, it’s not a train for tourists, but for Russians (I met just one South Korean and one Romanian in eight days), and secondly, it is run and maintained much better than the Chinese train. I’m not saying that Chinese trains are bad, far from it. In China they are amazing. But this train is old and a one off international service, and has to run each week in a pretty brutal climate. It also has to cross Mongolia, where there is no line electrification, so it runs partially on diesel and the heating therefore has to be run by coal fires the whole way. When I first used it I was attracted by the private “bathrooms” in first class (a shared sink!) but they have proved to just be a liability, causing frequent floods as the pipes freeze up.
Vostok image courtesy of The Professional Hobo
So with this in mind and plenty of time on my side, I have realised that the “Vostok” (no. 19/20) could be ideal for my needs – it is a modern Russian train and it travels to Beijing over the Russian border with China. It leaves Moscow at 23.45 on a Saturday night, and arrives the following Saturday in Beijing at 05.46 Moscow time (09.46 local time) having travelled 8961 km. So sadly no Mongolian restaurant carriage and a day or so longer, but an interesting and viable Beijing bound alternative to the more popular Chinese train on the Trans-Mong route.
The only downside I can see is that from the timetable it seems to spend a lot of time at the Russian/Chinese border. The train arrives at Kabaikalsk at 08.48 on a Thursday morning and departs the Chinese side of the border at Manzhouli at 00.34 on Friday morning. This is not quite as bad as this sounds though, as the train will switch from Moscow time to Beijing time as it crosses, meaning the the 15 hour wait is actually only 11 hours by my calculation. The train will switch wheels to the Chinese gauge, but this only takes a couple of hours, so I don’t know the reason for the wait, but lots of time to fill in forms and eat noodles on each side of the border.
In other news, I am am swithering over which route to take through Europe at the moment. I am a little bored by the ever retreating EN447 service on the Amsterdam – Warsaw run, so considering taking day trains from Brussels to Berlin and then on to Warsaw. The other good news is that my main agent – Real Russia – has found a Chinese company who is prepared to do the work getting the Beijing – Lhasa train ticket and also the vital Tibet permit. This is really good news, and at the moment I feel ahead of the game.
I hope that you like the new look blog. Have a look in the “Map Room” if you would like to examine the planned route in more detail. You might also have noticed that I am writing a book about my first three journeys. It is going to be a busy few months before I head back to Siberia!