Train #362 Irkutsk to Ulaanbaatar – Trans Siberian Railway

Posted by Lisa Pagotto

Our home for the next three days
Our home for the next three days

Travelling along the Trans Mongolian or Trans Siberian Railway is on many travellers bucket lists. Mixing with locals, drinking vodka and eating local foods. Trying to make conversation using sign language due to profuse language barriers whilst visiting some of the most remote cities and townships in Central Asia.

The full journey from St Petersburg to Beijing takes around 25 days. We did not have time on our side so were only able to experience a short section of this epic journey from Irkutsk in Siberia, Russia through to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. This short journey was two nights in duration and gave us a great taste of life on the train.

Siberian villages
Siberian villages

A few pointers for those who are travelling on any or part of this magnificent journey to help you on your way and to make your journey a little more comfortable.

1.       Find out prior to travelling if your train has a buffet dining cart. Ours didn’t so we needed to stock up at the local supermarket to ensure we had enough food for 2 breakfasts, a lunch and 2 dinners. Shopping in a local Russian supermarket can be difficult. We purchased some cup noodles (boiling water is readily available on board), porridge which can be consumed with hot water (there are not storage facilities available for chilling items such as milk etc), fruit, nut bars, Nutella, honey, bread and it may sound odd, but some small containers of baby food. Nutritious and cheap!

2.       Your tickets will be taken off you not long after your journey begins. Do not worry, they will be handed back to you before you disembark at your final destination.

3.       Toilets are only available when the train is moving and outside of main towns and borders. As they just dump straight onto the tracks, be sure to use the bathrooms before you reach any borders. Some border check points will allow you to disembark for a short period of time, but others may not.

DIY train meals with no fridge or food heating devices
DIY train meals with no fridge or food heating devices

4.       There are no showers. Take wet wipes with you.

5.       Ear plugs and an eye mask are a must. If your sleeping patterns are affected by lights, take an eye mask. The lights flicker on and off several times throughout the night. If you can sleep through trains tooting and fellow cabin mates snoring and farting, don’t worry about ear plugs. Otherwise pack them!

Don't forget to pack an eye mask
Don't forget to pack an eye mask

6.       The cabins are configured with 4 bunks. Two above, and two below. If possible when booking , try to request the bottom ones. It will save you a lot of awkward climbing over random people and the possibility of stepping on them during the night should you need to get up.  Also, it is not as awkward to sit on during the day – you don’t need to worry about spilling your food on someone else’s bed. If you have the budget, I would suggest purchasing all four berths to give you extra space. It is more than cosy with four of you in there.

7.       The cabins gets HOT and you cannot control the temperature. Sleep in layers. There is a small window at the very top which you can winch open a little if need be.

8.       Border Crossings – Be prepared to wait! As mentioned above, you will be advised when you are approaching a border. Use the toilet at that moment. You will also be advised how long they expect the border crossing to take. To depart the Russian border, we were advised two hours. Our passports were checked eight times by many people not even in official uniforms, we had sniffer dogs come through our cabins, we had to remove everything from our cabin and open our entire luggage. This ended up taking three hours.

We then cruised for around 30 mins through no-mans land until we reached the Mongolia entry border where we then spent another three hours of the same routine. In total this one border crossing took us seven hours.

Very Russian isn't it?
Very Russian isn't it?

9.       There is no such thing as privacy. Although all compartments have a sliding door to provide privacy when sleeping, don’t expect your privacy to be adhered to. At any moment without warning, the carriage stewards will just wrench open your door – without knocking – whether you have pants on or not. Just a word of warning!

10.       Enjoy the scenery. On this journey you will pass some of the most spectacular scenery you have possibly ever seen. Take it all in and snap some photos. Keep a look out for locals living the nomadic life and see what unique wildlife you can spot.

The landscape between Siberia and Mongolia
The landscape between Siberia and Mongolia