So you’ve decided to take one of the most iconic train journeys in the world, but you do not know where to start? The Trans-Siberian rail has three different routes: the classic Russian one, from Moscow to Vladivostok; the Trans-Manchurian line, from Moscow to Beijing crossing the border in Manchuria; and the classic Trans-Siberian Express that connects the Chinese capital to Moscow, across inhospitable Mongolia.
The Wanderlust’s Trans-Siberian Route makes this legendary connection, and here I tell you about 10 incredible experiences to consider on this journey of a lifetime!
Walking the Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China is one of the 7 Wonders of the World, and undoubtedly something you cannot miss when travelling in the Trans-Siberian! With around 6259km of Wall, several sections are easily accessible from Beijing. My recommendations are Badaling, if you want a nearby part and do not mind the crowds; Jinshanling if you’re willing to do almost 3 hours of travel, but be gratified with amazing views, or Huanghuacheng if you want to enjoy the sight of some wall sections near the water.
Explore the great Baikal – the world’s largest lake
The Lake Baikal is about 1/3 of the area of Portugal, but if you overlap their areas, you have a better sense of its incredible size
With such rich biodiversity (more than 1000 species of plants and 2500 animal species), you will also find a deep cultural heritage. Head towards Olkhon Island and immerse yourself deeply into the local architecture, the fishermen and the rituals of shamanism. If adventure is your thing, trek along the deactivated circum-Baikal Trans-Siberian rail, from Sludvyanka to the homonymous village, Baikal.
Climb up the Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue
Standing at 40 meters tall, this is thought to be the tallest equestrian statue of the World. It is said that this is where Genghis found the golden whip he’s holding. Legend has it that Genghis is heading East, conquering China, while others say that he’s facing his birthplace instead. From when standing on top of the statue, one can see in the distance, his mother’s statue, East.
The base of the sculpture, of European Gothic architectural style, symbolises the powerful emperor on the European territory during his successful military onslaughts. The vast expansion of the Mongol empire stopped after arriving in countries like Hungary, Serbia and Bulgaria, only because when Genghis Khan passed away, its troops gathered and retrieved, to be present at the funeral. The unfinished conquest is thus settled in this monument, honouring the founder of the Great Mongol Empire.
Living the momadic mongolian lifestyle
Mongolia is still one of the few countries where one can live a real nomadic lifestyle. Along the train ride, one can see through the windows the vastness of the Mongolian steppes, but ideally, take at least three days to explore the nomadic lifestyle as well. Even if you are travelling independently, in Ulaanbaatar, it is easy to find countless travel agents with various offers of nomadic experiences. Life in the gers, the small tents where Mongolian families live, travelling on horseback or camel, their traditional foods, the daily routine, all so different from the life in the metropolis as we are used to!
Travelling on the Moscow metro
Considered to be the most beautiful metro stations in the world, this is an entire trip on its own, with stories about History, legends, secrets and art. In this article, you will find some tips on the best stations to visit, as well as some curiosities of the Moscow metro, and an introduction of how to navigate the line!
Go to arussian banya
No visit to Russia is complete without an authentic experience in traditional saunas, or banya, like the locals, call it. You will find several types: inside or outside, luxurious or humble, by the lakes or at hotels. But the best ones are by far the most traditional: with the venik, bath brooms made from birch, fir or pine twigs (or any other local trees), infusions, tea and cookies in the standard room, the traditional singing, wearing the felt banya hat and drinking pure birch water – cultural immersion in a conventional Slavic sauna is without a doubt, the ultimate Russian experience!
Penetrating Beijing hutongs
Hutongs are the narrow alleyways of large cities in China, whose houses share a common inner courtyard. In contrast to the busy and bustling avenues, hutongs can be intimidating for some travellers, but they are a crucial visit to understanding Chinese culture better. When in a hutong, it is easy to forget that we are in a city of millions of people.
The sense that stands out the most is the smell, mostly because of the street food being cooked everywhere in these alleys. Between crepes and pancakes, bikes, kids and scooters, the hustle and bustle portray the Eastern contemporary but timeless life. In Beijing, there are still many hutongs that are well worth the visit. Dongxijiaomin Xiang is the longest and most popular hutong, mostly due to its privileged location near the Forbidden City. There is also the Bada, once the largest red-light district in China, dating back to the 18th century. Today the area is completely renovated, but true to its original forms and colours, and it is well worth your visit!
Watch the last remaining species of wild horses in the world
After being declared as extinct in the wild during the 1960s, the Przewalski horse, or “takhi” was reintroduced from the zoos and into the wild in Mongolia, during the 1990s. The project, originally Dutch, was committed to the study and protection of this horse species, for it so unique, and vital to Mongolian History. It is estimated that currently there are about 400 takhi horses in Mongolia.
The Hustai National Park is a non-governmental organisation, whose work on the ground has been exemplary for the whole world in the maintenance and study of endangered animal species. Besides the Przewalski horse, in the Hustai you can also observe gazelles, deer, lynx, and many other wild animals.
Make new friends onboard
Any Trans-Siberian route takes seven days to travel, so engaging in conversations with strangers is common practice onboard. The (still) absence of internet onboard and lack of mobile network in most areas, makes the travel free from the vices of contemporary times. The carriage-bar fills with strangers who share conversations and beer. In the kupes (the train compartments), instant noodles are cooked, and cards are drawn, and not rarely samogon bottles (the homemade vodka) disguised as paper sacks pass on hand-in-hand in the third class, measured by its cap, rejoicing the journey through the miles. The predominant language is Russian, but foreign dialects and sounds still prevail. This is, without a doubt, the best place to find new friends!
Overland border crossing
In an era where plane travel is the norm, crossing borders overland becomes a privilege. The act of passing out our passport, and between stamps remaining in this grey, imaginary area, where we have physically not left. Between customs, we practice our primary language, a Russian farewell to a Mongolian hello. Already in China, we spend time at an airport-worthy customs while they change the wheels to our trains. Whereas aeroplanes fly directly to the destination, overland countries remind us of borders by changing its grounds. The width of the rails defines the history of a nation. The Soviet Union implemented more full rails, while China has narrower lines. But we, travellers, are reminded of what makes a border: a grey, imaginary space, located somewhere between the stamps of a passport. At the end of this journey, our passport has fewer empty pages, but the stories of these experiences will fill many more.