Plan ahead for comfort while travelling around chilly Russia
IN THE dead of night, a serious attack of stomach pains when the toilets are locked is not fun.
Especially if the attack happens just after you have been thrown off a train and it's -10 degrees. If you are not prepared, this could happen to you.
The Trans-Mongolian journey can be one of the most exciting or one of the most challenging you ever take
. It depends upon how much research you do before leaving.
There are many decisions to make.
Which route to follow?
Will you travel from Moscow to Beijing non-stop or get off along the way?
Which month guarantees the best scenery and weather?
Should you pay extra money and book through a travel agent or do this on your own?
Many tourists travel through Belarus by train to Moscow not realising they need a Belarus Transit Visa.
You may be on a non-stop train to Moscow but if you get caught without this visa, you will be thrown off the train.
Sounds ridiculous but many have lived to tell this story.
Get on the right carriage at the start of your journey.
This may sound like a simple task, but with only German and Russian signage, it can be challenging.
The trains from other parts of Europe to Moscow often have up to 30 carriages but only one of these carriages will go all the way.
The train to Moscow is probably Russian.
Unless you speak fluent Russian, pack enough food to get you there, otherwise, you won't be eating for 30 hours.
Most people do not realise the Trans-Siberian and Trans-Mongolian Express are not actual trains.
There is a Trans-Siberian Railway but there is no single train.
Multiple trains run along the route with some travelling the whole way and some part-way only.
Do you want to travel in sheer luxury?
Or, perhaps you'd like to experience a "wild camel-trading train" with Mongolian traders?
Maybe you'd prefer to travel quietly with locals.
Do some research and combine trains to suit personal preferences. Combining styles adds to the overall experience.
It costs more, but a four-berth cabin for two people is highly recommended.
Meeting other travellers is exciting but the odds of getting two Russian men guzzling vodka all night are reasonably high and not appreciated by most.
Having lots of room to spread out is beneficial on a five-day non-stop railway trip.
Boarding the Trans-Siberian in Moscow is daunting.
The electronic board shows the platform number for your departure, but there are no obvious hints of where the platforms are.
Consider booking through a travel agent who can provide a guide to get you on the train.
If it weren't for my travel company, I probably would have missed my train.
Russia, Mongolia and China are cash-based societies so estimate your daily spending patterns.
Don't forget to download currency exchange rates.
You may think you'll have time to determine the rates onboard, but without Wi-Fi, the good-looking Mongolian money trader will burst into your cabin to start negotiations. Don't get caught off-guard.
You will find food on the train and can buy from locals along the way.
Each carriage provides boiling water, for coffee and tea making.
Remember to pack essentials such as tea, coffee, pot noodles, alcohol, tissues, fruit, long-life milk, muesli bars, torches, heatproof mugs, Imodium, wet wipes and plenty of toilet paper.
All of the timetables are in Russian. The Lonely Planet timetables and maps are in English and there is no correlation between the two.
Know the overall route so you know when to get off the train.
As a rule, 15-30 minutes before you arrive at a station, for the duration of your stop and for 15-30 minutes after you leave the station, the toilets are locked.
You only have to experience this once to realise you must decipher the Russian timetable and plan ahead.
Michelle's Travel Tips
- Read a copy of the Lonely Planet's Trans-Siberian Railway.
- Visit the man in seat 61 website at seat61.com.
- Speak to the Australian arm of a travel company like the Russian Experience, trans-siberian.co.uk.