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The Trans-Siberian Railway 3 June 2013

The Trans-Siberian Railway is the world's longest and most famous train route. It was built in 1898 to link up European Russia with its colonies on the Pacific Coast. After crossing Siberia from west to east the line divides, giving you a choice of three ways to complete the journey :

(1) The Trans-Manchurian route : The historic route to China, skirting around Mongolia and entering China north of Beijing. At 9001 kilometres it's the world's longest international train route and takes seven nights.

(2) The Trans-Mongolian route : The one most favoured by travellers today, because of the greater variety of scenery along the way (as well as Siberian forests you also go through the Mongolian Steppe and the South-Eastern Gobi desert) and the chance to visit Mongolia, one of the world's most remote and least-visited countries. It terminates in Beijing, a modern world capital with excellent facilities and many different options for onward travelling.

(3) The Moscow-Vladivostok route : The historic Trans-Siberian, but somewhat out of favour with travellers today. This is largely because it terminates in a small town on the Pacific coast (Vladivostok) with limited and extremely expensive onward connections. Many air and sea services from Vladivostok have been severely curtailed or cut completely in recent years, making the town a very difficult departure point for tourists. It's the world's longest train route (although entirely domestic) at 9227 kilometres.

It is quite difficult (but not impossible) for a lone Western tourist to self-organize a trip on one of the routes described above. Navigating the labyrinth of bureacracy you will encounter trying to obtains visas is just one of the problems that must be overcome. It is easier (but a lot more expensive) to get an experienced specialist travel operator to handle this for you. Note that a typical travel agent will not be geared up to organize a trip like this - you must use a travel specialist ; some reputable ones are listed below.

If you do want to do it independently, I strongly recommend that you at least learn how to read Cyrillic ; very little English is spoken in Russia. Being able to speak Russian will be a huge advantage. Some independent travel links are listed below. Lonely Planet has a travel guide specifically aimed at Trans Siberian train travel (see "Suggested Reading" at the bottom).

Google maps have created an interactive virtual journey for the entire route of the Trans Siberian Railway from Moscow to Vladivostok.

Agencies that can help you plan your trip :
-> The Russia Experience (England)
-> Northumbria Travel (England)
-> Svezhy Veter
-> Intourist
-> Ziegler & Partners (Moscow and Switzerland)
-> Red Stars Travel Agency
-> Sundowners Travel
-> Goway Travel Experiences
-> China Rail Travel
-> Gateway Travel (Australia)
-> Gobi Expeditions (Mongolia)
-> Russian Tours (St Petersburg)
-> Sokol Tours (Boston, Moscow and Irkutsk)
-> Unique Destinations (South Africa)
-> Titch Tours (South Africa)

Rail sites :
-> Russian Railways (with an English-language version)
-> CIS Railways (train schedules throughout Russia and the former Soviet republics)
-> Russian Ministry of Railways

Independent travel sites :
-> Way to Russia (guide to Russia, with some train info)
-> Geographia.com (tourist guide to the Trans-Siberian railway)
-> The Trans-Siberian Web Encyclopedia (loads of useful info)
-> Trans-Siberia.com (a private site, maintained by John Pannell)
-> Crazy Trans Siberian (pictures, info, forums, etc)
-> A Journey on the Trans-Siberian (excellent account of a 12300 km trip)

Visa requirements :
-> Russia
-> Mongolia
-> China

Suggested reading :
-> The Trans-Siberian Handbook (by Bryn Thomas)
-> Trans-Siberian Railway (Lonely Planet)
-> Russia, Ukraine & Belarus (Lonely Planet)
-> Russia Insight Guide
-> The Rough Guide to China


© Paul Kilfoil, P O Box 1091, Sun Valley, 7985, South Africa (PKilfoil@Hotmail.com)