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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
"There's no need to print this page, it's all in the info-pack" cried the Monkeys!
Once you have booked a trip with us we will send you a detailed infopack 100+ pages for you to check everything you need to do before setting off. There are also hidden pages of this website only available once you have booked. Do you want to sign-in?
Standard second class has four comfortable berths per cabin, with 36 people in each carriage. There are communal toilets and wash-basin at both ends of each carriage. In first class there are just two berths per cabin and only 18 beds in each carriage, the toilet facilities are the same. On trains originating in Beijing (#3, #23) there is 'first class deluxe', with a shower room shared between two cabins and also on selected Russian trains (see below).
Second class tends to be very social with cabin doors left open during the day and people chatting in the corridors, whereas in first class there is a little more space in the cabin and so you tend to keep the door closed. The advantage of first class apart from the extra privacy if you are travelling as a couple, will be less queues for the toilet in the morning and you are closer to the dining car!
All the carriages on the trains have a similar set-up, whether in first or second class. There are toilets and washrooms at the end of each carriage with western style toilets and a sink with hot and cold water. If the water is not warm there is a samovar with boiling water on each carriage so you can use this to have a proper wash. In first class toilets are shared with nine cabins (so possibly 18 people) and in second class there are nine cabins with a possible 36 people.
Chinese train #23 and train #3 in deluxe class have a different look. There are two bunk beds on one side, a sofa on the other and a shower cabin you share with another compartment. There is more space available than in the other classes.
A relatively new development on some Russian trains such as #9/10 and #1/7 is a special carriage that has shower facilities and some computers for Internet access. We have heard mixed reports about these facilities ranging from "yes they do exist but don’t work" to "searched the train from end to end and couldn’t find them." The showers have to be paid for and the water pressure is low.
Most people book all the touts as well as accommodation in Moscow and St Petersburg with us as well - we arrange some all inclusive tours to these cities.
In Short - no. Variety and quality have increased in the last few years - some people even know what a vegetarian is these days.
During the train journey, plenty of food is available on the station platforms and, apart from the train between Ulaanbaatar and Irkutsk, the dining cars are usually well stocked and don't run out of food contrary to popular belief.
Fruit is available most of the year and bottled water is as common as vodka. If you thought you were leaving behind noodles when you head west you're wrong - they can be bought along the whole route so no need to carry a couple of weeks supply when you leave Beijing.
The dining cars on the train have fairly standard food, and are run by the country they are travelling through and so you experience the local food and menu of each country. In Russia the service is contracted out to catering companies and so the standard of food and service can vary between trains. In Mongolia, there is a strong emphasis on tourism and the dining car has decent service standards and consistent quality, but also reports of high prices and occasional over-charging on the tourist menu. There is a huge train infrastructure in China and dining cars provide cheap and consistent average Chinese fare. This is the same on the international trains you will take from the Chinese border to Beijing.
The menu in the dining car remains pretty much the same through the day and so eating once or twice a day in the dining car tends to be enough. Simple local food can be purchased on the platforms, but it is a good idea to stock up on extra supplies so you can prepare a picnic style lunch, with bread, smoked ham and cheese, mustard, fruit, snacks and chocolate, etc. Beer, bottled water, pot noodles and the like can be easily bought along the route. You can restock fresh bread and smoked meats at markets at each stop-over and often on the platform kiosks as well. You can also buy more interesting produce such as caviar, smoked herring and fresh salad at local markets in Ulaanbaatar and Irkutsk. A visit to the Eliseeevsky delicatessen on Tverskaya ul in Moscow is a great source for goodies as well as a remarkable sight itself as one of the oldest shops in Moscow. You should bring your own foreign alcohol or wine or else try the hundreds of local Russian or Mongolian vodkas ranging from US$2 to US$50 a bottle.
As a rough guide people spend an average of US$15 to US$20 a day on the train and on the organized stopovers we offer along the way. The main factor is likely to be your level of consumption of alcohol and souvenirs.
Beijing, Moscow and St Petersburg are more expensive. A bare minimum would really be US$30 a day. In these cities transport on the metro is cheap (taxis are cheap on Beijing) but the cost of getting into the sights as well as eating out aren't far off European / North American levels.
It's always best to use local currencies when you can, so buy some before you travel if possible (The UK Post Office sells currency).
All destinations have ATMs and so withdrawing local currency is easy - make sure you register your card with your bank for use abroad to avoid costly calls home when it gets blocked. In case of problems it's always good to have some US$ bills (post 1996) or Euro cash to use as a backup. Bring some hard currency in small demoninations in case you get stuck without local currency.
There are normally banks at International borders which will exchange your hard currency at a reasonable rate. Mongolia has plenty of money exchange kiosks as does Moscow. Other cities including Irkutsk and Beijing are not so foreign currency friendly.
No. Clean and fresh linen is supplied by the conductors on all trains which is changed on journeys more than 3 days. A small hand towel can be useful however. Some people like to bring a sleeping bag liner, especially when booking homestays or budget hostels. A sleeping bag may be useful if you are going on an extended trip with trekking (Lake Baikal) or camping (Olkhon Island or Mongolia).
We do not offer a visa only service. And we will only supply the Russian Visa invitation if you have booked a trip in Russia with us.
The Russian Visa Invitation we supply is based on a pre-booked itinerary in Russia with fixed entry and exit dates. If you arrange your own accommodation (in St Petersburg for example) you will need to send us details of all extra accommodation booked and especially your planned exit date from Russia - we will then be able to add these dates on to our Russian Visa Support.
Please note that the Russian Embassy in Beijing wants the original visa invitation.
You will need to keep your passport on you to travel, especially on flights and to register your official at hotels. However, in practice, the further you travel from Beijing (central government), the less this is necessary. Providing you have a good copy of your passport details as well as a good copy of your valid Chinese visa WITH the entry stamp it is unlikely you will have any problems travelling overland - NOTE that you do need your original passport to fly, or to visit border areas such as Tibet.
Only twice have we heard of people having problems and the result was basically some inconvenience and a 'fine' of a few hundred RMB from an overzealous official. One thing to note though is that it is difficult to check into hotels in Beijing without your original passport.
If you plan to travel from China to Hong Kong and then back to China you will need a double entry Chinese visa.
Spring. The thaw is well underway by late April across Mongolia and Siberia with the ice breaking up on Lake Baikal at the beginning of May. This is when the local people issue a long sigh of relief that the winter is over and the countryside starts to come alive.
Summer is the peak season and the weather is warm and with a good deal of sunshine. There are never really hordes of tourists but insects can be a problem. The days are long and the locals make the most of this with life being very much outdoor orientated. Book well in advance for tickets at this time.
Autumn is a beautiful time, especially if you can catch all the colours around the end of September. The weather is great during the day but at night the first signs of winter can be felt as the thermometer plunges.
Winter is the least visited season but, many argue, the most beautiful. Siberia actually looks like people imagine it with the landscape blanketed in snow and by the New Year, lake Baikal and most rivers are frozen solid. However, the locals know how to keep warm and everything, from the inside of gers to the train cabins, is well heated.
So, take your pick! Of course, the Monkeys recommend one trip in the winter and one in the summer to get the best of both worlds!
It is definitely worth travelling during the winter months as Siberia is looking its best and most typical with it's wonderland snows cape! Although it can reach minus 20° in Siberia, unless you spend a long time outside, this is not a real problem. The trains themselves are kept very warm and the locals know how to stay comfortable and keep you warm with lots of food, hot banyas (saunas), log fires and warm clothes!
We have excellent winter activities to choose from in Ekaterinburg and Lake Baikal (Dog sledging, ice fishing, skiing). It is also nice to spend a night or two in the solitude of the Elstei ger camp in the winter surrounded by snow and little else!
We guarantee that no other company:
has our expertise since 1988;
comes even close to the amount of passengers already put on the train (18,000+);
has offices in Hong Kong and Beijing, and partners in Mongolia and Russia;
arranges your visas faster;
gives out more or better information;
is as flexible to customize your trip;
was operating in Mongolia for Westerners before us;
or can beat our prices!