A once in a lifetime experience!
A real travel story by Ron.
My honey and I completed a 14 day Trans-Siberian Railway adventure that was designed by a web-based company called Monkeyshrine. After reading reviews on Trip Advisor, on various ways to create a Trans-Siberian adventure, I decided Monkeyshrine had the expertise to enhance our trip at fair pricing. Now that we have completed the trip, I know the services and value we received from Monkeyshrine far exceeded my expectations.
Planning of the trip
The planning for the trip started with reading the information on the Monkeyshrine website. I then completed their information form and a few days later received an email with a suggested itinerary and pricing options from Matt. We discussed how many days we wanted to travel and the level of services required: such as 1st or 2nd class on trains, quality of lodging, local transfers, stopovers, and English guide services.
Using Monkeyshrine helped our adventure to be safer, more predictable, and of a higher quality then if we would have tried to do it alone
We exchanged information by email on the services and Matt finalized a “draft” itinerary with pricing. Included with Monkeyshine’s services were the Russian and Chinese visa invitation documents, local support, the “Monkey” infopack, transfers, extra meals, accommodation, city tours with English speaking guides, organized stopover programs along the route, and excursions.
The Trans Siberian Journey
Out trip started in Beijing; traveled by Chinese train #23 overnight to Ulaanbaatar (UB), Mongolia; stayed two nights in Elstei Ger Lodge and a night at the Ramada in UB; traveled by Mongolian train #5 overnight from UB to Irkutsk, Russia; stayed two nights at U D Guesthouse in Listvyanka Village at Baikal Lake, stayed two nights at Courtyard by Marriott in Irkutsk; traveled by Russian train #1 three nights from Irkutsk to Moscow; and two nights at Marriott Royal Aurora in Moscow. Private transfers were provided at all stops and English speaking guided tours at UB, Elstei Ger Lodge, Baikal Lake, Irkutsk, and in Moscow. Most meals were included and were of high quality.
Upgrade to First class cabins
We were on our own on the trains and with a little patience did quite well. We chose to upgrade to first class cabins on all of the trains and they varied in accommodations and comfort, but were much better than the four berth 2nd class cabins. Having the extra space to ourselves was well worth the additional cost. Chinese train #23 was relatively new, had bunk beds, a chair and table, and a shared bathroom with the adjacent cabin. Mongolian train #5 had two lower beds, was older, with ample storage, and the bathroom was at the end of the carriage. Russian train #1 had the best cabin of the three trains with two lower beds, an electrical outlet (that’s a big deal), lots of storage, a male and female cabin attendant, a number of included delivered meals, and two unisex bathrooms at the end of the carriage.
Pay attention to details!
It was important to pay attention to details on the trains: safeguard our valuables and passports, listening carefully to the questions at border crossings, accurately complete the immigration and customs forms, and get along with your fellow passengers. Viewing the scenery from the train is why we chose to make the Trans-Siberian journey. Being mentally prepared for long nights at the borders, not sleeping as well as you would like, marginal food choices, and the unknown are part of the adventure. It is important to rest up before you board a train and you will do just fine. Also, all of the carriages on the train are non smoking, but it’s okay at station platforms.
My top-6 important suggestions before doing the Trans Siberian Tour
After completed this marvelous adventure I have a few suggestions to be considered:
- I favor the Trans-Siberian journey from Beijing to Moscow (instead of Vladivostok to Moscow) because it offers a more varied itinerary with lots to see. There are more opportunities for stopovers and China and Mongolia are vast mecca’s for tourists and traveling west gains time;
- Allow plenty of time to secure visas and use a reliable service to handle all of your visa needs. Obtain multiple year visas, even if they cost a little more. The time and effort to secure multiple year visa is well worth the cost. The cost for our ten year China visa was the same as a one year. Our three year Russian visa was the same as a single entry;
- Use a professional service like Monkeyshrine to book and coordinate your train tickets, hotels, tours, guides, and transfers, and provide a invitation letter to obtain your visas. Having a proven expert that knows what they are doing, and to answer questions is essential when traveling on the Trans-Siberian Railway;
- Be sure to have a credit card with a “chip” because it is necessary almost everywhere in the world except the USA.
- Buy high deductible medical insurance just in case something goes wrong and it is needed. Evacuation plans also are available at reasonable costs; and
- Remember that you are a guest and need to respect and abide with the local customs. Don’t be a entitled traveler.
In conclusion, you could spend from $2,000 to $30,000 USD per person double occupancy to complete the journey we just finished. The trains goes down the same tracks, we saw the same scenery, and had the same border procedures regardless of what we paid. We are an experienced couple that regularly travel independently. Using Monkeyshrine helped our adventure to be safer, more predictable, and of a higher quality then if we would have tried to do it alone. Being penny foolish is not a good idea in the countries covered by the Trans-Siberian Railway.