Direction of travel
We certainly have more guests travelling from Beijing to Moscow, likely a reflection of Monkey Business having been based closer to the action in Hong Kong and Beijing. A couple of days on the open steppe in Mongolia, or by the shore of Lake Baikal in the heart of Siberia, is the perfect antidote to the rush and bustle of city life. The more relaxed atmosphere of Irkutsk and Lake Baikal is also a wonderful introduction to Russian sensibilities, before experiencing the full force of Moscow. In the end, the choice of direction depends largely on what your plans are pre and post trip and what kind of flight deals you can find to match your plans.
The majority of our guests travel the Trans-Mongolian route, between Beijing and Moscow via Mongolia, with most beginning their journey in Beijing and travelling west. The Trans-Mongolian route is arguably the more scenic and diverse. From Beijing, the mountains to the north, offering glimpses of The Great Wall, give way to the south eastern reaches of the Gobi Desert, before turning to the wide open expanses of the Mongolian open steppe.
A far lesser travelled route, the Trans-Manchurian, connects Beijing through north east China to Russia, effectively by-passing Mongolia. This is the choice route for guests wishing to catch the famous ice festival in Harbin, or for guests on a round-trip journey out of Beijing through Mongolia and Siberia before heading back into China rather than continuing to Moscow.
The original route between Moscow and Vladivostok, spanning two continents and nine time zones. For guests wishing to begin the trip in Vladivostok, the best option is to fly into Vladivostok, with connections through Beijing, Harbin, Seoul, Tokyo and elsewhere. Alternatively, travel from Korea or Japan by ferry. Travelling from Moscow to Vladivostok, the same options apply onward from Vladivostok.
Choose your own adventure
Most of our tour packages are grouped under different budgets and time frames and fall into two main categories: Osnova (budget trips) and Polny (full tour packages). If you still do not find what you are looking for we are more than happy to arrange a customised trip to meet your specific plans.
Osnova [основа] is a Russian word meaning: “basis, base, framework, foundation, ground, or backbone”. Osnova tours are perfect for those travelling on a limited budget or with time restrictions, combining all the essentials for a comfortable trip, including: most arrival and departure transfers, budget accommodation and English speaking guides for the included tour programs.
Polny [полный] is a Russian word meaning: “complete, full, total, entire, overall, absolute”. Polny packages are ideal for guests wishing to include more extensive guided tour programs, and include: all arrival and departure transfers, higher standard accommodation and English speaking guides for the included tour programs.
Guides / Group tours
Whether on fully inclusive Polny packages, or the budget friendly Osnova trips, all our guests travel semi-independently. There is no guide accompanying our guests on the train journeys. In each of the stopovers a guide or driver will meet guests on the platform. The local guide will coordinate transfer, accommodation and any tour programs included in the itinerary.
Guests may be grouped together with others travelling on the same or similar package. Sharing transfers or guide services in this way, enables the opportunity for guests, especially solo travellers, to trim the budget.
However, as our packages and tour programs are extremely flexible, it is rare to share an itinerary journey with other guests. Even in the busier summer period, guests may share transfers or guided services with no more than six to eight people, though even this is rare.
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There are strong points to be made for travelling in winter. The trains are kept very warm and the accommodations along the way are well heated since the locals have to deal with the conditions year in, year out.
The scenery from the train can actually be more spectacular in winter, since the lack of foliage gives you an uninterrupted view of the beautiful winter wonderland; the light at dawn and towards sunset is enchanting.
Travelling in winter fits the image of Siberia that we all have in our mind, though it is a little more challenging and tiring. If you aren’t used to the cold it can be quite shocking, though, if you are well prepared in terms of clothing, good insulated waterproof boots, warm hat, gloves and thermals it is a thoroughly unique and adventurous experience.
Given the higher elevation in Mongolia, the conditions here are even colder, and while a night or two on the open steppe is still possible, the cold can limit the amount of time you can bare to be outside.
Guests travelling in winter especially enjoy the experience of having the trains and destinations to themselves, and the extra warm hospitality of the locals, who are impressed with the extra brave hardiness required of winter travel. The fantastic winter activities, such as ice-fishing (Ekaterinburg), dog-sledging at Lake Baikal, or the true Siberian winter experience in a countryside dacha outside of Krasnoyarsk, add some amazing adventure to the journey.
One suggestion, if you do go for the winter trip; epiphany celebrations take place on the 19th of January (12th day after Orthodox Christmas) and if you are at Lake Baikal at this time the sight of the priest blessing the lake while locals collect water and the brave take a dip is a unique and special experience.