It seems our blog title cuts the trip a bit short. Less than a month into our journey we are on the final Trans-Siberian leg from Ulan Bator to Beijing. Don’t worry, we will still have much more to blog about as we move into the Beyond section of our trip. Before that though, let’s find out what is going on aboard the train.
It seems we have gotten the band back together. For the Trans-Mongolian section of our journey there are fewer trains running than on other sections. This means that more tourists are crammed into a single train. In fact we haven’t really seen any locals on this train, it all seems to be tourists from all over the world.
The train has brought together many people we have seen before. To name some:
- Mike from Walthamstow
- Serena from Switzerland
- Pauline the story teller
- The 2 English and 1 Dutch couple from our last train
- A Dutch couple (lady wears a blue jacket so very recognisable) that we have seen everywhere we went in Mongolia. They were at every sight at the same time as us (National Park included) so we think they are stalking us.
- Loud Australian group that stayed in the same ger camp as us.
- 2 young English couples (20ish) who we first saw in Lake Baikal but have since seen on the train and in UB tourist attractions.
We have had different levels of interaction with these people ranging from just a hello to drinks in the restaurant car. It is nice to see the familiar faces and hear many English conversations. We have caught up on what people have done on their trips and look forward to a sociable journey.
We are back on a Chinese train again. It is a big improvement on the last one though (see Russia vs China). Although not totally clean the layer of dust is gone, toilets are a lot less smelly (and thankfully further away) and the carpet is dry. There are a few odd stains here and there but we will let those pass. Our attendant also seems smartly dressed and will hopefully remain so, we don’t need any more bare chested China men.
As we left UB the train climbed into some snow covered mountains. This was very different to the scenery we have seen before and was spectacular in the early morning sun. As the train snaked along the track we took the chance to take photos of the rest of the train. Not an easy task through dirty windows.
After the mountains we descended to the edge of the Gobi desert. The part we pass isn’t a sandy desert but instead has vast plains of grassland. We are currently trying to spot camels but seem to have only seen horses and cows so far.
Our first stop of the day (11:30am after setting off at 7:15am) was in a very quiet town. Unfortunately the station had no shop and unlike others we weren’t brave enough to leave the station to find something to buy. This means we have no bread to go with our other provisions, luckily we still have lots of pasta sachets brought from London so we won’t be going hungry.
The first 5 hours of the trip have flown by with some blogging, chatting to our fellow travellers and reading up on what to see in Beijing. We will be back later with more updates on goings on here on the train.
The day has passed and it is now nearing 10pm and we are about to cross the Chinese border. We are in the first station where we have to go through passport control and customs. This is a process we are now used to having done it on the entrance and exit to Russia and Mongolia already (Mongolia was only about an hour ago).
As we passed through the Mongolian border we stopped for a while. This allowed the Mongolian engine to leave us and for a Chinese engine to collect us. As we crossed the border a lone Mongolian soldier saluted as we passed through the darkness.
Coming into the Chinese station they played the Viennese Waltz and the station staff stood to attention. This was a fitting welcome for such refined travellers as ourselves.
Leaving Mongolia (left) and entering China (right)
Something that is a bit different to the normal routine is that we are now in a shed. We have been shunted (rather violently) into here. What happens now is that we are about to be lifted up and have our wheels changed to fit onto Chinese gauge tracks which are narrower than those in the former Soviet union. Enough for now…I am off to enjoy the fun of getting new wheels.
That was great! We just got pushed into a shed with half the carriages on one side and half on the other. A bit more shunting and we were lined up with huge jacks that lifted the carriages up of the bogies (wheels). The old wheels were rolled out from under us and new ones rolled in again. We watched through the windows on the sides and ends of the carriages as we levitated and workmen scurried around. We got a good view of our own wheels changing as well as the carriage next to us. This was quite fun as we saw people we knew in carriages along side so could wave across to them.
Now I have calmed down from the excitement, what else has been happening today? We had a nap. Read some books. Got off at a station in the sunshine for 40 minutes where we bought the bread we missed this morning. We went to the restaurant car and had a beer with a Belgian chap and Finnish girl while we watched the sunset. All in all a very relaxing day of train life. Just time for a beer before bed and then we will get some rest ready for our last day of train.
Oh…and before I forget. We saw camels too!
It is now the morning and we are rolling through China. We just passed by a section of the great wall (no photos as they are all pretty terrible).
As we are finishing our Trans-Siberian adventure to start our China/Thailand adventure here are a few tips should you ever travel on the Trans-Siberian yourself:
1. Bring cups, plates and cutlery. We did this and they were very useful allowing us to eat food from platforms in our cabin. A sponge/tea towel to clean them would also be a useful addition, we didn’t have this.
2. Toilet roll and flip flops are essential. The toilets are not so nice. You don’t want to go in there without footwear.
3. Bring books. There is time for reading even though there is a lot to see out the window, through the train and on the platforms. We have probably read about 4 books each while on the train in addition to blogging, sorting photos and watching episodes. There is a lot of time to pass but with the right distractions it goes by very quickly.
4. Be prepared for slightly disturbed sleep. We have slept pretty well on the train however you do get woken up through the night as the train stops at various places. Nights when shunting is required (generally around borders) are the worst as the jolts really wake you. Naps during the day offset this though and we have always left the train feeling well rested and raring to go.
5. If you can, go for first class. This gives you 2 people in a cabin instead of 4. In a train, the extra space this gives you is really appreciated. If travelling alone this can be less sociable but it really depends on whether you can handle being in close proximity with 3 other people for the long journey.
6. Get the Trans-Siberian Handbook by Bryn Thomas. This is a very useful book that tells you about the trains, stops on route and has a breakdown of what you see along the way. We would have been lost without it.
No more posts for this ride. Next you will hear from us will be from Beijing. Exciting times