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My Trans-Mongolian Journey - September 1997.

I have always been interested in travel and in particular when I was about 13 I wanted to tour Scandinavia and parts of Russia. Travelling on across Siberia is a great way to travel East to West or West to East. Whether you wish to travel just for fun or as an alternative and interesting route I would highly recommend it.

The journey was organised a few months prior via a travel agent in England. It is possible to organise yourself if you have the time but it may involve a lot of hard work in sorting out the invitation letters, visas, local transport, rail tickets and flights.

I also wanted to take the opportunity to visit China on the start of the journey and visit a friend in Finland on the way home. My travel agent arranged this all for me.


The Air China flight was good and I arrived in Beijing about one hour early. My arranged courier did not turn up at the airport and after phoning around I tool a local taxi to Minzu Hotel which was my base for a few nights. The 600 bed hotel was clean, good restaurants and service. Our tour included a local guide and taxi driver who showed me around key tourist sites such as Lama Temple, Tiantan Park, Summer Palace, Forbidden City, Tiananmen Gate and the Great Wall of China. I also used the underground train service to visit other parks, restaurants and markets. The guide spoke good English and I was able to ask many questions about his country and culture.

Boarding the Train

The taxi driver took me to the station and I gave thanks to my local guide for showing me Beijing over the last few days. I had paid extra money for 1st class tickets. The cabins were much better than I expected with table and a small shower/basin bathroom shared with the adjoining cabin. Toilets were at each end of the carriage. I soon got talking to the other travellers and made good friends with Neil and Deb who had been travelling for 3 years visiting Australia, New Zealand, Nepal and India).

I made good friends with carriage attendants who would be invaluable to me over the next six days on the train. One was due to retire the following year and the other had recently started work on the train. They would ensure that the toilets and cabins were kept clean, keep the fire going for the hot drinking water and the hot water in the toilets. They had games and books I could borrow also.

Before the train left the station I ensured I visited the station shop to stock up with drinking water, other drinks and snacks. One of the reasons why I was impressed by the carriages is that they were only six months old and hand recently been shipped in from Germany.

Buying food and drinks at stations

China to Mongolia

The train departed and it was a chance to admire the last sights of Beijing before heading out to the open fields and following rivers and roads and also pass through a few industrial towns. Further along we catch a glimpse of part of the Great Wall of China. At some stage we pass through the wall.

I made friends with Karen and Mike who were working in for British Embassy and were heading towards Ulan Bator for a party. They were well stocked up with their cool bag with ice and lemon for their gin and tonic, plus pork pies, cheese, sandwiches and other fine food to eat. Other travellers soon joined in and we had a little party.

Around 9pm the train arrived in Erlyan - the station near to the China-Mongolia border. Two hours later the train went into the bogie (wheel) changing building. The wheels are changed because the Russian rail tracks are a different size to other parts of Europe. The carriages are lifted off of the wheels and cranes take away the Chinese wheels and put the new ones on the wider tracks. The carriages are then lowed back onto the wheels. When the trains leave the buildings officials walk through the train checking our passports and looking under our beds for hidden passengers.

Making friends in the resturant car

When I went to breakfast the Chinese restaurant car had changed to a Mongolian one and the breakfast was good. Much of the day is spent passing through the Gobi desert. Vast expanses of open fields with occasional small villages. The coal fired stove &samoua& is always hot and provides hot water for drinks and cooking. The Chinese attendants making dim-sum which tasted good. A man from Ohio plays a violin in the corridor and attracts a few listeners.

Soon after lunch the train arrives in Ulan Bator, apparently the worlds coldest capital. A good shop to the left of the station gave an opportunity to stock up on essentials - toilet rolls, water, bread and fruit. Another stall is selling tinned meat and boiled eggs. Being in the late September the trees are changing to a lovely autumn colour. At another station local children show me their school books and I barter a dollar note for some old Mongolian coins.

After dinner of beef and cabbage the passports are checked by two good looking Russian girls as the train passes from Mongolia to China. Another man checks our custom declarations.

Lake Baikal

Lake Baikal is 400 miles long and 20-40 miles wide. At 1637m deep it is the world's largest fresh water lake. Apparently it could supply the whole world for 40 years. Superstition says that it is good luck to touch the water. The short stop at the station allows me time to run to the lake and back again. A few other travellers walk slower and were not back in time for the train to depart. Luckily the attendant spotted this and pulled the emergency stop. He was very annoyed. The train follows the edge of the lake before climbing a hill.

And on to Moscow

The next few days comprise of a similar routine. Sleep, eat, rest, talk, read, etc. At most stations the train only stops for 5-10 minutes.

This gives the traders on the train or platform time to barter. They are selling fur coats, hats, gloves in preparation for the cold winter months ahead. I make friends with a Mongolian trader who spends most of his time travelling from Mongolia to Moscow and back. Travelling to Moscow he sells fur products to earn money to buy medical supplies which he then takes back to Mongolia.

Many people are traders on the train.

Most of the stations and towns are similar, although getting closer to Moscow the choice of items for sale and the colour/quality of the peoples clothing improves. People's homes are also of better quality, changing from simple wooden structures with gardens to grow vegetables to better brick built homes.

Final Destination

Finally the train arrives at Moscow. Like other tourists I am very impressed by the service, quality and reliability of the Trans-Siberian railway. I exchange addresses with our friends and then explore the city for a few days. We meet up one evening for a meal and drink. The next part of my journey is to fly to Helsinki to visit a friend for a few days before flying home to London.

My 1997 Beijing to Moscow Itinerary

My September 1997 itinerary from Beijing to Moscow. Also look at my photo gallery.

Thur 11th London Heathrow to Beijing with Air China
CA938 departs 20:30 arrives 14:10 one day later
Fri 12th - Tue 16th Staying at Hotel Minzu, Beijing.
Tours arranged so far include Temple and Palaces, Great Wall and Ming Tombs.
Wed 17th Transfer from hotel to railway station. Depart 07:35 for Moscow via Mongolia on Train 3 in 1st Class two berth.
Mon 22nd Arrive Moscow at 17:10. Transfer to Hotel Belgrad.
Mon 22nd - Thur 25th Staying at Hotel Belgrad.
Thur 25th Depart Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport to Helsinki, Finland with Finnair
AY154 departs 12:50 arrives 13:40
Thur 25th - Sat 27th Visiting friends in Helsinki. Staying at Hotel AVA
Sat 27th Depart Helsinki to London, Heathrow with Finnair
AY833 departs 16:05 arrives 17:10