General advice on the Trans-Siberian
Train (Beijing to Moscow) by Matt Ward
Information correct at 14/May/2002
I decided to travel home from Nepal overland (rather
than flying like Adrian). There are many ways of doing
this - one good way is to travel to Beijing and then
catch one of the Trans-Siberian trains to Moscow. This
section gives some advice on how to do it.
There are 2 train options from Beijing. Confusingly,
neither are called 'Trans-Siberian'.
- The Trans-Mongolian Train - Goes through Mongolia
and Russia and takes 5 days. Russian and Mongolian
visas are required. This seems to be the more popular
- The Trans-Manchurian Train - Goes through north-east
China and Russia. A longer route - 6 days. Only a
Russian visa is required
You can book either independently or through an tour
package agency. I opted to go for the cheaper option
and booked independently through the CITS in Beijing
(a nationwide tourist service in China). This is the
cheaper way and a Trans-Mongolian ticket costs $195
USD (one-way) and the Trans-Manchurian costs about $220.
The main travel agency that deals with Trans-Siberian
tickets is called Monkey Shrine, based in Beijing (monkeyshrine.com).
They are more expensive, but a lot simpler because they
arrange everything (including visas and accommodation
in Moscow). They can also arrange stopover packages
with minimal fuss (but loads more money).
There are different classes on the train itself - I
went for hard sleeper. This is what most people seem
to go for. You will be in a small cabin with 4 bunks.
Each bunk has a thin mattress and is fairly comfortable.
There is plenty of luggage space.
Stopovers are possible along the way, for example at
Ulan Bator, Mongolia or Irkutsk, Russia. These make
the journey price much more expensive.
It is not possible to buy a ticket from Beijing to
Moscow with stopovers through the CITS. Instead you
have to book two (or more) separate tickets from, for
example, Beijing to Ulan Bator and then Ulan Bator to
Moscow. Also (and this is a problem) you cannot buy
the second stage ticket from the CITS in Beijing i.e.
the Beijing CITS will sell you tickets for trains that
depart from Beijing only. You would need to buy the
next ticket from the stopover destination itself.
It is possible to transport a bike on the Trans-Siberian.
It cost me about $25. The bike travels on the same train
as you, but in the cargo carriage at the very front
or rear of the train.
You would need to take your bike to the train station
in Beijing the day before departure. Go to the luggage
section and fill in all the relevant paperwork. They
will then take your bike and load it onto the train
the next day - although I was advised to get there early
and check that it really was on the train. It is also
easy to check that the bike is ok whilst enroute by
visiting the train's luggage carriage at one of the
many 20 minute platform stops enroute.
At Moscow you should be able to take the customs paperwork
to the luggage carriage and reclaim your bike on the
spot. But you must do this quickly, or else the bike
will be taken to a luggage storage hangar.
If this happens then you need to find the luggage storage
hangar, which is about 10 minutes walk from the train
station itself. If you just say the word 'baggage',
but with a French accent, then the locals will understand
and point you in the right direction. Once there you
should be able to hand over the paperwork you received
in Beijing and reclaim the bike.
However, my bike (for some unimaginable reason) ended
up in a locked 'Special Customs Area' cage at the back
of the luggage storage hangar. It then took me 4 hours
to get permission to get it out, but the staff there
helped a load.
The best thing to do is to get to the luggage compartment
on the train as soon as you get into Moscow. If you
can't retrieve your bike there, then follow it to see
where it ends up. Remember that this is Russia and the
normal laws of common sense sometimes do not apply.
Transit Single Entry
As stated on train ticket
$30 USD (3 day service) $60 USD (1 Day service)
Mongolian Embassy, Beijing, China
Time taken to issue
A very simple and straight forward visa to
obtain. Just need to fill the form in and supply
2 passport photos. US citizens do not need a
visa to enter Mongolia. I went for a transit
visa because I was just passing through in a
day on the train. A tourist visa is also easy
to obtain if you plan to stop off in Ulan Bator
and need more than a transit visa.
Tourist Single Entry
As defined at application
As defined at application
$52 USD (5 Working Day Service) $82 USD (3
Working Day service) $102 USD (Same Working
Russian Embassy, Beijing, China
Time taken to issue
Apparently possible, but difficult
For a Tourist visa you need an 'invitation'
and 'tourist voucher'. This is basically proof
that you have accommodation booked in Russia
before you get there. For this you need a hostel/hotel
that gives a visa support service. I used the
G+R Hostel in Moscow (see hostels.ru
and click on Visa Support). The procedure is:
- Look at hostels.ru
and print off the visa support form and credit
card charge form
- Fill in your passport and credit card details
on these forms. Remember that the Card Verification
Code (CVC) is the 3 digit number printed on
the rear of your credit card
- Fax these forms off to Moscow - maybe using
a hotel fax or the International Post Office
fax service in Beijing (expensive - about
$3 per page)
- Wait about 1 day for the Invitation and
Tourist Voucher to return (via fax). You need
to supply an incoming fax number. You can
receive faxes at the International Post Office
in Beijing (for a fee - about $1.50 per page)
- Take all paperwork to the Russian Embassy
An alternative is to use the visatorussia.com
website. You will also need photocopies of your
passport, the train ticket and health insurance
certificates. Alternatively you can try for
a Transit Visa. For this you do not need a tourist
voucher or invitation. You do need proof of
an onward ticket from Moscow. A Transit visa
is currently valid for 10 days. Once in Moscow
(or St Petersburg) you need to register the
visa (tourist or transit). The G+R Hostel does
this for free if you use their visa support
For a lot more information see the Monkey Shrine website
I spoke to them and they were very friendly and helpful.
There were also a couple of Americans on my train who
used them and they were very happy with the service.
Their website is a bit confusing, but there is a lot
of information on there.
If your really keen, it is a good idea to take an old
rag and a stick. The windows get very dirty, especially
after going through a desert, and need a clean from
And finally....I suggest taking a few $1 notes for
food whilst on the journey - it's a lot easier just
to pay in dollars, rather than converting money to the
local currency at each border. An average dining car
meal costs $3-6.
I enjoyed the ride. It was a long way, but comfortable
enough. The scenery was not spectacular, but still pleasant
and interesting. The highlights are the platform stops
when Chinese/Mongolian traders on the train try to sell
cheap Chinese goods to Russian people on the platform.
It's a great experience especially meeting all the local
people on the train, and a most excellent overland adventure.
- General Information
- China International Travel Service