To get information was easy: most of it could be obtained from the famous „Man in Seat 61“ . A Brit of course, what else. Here you get it all – rough schedules, up-to-date links and even advice like „… in Hanoi railway station you turn right at the main entrance to find the gate for international connections…“ and many useful details more.
The „Man in Seat 61“ is especially useful for backpackers – however, since we had to keep a certain time frame and therefore had to plan around fixed train departures, we booked our train tickets through travel agents, otherwise we might have ended up with queuing for hours at chinese or mongolian ticket counters which finally turn out to be the wrong ones. We’d rather use our time to do sightseeing instead. For Russia, you nearly have no other choice.
Planning the trip
The problem is that some of the trains go once or twice a week only which in our case were:
1. Vietnam-China, from Hanoi to Nanning, twice a week, every tuesday and Friday.
2. China-Mongolia. There are several connections every week but only one that goes Beijing-Ulaan Baatar/Mongolia directly This is the Beijing-Moscow Express, called K3 or „train 3“, in the opposite direction K4, and K3 is on Wednesdays at 8 o’clock from Beijing Railway station „Centre“. There would have been another option from Beijing which is to go „trans-mandjurian“, which avoids Mongolia by going east through Harbin to Tschita.
These were the core points of our trip – which meant we had to skip destinations if we wanted to keep the time frame. We decided to take a closer look at rural China in Yangshuo instead of visiting the old imperial town of Hue in Vietnam (another point for the bucket list).
With this itinerary we had arrival dates for the respective countries and could start to do bookings and, very important, apply for visa.
We took our 68 l backpacks which we had bought for our Amazon and Andes trip back in 2008 in Brazil – the trip is a bit difficult to judge since you start „tropic“ going into icy Siberia, at least if you go at the end of northern hemisphere winter, as we did.
We feel that you do not need special equipment – there are recommendations to take devices to take a shower on the trains, but we did not ( see „transport“).
Since we had only very few clothes we did laundry in Hanoi, Yangshuo, Beijing and Moscow – plus a bit of rinsing in the hostel bathroom basin in Irkutsk .
For quite a while we considered to take veritable sleeping bags but finally decided for one thin fleece blanket each – and that turned out to be fine.
We downloaded a book from ReiseKnowHow-Verlag – but that is in German only.
Die Transsibirische Eisenbahn, Doris Knop – the author runs a travel agency specializiing in Far East and TransSib trips, but the way she does it („… xy o’clock arrive at the hotel, a rikshaw driver will take you into town until … „) is not the way we like to we like to discover things. Anyhow, the book is very useful.
Moreover, we had downloaded language guides (called „Kauderwelsch“) in Vietnamese, Chinese and Russian – which turned out to be too complicated. Less can be more… very simple guides would have been more helpful (or: you need more preparation time!)