Russian to Beijing
Start off in ye olde St Petersburg, head on to Moscow and check out Red Square, jump aboard the Trans Siberian Railway, hang with locals at Lake Baikal, zoom off of the Trans Mongolian Railway to Hustai National Park in Ulaanbaatar before retiring in Beijing.
Twice the size of Eastern Europe, but the least populous country in the world. Ice creams are sold in cardboard boxes on the street. Sheep outnumber people 35 to one. And there’s dinosaur fossils scattered around like rocks. Yep, we think you’re gonna like Mongolia.
Day 1-2 - St PetersburgZdrastvutye! Welcome to Russia.You can arrive at any time on day 1 as there are no activities planned until the important welcome meeting at 6:00pm. We will be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting so please ensure you have all details on hand to provide to your leader. Your group leader will leave a note at reception telling you where this important meeting will take place. Please ask a member of reception for this information. If you are going to be late please inform the hotel reception (see joining point instructions). Your leader will leave details for your late arrival on where and when to meet.Check-in time at our joining point hotel is after 2pm. Early check-in is not guaranteed, however if you arrive early, luggage storage is available. Please speak to the hostel reception on arrival.Our journey commences in one of Europe's finest cities, St Petersburg, built of baroque European architecture combined with the opulent palaces of Russian royalty. This is a city built by the Russian tsar Peter the Great and his legacy will clearly be felt as we explore its enigmatic streets and visit its showcase cathedrals and museums.If you arrive early we recommend you visit St Isaacs Cathedral and climb to the colonnade from where you will have magnificent views over the city, take a tour of the city's network of canals, walk along Nevsky Prospekt - St Petersburg's main thoroughfare - and maybe pop into one of the many bakeries or pancake shops along the way or head down to Aleksandr Nevsky Lavra where Russia's great musicians and writers like Tchaikovsky and Dostoyevsky are laid to rest in the cemetery.For many the highlight of St Petersburg is the Hermitage Museum, one of the world's premier art collections housed in the former Imperial Winter Palace.Please note that in high season (May-Sep) there can be very long queues to enter the Hermitage. In order to avoid waiting to enter and to make the most of your free day it is possible to book tickets to the Hermitage online in advance from the museum's website: http://hermitagemuseum.org.There is a museum in St Petersburg to cater for every interest, and you may want to visit the Kunstkamera where Peter the Great's ghoulish collection of oddities is on show or the Museum of the Siege of Leningrad. Or check out Pushkin 10, a wacky and wonderful contemporary art space with tiny galleries, sound installations, digital works and the occasional performance piece.St Petersburg is a beautiful city with so much to offer visitors that we definitely recommend arriving a few days earlier so you can fit it all in.Our stay in St Petersburg is in mixed multi share hostel style accommodation. The group will be accommodated in 4-10 bed dormitories with shared facilities and while we make the best effort to keep our group together there is a possibility that we could be sharing with other guests.On day 2 you will have the day free until approximately 10pm when we will meet back at the railway station to catch our first overnight train to Moscow (approx. 8 hrs).All of our trains along our journey are simple but comfortable. There is a toilet/bathroom at the end of each carriage with a small sink and cold water and compartments with bunks/berths and luggage storage space inside. An attendant is assigned to every carriage to look after your needs. There is hot water available for making drinks or instant meals, and tea, coffee and snacks are usually available for purchase on board.Please note that while for the international journeys we travel 2nd class (4 people per compartment), for the legs in Russia, including the Trans Siberian we use 3rd class carriages which are a more open plan style.
Day 3 - MoscowAfter arriving on our overnight train from Moscow we'll transfer to our accommodation by metro - a fantastic introduction to this bustling city!We'll stay the night here in a centrally located hostel. Please note that accommodation here is on a mixed multi share basis in 4-10 bed dormitories. While we try to ensure that our group is kept together please be aware that we could be sharing rooms and bathrooms with other travellers here too.It's only a short walk from here to Red Square so after grabbing some pirozhki (pastries) for breakfast this is where we will head. You will no doubt be wowed by the iconic sight of St Basil's Cathedral and the walls of the Kremlin flanking this centrepiece of Moscow.The great city of Moscow has survived centuries of revolution and seen Russia through some of its most turbulent years, from the days of the tsars through the communist era to the growing pains of democracy. Beneath its modern veneer - a sign of Russia's recent embrace of capitalism - Moscow is a fascinating, historic city with a wealth of sights to see.Moscow's main sights are the Kremlin grounds which house the oldest and most important churches in the country. You could also have a tour through the Armoury Museum inside which houses a glittering imperial collection of regalia and items once belonging to the world's richest monarchy.The rest of the day is yours to choose how you want to discover Moscow. Choose from many possibilities such as stepping inside St Basil's Cathedral, reliving the nation's turbulent past at Victory Park or travelling back to the beginnings of Russian art at the Tretyakov Gallery. The Izmailovo Markets are considered the best place for souvenir shopping, or pretend you have a credit limit on a level with Moscow's new elite and browse in the luxurious GUM department store. To really experience Moscow life though you need to ride the metro, admire the marble and mosaics that decorate the stations and get up close and personal with the city's citizens as they do their daily commuting.
Day 4-7 - Trans Siberian RailwayOn day 4 we catch the metro to Yaroslavsky Station in the early afternoon, which is the starting point of the Trans-Siberian Railway for the 3 day/4 night trip to Irkutsk (approx. 90 hrs).A brief word about drinking on the trainSocial drinking is common on trains in Russia and Mongolia and can be an enjoyable way to meet local people as well as interact with your fellow Intrepid travellers. In order to make sure that your experience of train travel with us is a positive and safe one there are a few things we'd like you to keep in mind before setting out on your train journey.While alcohol is available for purchase on the train, spirits (including vodka) should only be consumed in the dining car. Train security guards keep a very close eye on drunken behaviour and have the legal right to fine or have removed from the train without warning any passengers who are intoxicated. Should this happen there is very little we can do to assist you in continuing your journey with the rest of the group.Alcoholism is also a serious social problem in Russia and Mongolia so travellers should take care not to encourage or take part in drinking to excess. While we certainly want all our Intrepid travellers to have a great holiday it is important that you show due respect for your fellow group members and keep in mind that many of your local companions use the train as a means of transport to get home or to work. It is most appreciated if foreign travellers are respectful this, particularly in the mornings and evenings or when other passengers are sleeping.The Trans-Siberian Railway is one of the world's most famous train lines. Extending from Moscow across Siberia to the far-flung city of Vladivostok, it is also the longest and one of the busiest. We experience part of this celebrated train odyssey, boarding in the bustling hub of Moscow for the long journey of approximately 90 hours across five time zones to Irkutsk. The route winds through taiga, big Russian cities and small Siberian villages. It is the perfect opportunity to chill out, chat with the locals and simply watch the world go by.The train stops roughly every 4-5 hours of travelling - at major cities in Siberia, and some smaller ones as well. Station platforms often have an array of food for sale at stalls run by local babushkas. Lists of stations where we will stop are available, along with time spent at each one. Major stops are usually at Vladimir - Nizhniy Novgorod - Kirov - Perm - Yekaterinburg - Novosibirsk - Omsk - Tyumen - Krasnoyarsk - Tayshet and Irkutsk where we disembark.The duration of a stop ranges from 2 to 40 mins but always double check with the carriage attendant because it's a long wait until the next train comes through! Trains in Russia run on Moscow time even as we pass through different time zones, so make sure you and the train are on the same schedule.
Day 8 - Lake BaikalThe long journey brings us to the charming Siberian city of Irkutsk - gateway to Lake Baikal.After disembarking the train, we take a private transfer (approx 2 hrs) straight to the lake shore village of Bolshoye Goloustnoye. Here the group will be divided into different home stays in the village within easy walking distance of each other, hosted by local Buryat (the ethnic group of the Lake Baikal area) and Russian families. Accommodation is basic, with no running water and outside toilets, but cosy and comfortable.We have all of today to explore the area and get a true taste of village life. There are options for swimming in the lake, taking a boat trip along the shore and hiking to look out points in the surrounding hills. Each day we'll be treated to delicious, hearty Siberian home cooking made from fresh local produce.Don't miss out on experiencing a banya - the Russian saunas that locals say get you cleaner than any other form of bathing.
Day 9-10 - Irkutsk & Trans Mongolian RailwayIn the morning of day 9 we head back to Irkutsk after breakfast for a chance to explore this charismatic city before boarding our next overnight train.Walking through the city we see some of the original wooden residences and stop off at the Central Market to taste some of the amazing range of local produce for sale and to stock up on supplies for our next journey.Board the Trans-Mongolian Railway for a two-night train trip (approx 40 hrs) that takes us into Mongolia.This train is the most basic on our journey and a restaurant car is not always provided so we recommend bringing some supplies with you for your meals. There's only one train from Irkutsk to Ulaanbaatar that departs daily - other, faster trains only depart once a week. We take the daily train to ensure we're able to offer this trip at regular, set departures without the need to change the itinerary each time.During the journey we cross the border from Russia (Naushki) into Mongolia (Sukhbaatar). There's a long wait at the border towns while passports are processed, customs does their checks and we wait for the engine to rejoin the train to take us on our way. It can sometimes be a long, hot and frustrating day, so a healthy dose of patience and understanding is recommended. After everything is finally completed we are rewarded with the magical landscapes of Mongolia.
Day 11-12 - Hustai National Park & UlaanbaatarWe arrive in Ulaanbaatar in the afternoon and after the long rail journey drive for a few hours to our ger camp in Hustai National Park. This park is famous as home for a herd of Przewalski's horses. These Mongolian wild horses became extinct in the wild, but some animals existed in zoos in Europe. These were bred successfully and consequently the horses were reintroduced to Mongolia. This is an amazing conservation success story.We enjoy the night in a ger (the Mongolian version of a ‘yurt’), the nomadic home on the steppe, yet it is as portable as any tent. Our gers are furnished, each with three to four beds, complete with linen, blankets and pillows. There are small stools, a table and a fire stove. Three quarters of the Mongolian population still live in gers throughout the year, despite sub-zero temperatures for many months.We return to Ulaanbaatar - the capital of Mongolia and also its largest city, with over one-quarter of its population in residence. The name means ‘Red Hero’ and it is indeed shaped by the influences of the former Soviet Union in that most of the city is full of Russian-style apartment buildings. Sukhbaatar Square is the central point in town and is dominated by the Parliament building and a statue of Damdin Sukhbaatar (on horseback), the man who confirmed Mongolian independence from China.In Ulaanbaatar we stay in a guest house run by our friends from Lotus Children's Centre. While here we may have the chance to visit the Centre and meet some of the children Lotus supports.
Day 13-15 - BeijingAn early morning departure on day 13 takes us on our final train ride to Beijing (approx 30 hrs).The overnight journey to Beijing includes a long stop at the Mongolia-China border where the train changes bogies (wheels) to fit the different rail gauges. The procedure changes frequently but at time of writing passengers are required to stay on the train while this takes place. The train has a basic restaurant car but it is advisable to stock up on food and other essentials before leaving Ulaanbaatar.We arrive in Beijing in the afternoon of day 14 and, after settling into our hotel, might head out for a meal in a local restaurant nearby to celebrate the completion of our amazing journey - a great chance to try the city's signature dish, Peking duck (known locally as Beijing duck!).Day 15 is departure day and we say 'zai jian' to our group. There are no activities planned for today and you are able to depart the hotel at any time. Check out time is 12 noon. If you are departing later, you can arrange luggage storage at the hotel. Please note that this trip does not include any free time in Beijing, so we strongly suggest you spend an extra few days here to visit some of the country's most iconic sights such as the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.
What to Know
Transport and accommodation are included. You have an expert Russian leader accompany you for the duration of the trip.
- International flights, arrival and departure transfers, departure and airport taxes, visas, entrance fees, meals, transfers outside of the tour program, travel insurance, tips and items of a personal nature.
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What to know
You have an expert Russian leader accompany you for the duration of the trip.