"AROUND THE WORLD BY TRAIN..#3 ASIA & EUROPE" Personal Page by DennyP
I must confess That I was really excited about my trip into China and what lay ahead...as I do not speak,read,understand Chinese I expected some interesting moments..after previously booking my onward ticket to Beijing in Hanoi I board the train # L1 and departs Hanoi for Dong Dang (border) at 18.30 hrs..then after a short journey of some three hours the train arrives at the border of China and Vietnam at 23.00 hrs..change trains here and go through Chinese controls.My processing was quick and polite...unlike other passengers..This border control is a rather long process of some three hours mainly due to the passengers importing huge suitcases of clothing and contraband purchased in Vietnam and heading for Mongolia for sale there in local markets....Here I board a small train of four cars only #T9706 from Dong Dang to Nanning..This train is then joined to main Chinese Beijing Express train #The T6 from Nanning to Beijing..
The train journey from Dong Dang to Nanning was a relatively short one...upon arriving at Nanning everyone had to leave the train and we were all shown into a huge waiting room ...I noticed the sign said "soft sleeper waiting room" this was a rather elegant building with beautiful marble floors and fountains with large pools holding lots of large coi fish of many colours..The actual waiting room was nice and comfortable with large lounge chairs and I wondered what the first class passengers were doing!!!!Here we waited about one hour while the small four car carriages were joined to the Beijing Express..then were advised to re-board the train for the journey to Beijing..
Well, I am in China.!..Now the trains have a guard in each carriage to look after security at each station to make sure nobody boards the carriage that is not a passenger..This procedure continues all the way through to Moscow..I have a lovely berth with made up bed and nice clean sheets..I store my bags but soon find Mongolian passengers in the berth with many huge suitcases of clothes coming from Vietnam taking up most of free room..This is a real inconvenience..
I have brought with me enough fruit and food from Vietnam for the 42 hour journey.I always carry with me coffee and tea bags and coffee whitener for my daily cuppas...There is a hot water urn available for hot tea or coffee 24hours a day ..also, we now have a restaurant car for meals and drinks..meals are good,hot,and relatively cheap..so I settle in and get to know my travelling companions..A Mongolian couple who travel between Vietnam and Russia buying and selling clothing purchased in either Vietnam and China, they are very shrewd, and like most ,try to avoid customs taxes...
The morning is very misty and cold and I spend a lot of time looking out at the green undulating countryside with the heavy morning mist sitting above the ground..thinking, it looks so cold out there and I am so warm here in my space, brings a sense of warmth within itself ..although it is early morning ,I am surprised at how few vehicles are on the roads as there are many people out and about....after Vietnam with the very hot temperatures there, this is a rapid change ..The train is fast ,comfortable ,quiet, and warm..I make a hot cup of coffee and settle back on my bed and watch the countryside go by ..its a long trip..
I meet also a group of Vietnamese on their way to Mongolia for a convention..very interesting to learn a little about Mongolia..
most noticeable, and I am rather surprised ,is the amount of refuse just dumped by housing settlements and the lack of thought for the environment not to mention Hygiene, as there can't be any rubbish removal in country areas....also noticeable is that every spare piece of land is growing something...there are huge areas of crops of all types, mainly vegetables are apparent, although some areas are kept for flowers
Trains for me are such an easy form of travel once settled in a berth to just lay on a bed and look out at the world passing by...This journey from Nanning to Beijing stopped in many large stations and the amounts of people using the train system is astonishing...the trains are really long and the stations are huge with continuing infrastructure being put in place on this vast railway network is also amazing...everywhere workers labouring on the lines or other facilities..This is a long comfortable train journey and an enjoyable one..
HANOI TO BEIJING IS 2997 KILOMETERS takes 42HOURS AND COST $270.00 for a one/way,second/class,four/berth, soft/ sleep,bottom/bunk,air/con
Well,after a wonderful couple of weeks in Beijing I booked a ticket on the Trans Mongolian Express to Ulan Bataar this,the first and seperate leg of my journey to Moscow.The reason for this is that it is much cheaper to book the second leg from Ulan Bataar to Moscow in Ulanbataar than it is in Beijing.
I was excited while waiting in the station to board this particular train that I had wanted to take for so long..as usual here in China,the crowds at the main station were unbeleivable...everywhere was like just coming out of the "ball game" also the stations are huge, and all under cover..I was so impressed with how well it all worked being such a huge operation.
I boarded my train with all my stuff...had a large bag of "shopping that I had previously done for the journey with lots of fruit, snacks and necessaries for the journey..although this was not to be the longest ,a lot of these goods were to be also for the Ulanbataar journey to Moscow as I wasn't sure just what foods were available in Mongolia..Once again my berth was only shared with one other person... this time I found a very friendly "aussie"who was going straight through to Moscow..so straight away the atmosphere was exceptional..Train #03 leaves Beijing Central right on time and slowly draws away from the huge station..so good to be just able to sit back on my bunk and watch it all go by...completely relaxed with this mode of travel...although this is not a long journey it will be about 32 hours before we reach the Mongolian capital...The train stops at "Erlian" at the border of China and Mongolia..here there is a major wait of about five to six hours while the trains carriages have all the bogies removed for different guage rails from China to Mongolian and Russian guages also we change the Chinese retaurant car for a Mongolian Restaurant car...Some people after Immigration checks decide to stay on the train while the bogey changes take place...This being in the middle of a very cold night is not the best event on the "brochure"..after filling in arrival/departure cards for Chinese customs and immigration we are all taken into a huge building where we all wait while the process of it all takes place..most of the this rigourous process is reserved for Chinese and Mongolian traders once again.Here I see just how many Europeans are on board...not many...I shop and buy some duty free goods for exchange..have my passport stamped out of China and then return to the train for another short period of travel where in" Zamynn Uud "we all go through Mongolian Immigration control.. once again fill in arrival/departure cards and get passport stamped into Mongolia ,but the main focus is upon the traders...this is a cold and sleepless night..formalities seem to go on forever..
Once all the formalities are over a good sleep is in order...I awake to find that we have been through a big dust storm off the Gobi Desert and the train (between the carriages) is covered with a fine dust piled quite deep..the fine dust even seems to permeate the air within the train..The scenery now is snow capped mountains..even the streams by the tracks are covered with ice and the air is full of dust ...The landscape is dry and excedingly barren...few animals are visible from the train...some small isolated gurts and little farms..I see some camels with two humps...with very long coats to cope with the bitterly cold winds that has been felt this previously extreme winter here..huge animal losses are suffered by most farmers and this creates a food shortage..The train arrives in Ulanbataar Central station..I'm here in the Mongolian capital ...I can't beleive it..always thought of this place as being so mysterious..I am met at the station by the hostel staff and taken to my hostel..I always book ahead and have pickup arranged if possible...most hostels offer this service and is usually free..makes it so much easier in a strange city..
Ticket is:one/way,2nd/class,soft/sleep, 4/birth,bot/bunk, air/con,middle/carriage
BEIJING TO ULANBATAAR..32 HOURS..1740 KILOMETERS ..COST $260.00
Having stayed in Ulanbataar for a week and seeing most of what I wanted to see and do.I once again boarded the #3 Trans Mongolian Express on the second leg of this long train journey from Ulanbataar to Moscow..This #3 service comes through once a week and arrives pretty much on time..after a meal at the Station Restaurant I stock up on fresh water and make my way along the platform to board my carriage that I will use for the next six days..as usual a melee is happenning with the Mongolian traders and the station staff regarding boarding with so much luggage...a chinese "provodnik" picks up a huge bag in the entry to the carriage and hurls it out of the way...it is here (that I find out much later on ) that while in all the (orchestrated) pushing and shoving and protecting my baggage I have my wallet stolen..little groups of Mongolians focus on passengers and while they are concentrating on their luggage they are then pickpocketed..This I wasn't to find out until two days later on the train..I was told by many how prevelant this was but never thought that I would be a victim..This particular event created so much of a future problem for me ..
Once on board I find my "Kupeny" cabin and store my luggage and food etc..I have only one other passenger in my compartment a Korean man on his way to Irkutsk..so...we have plenty of room with the absence of the traders.The compartment is clean with freshly made beds and as I liked it ..in the middle of the carriage..I always choose (if possible ) to reserve my ticket in the middle of the carriage as #1 When in the middle there is less noise from the carriage bogueys(wheels) also #2 the noise created by the carriage doors at either end being slammed constantly by passengers moving from one carriage to the next is not really noticeable.#3 is the toilet is a long way from the centre of the carriage and the smells are not noticeable.. then #4 there is the safety factor.The middle is the safest area of the carriage..There are a lot of passengers board my carriage in Ulanbattar and will have lots of new travellers to speak with...the train is very long and is a long trip to the restaurant car..The train leaves after about twenty minutes and we are then on our way to the Russian border at Ulan Ude..and then.. through six time zones across the huge forrested expanses of Siberia and the Urals to Moscow..The journey to Ulan Ude is around 400 kilometers and is restful with the scenery greening and more farm animals noticeable nearing the border region..The train makes a few stops being around ten minutes in each Zuunkaraa,and Darkhan and then at Sukbataar which is Mongolias main border town and here the officials board the train as we go through the customs and immigration checks to exit Mongolia..The next stop at Naushki is a short one for the Russian officials to board the train as this is the Russian isolated border post..
Here at the Russian Border with Mongolia at the small village of Naushki the distance markers begin at 5902 kilometers to Moscow.. the other side reads 0 as we have reached the border..and it is here we begin the Russian section of this long train journey...Once again there is a long period of time (over 3 hours) while Russian officials check all passports and arrival cards and deal with the Mongolian traders that have their goods spread out all over the train to avoid local taxes..The Russian officials have little patience with the traders and it is during this stop that the restaurant car is changed from the Mongolian to a very different Russian Restaurant car.
The last few hundred kilometers of Mongolia before the border to Russia see the scenery change some what dramatically as the pastures become greener and there is sparce areas of forrest appearing...we are by the Selenga River and from here we then cross the Selenga River and travel by the shores of Goose Lake where we head north west to Ulan Ude (5640kms.) where the train has a short stop of some ten to 15 minutes before turning west for Lake Baikal ..The train follows the southern shores of Lake Baikal for some two hundred kilometers and is possible to get some great views of this the deepest lake and the largest area of fresh water in the world..The Lake is still frozen from the exceptionally long northern winter and people are visible walking on the lake..snow and ice is still stacked up by its shores...temperatures are still very cold although it is early summer.I am so glad that I am in my warm compartment with a hot coffee.
I would really like to return To Lake Baikal to take the train (The Circumbaikalsk) that travels around the lake from Slyudyanka to Port Baikal as the scenery is so absolutely picturesque and is one of Lake Baikals most popular tourist activities... The vast forrests of Siberia have now appeared with the trees being mainly burch and also spruce ,apparent also is the numerous long trains with there flat cars loaded with timber ..huge logs all cut neatly and bundled togeather..making there way towards China. The train makes its next stop at Irkutsk (5185km) where the majority of the Mongolian travellers and also my compartment passenger leave the train.here I get off the train briefly to buy some food from the local small food traders on the station..
I was glad when looking out the window of the train at the snow and Ice that was around the rivers and still in heaps on the ground that I was within the warmth of the my compartment and carriage..The carriage was always very warm.The "samovar" is the hot water urn that is at the end of each carriage and enables the acess of hot water 24 hours of the day for making hot tea or coffee or to add to instant noodles as so many passengers do...The "Provodnik" (male) on each carriage is the guard of each carriage and makes sure that there is always hot water and also will lock your compartment if you wish to leave it for a period of time...which I did as I was the only occupant of my "kupeny"..they also guard the door of the carriage at the stations when the train stops..as this was a chinese carriage the guard was chinese.
Irkutsk is an extremely popular destination for Russians in the summertime and accomodation is at a premium and very expensive by Russian standards.The next major stop 19 hours on from Irkutsk is Krasnoyarsk..clearly visible from the train close by the line are an abundance of decaying buildings in many forms of collapse and appear to be the remnants of the numerous armaments and ammunition factories from the second world war..from here the production of military armaments were built and railed to the front line..The population here is around 870.000 ..The forrests are thick with trees and after China and Mongolia the air is wonderfully fresh..Krasnoyarsk station is large and relatively new and is here where one must change trains for the BAM Railway for northern Lake Baikal and beyond to northern Siberia
..it is very early 03.45..very dark and very cold as I step down onto the platform at Krasnoyarsk, the digital temperature clock on the station shows minus four degrees C. The freezing temperature is an instant wake up on my face and ears....BRRRRR Next stop is Malinsk for 20 minutes and then Novosobirsk..
Today is the 9th of May...a day of huge celebration throughout Russia as this is their Victory day of the second world war that cost the soviet population dearly..trains are all done up with red flags and flowers with banners of celebration..I luckily get some photos when the train stops in Novisibirsk..I am called back by the "provodnik" and I then realise to leave the train without my passport was foolish. Novisibirsk is popular with train "buffs" as it has the biggest station in Siberia and also a train museum with a large locomotive collection at the local town of Seyatel..
The stops now are getting noticebly warmer as we leave the Siberian countryside starting to thaw out and enter what is the Urals countryside here it appears to be somewhat greener...but the vastness is still evident..many scattered villages and isolated (dacha)wooden farm houses are more frequent...The snow on the ground is not so apparent now..The small shops on the stations have most that is needed for the daily meals with lovely fresh bread ,cheeses, fruit juices ,yoghurts,milk and assorted canned foods there usually is a varied selection of fresh goods to be had..the most important of course is" fresh bottled water"..ALWAYS make sure that you have plenty of bottled fresh water on any train journey...The water in the "samovars"on the train is good as it is constantly boiled..I must say also the traders in these small shops are I found were very honest with their prices...same price for everybody, unlike most of Asia where westerners always are charged more..
One thing most evident from the train is the constant amount of railway activity happenning.being a bit of a "train buff" I found this to be very interesting indeed..as there is such a huge network of trains constantly busy with shunting engines and vast amounts of rolling stock ,, of flat cars loaded with logs, tankers loaded with oil, boxcars loaded with frozen goods, and bins loaded with coal constantly coming and going and other freight cars loaded with all sorts of goods...and it is here (around Omsk that it is mainly coal from the Kuzbas area,on its way to the smelters...this is the buisiest freight train section of rail activity in the world and some trains appear to be kilometers long as they pass.Dozens of sets of rail lines seem to blend into each other here to form these huge junctions..so many people must be employed by this huge railway network that keep this countries prosperity going..
The major stops on our way to Moscow now are Omsk,Yekateringburg,Perm and Nishny Novgorod..Omsk (2716 kms)we stop for 20 minutes..and get some refreshments..Yekaterinburg The capital of the Urals and associated with the demise of the "Romanovs"also with its popularity for winter sports. Once again here there is a large Railway museum located in the old train station..
Our next train stop is at Perm where a good friend that I have made on the train departs and excitedly meets her family on the station..I meet them and is hugs all around...just such wonderfully friendly people..Nizny Novgorod is at (441 kms ) and there is a 12 minute stop as we near the end of our mammoth train journey across this amazing continent..as we stop at Vladimir (191 kms) and leave the country (dacha) wooden houses with their colouful painted wooden shutters and pass through the last of the countryside before entering the outskirts and the unattractive grey suburban buildings of the outlying sprawl that is this huge city of Moscow..I have packed up my gear and have my last cuppa before the train pulls into Yaroslavsky station..with the big sign on top...MOCKBA..
TRANS MONGOLIAN TRAIN JOURNEY #3 BEIJING TO MOSCOW 7865 KLMS COST US$ 480.00. THE JOURNEY NON STOP TAKES ALMOST EIGHT DAYS..
I travelled one/way, 2nd/class, soft/sleep, four/berth, bottom/bunk, and I always book the berth in the middle of the carriage for reasons previously described in these notes..
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