The Trans-Mongolian Railway
Travelling by train is one of the best ways to tour the immense landmass straddling Russia and China, and gives you a real appreciation of the seeming endlessness of the changing countryside as it draws past the window. This really is an experience for those for whom the journey is just as much a part of any adventure as the destination.
Not to be confused with the Trans-Siberian railway journey (itself a thrilling adventure), which runs from Moscow to Vladivostok, the Trans-Mongolian railway diverts at Ulan Ude and heads south through the wilderness of enigmatic Mongolia to the bustling Chinese metropolis Beijing. This journey is a staggering 7,621 kilometres (4,735 miles) across the vast Siberia plains, cutting through Mongolia and the beautiful Gobi desert before entering China.
This is not a luxurious cruise. It is a six-day journey if travelling directly and aboard a train seemingly custom-built for adventure rather than extravagance. Whatever else it is, it is definitely the adventure of a lifetime.
However, to really make the most of this journey; to experience some of the remotest regions in the world and the fascinating customs of the people that live there, you need to make stops along the way and disembark the train. At Irkutsk you can visit Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest and oldest lake. Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia’s capital is viewed as the gateway between old and new Mongolia. Here you can visit the wonderful ‘black market’ and stay overnight in a Ger camp, the traditional home of the Mongolian nomadic people that can be packed up and relocated whenever the time arises.
Then, crossing the border from Mongolia into China offers more than a simple immigration check. The gauge of the train tracks change as well so you will see the whole train lifted and the bogies (wheels). This whole operation, along with passport checks, can take several hours. Once complete, the train journey continues on as far east as the land will go, to the burgeoning, yet beguiling, ancient Chinese city of Beijing.
Tucan Travel offers a 21-day adventure tour from St Petersburg to Beijing, or vice versa, between the summer months of April and September as these months offers better weather and the longest hours of daylight. Note that the ‘official’ Trans-Mongolian railway journey begins (or ends) in Moscow.