Life in the train trans siberian train. Practical advices for travelers. Trip to Transiberian raiload.
TRANS SIBERIAN RAILROAD
LIFE IN THE TRANS-SIBERIAN TRAIN
(PRACTICAL ADVICES FOR TRAVELERS)
hen you spend more than two days in the train, it becomes like
your second home: you get to know all the conductors, you spend a lot of time
with co-passengers, and there's a special life that's happening inside the
train. In this page we try to uncover what life in the Trans-Siberian train is
- The wagon and its keepers: Travelling in second class. Nine compartments in a
long wagon kept in order by two conductors (provodnik in russia) working in
shifts. They have their little room at the front end of the wagon, next to the
toilets and the hot water boiler (that works on fire). They walk along the
corridor and make sure everything's all right, acquaint with passengers,
sometimes squeeze them sensually when they encounter them on their way. They
also prepare glasses of tea for 4 R; they exit at every station and remind
passengers not to stay too long on the platform.
- What do passengers do? In second class, people sleep in four berth
compartments, they usually spend all day eating, chatting, and playing games,
sleeping, or enjoying the changing landscape. They often look at the timetable
that says at what time the next stop will be. And when the stop comes, they get
out, stretch their legs, inspect the bags of the people selling products on the
platform, they buy a cake, even in the middle of the night. Some people travel
for the whole 6 days it takes to cross Russia, others only for a few days,
people meet, talk with each other about where they come from, how life is there,
it’s a rare occasion of meeting people from everywhere in Russia. They feel at
home in their compartment, they bring back beers bought at a stop and invite
their neighbors as guests for an evening of talk, card games, laughs. The
smokers go to the end of the wagon to smoke.
Some people play the radio very loud, while others keep turning it off. Some
guests get too drunk and want to sleep where they are. The 'Provodnik' comes and
brings them to their berth. Men wear slippers, and snore. Intimacy is shared
with everybody, and couples sometimes find it hard to share it together. If they
have the chance to be in the same compartment with friends, they send them
outside in the corridor with a book and a glass of trans-siberian tea while they
enjoy privacy for some time.
Basically trains in Russia are more secure than the streets of the cities. There
are few people around and they have no chance to disappear. Just behave yourself
normal (unless you're after some adventures) and it'll be ok. There are
militsioners (policemen) at most of the trains. So if you have problems ask
conductor to call them. If there are no policemen on the train, they will enter
on the next station. If it's the conductor who pisses you off, go to the
train-master ("na`chalnik `poezda"), he's usually in his compartment,
- Toilets & Showers: There are two toilets at each end of
each carriage with a WC and a sink. In better trains the toilets are quite
clean, but most of the time they are quite dirty. So, it's better to have kind
of sanitary towels with you.
There are no showers (showers are provided in every compartment only in the 1st
class, train 3 and 4, and in a separate carriage in some trains for extra
The compartments are being regularly washed, and vacuum-cleaned, so they tend to
- Money: Payments on board of the train are made in local
currency only. Normally, you may be able to change US dollars in the train
(conductor will do it or will find a dealer for you), but the rates are very
low. So, it's better to have some local currency (Russia - roubles, China -
yuans, Mongolia - tugriks) and the whole sum in US dollars. Dollars are very
easy to exchange in Russia, Mongolia or China.
- It's a long way and it might be boring sometimes. The journey from
Moscow to Beijing lasts for 6 days. Of course there's a beautiful view from the
window sometimes, but there will be moments when you might be very bored. Your
compartment mates might save you with vodka and zakuska, but also try to be
prepared: take a book, something to write, music or something else to have
things to do.
Probably, the best remedy against the boredom is to hop off along the way.
- Be careful hopping off and on. The trains along Trans Siberian stop
only for 5 to 20 minutes. If you decide to go outside, be careful: you may hear
the hiss and the train might start leaving. They say they don't wait for
- Food and water. There’s a restaurant in the train, which serves
more or less good food at usually high prices for the quality it is.
Russian people usually bring with them some food, and buy some at the stops.
What they traditionally bring is hard-boiled eggs, salted cucumbers, bread,
dried cakes such as ‘Suckaris’, and sausage ‘colbasa’. On the stops they
buy boiled potatoes, more eggs, cakes, beer, vodka, dried noodles, fresh or
salted fish, and fresh vegetables such as home grown tomatoes, cucumbers. Many
old Babushkas living in the cities where the Trans-siberian train stops prepare
fresh food before each halt. It’s a nice business for them, and what they
prepare is often very tasty. For example they make all kind of ‘Pirozhki’
e.g. cakes filled in with cottage cheese or meat, or vegetables, or fish.
Tea is a traditional Trans-Siberian train beverage. There is a special cup,
specific for the train: a glass slipped inside a metallic holder with a hand.
One can ask a tea to the provodnik, who will fill up this special cup with hot
water and drop inside a tea bag. The nice thing is to ask for the tea once and
then to keep the cup and drink your own tea inside it. The hot water provided in
the train is free, and as it is boiling it shouldn’t be dangerous to drink it.
The food that is sold on the stations by locals is just great, delicious, and
very cheap. You can buy everything: from a bottle of beer or water to home made
potatoes, chicken breast, or smoked fish from Baikal lake. So, it's not
necessary to stock any food with you, maybe only some things you won't find
along the way, like muesli and milk. In the Trans-Siberian
Route section of this guide, we list the stations, where you can find the best food on the Trans
Every Trans-Siberian train has a special tea-boiler, that works on fire! It is a
very nice thing, and you can have hot water for free, or make yourself some tea
(teabags can be bought from conductor very cheap).
Also, conductor usually sells some snacks (chips, chocolate bars) and soft
drinks (water, cola, beers).
- Hygiene: If you take a second class place, you'll have no shower. It
means that in 6-day travel from Moscow to Beijing (or from Beijing to Moscow)
you'll have no chance to wash yourself. There are toilettes (with sinks) at
We recommend you to take some soft wet "baby's" pads with you (sold in
any pharmacy), and liquid soap. The toilet and bathroom in the train is likely
to be not clean, so you will need things like this to wash yourself.
The towels are given with bed sheets.
- Take a personal first aid set with you. There's only one in the
train, the train-master has it (his compartment is usually in the N 6-7 carriage
just after the conductor's one). Doctors are available only at the stations.
- Do not drink much alcohol and keep an eye on what are you drinking. I
saw on some message boards people saying how much they liked to drink
traditional Russian drinks - vodka, for instance - while traveling in
Trans-Siberian train. Well, be careful, the vodka might be not good quality and
robbers like to put a soporific (to make you sleep) in tea or vodka or
- Russian and Chinese dealers on the train. These trains are popular
among Russian and Chinese dealers. They take all their commodities (cheap
clothes, food etc.) and pack the trucks with it. So during short stops in
Russian towns the stations seem more like markets. The only way not to ride with
them is to take the 1st class.
- Do not keep your money in one place. Keep most of your money,
documents and your tickets always with you. It's more secure and in a case you
will be left behind by the train you'll be able to do something about it.
There are ATMs and banks to cash travelers' cheques in the big Russian cities
along the way, but there are problems with ATMs and banks in Mongolia, so be careful.
- Keep your luggage under your bed. If you have a bed on top, it's
better to keep luggage at the overhead storage area, and fasten it with a chain
or a rope to any metal construction (there are plenty of them and 1 meter rope
is enough), so robbers can not steal it fast and silently in the night.
- If there are any serious problems cry: "Pozhar!" (Fire!),
so that most of the people will come to you for the sake of saving their own life.
- Always tell the truth to the customs officers about the amount of
cash you have (if you have more then you are allowed, you will just give some to
the officer and no problems, but if they find more then you have told, they can
even take you off of the train). So again, if you have lots of money, it's
better to carry them on a credit card or in travelers' cheques, that way
there'll be less problems.
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