Go beyond babushkas and vodka on the ultimate Trans Mongolian journey. Encounter more people, places and tasty flavours on this epic three-week adventure. Marvel at the palaces of St. Pete’s, plunge into the sapphire depths of dazzling Lake Baikal, sleep under a blazing blanket of stars in a Mongolian ger camp, then glide into China to eat oodles of noodles and gawk at ancient sights like the Great Wall.
Arrive St. Petersburg
Kick things off in St Petersburg. Originally constructed as Russia’s ‘eyes into Europe’, the city has been the backdrop to countless catastrophes, but Russian’s are nothing if not resilient. Today, the 21st-century city is a thriving cultural capital; discover clubs and live music, an experimental art scene, cosy wine bars, great tea houses, and a multicultural food offering. A local punk musician recently summed it up by saying “in a city of three revolutions, you’re bound to get a fourth”.
Descend into underground palaces on the metro and find yourself surrounded by marble pillars, ornate chandeliers and classical frescos on the way to the city’s extraordinary sights. Take in the magnificence of the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood; perched canal-side, it stands a vision of immense beauty. Visit the opulent Hermitage Museum housed in the Winter Palace for a taste of Tsar life, and see if you can spot one of the 70 feline guards that protect the art collection from hungry mice.
It’s worth noting, there’s no avoiding vodka, so embrace it. It accompanies meals to ‘help digestion’ and seems to replace water as the giver of life. Sometimes it’s infused with mystery flavours like a bag of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans – horseradish vodka, anyone?
St. Petersburg to Moscow
As you take your first overnight train to Moscow, get to know your fellow adventurers and plan a list of sights you want to hit once you arrive in Russia’s capital. Study the Cyrillic alphabet and master a few words of Russian, don’t be afraid to try them out on local travellers.
Head to Red Square for an immediate WOW factor. You’ll find yourself slack-jawed on the cobbled square (surprisingly not red) staring in awe at the gingerbread masterpiece of St. Basils. As you start to explore Moscow, you’ll soon discover that this revivalist piece is just one of the architectural wonders scattered across the city. Around the square alone, you’ll find the Kremlin - with its gothic towers watching over the treasures within, Lenin’s Mausoleum displaying the embalmed revolutionary, and the State Museum – well worth a visit if you fancy a history lesson.
Wander to Zaryadye Park for a great vantage over the striking skyline or chill in Gorky Park, a favourite among locals soaking up their long-lost friend, Vitamin D. Try the local fare, some of the best has Georgian and Asian influence. With a full belly, it’s time to check out the nightlife. Live jazz, underground dance and ping-pong bars to name a few.
Moscow to Irkutsk
After a morning of further exploration of Moscow, you will return to the station to board your train to Irkutsk - All aboard the Trans-Siberian Railway!
All aboard the renowned Trans Siberian Railway! Settle into life on board as you watch the stunning scenery transform outside your window. Hang with your group in the dining car and try out your language skills on unsuspecting locals; with a little inventive sign language, you’ll all be sharing laughs and snacks in no time. The train will make minor stops along the way, ask how long it`s staying before you hop off and devour homecooked delights from babushkas along the platform – a welcome break from your 2-min noodles.
Welcome to the heartland of Siberia. Settle into your shore-side home at Lake Baikal, and soak up the scenery as you take a stroll around the water’s edge. As the largest freshwater lake in the world, it holds 20% of the planet’s freshwater and seems to stretch on to an infinite horizon. Take a ‘refreshing’ dip if you’re feeling brave, and taste the local cuisine. Omul is a fish endemic to the lake and served up in many ways; smoked, raw and barbequed.
Ask your honcho about lake activities; they vary throughout the year from ice driving to kayaking or something more relaxing.
Travelling via Irkutsk, we make our way around to the western shores of the lake to the serene settlement of Olkhon Island. Visit the sacred Shamanka Rock at sunset for some amazing photo opportunities.
The golden sandy beaches on the island’s northern shore are a great spot to take a dip, the waters at Maloye Morye (the strait between Irkutsk Oblast and the island) are shallow and warmer. Ask your honcho about hiring a horse or a bike to explore more of the island.
Leaving the pristine shores of Lake Baikal, we return to Irkutsk for your final night in Siberia. A town of two tales, Irkutsk began life as a trading outpost, initially for gold and collecting fur taxes from the indigenous Buryats. With the laying of the Siberian Road, merchants could travel from China to Moscow and diamonds, wood, silk and tea passed through the city’s streets.
Irkutsk underwent its own revolution during the 19th century when artists, officers, academics and nobles were exiled here for their part in the Decembrist Revolt against Tsar Nicolas I. The city became a thriving centre for intellectuals and elites; creating a rich cultural heritage, including the signature wooden architecture and ornate latticework. About 50% of the population were exiled, creating a prosperous cultural and educational centre.
Trans Mongolian Railway
Back on board to journey onwards to Mongolia; a great chance to contemplate what you’ve learnt about Russia ahead of the culture switch. Brush up on some Mongolian words and plan your Terelj activities over a hearty meal from the dining car. Watch out the window as the silvery Siberian light gives way to the verdant steppe, look out for hairy yaks, Bactrian camels and nomadic herders whose settlements dot the landscape.
Mongolia! Terelj National Park
Head out to a traditional ger camp in a protected nature reserve. See how the nomads live and see that their roving traditions haven’t changed much for hundreds of years. Enjoy a hike in the wilderness and soak up the serenity of your surroundings. Your Honcho can organise horse riding or archery to help you feel like a real Khan. Enjoy a peaceful sunset before getting cosy around the campfire. After a few airags (fermented mare’s milk), head outside to witness the Milky Way blaze across the night sky.
Terelj National Park to Ulaanbaatar
Visit the Zaisan Memorial to get a great view over the sprawling capital; a skyline of Soviet blocks, Buddhist temples and ger suburbs ringed by empty grasslands for hundreds of miles in every direction. See the ruby-robed monks at Gandantegchinlen Monastery – a name which translates to ‘the great place of complete joy’. And get a taste for the life of a Khan with a visit to the Winter Palace of Bogd Khan – one of the only historical attractions in Mongolia that the Soviets or Mongol communists didn’t destroy.
Enjoy your final night in Mongolia with a feast of local cuisine and a tasty brew, like Crazy Shaman IPA at Hop & Rocks Brewery – Mongolia’s first ever producer of craft beer. Night owls will find plenty to keep them up; from live music venues, beer gardens and chill bars, to pulsing clubs and luxury lounges.
Mongolia to Beijing
Back on board, this time on the Trans Mongolian line. Glide across the green grasslands and pass the golden Gobi before launching into China. Use your time to learn a few words of Chinese and plan what you’d like to see and eat in Beijing. There are eight national cuisines to try, so that should keep you busy when you’re not exploring Imperial Palaces or strolling along the great wall.
Welcome to China and congratulations, you’ve just completed an 8,515 km journey across the largest country in the world and beyond. Let’s celebrate with a visit to one of the many snack markets. Fried scorpion on a stick anyone? Well, maybe some Peking Duck in its hometown then. Explore by bicycle or rickshaw and get acquainted with the patchwork of ancient, imperial and modern life.
Visit the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and the hutong district before heading to the hills for a stroll along the most peaceful part of the Great Wall, Huanghaucheng.
Your epic Vodkatrain adventure ends this morning. Extend your experience: Travel on to Chengdu for Panda magic and Hong Kong for the atmospheric Man Mo Temple and views from Victoria Peak.
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Trip Name: The Vodkatrain (St. Petersburg - Beijing)
Duration: 21 Days
From Price: £2,370
Supplier Tour ID: VODTRA/168175
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