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Trans Siberian Railway | Irkutsk (5,185km) Dog Sledding







Moscow (0km) -> Kazan (820km) -> Yekaterinburg (1,814km) -> Tomsk (3,664km) -> Irkutsk (5,185km) -> Ulaanbaatar (6,464km) -> Beijing (8,015km) -> Hong Kong (10,265km) 

*The km count is based on how far I am from since I started in Moscow, not the actual km marks on the Trans Siberian and Trans Mongolian Railway. 
  • Moscow: Kremlin, Red Square, State History Museum, Izmailovo Market
  • Kazan: Kul Sharif Mosque, Kazan Kremlin, National Museum of the Republic State of Tatarstan, Bauman Street, Epiphany Bell Tower, Nizhny Kaban Lake
  • Yekaterinburg: the Europe and Asia border
  • Tomsk: Tomsk State Museum 
  • Irkutsk: Listvyanka Dog Sledding, Lake Baikal via the Great Baikal Trail and the Circum Baikal Railway
  • Ulaanbaatar: Genghis Kahn Square, Winter Palace, National Museum of Mongolia, Gandan Monastery, Terelj National Park - Genghis Kahn Statue, Vultures, Camels, Traditonal Mongolia clothing, Turtle Rock, Lunch in a Yurt, horse riding, Ariyabal Meditation Temple
  • Beijing: Lama Temple, Forbidden Palace, Tiananmen Square, Great Wall of China, Old Summer Palace, China High Speed Train



March 25 (Fri) Tomsk 3644km - > Taiga 3,723km -> Irkutsk 5,185km 



The Tomsk station was nice, but it had only a paper display of the train schedule. I guess there’s not that many trains and it’s also not on the main Trans-Siberian line, but a branch out. I got to my train 391, bound for Vladivostok. I couldn’t sleep because I was scared I would miss getting off at Taiga. I got there around 2am but had to wait 2hrs till my train for Irkutsk came. The train only stopped for exactly 3 minutes from 4:17am – 4:20am, so I went to the platform extra early to make sure I got on the train. The Provodnista didn’t even check our tickets before boarding and closed the door already, what if I was on the wrong train!? 


Luckily I wasn’t. 

It’s full house today, with another lady on the bottom bunk and 2 military guys on the top bunk! One of the guys used my storage, maybe his bag didn’t fit on the top bunk storage, so I just put my backpack underneath my bed for now. I was woken up around 4 hrs later at 9am, I was so exhausted but the provodnista was serving breakfast. The two guys on the top bunk walked outside to speak to their other friends. And I managed to order myself some chicken dinner in Russian! 

I fell back asleep, but was woken up by a tap on my shoulders. I was super confused and deep in a sleep coma, but the soldiers were getting off! Oh yeah the guy who stole my luggage space needs his bag back. I managed to ask him for a quick picture before leaving, turns out all the soldiers were super nice and friendly! 

I spent the rest of my journey reading 80 days around the world, it was the only interesting read I could download for free, Russia seriously sells zero English books. 

A family of 3 joined in the middle of the night, mom, a girl around 10 and her younger brother around 4 years old. They were whispering the whole time and didn’t make much disturbance. The girl took the top bunk and the mom shared the bottom bunk with the little boy. 


March 26 (Sat) Irkutsk Day 1 

The train pulled into Irkutsk Station around 8am. I got off and found the tram stop in front of the station. The train stop sign hung above the street dangling from a thin wire, luckily I had looked up on google maps in advance. Soon tram #1 came, it’s also 15rub for the ride, same as in Tomsk. We crossed a river, and I got off after maybe 3 stops.


I couldn’t check into my 4 star Japanese hotel, which I did not remember booking. But the front desk lady was really nice, she told me to go upstairs to get some free breakfast, and she’ll keep my bag for me and let me know if I can check in early. The hotel restaurant was on the top floor with clear greenhouse garden looking glass panels. You could see the city of Irkutsk, and it felt like I was in Paris again. Funnily enough, my guide later told me Irkutsk is the Paris of Russia. The restaurant was nice and modern with mostly simple white decoration, and they played jazz in the background. I had a dog sledding trip booked at 11:30am so after breakfast I just decided to walk around city center. 


I walked North East, then North West, then back South West in a circle. I saw a lot of churches, monuments and interesting buildings. I found that Irkutsk also has a lot of interesting window decoration, but slightly different from Tomsk! I didn’t get to look at the south part of the city in the morning so I left it for later.


 


My driver met me at the hotel lobby at 11:30am and we drove towards Listvyanka. That is the closest town from Irkutsk where the Angara river met Lake Baikal and it’s never frozen there. The roads were like in San Francisco, hilly and just up and down the whole way. It was a really sunny day so you could see the other shore of Lake Baikal, but parts of the lake surface were still frozen so some people were driving their cars on it! The dog sledding station was just in between two mountains in a valley. It was somewhat muddy from the melting snow, but inside the woods it was still covered in a blanket of snow. 

I changed into waterproof snow pants just in case the snow and mud splashed on me. The doggies were sitting patiently outside and waiting. They were really cute and friendly! There were 2 teams of dogs, and when I left with the first group the poor group left behind were howling and barking. They want to go for a walk too! 

The driver was shouting in Russian. Probably something like mush, that’s good, go straight, turn left/right. The dogs seemed to really enjoy themselves! We were going pretty fast and completed the 10km track in just about 40 minutes, so they were going 15-20km/hr. It was especially fun at sharp bends to the left or right. The doggies were nipping their partners at some point and just bickering. Another dog really had to pee so she was running and peeing/squatting at the same time, it was hilarious. But the ride was really relaxing and the trees and snow was beautiful!


“Bashli” = hurry 



“Arrasho” = that’s good

 

On the way back I got the driver to drop me off at the historical town area with lots of new trendy Cafes and bars. There was also a big mall, so I walked around to see what’s available. Beijing was going to be pretty hot, around 23C, so I went to H&M to buy a spring outfit. 

Finally at around 4pm I got back to the hotel to check in. It’s a really high tech room with lots of space, way more space than I needed. I booked it on Expedia with a discount so it was only $700 HKD/ night (this is the most expensive hotel in my entire trip, most the other ones were between $300 - $500 HKD/night). When I stuck the key card into the slot beside the door to turn on the electricity in the room, the room lit up and the curtains opened automatically. There were 5 different lighting scenarios controlled by a panel on my bedside table, anything from a super lit up room to a dim relaxing atmosphere. There were ceiling lights, floor lights, light surrounding the bed. And the bathroom had heated floors! Best feeling ever to walk on those warm tiles. I showered quickly and got dressed to head back to the historical town area to grab dinner with a fellow solo female traveler.



I found her post on Lonely Planet’s discussion page and she was also doing the Trans-Siberian! She was from the Netherlands, and it was really nice to know that others are also doing this trip alone, and was interesting to share our experience. We could not stop talking about how the train was, how the people were and the food. There’s just so much to share! I ended up finding out that she was working for a company that was based in the small town in Iowa where I grew up. I’ve never ever met anyone who’s lived there other than people who were already living there when I moved there in my childhood. We’ll also be doing the Trans Mongolian route and through China and eventually in Hong Kong, except she has a bit more time than me so I’ll be completing the trip first. It’ll be interesting to see how our Mongolian and China experiences differ!

The next day I'll be hiking alone through the snowy Great Baikal Trail and then along the old Circum Baikal Railway.


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