Trans Siberian Railway | Moscow, 0km

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 University
  • 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 18 (Fri) – March 19 (Sat) :: Hong Kong -> Doha -> Moscow

My flight was at midnight, and after I got off German class at around 9:30, I rushed to the Airport. At the Airport Express check in counter, they were asking me whether I have my return tickets booked since they think Russian customs will ask me. So I provided the receipt from Real Russia with all my train tickets. 

I had a miscall from the UK, which is really rare, so I checked my e-mail while on the Airport express in case it's something urgent. My Real Russia agent mentioned that I haven’t picked up my tickets but their office is closed on the weekend and they were about to close in an hour 1I don’t arrive till the next day, Saturday, morning! I had planned so much and prepared so much, I couldn't believe a silly mistake like this was happening. Lukily I had some Skype credits to make an International call and I phoned up my agent Doina. I told her I will pay someone to take a Taxi to deliver it to my hotel, or they can deliver it to the train station. It was the worse 20 minute wait ever. I felt like I was going to have a heart attack. She called back and said someone will deliver it to my hotel at 3pm the following day and I land at 12pm. Thank god it worked out somehow. But I couldn't relax until I actually had my tickets in hand.

Qatar Airlines was really good. They had a small in flight kit for economy! It contained a toothbrush/toothpaste, socks, ear plugs, eyemask. There’s also a USB plug to charge my iPhone. I sat buy this British guy who is going to Qatar for some convention. At first he was nice but then was super weird later on. I maybe got up 4 times for the entire 9hr duration of the flight, and he got kind of impatient and just didn’t talk to me at all. When he was sleeping, he kept moving around, couldn’t find a comfortable spot, and decided to kneel on the floor, with his face down on the seat. The inflight entertainment was great though, and had all of the 007 movies, Star Wars movies and the Hunger Games. I ended up watching Antman and The Good Dinosaur during my 2 meals.

Doha International airport was massive and very modern. We arrived 1 hr late which just means I have to wait for less time at the airport. It was 6am or some really early hour in the morning. Once I got to the gate for my Moscow flight, this Trans-Siberian trip is finally sinking in. I was surrounded by Russians. Many girls had really long waist length wavy doll-like hair. There was also a couple, a Russian man and Taiwanese woman, they were speaking entirely in Mandarin, which is pretty impressive on the man's part. 

The second flight was on a Boeing 787. They had these windows without sliding shades, but instead had a button on the bottom to control how dark it tinted. So it was bright outside but the window was in a deeper shade of blue as you darken it. The entertainment set also came with a touch screen remote controller that looked like a small smartphone. I watched Star Wars on this leg of the journey. I was really exhausted at this point, but breakfast was really good food, and the flight landed early in Moscow.

March 19 (Sat) Moscow Day 1 

Moscow was -9 degrees and snowing. You can see beautiful forests and rivers covered in slow as we descended into Domodedovo international airport. Customs took a while, and I was one of the last in the foreign visitor’s line. The immigration officers were smirking at my passport as if they’ve never seen an Asian before. They didn’t even bother asking for my return ticket and just let me through. 

Just at the luggage claim, I found the machine that sells the aeroexpress train tickets to go to city center. I had to fight off some taxi drivers waiting at the exits after customs, and then proceeded to find an ATM. At first this one machine only let me withdraw 5000 rubles, which is only 500 HKD at a time. I walked a bit further to find other ATMs. After that, I went to get my sim from MegaFone. I got a 7GB data plan and 1000 call that cost around $2,000 RUB, and this works anywhere in Russia! This will really come in handy when I get lost or need translation. The counter guys kept chatting with me and were really curious about where I’m going and where I’m from! They were super helpful and friendly.

I got on the train at 1:30pm and got to the city around 2:15pm. The scenery is so beautiful! It was snowing but the sun was shining through the tall leafless trees. After arriving at the city center station, I transferred to the Metro with no problems; the underground signs were in English and easy to follow. At the Metro ticketing counter, I just held up 10 fingers for 10 single journey ticket worth of amount loaded onto a smart card. It felt really safe in the metro, there were police and cameras everywhere. The trains were old, but the stations were newly renovated with nice stone walls. People were using their new iPhones on the trains, and there were the elderly and young kids riding the subway too. It made me feel much less nervous than in Paris or in Barcelona.

I managed to get to the hotel just before 3pm, checked-in and dropped off my things. My hotel front desk called me around 3:15pm since the delivery person arrived. I finally have my tickets in hand! I’m no longer nervous anymore and can start enjoying my trip. The hotel was across from a nice little church and facing away from the big street so it was quiet. It’s also just a 2 minute walk from the Metro so was very convenient. 

I headed out to the Moscow Kremlin and didn’t have much time. The ticketing lady was nice enough to not oversell me tickets and just recommended me to go to the Armory Chamber. I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside but there’s many really interesting artifacts to see in there! Like a duo throne, coronation gowns, and carriages. Before leaving I bought the one souvenir I wanted – a Russian egg. It was decorated with Swarovski crystal, handmade in St. Petersburg and opens up to the pretty Saint Basil’s Cathedral. 


After the Armory Chamber, I walked towards Red Square. It wasn’t too far but it was freezing! I left my gloves at the hotel which was a very bad idea. My fingers were freezing from taking photos of everything so I soon had to duck into the mall (called GUM) on the left hand side of red square facing Saint Basil's. It was really warm and beautiful inside! It reminded me of France with the jazz music and architecture. There was a big tree with birds and chirping music in the middle of the mall, I guess that’s how they celebrate spring time while it’s still cold outside!

It was almost sunset so I better head back to the hotel. I walked past the guard at the exit and he said Hi to me in Korea, Chinese, and Japanese! For the most part, Russians are very curious about tourists but at the same time very happy that people are visiting their country.

I was really tired from traveling, so ordered some pasta and hot tea for room service. It wasn’t bad, but the bread that came with it was pretty bad. It didn’t taste like much and was cold and spongy. I guess bread’s not a specialty here! I’ll be on a train most nights until one week later in Irkutsk because the towns in between I’ll only be stopping for less than 24hrs. I better rest up. 

March 20 (Sun) Moscow Day 2 ---> Kazan 

I was woken up by the sound of church bells around 9:30am. I proceeded downstairs to get some free breakfast; I had to fuel up before the long day walking around Moscow. The breakfast was again not impressive; it was all cold and a bit tasteless. I had a lot of sausages which was the best thing I could find.

Around noon, I got back to the Kremlin grounds again. So happy that I can drop off my bag because there’s a free luggage room if you have tickets. It would’ve been difficult to walk around my heavy backpack. I walked around to see the different buildings inside the Kremlin. There were many churches, some government buildings, and it also had a good view of the river and the city. It was really cold again today, only from -10~-5 C, so the little breaks to go into the heated buildings really helped. 

I went to Red Square again to go to the State Museum of History. I took a picture of this guy dressed up as the Tsar (of course a tourist thing), still it was really cool! The State Museum of History was really massive and impressive. It had something like over 30 halls with collections of historical artifacts from the stone ages to modern times, covering music, art, science, the royal family, sports, and everything you can think of. It is very worth the visit. And I noticed that Russians really like everything in the color gold (or actual gold). All the ceilings were also 2 floors high! 

I returned to the GUM to sit inside to warm up and had some hot tea. 

Around 4pm, I picked up my backpack and proceeded to Izmailovo Market. It looked like a castle from the fairy tales! First you walk through this market with a lot of merchants selling all kinds of goods. I wanted to find a music box like the one form Anastasia but I couldn’t find one anywhere. This guy from a leather shop stopped me to talk to me. He’s been to a lot of countries and said that he really admired my independence to be travelling on the Trans Siberian alone.

Since it’s still really cold, I took some quick photos and left. First I took to the Komsomolskaya Metro Station then walked to the Kazansky train station. Both had stunning interior design with big chandeliers and colorful walls. There was a waiting room for the train so I went to sit there since I was an hour early. My phone also almost died because of the cold weather draining the power. 

So this is 0km, I boarded my train at 7:25pm.

I was on train number 2, one of the newest trains in the Russian Railway (RZD). Although I bought female only compartment train tickets, I was in a compartment with this Russian Guy, and he didn’t speak any English. I was a bit worried at first, but he turned out to be super nice. The Provodnista didn’t speak any English either, so the guy was helping to google translate everything for me, like where the toilet is, the hot water etc He also asked if he should leave the room so I can change into comfortable clothing! Food was served shortly and it was really yummy lamb meatballs and rice. The guy was going to Kazan for business, and he soon fell asleep with the lights on and compartment door opened.

The heater was on so strong so it was really warm (24C) and dry inside. I woke up with a bloody nose at 4am and was glad I had a tissue nearby. I slept some more and woke up at 6:30am to see the beautiful sunrise and lots of snow everywhere. 

We arrived in Kazan around 8am, it was -15C outside!