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Trans-Siberian Cities: Tours, Hotels, and Transportation






Previously, I shared my Life on the Trans Siberian Railway + Safety where you can read all about the experience of being on the train, the people you encounter, the food on board, and the safety. But what about the times when you're not on the train?


Let me be frank, if you took the Trans Siberian, but you only saw the city of Moscow, Ulaanbaatar and Beijing (maybe Irkutsk), you've only seen 50% of the journey and missed out on the other 50%. You should go back and do the trip properly, which is taking the time to stop at other cities and towns along the way. I started in Moscow and stopped at Kazan, Yekaterinburg, Tomsk, Irkutsk, Ulaanbaatar, Beijing, and finally arrived back in Hong Kong. In some of these cities, I relied on the local trams and explored the city on foot. In others, I booked tours that allowed me to do things I never could've done on my own. Don't get me wrong, being on the Train and doing the journey completely on rail is an experience itself, but a lot of the things I did in these cities are highlights that I will most certainly remember for the rest of my life. 

I'll be sharing the tours and different activities I did in the cities. I'll also be reviewing the hotels I stayed at in each individual city. And lastly I have some tips on how to utilize the ground transportation in each of the cities.  


Tours along Trans-Siberian cities 
[ Kazan ]
In Kazan you take take the Hop On Hop Off Bus however the city is mostly walkable on foot.

Hop On Hop Off Bus Website: http://www.city-sightseeing.com/tour-details/russia/kazan.htm?id=6013 

[Yekaterinburg] 
I booked with this website to go to the Europe and Asia boarder. There are 2 monuments and I went to the closer one which is 30-60min away, depending on traffic. It cost only 1,200 rub for a taxi and you can request for a female driver if you are travelling solo as a female. 

> Link: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/

   

[ Irkutsk ]
There's so much you can do in Irkutsk and it will vary between seasons. Because I went in snowy season, I booked a Dog sledding trip (8,500 rub), and a Circum Baikal hiking trip since the trains weren't running in winter (5,400 rub) Another popular trip is to go to Okhon island for 2 days. 

http://www.baikalex.com/ -> They have many different great options for trips. It seems like a really big company running this so you can get anything from dog sledding, snow snowmobiling, to diving in the Lake, taking the Circum Baikal train.. etc

http://5217.co/travel/local -> I highly recommend this tour. I had the chance to go with the business owner himself and their tours are designed pretty well and he also does a great explanation of the Baikal area. I heard so many great stories from all these years he's been running this tour as well as a hostel of his own. 




[ Ulaanbaatar ]
If you're in the city of Ulaanbaatar you have to take at least a day trip to one of the national Parks. I went to the closest one - Terelj - which is about 1.5hr away from the city. The tour is $120USD, but if you are travelling with friends you can get a 4 people group and split the cost. 
 

http://lotusguest.com/2014/tours/terelj/ -> I highly recommend this day tour to the Terelj national park. They pick you up at your hotel and the agenda is amazing, including trying on traditional Mongolian clothing, having lunch in one of those Mongolian tents (Yurt) with a local family, horse riding throughout the park, and visiting the sky temple.






Russia Hotel Reviews – on the Trans-Siberian Line 

[Hotel Ulanskaya, Moscow]
  • Price: $350 HK/night
  • Location: Near station where 3 lines cross at Station Chistye Prudy, Sretenskiy Bulvar, and Turgenevskaya. Very convenient to get to red square and also the Kazansky Railway station for the Trans-Siberian train to Kazan.
  • Room: There was a big closet to store everything, but there wasn’t a safe or a safety lock from inside the door. The bed was really big and so was the window. Directly across my room was a church so you can hear the church bells in the morning.
  • Food: breakfast had a lot of options but it tasted kind of bland, there was room service with inexpensive options but food was also not that tasty, the price for it was reasonable though. 

[Ramada Kazan City Center]

  • Price: $450 HK/night, to check in early you need to pay ½ of the price of the room.
  • Location: Two minute walk and across from the railway station
  • Room: It was very good for the price. The room was really big with a king size bed and really nice turquoise blue and black lining. The armchair and bench in front of the table & mirror was also the same theme. There’s a safe in the large closet, and the bathroom was spacious with a shower. Double safety lock on the door provided as well.
  • Food: Excellent room service with very reasonable pricing 



[Hotel Tomsk]
  • Price: $300 HK/night, no extra cost for early check in
  • Location: right beside the train station, and near the tram station, super convenient
  • Room: room was really small with thin walls, it was loud in the hallways. No hair dryer in the room, you need to borrow one from the cleaning lady on the floor.
  • Food: They gave me free 2 breakfasts because I checked in early, but was only staying for 1 night! The food is really good for the value. I also had a creamy chicken and meatball soup for dinner at their restaurant and it was pretty delicious.


[International Hotel Sayen (4 star), Irkutsk]
  • Price: $700 HK/ night, with a deal on expedia.com, it’s usually more expensive than that. They only have few rooms per floor (4-6) so if you want to check in early, you might need to pay for an entire other room for an expensive upgrade
  • Location: relatively convenient, next to a Tram station and pretty close to most sites within walking distance.
  • Room: really big room with a king size bed, large desk, large closet, flat screen TV, large windows with automatic curtains, 2 arm chairs and a dining table. The bathroom had a tub and shower with heated flooring.
  • Food: Free breakfast had a really big range of options and is good quality. I didn’t order room service so can’t comment.






[Best Western, Gobi’s Kelso Ulaanbaatar]
  • Price: $500 HK/night
  • Location: 5 min walk across from train station, 30 min walk to city center or a short cab ride away costing 5,000 MNT.
  • Room: Good sized room with big closet and safe, pretty good shower. Windows are large so the sun shines in but they have double layered thick curtains to block that. Lighting is dim at night. If there’s a party or wedding on the 1st floor you can hear it on the 5th floor.
  • Food: The included continental breakfast was amazing, it includes tea, toast, salad, fruit, main dish can be eggs/sausage or chicken rice. It felt more like lunch. Breakfast is on request dependent on your time. Can order from their restaurant and have them bring it to your room.


[Howard Johnson Paragon Hotel Beijing]
  • Price: $500 HK/night
  • Location: Right across from Beijing Main station, on top of the subway inside a mall with supermarket and drug store
  • Room: dimly lit, faces the restaurant in the middle on the ground floor so can be really loud, has a safe but closet and bathroom seems a bit old.
  • Food: This was overpriced and really average, you’re better off eating elsewhere outside the hotel



Ground transportation within Russian Cities

1 Moscow: the subway is really easy to navigate and it’s 50rub per ride. As mentioned before it is also really safe, and it’s well heated. To buy a ticket, you can use the machines or go to the ticketing counter “KAACA”, hold up # of fingers for # of rides you want and they will load the rides on a smart card for you. You touch ticket on gate to enter, and follow signs on the floor for train line and exits. There are station names on the walls of the platform, so you can look at the next stops and transfer stations while waiting on the platform. The ceilings also have hanging signs for the station names. There’s wifi on trains in case you didn’t get a local SIM with data.






2 Kazan: The city is easily walkable, it’s not that big. There’s also an option of taking the hop on hop off tour bus, but even so you’ll need to wait for the bus, so walking is the best option.


3 Tomsk: Take tram #1 or #2 from the Train Station to the North end and then start walking back from there to your hotel. There’s so much to see and you will want to stop and take photos, so if you’re taking a tram from stop to stop you’ll miss it. Each ride is 15rub and you pay the lady at the entrance after you get on the tram, she has change so you can pay her in larger notes. I walked around for 2.5-3hrs and was able to cover most of Tomsk on foot.


4 Irkutsk: To get from the Train station to city center you’ll have to take the tram (#1 or #2) for 3 stops cross the river, it’s also 15rub. The tram station is right outside the main entrance of the Trans-Siberian Railway station. There’s no booth but there’s a sign hanging on a wire between electricity poles. If you prefer to take a taxi it’s 250 rub to city center. After you get to the city you can basically walk everywhere. It took me just 1.5hr to take a big loop around all the more famous sites, churches, and monuments.


5 Ulaanbaatar is also a city that’s walkable. It is a big far from where I stayed (Best Western – Gobi’s Kelso) but even that is a 30 minute walk. You pass by a lot of things to see, buy, and eat anyway on the way. I cabbed to city center which should cost you 5,000 MNT from the train station and then started walking around from there.

6 Beijing is massive, it’s virtually impossible to see on foot. But the subway really easy to use. Remember to line up to get the IC card to avoid lines every single time you want to take the train. Load it up with $60 RMB for 2 days and you’ll be good. Security check at every station means that stations can take longer to enter than you think. Sometimes there’s a long line just for the security check. There’s also at least 3 different railway stations in Beijing: Beijing Main Station (South East corner), Beijing North (North West corner), and Beijing West (South West Corner). The Trans Mongolian arrives at Beijing Main Station, however if you are continuing onwards with the High Speed Rail down to Guangzhou/Shenzhen then to Hong Kong, that departs from Beijing West. The S2 Train for the Great Wall leaves from Beijing North. 




Read the Trans Siberian series here (vlogs included), please click on the links below:

Trans Siberian Railway - Moscow (0km)
Trans Siberian Railway - Kazan (820km)
Trans Siberian Railway - Yekaterinburg (1,814km)
Trans Siberian Railway - Tomsk (3,644km)
Trans Siberian Railway - Irkutsk (5,185km) Dog Sledding
Trans Siberian Railway - Irkutsk (5,185km) Lake Baikal
Trans Siberian Railway - Irkutsk to Ulaanbaatar (6,464km)
Trans Siberian Railway - Ulaanbaatar (6,464km)
Trans Siberian Railway - Ulaanbaatar (6,464km) Terelj National Park
Trans Siberian Railway - Ulaanbaatar to Beijing (8,015km)
Trans Siberian Railway - Beijing (8,015km)
Trans Siberian Railway - Great Wall of China & Back to Hong Kong (10,265km)




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