Travelling across space and time on the trans-siberian

Around midnight, we got on the trans-siberian (more accurately, the trans-manchurian*) train number 20 to get to Siberia. The journey was over 5,000 kms, and would take approximately 4 days. Exciting times!

*A great resource on understanding the trans-Russia/Mongolia/China trains is the man in seat 61.

Train 20 to Pekin (Beijing)!

We had booked a first class cabin, so this was a big step up from our previous 3rd class travel. The key element you’re paying for here is privacy. As much as we’re all for ‘meeting new people’ and ‘being out of our comfort zone’, sharing an enclosed space with strangers for 4 days didn’t sound appealing. So first class it was, and our cabin was pretty comfortable and spacious. Our neighbours in the next cabins were mainly Europeans, a few Germans, Italians, and a Russian couple. A child may or may not have been present in our coach, we can’t be sure.

First class cabin! All to ourselves!

Each coach had a train attendant who looked after the cabin and kept the place clean. Our attendant was a cryptic Russian dude with Harry Potter glasses who had the strangest way of answering questions.


V to conductor: “Hey man, this sign says this is drinking water. Can I drink from here?”

Conductor: “Maybe”

V: “Or should I buy bottled water”

Conductor: “Maybe”

V: “Thanks, that’s helpful”

The train had a restaurant car that served hot food. It was okay, but N and I didn’t eat there particularly often. The main waiter in the restaurant car was a personification of the “deal with it” meme from 9gag. Examples? First day we came in, he said we were too late for breakfast “deal with it.” Same day for lunch, ordered scrambled eggs, out came some sort of fried eggs “deal with it.” Ordered a salad without dressing, out came a bowl of oil, with some tomatoes and cucumber in it, “deal with it”. But generally, the dude was a pretty cool cat.

The Russian restaurant car on train 20

The train stopped often along the way, and most platforms had these small shops where one could buy cup noodles, fruit, snacks and drinks, which is what we subsisted on for 3-4 days. It wasn’t bad, it just gets monotonous after a bit.

A stop along the way

Another stop along the way

Stretching ’em legs

Getting our rations at the ‘commissary’

It’s like living in a dorm again!

Great choice of beer. Should I go with the manly man, a bear, or something else? Why not all!

The first two days were uneventful, and passed by quickly enough. Day 3 and 4 started getting interesting. By this point, we had both been on the train more than 50 hours, and were more than halfway. They say that time stands still when you’re travelling at the speed of light. We were nowhere close to the speed of light (we were actually rather slow, averaging 50-80kmph), but time and space started playing tricks on us.

First, the ‘official time’ displayed in the coach continued to be Moscow time. Next, our phones which usually auto adjust to local time, only adjusted an hour upwards once. Then, all of a sudden, no one on the cabin knows what time it is (local time). Also, the restaurant car guy served meals according to local time. Soon, the compartment was comprised of a bunch of smelly time travelling zombies who woke up at 3am when the sun was blazing, who couldn’t get breakfast yet because it wasn’t yet the right local time, and who’d eaten dinner just a couple of hours prior. To complicate matters, every 12 hours or so, we were supposedly in a different time zone.

On day 3, I also developed a mild fever, so between the paracetamol, the beer, the time zones and the confinement, it was all really, really fuzzy and weird. Honestly, I’m pretty sure I’ve time jumped a couple of times accidentally. I just hope I didn’t step on a blade of grass or have any ripple effects.

Then magically, on day 4, we reached Irkutsk, Siberia.

Travel facts
Cumulative cost of travel so far
GBP: 1113 plus EUR: 1308 plus RUB:18,800
First class accommodation on train 20: 590 GBP for 2 people
Booked on our own through almost 45 days before travel. First class sells out quickly, so book in advance. Also, booking through the website directly is cheaper by 10-25% as compared to travel agencies like Real Russia, although the website can be tricky to navigate and figure out.
Spending on train:
RUB 2800

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