When I first started researching into making the what once seemed a pipe-dream idea of riding the trans-siberian railway into a reality, it was obvious that it wouldn’t be the cheapest leg of our trip. It is entirely possible to do cheaply, however it depends significantly on the level of comfort you require, how often you want to stop and whether you prefer to book your tickets in advance, or rock up at a railway station in Russia.
For us, we opted to book our tickets before leaving. Looking back, if I were to re-do the trip, though it was great knowing they were booked, I would consider just buying the tickets as we went. If we were to travel in the height of peak season, however, I would certainly book in advance. To book as you go would require flexibility – something that might be tricky with such strict visa restrictions. Still, it can be done and we met plenty who were winging it.
Now – the costs. This includes all the places we stayed, which were Moscow, Irkutsk, Olkhon Island in Russia, Ulan Bator and Terelji National park in Mongolia, and Beijing in China. It includes the cost of the tickets, the visas, the food and everything else in between.
The overall cost: £1457.61
The average cost per day: £58.39 x 25 days
This is made up of…
- £600 for 3 train ticket: Moscow – Irkutsk, Irkutsk – Ulan Bator, Mongolia, Ulan Bator – Beijing, China
- £108 Chinese double-entry visa
- £94 Mongolian visa
- £118.65 Russian visa
- £519.55 on accommodation, food, sightseeing and transport at Moscow, Irkutsk, Olkhon Island, Ulan Bator and Beijing
- £19.36 on-board and platform expenditure
The total cost excluding pre trip expenditure (tickets and visas): £538.91
The average cost per day excluding pre trip expenditure (tickets and visas): £21.56 x 25 days
As you can see, visas make up a whopping amount of the total cost – £320.65 in fact. The visas can be obtained cheaper but may require more work – we went through an agency called Real Russia and sorted our tickets and visas through them. Whilst they add a fee for sorting each visa out, for us it didn’t make the process any more expensive. The reason being, to do each visa seperately (there was also a fourth visa – a Belarus transit visa for the European leg of our trip – in order to get from Poland – Russia) would involve paying special delivery for both mine and Ed’s passports, 3 times, and the same again to get them returned to us. To apply for a Mongolian visa, your passport and application cannot be posted – they only accept applications delivered, in person, to the embassy. This would have meant travelling to London and back, which would have been a significant cost – twice (it takes a fair few days) and would also have meant getting time off work. Instead, we put both passports in one special envelope and sent them off to Real Russia with the paper work. The savings on post and having to get to London meant the visas were the same cost as they would be should we have done them ourselves. Plus, the hassle was removed entirely. If you live in London, however, I would certainly consider doing them yourselves as you have the embassies (sort of) on your doorstep.
The cost of the tickets is also not the cheapest, but as explained they can be bought cheaper. The tickets are 2nd class – which means you can expect a 4-berth room. There will be 4 little beds that are actually rather comfortable, a small table by the window and storage space underneath the beds and in the ceiling above the hallway. Bedding is included and is nice and clean. At the end of each hallway is a samovar – basically a big kettle that allows you access to boiled water free of charge. Toilets are situated at the end of each hallway and are kept surprisingly clean by the carriage attendant, and have running (though not drinkable) water for a sink-wash.
If you decide you want a really Russian experience, consider going third class. Though privacy goes out the window, it would certainly be an experience to remember. Expect a carriage full of beds (more than 50, if I remember rightly) with no separation between any of them. Squatter toilets are much more likely and remember Russians are heavy smokers; if you opt for third class, try to get a bunk away from the end of the carriage – where the smokers hang out near the toilets. For a bunk in third class, expect to pay at least a third less that what I paid if going through an agency. Maybe even less if paying as you go at the stations.
For a more private experience, first class is available. With just 2 beds, it is much more roomy. Some of the posher, newer trains have a little toilet/sink in first class but not all do. You won’t meet half as many people which for me was part of the experience, but if comfort and privacy is what you after first class may be for you. Expect to pay almost double what I had paid when going through an agency.
Place by place costs
Moscow: £87.68 for 3 nights 4 days
- Accommodation: £30
- Food: £36.33
- Sightseeing: £2
- Transport: £3.60
- Miscellaneous costs: £16
Irkutsk: £76.05 for 3 nights
- Accommodation: £30
- Food: £31.05
- Sightseeing: £0.00
- Transport: £15
- Miscellaneous costs: £0.00
Olkhon Island: £121.70 for 3 nights
- Accommodation: £60
- Food: £11.70
- Sightseeing: £30
- Transport: £13
- Miscellaneous costs: £7.00
Ulan Bator & Terlji National Park, Mongolia: £112.46 for 6 nights
- Accommodation: £40
- Food: £31.84
- Sightseeing: £36
- Transport: £0.00
- Miscellaneous costs: £0.65
Beijing, China: £127.10 for 4 nights
- Accommodation: £24
- Food: £16.10
- Sightseeing: £33
- Transport: £54 (this includes train tickets we booked to HK)
- Miscellaneous costs: £0.00
On-board and platform costs: £19.36 for 6 nights
- This is made up of food and drinks we purchased either on the train or at the platforms. Food on board is average at best – for vegetarians expect chips (fries for you non-pommy folk out there) and not alot else! We mostly bought food in supermarkets at our stops (the costs are built into the ‘food’ sections where necessary). Bread, nutella, fruit, cheese triangles, biscuits, noodles and tea were the staples!
If you have any questions about the trans-sib, please ask away!