My short bio: I'm a Dutch IT student, 22 years young, who just finished a semester in Korea and decided to take the scenic route home - by train. I did it in two stretches (which I recommend to everybody as it's more hygienic and you'll see more of Russia), from Vladivostok to Irkutsk in 3 days and 4 nights, a couple days there (celebrated New Year's with a family), and then onwards to Moscow, another 3 days and 4 nights, which is where I am right now. My feet are sore from walking around the city, so AMA for the rest of the evening! (Moscow time, of course)

My Proof: My tickets!

EDIT: I made an Imgur album! link Sorry it's boring.

EDIT 2: Thank you all very much for your questions people! They're starting to get repetitive and I'm getting sleepy, so this will be it for today. I'll keep an eye out for good questions in the next few days, but no more tonight. Have a good one, and maybe plan this trip yourself some time! Or not!

FINAL EDIT: /u/cidgemyn made a list of tips!

Comments: 1941 • Responses: 56  • Date: 

expialidocile1513 karma

How did your actual experience differ from your expectations?

harmenator4030 karma

Well, that's a rather broad question, so here's three specific things that I was found I was unprepared for:

  • You really should bring food for the entire trip. There are occasionally people on the stations selling their local produce, which is brilliant when you see it, but you really cannot count on them as you'll barely get one a day. There is also meant to be an on-board restaurant, but few people seemed to go there (so few, in fact, that I could not find it on my first trip and could not physically get there on my second because too many people were being stationary and in my way). So, pack some instant mashed potatoes (their version of instant noodles), mandarins (easy to eat, doesn't spoil that fast), and a big bottle of water, and supplement that with whatever you find/buy on the way. You won't need 9 whole meals though for three days - you'll barely be hungry because you're sitting on your arse all day.
  • It was piping hot. Maybe it's a winter thing, as I was told it is a Russian cultural thing that they like warm houses in winter or something, but the train was at a consistent 27/28 degrees Celcius all night long. Expect to see people walk around in their underwear.
  • Don't count on electricity being accessible. CHARGE YOUR PHONE, CHARGE YOUR POWERBANK, AND DO NOT WASTE 35% ON STUPID GAMES WHEN YOU NEED THE ALARM CLOCK TO NOT MISS YOUR STATION. Sorry, I sorta ignored that and had some tense hours.

BlinkyThreeEyes2743 karma

This sounded kind of cool until the temperature at night thing. Sweating all night trapped in an enclosed train with a bunch of sweating Russians sounds like one of my layers of hell.

harmenator1284 karma

Yup. Take sleeping pills with you - it helps tremendously.

Or perhaps go in spring or autumn.

Delia_G221 karma

Why were so few people going to the on-board restaurant? Was there something wrong with the quality of food served, or was it just expensive?

NietMolotov280 karma

It's a common belief that food there will make you sick. It's also quite expensive and, as you can probably guess, people riding trains in Russia are far from wealthy. So it is better to pack food for a couple of days.

CPTherptyderp201 karma

Interesting I was under the impression it was a luxury trip. Maybe I'm thinking of a different trans Russian train

harmenator411 karma

It is the opposite of luxury. From every part of my experience, I felt I was doing the second-rate mode of transportation, with planes being the preferred intra-Russian transportation system.

But that just made it feel more authentically Russian.

maxverse1462 karma

Very cool! What was the weirdest Russian custom you came across? What did you like most about Russians?

harmenator2566 karma

Answer to both: tendency to share everything! I could barely exchange names with these guys yet they kept inviting me to dinner!

bragov4ik673 karma

Wow, you was in my home town yesterday! Its name is Kanash (Канаш) :) Did you like it?

harmenator755 karma

Definitely the best city, good for sleeping and not noticing :)

EDIT: lol, I meant that I must have been asleep while my train passed by this place! :O

Haltopen603 karma

Did you listen to trans siberian orchestra while doing so?

harmenator417 karma

I had no clue it existed until now...

But eh, at least I know to listen to Plymouth Sinfonia when I'm going to Massachusetts.

aham848 karma

I’m from Massachusetts and I have no idea what you’re taking about.

harmenator99 karma

It's a joke. Plymouth is in Mass, and the Plymouth Sinfonia is an infamously terrible orchestra made up by people deliberately playing different instruments than they know how to play.

Example

EDIT - I am an idiot and plymouth =/= portsmouth. My apologies, but enjoy the terrible music!

BigBOFH40 karma

That says it's the Portsmouth Sinfonia, though?

harmenator63 karma

Jesus christ I am not awake today

TheWiseOne1234550 karma

Do you speak any Russian? Do you think someone who does not would enjoy the trip?

harmenator1045 karma

Zip, zero, nyet. Only the little words you learn whenever you are in another country for a while, like hello (privyet) and thank you (spesibah).

Not knowing Russian made it harder, of course, and if you're into socialising with random folks on the train you're going to have a harder time with that - though they will try regardless. I got offered food by three people at three occasions, all of whom spoke zero English.

I managed just fine in the end, given that I am now here in one piece.

HitComboooooo475 karma

I did the Trans Mongolian journey from Moscow to Beijing in 2010. Incredible experience. Scariest experience was chancing it to buy Vodka from a small stall about 1000 yards away from the train on one of the many stops. I screwed up the timings and the train nearly pulled away without me! Luckily it was going really slow so I could just about get on. Did you nearly miss the train at all?

harmenator265 karma

Hah, I was too big a coward to ever go more than an arm's length away from the door :P Happy to hear that you had a great time!

z0dz0d374 karma

Is Irktusk really as valuable as it is in Risk?

harmenator420 karma

Definitely. Best city east of the Urals. Irkutsk best kutsk, Yakutsk go home. Although I do not feel in Ukraine at the moment...

Mike_FS354 karma

Why is it more hygienic to do it in two stretches? Are there no showers on the train or at the stops?

harmenator736 karma

/u/stiletta said it. No showers on-board if you're a regular person, and you can count on maybe 2 to 4 of the longer stops a day (which are 15 to 30 minutes), which is barely enough time to take a fresh breath and some pictures. There's no indication that the train is about to leave either, so I decided to stay near.

As for hygiene, carry some packaged wet tissues to be prepared for the worst, but otherwise, you should get used to the prospect of not smelling very well when you get off. Luckily, my taxi drivers in Irkutsk and Moscow that took me off the boiler were quite understanding.

cidgemyn202 karma

I took that route 17 years ago and there were showers. I think lack of Russian might have failed you there because shower is "hidden" in the bathroom and you have to ask controller to set it up for you and pay for it. I was riding in the regular car - 4 beds in the room, not a luxury one.

harmenator67 karma

Lol, might have been.

Billy112134 karma

So its like a 7 day moving campsite? Sounds fucking miserable

harmenator42 karma

Well, it's not meant to be luxurious.

lucstrk263 karma

Are most of the passengers doing the total trip? Did you spot many tourists or is it a true russian experience?

harmenator559 karma

On each of my legs I was the only one in the cabin doing a distance that long. The average time spent on board seems to be about a day.

Zero tourists. Apparently winter is low-season, which I don't really understand since snowy landscapes just feel 100% more Russian.

air_lock230 karma

Did you ever feel unsafe while in Russia?

harmenator523 karma

To be honest... only at the border crossing, because the way to acquire a visa is weird and feels like it should be illegal but for some reason isn't...

Otherwise; nope. I've walked Irkutsk in the middle of the night, no problem. Maybe a little when I was being driven somewhere, but honestly, the crazy-Russian-drivers thing is simply untrue. If you want to see drivers that'll make you feel like you're about to die, go to Georgia.

That is, the country in the Caucasus, in case I confused/offended some Muricans there.

batcaveroad186 karma

Could you expand on the weird border quasi-legal thing?

harmenator436 karma

Well, it is complicated, but here's the general idea as I understood it (and my understanding is probably not entirely accurate).

You need an official invitation. This is meant to come from the hotel you are staying with, but they often will not provide them. And if you are staying in multiple different hotels, or with friends, or in other establishments, there are different contingencies and formulae for every single case. Gotta love bureaucracy.

So there are companies that produce these invitations. You tell them what cities you are staying at - and they have agreements with one hotel in each of those cities. So, I told them the dates I would be in Vladivostok, Irkutsk, and Moscow, and they gave me an official invitation containing the addresses of hotels in those cities.

Mind, those are not the hotels I am staying at. They are hotels that (I presume) will, when asked by the Russian government, confirm that I am/was staying there for the given time.

And still I need to collect official registration papers from every hotel I stay at now - even if they differ from those on my letter of invitation - and show them at the border when I leave.

But not for guesthouses.

Russian visas are weird.

Hashtagbarkeep257 karma

For me to visit Russia (which has happened a few times) I have to list all places I’d been in the last 5 years, with dates, including multiple entries. My job for the last 8 years has involved about 80% foreign travel, and I’ve probably been to 100 countries in that time, and while I have stamps for some countries, a lot of European countries don’t stamp, and if it’s a reentry quite often they don’t either. It took like 3 days to complete and I guessed about half of it. When I got to the border the first time I got taken in a room and questioned for hours, shouted at, told I wasn’t going to be allowed in and that. Would be arrested, but I was eventually for some reason let in. Second time I put 100 dollars in my passport, it disappeared and I went in straight away. I don’t like the Russian visa process.

harmenator81 karma

Woah.

Ok, let me say on the beforehand that I am extremely jealous of your job.

But yeah, that part of the form did not apply to me because I was not a Commonwealth citizen. Apparently there's different requirements for different people.

BeingOfAdventures223 karma

What's the story behind your New Years festivities, how did you meet the family? I have also heard Russians are extremely nice and hospital, is that true?

harmenator440 karma

Story is simple enough - I was staying at a guesthouse, which was literally a family's spare room. They always celebrate New Years with their guest when they have one.

Without speaking Russian, I could not understand a thing of what they were saying, but it was very sweet. They don't have a lot to go around, and gave each other presents (and me a fridge magnet) and had food that was obviously very special (though honestly one meat pudding of sorts made me sick).

Very hospitable indeed. Though they say that I bring good luck for the new year, so perhaps alterior motives were involved :P

Gusearth189 karma

Is most of the trip barren, or is there scenery worth looking at?

harmenator234 karma

Boring trees. Better scenery on the second leg, when there were at least some hills and villages, but nothing that you wouldn't see in 15 minutes of walking outside.

harmenator192 karma

Not much to look at, sadly. Another reason to divide the trip into legs and view Russia outside the train!

optivelamb184 karma

How was the food on the train?

harmenator252 karma

Absent. Or well, it might have been there, but I never visited the restaurant as nobody seemed to do it - everybody had their own food with them, even those travelling for multiple days like me. The conductor sold some small things like water bottles and chocolate bars though. Other than that, pack your own munchies!

kylelonious182 karma

I did something similar in 2011, but took a more Northern route called the Baikal-Amur Mainline. I had this experience where - at one point - like twenty Russian guys got on the train and heavily insisted that me and my friends drink with them - to the point of being pretty threatening. They didn’t just drink casually either, it was literally dudes drinking vodka like wine, an entire bottle in a single sitting. I tried to humor them for a while but it kinda got to be too much and we accidentally pissed them off by refusing to the point where several them would yell and even get kinda physical with us. Overall was one of my more stressful travel experiences.

Wondering if you - along your way - had any similar experiences? The other people on the train didn’t act like this was abnormal at all and even said various things to us about how this was common to see out in Siberia. It always seemed so insane to me that this could be normal. I know they were different paths, but did you ever see anything similar along your path? Or anything that would hint this was normal behavior?

harmenator164 karma

I have experienced some random acts of generosity. Someone offered me vodka in a burger place in Irkutsk. It was just a dad with wife and young kid, and he randomly offered me some from his metal-carry-on-alcohol-container-thingy (dunno what it's called). I sheepishly accepted, and afterwards he offered me a second round - not even taking any himself - which I refused.

Nothing as extreme as your story, but they do seem to be very casual about alcohol.

avael27338 karma

He probably thought you were cold, it is sort of a custom to offer a bit of strong alcohol so you would feel warmer, not that it actually warms you up. That might explain why he didn't drink any. Were you not dressed accordingly?

harmenator64 karma

Eh, that might explain it. Plenty of people told me I dress too cold. I now know why it's called Mother Russia.

COACHREEVES179 karma

Did you have a sleeper car? If not, did you just sleep in the seats?

harmenator255 karma

Yup. Or well, both, since at daytime the lower beds transform into seats and you're meant to share them, so less privacy if you're in the lower one. I was that in the second leg, but luckily my cabin was never full.

ScarletSilver153 karma

How full were the trains? Was it easy to move around and for that matter, did you move around a lot? How was the food served in the trains?

harmenator314 karma

Each car was divided into a half-dozen cabins, which held four beds each. I was alone in my cabin for 5% of the time, with one other person for 25% of the time, with two others for 40% of the time, and the cabin was full for the remaining 10%.

The corridor outside is about 1.5 person wide so... don't be fat. An advice many Russians seemed to have ignored... I did not move a lot, no, as there was not much to do. Mostly from and to the toilet.

For food see my other comments.

_Trugas_148 karma

I always wanted to do the Trans-Siberia, could you just roughly tell me what your financial burden was? I heard that the tickets are quite pricey..

harmenator211 karma

EDIT: Ok, so it looks like I am not entirely qualified for this question, as I was not making a great effort to count my coins and probably overspent in the end. So do your own research if you are seriously thinking about this, and figure out how to make it work in your budget.

What I paid the travel agency amounted to 1200 euros. I had less expensive flights, because I was leaving from Seoul which is closer to Vladivostok than it woulda been had I left from right home, but they added around 300 more. I can't tell how much exactly I have spent in Russia - it is a very cheap country though - and there were some random expenses tied to getting the visa and buying a good winter hat.

If I am being very pessimistic, maybe my own pockets will be 1800 euro lighter by the end of this trip. How much it would cost you, that depends on where you live, but consider this minimum if you want to have a good time in Russia doing all this.

pooveyhead112 karma

What was the most interesting wild life you saw during the trip from Vladivostok to Irkutsk?

harmenator330 karma

A tree.

Sorry to disappoint you, but the views disappointed me so I'm just passing the disappointment forward. Did not see a single subject of the kingdom of Animalia. Of course I did not look 24/7 but the landscape between Vladivostok and Irkutsk is extremely monotonous: a short cleared distance and then the start of a pine forest. The only difference is that it gets progressively snowier over the course of three days.

KSeptimus100 karma

I'm in Moscow at the moment. What have you enjoyed here the most? A lot of people have some crazy assumptions about this city. In some ways it's amazing, especially the business district.

As for walking, did you think of getting a Troika card? It's a godsend.

harmenator184 karma

It is GREAT. Most beautiful city in the world except for Prague (and that is only because there can only be one Prague and all the other levels of city beauty have to be measured in Pragueity).

I have to check out that district (assuming it's not the city centre) - haven't decided what to do tomorrow yet.

What's a Troika card?

ern1995 karma

How much vodka was consumed on this excursion?

harmenator162 karma

By me? Four cups or so. I was offered more.

ern1980 karma

Since it was Russia, I'll assume those were pint glasses.

harmenator105 karma

Actually it was paper cups.

Captawesome8190 karma

How much was the ticket?

harmenator131 karma

I honestly don't know - I booked the whole thing (train, Irkutsk guesthouse, Irkutsk guided tour, Moscow hotel, transportation, etc) in one go from my travel agency. It cost about 1200 euro in total - not including spending while there. I guess I could have gotten a plane ticket from Korea to Amsterdam for about 500 if I played it right, but this is two weeks of vacation so it's a fair deal.

bragov4ik102 karma

There's price on them. 10247 RUB Vladivostok - Irkutsk. 13939 RUB Irkutsk - Moscow.

harmenator71 karma

TIL

bragov4ik132 karma

Actually there's a lot of info on them. There's also one interesting thing: first ticket says VAT is 18% (НДС), but on the second one it's 20%. That's because since 1.1.2019 VAT increased in Russia :)

harmenator111 karma

I can not read a thing on them. I later learned I was sitting in the wrong seat for the entirety of my first leg, and nobody could tell me because I could not understand them.

ShigDaFawks69 karma

Was it annoying to listen to metal versions of classic Christmas songs for seven days?

harmenator115 karma

YES THANK YOU It was more than seven days, honestly. I left on Christmas day, and the jingles were playing everywhere in Korea since the start of December. They were playing in Russia too, and KEPT PLAYING BECAUSE THESE F*CKERS FELLAS CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS A BLOODY FORTNIGHT LATER SO I STILL HAVE TO LISTEN TO THEM NOW.

Intrusting45 karma

I’m interesting in your semester in KR. what class were you taking and why Korea.? How’d you end up going to Korea in the first place

harmenator85 karma

My university had a handful of partner universities in Asia, and I wanted some place exotic, so Korea was an easy pick. Would have chosen China if it were on the list, but that's that.

My major is Software Development, but there were barely any relevant courses left so I spent the semester savagely humiliating the Koreans in English Language class.

Kinda an exaggeration, as these guys are too shy to answer even when they know the answer perfectly, but honestly, there's a ton of stories regarding Korea and Koreans that I could tell that I don't have time for now ;

bomgd340 karma

Wow!!! I've always wanted to take this journey. Do you have a photo album posted somewhere? I've always wanted to see how "regular" Russians live.

harmenator51 karma

I put most things on my Facebook account, which is in Dutch. Maybe I could round them up and upload them to an imgur album? Not sure if you can make albums on that website without an account...

JJWenzell38 karma

What did you do for enterntainment for that time?

harmenator100 karma

Books, books, books.

Actually, more like book, book, book, as I finished three books in the time. Two in the first leg, and the second leg had an accessible energy supply so I watched movies I had saved on my laptop. 11 movies in 2.5 days (until I ran out), new personal record.

ididntpayforit20 karma

What was your favorite book or movie that you consumed?

harmenator54 karma

Favourite book: Bill Bryson, Neither Here Nor There. He travels through Europe and alternates between hilarious tirades, hilarious odes, and self-deprecating humour in general.

The best movie that I watched on that trip... Eh, probably Rogue One.

Hstrike28 karma

My Russian professor told my class that only tourists take the Trans-Siberian, because Russians prefer the plane. Did you meet any Russian passengers on the train?

harmenator44 karma

Did not spot a single tourist. But apparently winter is low season.

kirbyderwood24 karma

Was there a lot of snow?

harmenator57 karma

Yup. Last time I saw the colour of the ground was the Vladivostok forests. Now in Moscow it's snow but kinda muddy snow. In between, the weather was crazy though. I can now proudly say I have experienced a temperature of -35 degrees Celsius.

wampwampwhat20 karma

How did you begin planning the trip?

harmenator30 karma

Travel agency did it for me. I gave a bunch of specifics, they asked me in what cities I wanted to stay and what my price range was, and in the end got me a complete travel plan, including hotels and transport, for the entire two-week trip.

TMhorus19 karma

Did you take a train-spouse and begin a family?

harmenator14 karma

I wish...

skineechef19 karma

Your AMA is off to a nice start!

Did you see any russian drama unfold on your choo choo adventure?

harmenator30 karma

Yup, honestly very unexpected how much comments I've gotten! :) I thought that this was the low hours since all the Americans are still asleep.

I think the biggest drama was caused by myself, and I only knew afterwards, because I was sitting in the wrong seat for three days. I now understand why people were tapping my shoulder whenever they entered the cabin for the first time... But eh, no speako Russki, so I guess they just went with it.

abr51117 karma

How were the eastern most parts of Russia? Do they differ much from the more western part of Russia?

harmenator31 karma

I visited three cities, and they were all different, so not sure if it is an accurate representation of their respective regions, but...

  • Vladivostok seemed kind of generic. Modern, not very special other than the sheer Russian-ness. It reminded me a lot of Sofia, but with more Soviet stuff.
  • Irkutsk, many old buildings, and more attention to the local cultures that were there before the Russians. Apparently shamanism is one of the officially supported faiths. Many old buildings. Beautiful, great city.
  • Moscow - HUUUGE city. Big, bold, crown jewel of Russia.

Puznug16 karma

Is it true they banned consumption of alcohol on the train?

harmenator43 karma

Hell no. If they did, I should be in prison (as well as half of Russia).

rent19857 karma

I was trying to understand your train ticket as an English only speaking person. How did you make sure you got the right one and that you got on the right train at the right time? And how did you know how long the stops would be and where it is you even were?

harmenator26 karma

I learned the Cyrillic alphabet a little bit. I can read the city names, so I got on the right train at the right time with no problem.

Funny story - I was at the Vladivostok station, and I saw my train at the screen, but there was a message behind it scrolling past. I didn't know what it said, nobody around me spoke English, and the info desk was closed (it was past midnight).

I had google translate, with Russian downloaded, but the camera function did not work on the electronic screen, and I did not have a Russian keyboard installed to type in the message manually.

So what I did was I typed in random shit, google translated it to Russian, copied all that text to a second window, browsed that for the individual letters I needed, and copy-pasted those, letter by letter, back to the translation window until I had the complete message.

The message being? "Carts numbered from front to back."

When the numbers are clearly visible on the carts.

Yup, good way to spend 35 minutes in terror.

Teh_Mongoose7 karma

they got real actual toilets yet, or still the hole straight down onto the tracks? Did you share a cabin with random people getting on or off, or get a private one? Are they still literally shoveling coal into boilers to make hot water?

harmenator10 karma

It flushes with water, but clogs constantly (and does deposit on the tracks, as far as I can tell).

Shared with up to three people.

Did not see. Seemed like a slightly more modern boiler, but still very Soviet-y.

AciidWrapper3 karma

How many other non-white people did you encounter? I really want to do the trans-siberian route as it looks really cool and would be an adventure, however a colleague of mine at my firm (from Russia) says that “unless you are in Moscow, you are unlikely to meet anyone else like yourself, and may face hostility in the areas less well developed”. That got me a bit worried haha.

harmenator5 karma

Plenty of Asians, enough to not be noticeable. Mongolians, Japanese and Chinese love going to Irkutsk.

I did see one group of dark-skinned fellows (sorry if I'm racist but I'm not good at identifying races) but they were rare. Other colours were unheard of.

Temisayo2 karma

Did you have any motion sickness?

harmenator1 karma

Nope. I rarely have it anyway though.

spideyismywingman2 karma

I'll take your word for it. Those tickets could be from Wakanda to Atlantis for all I know.

Why did you think this would be a good way to do this trip, as opposed to either flying for speed, or taking much longer about the train ride for enjoyment and sightseeing?

harmenator3 karma

The reason I did not just do the exact same journey with trains instead of planes is because it's the Trans-Siberia Express, duh :P

As for the number of stops, it was just a matter of affordability. I probably should have stayed in many more places that my train droned through while I was snoring or watching Thor Ragnarok, but my money is not infinite...

corvalol2 karma

Do you think it's possible for human being to live in Irkutsk for, say, a couple of years?

harmenator7 karma

The Irkutskians have managed for around 350 years now, and the Buryats and Evenks and such before them, so I think you'll be fine.

Of course, maybe they're only been pretending and these are all puppets, or bears on unicycles in very convincing costumes...

JackpointAlpha1 karma

What was there to do/see on the train?

I imagine that you could move around but the idea of spending more than 10 hours in a vehicle doesn't sound very appealing. Change my view?

harmenator2 karma

It's a Robinson Crusoe experience. That's pretty much most accurate way to sell it. You'll see what happens to you when you're put in very strange circumstances. I've been on a plane for 16 hours straight but this was nothing like that.