Monday, 30 June 2008

Details Russia - Sakhalin - Japan route

Train Khabarovsk -> Vanino

From Khabarovsk to Port Vanino, where the ferry departs for Khomlsk on Sakhalin, there is a daily train #351 (23 hrs) departing Khabarovsk at 8.30 (01.30 Moscow time) and arriving at 7.37 local time, price was 1697 RUB for kupe, if you are not up for buying tickets yourself, Dalgeo tours close to the big church by the river park, has helpfull English speaking staff that can both issue train tickets and make reservations for the ferry (700 RUB)

Ferry Vanino -> Kholmsk

Ferry is operated by SASCO, ticket sales by SANES. You buy tickets inside the train station, the ticket office is right in front of you if you enter the station from the train platform. Be prepared for a LONG wait, it seems to take an average of 20 minuttes per passenger to issue tickets, probably a good idea to run there as soon as the train halts. It took 5 hours to issue tickets for all the passengers there. After the que is emptied, a bus leaves to the ferry, from the parking lot in the nothern end of the train platform. The ferry is old and rusty, but otherwise alright. Keep your ticket, as it's required to disembark! Ferry departure time is probably around noon and it arrives next early morning, price was 2300 RUB for a 2 room deluxe with private shower and toilet, shared economy cabins are between 600-1100 RUB.

Bus Kholmsk -> Korsakov

When you exit the ferry there is a passport control (along with the ticket control). As a foreigner you'll be required to register, so the customs officer will keep your passport, they will probably lead you to the terminal building to wait once all passengers have gotten off. Once they return with your passport you'll be required to state your exit point, exit date and accomodation, might be a good idea to have someone writing these details in Russian as no English is spoken. When you get your passport back, buses and minibusses departs for Yuzhno Sakhalinsk at the parking lot right outside the the ferry terminal, rate was 200 RUB, it's a 1-1,5 hour drive to Yuzhno, where busses stop at the station/post office
Busses and minibusses departs for Korsakov, from the Vokzal (the same place you arrive from Kholmsk), ask around and they will point you to the right bus, rate was 100 RUB, and it is a half hour drive to Korsakov.

Ferry Korsakov -> Wakkanai

It seems to change fairly often where you can buy tickets, but at June 2008, you bought tickets at:
Inflot Reidovyi 2, 1. etage Korsakov, Sakhalin
Its in the first floor of the big 3 storey building next to the MORVOKZAL (Sea terminal), there is a sign above the entrance that reads UPRAVLENIE, it's by the southern pier (Yuzhno port) head left after the park if you come from Lenin square. I had a fair share of problems with the security guard, who insisted i couldn't buy tickets in there, and wouldnt let me in - it took one of the ladies from the MORVOKZAL shouting at him to let me pass. Once you get in, climb one flight of stairs and go through the door on your right hand side, in the corridor there is a door with a sign that reads INFLOT in latin letters on your left hand side.
Tickets was 6000 rubles for a one way economy class trip. The staff (Anna) there was blessfully helpfull by Russian standards, however you are required to provide a hotel/hostel name, address and phone number in Japan, before they will issue you a ticket. I also had a little bit of problems explaining that Danes don't need a visa for Japan, but it worked out allright.
There is a hotel in Korsakov called Hotel Alpha, right at the northern end of Lenin square, the owner speaks alright English, and i got a 50% discount without even asking for it, so i paid 2300 rubles per night, rooms are large and the whole Hotel was recently renovated, there is even an English menu in the hotels restaurant. It might be worth going for and see if you can get a discount too, as hotels in Yuzhno are between 5000 and 7000 for a single.
When you arrive at the port before departure, the waiting area is inside the MOZVOKZAL, the small white building adjoining where you bought your tickets. Here you also pay a 400 RUB departure tax, at the cashier window (KASSA) on your right hand side when you enter. After which you enter the customs area, the officers here seemed fairly relaxed, put your baggage through the x-ray, and you're ready for immigration. When the waiting hall is full you'll be taken to a bus to the ferry, NOTE! You part with your luggage at this point, and won't get it back before the ferry terminal in Wakkanai, so pack anything you need on the ferry in a daypack. On the ferry you'll have a culture chock, everyone is smiling, profesional and helpfull.
In Wakkanai, hurry to be first in line when you disembark, so you won't have to wait behind Russians during immigration procedures - it's not pretty! Don't worry about your luggage, it's handed out after immigration. When you've given your fingerprints, had your picture taken, and had a customs interview, you're in Japan - yukoso!
If you're looking for the youth hostel, head for the ANA hotel (the tallest building in town) in the opposite end of the park to the entrance to the hotel, there is a small alleyway, head up this alley, which ends in the hostels entrance. Remember in Japan only the postoffices (yubinkyoku) ATMs take foreign issued creditcards, it's 5 minuttes from the Youth Hostel, they can hand you a map.
Now you're on your own, but if you delt with Russia, Japan should be a walk in the park :-) and by the way, the Youth hostel in particular, and Rebun island in general, comes with my highest recomendations! Now you're here anyway you'd really miss out not going there!!

- Stefan


Distance traveled: 15664

I departed Khabarovsk at 8, on a sunny morning, for my last trainride
in Russia, the train would take me north along the Amur river, well of
the transsiberian line - the effect was obvious, Russia isn't exactly
crammed with tourists, but on this train my presense was such a a
novelty that everyone on the adjoining carriages ended up knowing
there was a Daniya on board, and even though the combined english
vacabulary of the train was probably a 100 words or so, i ended up
chatting broken English all night. When we arrived in Vanino on the
coast early next morning i was exhausted. This was no good as it
turned out, as buying tickets for the ferry was no easy feat, dear
audience i kid you not, it took 20 minuttes to issue each ticket, and
with 60-70 people lining up, it was well into the day when somebidy
realized i was Danish, and had a reservation, as it turned out this
was the keywords into a land of milk and honey, as soon a Russian girl
shouted something and everyone made way for me to bypass the whole
que, curriously my ticket took only a few minuttes to issue. The
waiting time for the que to finish was infinitely more comfortable
with a book, a chair and my trusty iPod , after which 200 people
boaded a bus for 70, with luggage too, we practically was in layers. A
bumpy ride later we were by a rusting old ferry in the port, it turned
out the reservation from Khabarovsk, was for a deluxe cabin, with two
rooms, private shower and ocean view - with the aid of my saviours
from the ticket que and my portable speakers this turned into
something of a party pad :-) a 150 kr extra, but well spent. When i
woke up the next morning, we had stopped sailing, i looked out the
window and connected the lack of movement with a 2 meter visibility
outside, due to a thick heavy fog. It was 7 o'clock and we were
anchored just outside Kholmsk, but it was 11 before we made the final
kilometer into port.

At disembarkation we had our passports checked for some unknown
reason, and suddenly i found myself without a passport, it took a good
20 mins wait and a "interview" with an angry Russian lady who only
spoke Russian to get it back, quite perplexing as Sakhalin is laden
with foreign expats working in the booming oilfields.

We made our way to the island's primary city Yuzhno Sakhalinsk where
Antoni & Anja lent me a sofa in their quite nice 1 room flat downtown,
it was a bit akward as they didnt speak more than a few phrases of
English, it turned out to be a great deal more akward when he was
showing me around town in the evening, as it turned out he was a small
time gangster type, we drove around in a taxi, to one shady looking
shack after another, at one of them this guy disappears for half an
hour, and comes back so high as a kite, so much so that he couldnt
stand up straight! Made me quite pissed as half an hour earlier I had
lend him 300 kroner to buy food for their empty fridge, so we could
have some dinner, it was quite obvious that the money had gone to his
addictions instead! We wen't out to some clubs, and came home alot
poorer and late to their appartment. Next morning I made my escape for
a Hotel as soon as I woke up, I decided to get my ass to Korsakov, as
Yuzhno Sakhalin was really getting on my nerves, as it turned out my
feeling was justified as my "gracious" hosts had relieved me of my
reserve stock of Euroes, and the 10.000 rubles I had withdrawn for the
ferry ticket and hidden away in my backpack, but since this was
Russia, and you just don't deal with police here voulenteerly, there
was not a darn thing to be done about it, it was not like they would
have understood me anyway. So it was quite simply a question of
getting over it (rather hard considering the amount) and see it as
another late night travel tale.

My days in Korsakov, was spent preoccupied with buying ferry tickets,
which was no easy feat! After walking around town for a full day
asking around to no avail, everyone unanimously gave me the same
confused look when I mentioned Wakkanai and Japan, so much so that I
began wondering if service had been withdrawn? Next day I shifted
strategies, and was fortunate enough to find some Internet in the
postoffice, after a great deal of research I found a place down in the
port, that was supposed to sell tickets, but as I went there, and
asked around, All I got was a Njet and the same confused look. That
was until an old grandfather type worker from the port in Kansas
outfit, took me under his wings, and pumped some old ladies in an
official looking office for information. They agreed on the Mozvokzal
(sea terminal) which I found rather useless, as my visit there the day
before, had resulted in a Njet and a shake on the head. However,
undettered the old man showed me in his truck, and drove me there. At
first the equation, ended in much of the same result, until the lady
suddenly she conferred with a colleague, and pointed to the adjoining
office building along with some fast incomprehensible Russian.
Reinvigorated I went there, but soon came tumbling back to earth, as
my road to the land of milk and honey was blocked by a security
officer who's vocabulary only seemed to extend as far as 'Njet!', when
even 'open sesame, open' failed, I gave up, and decided to wait until
the Mozvokal ladies 1,5 hour lunch break was over.

After a bit of convincing, I got her to come along, the reason she
only needed a bit of convincing, was probably due to fact that she got
to yell at the security officer! ;-) I got in at last, only to find
the office closed!! I went up to a vantage point overlooking the
harbour and desperately scouted for the ferry, which I was sure was
certain was supposed to arrive at this time, but no ferry was in
sight, and I began contemplating on my options getting out of this
mess, none of them seemed particulary attractive.

However when I returned, the office was open, and Anna in there, gave
a confused look at my hands folded in prayer, as she answered that
they Indeed sold tickets for the Wakkanai ferry. Half an hour late a
walked past the security guard with a triumphant smile on my face?
Tickets for tomorrows ferry at hand! My smile was even broader, next
morning when I with a fresh exit stamp in my passport, walked over the
ferry ramp, and the staff gave a bow and a 'irreshaimase' as welcome,
beneath a Japanese flag lightly swaying in the seabrease. Ferry was
Modern, clean - not a speck of rust, and the staff friendly and
smiling, I could even understand them, it was culture chock

- Stefan

Friday, 20 June 2008


Distance travelled: 14.425 km

Khabarovsk, oh Khabarovsk how i love thee - jewel of the Amur...

I was getting wearier with Russia on the train by the minute, fortunantly I was lucky enough to have the compartment by myself, but every time i peaked out the door to get some fresh air from the open windows, eyes, suspicious eyes from bare breasted beer bellied men with bad hairdoes and tatoos, followed my every move - I was not very comfortable to say the least.

Nervously i walked through the train station, Had Russia really been this bad all along? As i entered the station square, i drew a sigh of relief, no it hadn't - two boys were playing in the fountain, couples were promenading, youngsters chatting away on the mobile phones, mothers watching their children playing around - no it hadn't - this was the normal everyday Russia i've grown to know and like.

Khabarovsk was much more though, as it turned out, out here in the far eastern corner, long away from Moscow, I had found a paradise city, well maybe paradise might be pushing it, but the gras was green, and the girls indeed pretty - suspiciously so, this was Russian girls Saint Peterburg style. As I looked around with a smile on my face, I also noticed that humidity was in the air again, I was closing in on the pacific, and out of the dirt dry air of the Siberian and Mongolian plains, it felt somewhat like landing in the tropics.

I found a Hotel, which again is eating money out of my wallet faster than i can get them out of the ATM (2150 RUB / 456 DKK per night), I had a much needed shower after 3 days on a train, and went for a walk around town, and was in awe by the lack of Soviet concrete, the massive parks, newly laid sidewalks, posh stores, and again - the pretty girls :o) As i got to the banks of the Amur i was further impressed by a beautiful promonade, stralleded with party tents full of young Russians laughing and drinking, and colourful lanterns in the trees. Yes, many a Russian city could learn from Khabarovsk. 3 days i've spend here, hanging out at the beach, drinking beer while peoplewatching. without being bored, every other Siberian town i've been through, you could see in a day.

Tomorrow it's of to Sakhalin island, and then it's just a short ferry ride away from Japan.

Might or might not get Internet for a long time to come, so if you don't hear from me the next 2 weeks, there shouldn't be anything to worry about.


- Stefan


Distance Travelled: 11.541 km

It was misty, or maybe it was smoggy, but it was early morning my eyelids were telling me that much. There was shouting, there was pushing - I was among Russians again, maybe the bus was overbooked, who knows, but the Mongolian driver seemed to have some sympathy towards the perplexed look in my eyes, and singled me out, showed my bag on the bus, and sent me to my seat - I was heading back to Russia. After hours of driving, on a surprisingly and pleasantly good road we broke for lunch, and i was showed into a little dining room, I ordered, glanced around, Russians all around me, and my eyes returned to the open Vodka bottle, i gave it a nervous stare - I knew all to well what was going to happen - the good old game of 'let's get the foreigner smackfaced in the middle of the day', that i by now knew all to well from the train rides through Russia - 10 cl and a meal later, I demonstratively empited my glass, which earned my an approving nod on the head from a fat Russian guy - "Where did you learn to drink Vodka?" his wife translated, "In Russia" i honestly replied, much to the satisfaction of everyone around the table.

Surprisingly unaffected (I dare any of you motherfuckers to drink me under the table when i get home!!) i boarded the bus, and soon we were at the border. It was mayhem - imagine a busload of speedtalking retirees returning from a new years sale in Flensburg, and you get the idea. Only instead of the beer cans, the tons heavy backs were filled with cheap chinese goods, and they had to carry it all through customs and immigration by themselves, UGH! I would have shrugged my shoulders about the whole scene 2 weeks ago, but by now i had been spoiled by the Mongolians. However, my reentry to Russia went surprisingly smooth, so I was all smiles after that.

It was raining by the time we reached Ulan-Ude, I looked around to try and find my bearings, a Lenin head the size of a mansion, left a clue, Ulan-Ude's main claim to fame, the worlds largest Lenin head. I was getting wet, so I scrambled for the first and best Hotel i could find, considering this was Russia, the punishment weren't to bad, 2000 Rubles (600 DKK) for a nice renovated single room, but a world away from the 4 USD a night in UB. It was late, I was hungry, but couldn't find anywhere to eat, instead i was followed around for 5 blocks by a dodgy looking type, Skinhead most likely, who didn't seem to take it lighty that couldn't reply to his questions in Russian. Lost him by going into a Cafe and ordering a coffee.

Next morning I had filled up my stomach, and looked around, quite attractive city by Siberian standards, many old wooden houses, and the people seemed quite pleasant, probably due to the many (majority it seemed) Buratyas (a Russian-Mongolian people) living there. In the afternoon i boarded the train for Khabarovsk, 51 hours, in a carriage filled solely with soldier type men. The scenery though, was gorgeous, Rivers, streams, mountains, wild flowers in full bloom in an explosion of colors, and then ofcourse the birch trees, allways competing with the stars about who outnumbers who. Time falling apart, days flowing together, back on the train.


Saturday, 14 June 2008


Distance traveled: 10884 km

Next morning, after too little sleep, I woke up about 20 minutes late for my trip, fortunately the friendly Mongolians we're still waiting for me, and drove me to the rest of the group. Swiss the lot turned out to be, topped of with a Japanese house wife, they we're all alright though.

The bus was one of those 4 wheel drive soviet minibuses that you see everywhere in Russia, wonderful piece of machinery, if it brakes it will rarely be anything not fixed with a good knock of a hammer! The driver was a Russian educated veterinarian and the guide a fresh university grad, money obviously is in the Tourism industry, which i found somehow saddening - it tourism industry does however bring a lot of much needed foreign currency into the country.

The Mongolian countryside was a world away from UB, and the people a world away from Russia, smiling, helpful, and generous to the extreme - just the smiles is enough to warm anyones frozen heart, especially after dealing with the Russians who (are very nice people, but) wouldn't bring up a smile on their face if their life depended on it.

We stayed with Nomadic families almost every day, they were however all camps that rented out an extra Ger (or yurt) to tourist tours, still, the hospitality was extraordinary and it was a fantastic experience brushing my teeth before bed time, with goats, camels, cows, dogs and sheep running around my legs. Our guide whipped up one great dish after another, in the most primitive of circumstances - Often the lack of electricity and running water, can somehow make you fell like you've traveled back in time, even the "roads" are nothing but bumpy dirt tracks (my rear quarters are still hurting from them) apart from being the exact distance of two wheels, might as well have been made by horses or camels. In the course of a few day our day rhythm changed to that of our Nomadic hosts, up by dawn and in bed my sunset, mainly due to the lack of electricity, and hence any form of lightning other than our flashlights.

The Gobi itself it not a dessert as we think of it back home, but rather dry barren land of sand and gravel, with a thin layer of grass on top - just enough to give the livestock something to graze on - it was all mind blowingly beautiful. And there was some extraordinary sights along our route, Especially the sand dunes seem to have left a lasting impression.

I leave UB on Sunday with a bus to Ulan Ude in Russia, enchanted by this far flung lands, and with a strong feeling that I some day will return here, with enough time and means to really explore this wonderful nation!

- Stefan

Friday, 13 June 2008

Last night in UB

Улаан баатар
Distance traveled: 9128 km

After waiting countless days, actually only 3, but being stuck somewhere, and especially in UB, makes it feels that much longer, I was finally set for going to the Gobi the next morning - that was until i ran into a speed talking obnoxious Brit, and he's two much more likable companieros, who offered me some Vodka, which following ancient Mongolian traditions, I - naturally - was unable to refuse. The events that followed this one glass of Vodka, felt - and still feels - rather surreal.

Having been rather bored in a couple of days, I had a hard time refusing going out with this lot, and so it was, that in the course of an hour, I found myself in a closed restaurant, at a Mongolians birthday party, and here I was in all honesty - force fed with Chingiis Vodka, which I must say is rather good, it is still Vodka however, and Vodka can only taste that good. But wait, the observant reader might go to wonder how exactly one is force fed Vodka?

In reality it's a rather simple procedure; you simply take one Englishman (preferably to drunk to speak coherent sentences) holding the subjects hands, add to that a Mongolian (preferably hell bent on getting the - often Caucasian subject - in the same condition as the aforementioned Englishman) pouring Vodka in a pint glass, and top off it off with a whole ensemble screaming drink! drink! drink! once step 1 & 2 have been completed - you'll get the gist of it.

This all seemed to be rather strange by itself, but the circumstances i found myself in, got even more surreal by the minute at this point. The birthday child turned out to be a cook-in-training at this closed restaurant, which i guess makes sense somehow. But apart from being a cook-in-training, I was here dealing with a Mongolian with broken English, who was a satanist, loved Norwegian Black metal and all things evil and had a heartfelt desire to join the Waffen SS, and even seemed to make a big deal out of the latter, in front of his (female) boss. Fortunately, battle hardened by Russia, I had a few defenses to the onslaught up in my sleeve, one of which was to leave 1/3 of the glass full each time (which is almost never commented on). This torture of all things sensible, continued at a Mongolian Techno club, where I was attacked (or rather given a light slap to my back head) by Buddhas fat Mongolian cousin (dunno maybe he had a bad experience with foreigners or whatever) not to worry, I was immediately defended by an armada of Mongolian guys (I told you they were a friendly lot) who promptly carried the attacker to the stairs, and in a rather impressive show of coordination threw this guy far down the aforementioned staircase. I needs to be noted that I at this point was far from the drunken state of my companions, which made the whole experience all the more odd.
To top of a very disorientating night, the birthday celebrant insisted on following us home to the hotel (cause: "I am waffen SS, I will protect you") after circling rather doggy neighborhoods for a very long time, and a great deal of asking when we would arrive at our much needed beds, we found out he was not at all protecting us, rather the opposite - since he went "I find great Mongolian slut women for you" - we got back to the Hotel rather quickly after that one!!!

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Stuck in Ulaan Bataar

Улаан баатар
Distance traveled: 9128 km

I seem to be stuck in Ulaan Bataar (UB) for the moment, which is somewhat of a pity, since UB isn't exactly the most exciting of cities, rather drab concrete buildings and horrible traffic conditions makes this capital city a place you really only want to spend a day or two. However it does seem very exotic compared to Russia, and I'm staying in an excellent guest house in Ger's (traditional Mongolian tents) on an airy porch, at the top of a building, overlooking downtown UB. They have the cutest old Saint Bernard hanging around the driveway, and the owners daughter, the most adorable little thing ever, is in charge of the roadside store.

I've apparently arrived very early in the season, I've had a bit of a struggle finding a tour out in the countryside, which really is the reason to come to Mongolia in the first place. Prices have gone so much up that hiring a guide on your own in UB, really isn't much of an option anymore (unless you're lucky and find some English speaking person from the country side lingering here) .

So I've had to wait for a group to assemble somewhere at one of the many guesthouses, which finaly seem to be working out, so i should be leaving on Thursday, on a 10 day tour around the central and Gobi areas on Thursday. Which puts me in Mongolia way longer than planned, but from the pictures I've seen, and what I’ve heard from people coming back into UB - it's pretty damn amazing out there.

And except for their capital city, I really like Mongolia so far, while Mongolians didn't exactly have the most lucky draw at the gene pool - with their very round faces and long narrow eyes, the often reminds me of little Buddhas. However, to compensate, their maker instead made them into one of the most likable peoples on earth, they’re very very friendly and agreeable, even in hectic UB. Well - That is - until they get behind the wheel, and suddenly all the little Buddhas, turn into insane devils – hunking their horn every other minute, and make crossing the street seem somehow like a leap of faith. Being nice Mongolians, as they are, they will do their best to steer around you and avoid you any way they can - the drivers will even make skillful maneuvers into lanes with opposing traffic, but forced into a choice between pressing the brakes ever so lightly or running you down, they will not hesitate for a second, before mowing down any pedestrians in their way – It’s complete and absolute insanity! Oh, and in a last cruel sense of bad humor, who ever molded this bunch back in prehistory, made the language sound like a Greenlander who is speaking Chinese with a very thick accent.

Maybe the bad driving has something to do, with how long people have had cars. When communism fell here in 1992, Mongolia was a world away from western consumerism, as opposed to eastern Europe, who had it right at their doorstep – it seem to have cached on much slower here, but these days the winds of capitalism seem to be hitting with full force, and the old State Department Store, is now burgeoning with western goods from Gucci sunglasses to the first 100 different brands of shampoo. (and nothing resembling sunscreen grrr!!!)

Anyway, I’ll give you an update of my impressions of this far flung nation, when i return here in 11 days.

Ulaan Bataar


Buying train tickets in Russia

By popular demand here is some info about buying train tickets for the Russian railways...

Buying tickets
Let me start by saying that many of the websites that claim to have some authority in the issue, are full of rubbish, they just want to sell you tickets! It is indeed both possible and feasible buying the tickets yourself inside Russia, even if you - like me - don't speak a word of Russian.

Basically I've found the best way to do it is to write all the information down on a paper in Cyrillic, and hand it to the ticket lady, I've found something like this works just fine...

No 002
Train No 2
22.05.2008 23:45
Departure date & time

Свердловск -> Иркутск
Route - you can find the city names in Cyrillic in the Lonely Planet
1 человек, Купе
1 Person (find this in lonely planet) and traveling on kupe (2nd class)

Sometimes the ticket lady will ask if you want upper or lower bunk, just point up or down. If the train is full, she will usually just wave her hands in front of her, in any case it always seem to work out just fine in the end - Although it can take up to a good 45 minutes to get your tickets, including the omnipresent Russian queuing. I've been traveling in May and June, and haven't had a single sold out train, even the infamous No 4 (Moscow - Beijing train) went smoothly, even if i bought it 2 days before departure.

If you are not that adventurous - The German Railways (DB) - sells ticket to all Russian trains. And the Finnish railways (VR) sells tickets to most destinations in European Russia. Also there is a Russian only page that enables you to book your tickets online, often the hostel will be able to book ahead for you, so you only have to hand in a reservation number at the station.

Platzkart or Kupe?
Lonely planet makes Platzkart much much worse than it is, if you've ever been on hard sleeper class in China, they are basically the same thing, I would even dare to say platzkart is a bit better.

Kupe is more or less the same standard as a western sleeper train, just with all the Russian nips that goes with it.

The more stops you do, the more expensive it gets, however, the money you save by buying the tickets inside Russia, will usually make you able to do at least 4-5 stops for the same price.

Here are my tickets so far
Saint Petersburg - Moscow, Kupe, Train 005, 54.60 Euro / 405 DKK (bought in Finland)
Vladimir - Nizhny Novgorod, First class, Train 062, 1296 RUB / 267 DKK
Nizhny Novgorod - Kazan, Platzkart, Train 041, 534 RUB / 110 DKK
Kazan - Ekaterinburg, Kupe, Train 378, 1640 RUB / 338 DKK
Ekaterinburg - Irkutsk, Kupe, Train 002, 8495 RUB / 1752 DKK
Irkutsk - Ulaan Bataar, Kupe, Train 004, 2594 RUB / 535 DKK

Total: Saint Petersburg - Ulaan Bataar 3407 DKK / 16516 RUB

- The lower the train number, the fewer stops (faster), the higher the price.
- Platzkart is usually half the price of kupe
- 1 st class is usually 2-3 times the price of kupe

If you go with trains in the 300-399 range where you don't pay premium for speed, and go platzkart all the way, you are looking at a altogether different budget. However the stretches are already really long, and if you go on a slow train, on platzkart, they will feel even longer!

Two sites have schedules in a comprehensible language

- German Railways (just type departure and arrival station in the normal schedule)

- YourTrain (has a funny transliteration of some roman letters)

Also, they have touch screen computers on all the major stations, with schedule and reservation info - it's in Russian/Cyrillic only, but if you play around with it for a bit, it’s pretty easy to figure out. All the menu's have icons that are pretty self explanatory. Just type in the destination in Cyrillic, and you can get information on when the trains are going (the icon with the clock and arrows) , and how many seats/beds that are available on the departure (the icon with the clock and seats - you'll need to type in the train number)

Hope that helps :)

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Irkutsk & Mongolia by train

Иркутск & Монголия поездом
Distance traveled: 8015 km

One of the interesting thing about traveling over land is the gradual transformation you get to see, the further east I'm heading, the more Asians on the streets. And there certainly was quite a few Asians on the dusty sidewalks of Irkutsk. A run down city, that certainly doesn't seem to have a great deal of things going for it. Another thing I've noticed, is that on the other side of the dusty sidewalks - out on the street things are getting profoundly more Asian too - the Buses running in Irkutsk all seem to come from Korea - which is pretty easy to tell since they still have Korean advertisements on the side, and the prices on the side of the door is quoted in Korean Won. Also, half of the carpool seems to have been imported from Japan, since just about half the carpool in Irkutsk are with left hand drive - weird stuff! And all the fruits and vegetables here are Chinese.

Anyway, it is a pretty drab city as i said, so not much to tell... we cooked a lovely dinner ourselves at the hostels kitchen, after buying fresh groceries at the market, and then we had a party in the rather small kitchen, we all got pretty drunk - and Ben & Emma (whom i met on Olkhon) almost missed their train the next morning :-)

Anyway, following night i had a train at 5.13 in the morning to Ulaan Bataar in Mongolia, which was a real pain, but I got on it alright. Train turned out to be Chinese so the conductor (or Provodnitza as i seem to have adapted in my language) of my carriage was Chinese, this fact alone, made him infinitely more polite and service minded than his Russian counterparts. He even spoke a few words of English.

The border crossing between Russia and Mongolia, turned out to be something like the worst experience of the trip, not so much because of the border formalities themselves, which went surprisingly smooth, 5 hours at the Russian checkpoint (a full five hours quicker than Ben & Emma's border crossing into Russia) and half an hour at the Mongolian counterpart.

No, the thing was that I'd been having a few beers at the platform, when we were all suddenly asked to board the train, i really needed a toilet, but the toilet was closed and there was not a darn thing to be done about it! Imagine you're at a party, and are chatting to this really nice girl or guy, it's going really well, so you hold of going to the toilet, until the last possible minute, and you end up in a queue for 10 minutes - right? hold that feeling...

And add another 3 full hours!!!!!

Argh, that was a bad one, anyway my bladder held up for the challenge, and now i'm in Ganas Ger in UB!