Going on the Trans Mongolian Railway, one of the longest train rides in the world may be a dream come true for some travelers. As part of my two year around the world trip with my parents and brother, the train journey was added to our itinerary.
I look back and smile as I think about the experience. I am so glad I got to go, but there were things I really didn’t expect to happen. Reading guidebooks, hearing others’ stories, and general research sometimes won’t even prepare you for what you’ll experience.
I knew ahead of time that we weren’t going on anything luxurious. It wasn’t a Venice Simplon-Orient-Express type of first class train and I wasn’t expecting that. I knew we wouldn’t be able to shower for three days on the longest continual leg of the train ride. I knew we’d have to eat instant noodles and oatmeal for every meal.
So when I got on the train, I was prepared… or so I thought. Here are 5 things I didn’t expect about the longest leg of the Trans Mongolian Railway from Moscow to Irkutsk Siberia.
1. The View
I prepared myself to have my camera ready at all times and to sit by the window and just stare. While I did take time to look outside and just stare, I couldn’t bring myself to calling it amazing. I thought I’d have that feeling like when I took a trip in a truck that drove from Salta, Argentina into Bolivia. This led me to have high expectations, which is probably why it felt like a let down.
2. It Smelled
I knew I wasn’t going to be able to take a shower and I didn’t think it’d be a big deal. By the second day though, it hit me that there were actually about 20 people in one train car that weren’t going to shower for three days. Thankfully, people started getting off at various stops so there were gradually fewer people.
But when it started smelling really bad on the second day, I got concerned for an elderly guy who was by himself in the cabin next door. I never saw him go out of his cabin or have the door open but it started to smell funny around that area. He could have died and no one would have known if he hadn’t turned the TV on so loud only at night.
3. The Bathroom
I was also prepared for the fact that everyone in the train car would be sharing a bathroom. What I found really strange about it was why they had a rule of closing the bathroom 30 minutes before and after arriving at a station. It wasn’t a huge deal that I had to hold it at times but then I thought it was actually a good thing they had that rule.
The train didn’t store any waste, it just went down onto the tracks. The toilet essentially had a hole that went to the tracks, so don’t drop anything that isn’t supposed to be in there! I guess it makes sense but I was not expecting it.
4. Dining Car
I was told train attendants would come around with carts and sell food and vodka. That didn’t happen and surprisingly I didn’t even see a bottle of vodka until I got to a ger camp in Mongolia. I knew food would be expensive to purchase in the train, so we bought all our food while in Moscow.
However, we decided to try the dining car and see how the food would be like. (And also you can get tired of eating instant noodles for every meal…). It wasn’t a surprise that it was expensive. But the food (soup) was just ok. And even stranger was when there wasn’t any other passengers in the dining car. It was empty and once we finished our food and given the bill, we were actually rushed and told to leave.
I didn’t think much about the service we’d get from the train attendants. But in this kind of industry, I’d think people would be friendly. The train attendants in our car did their job, but they wouldn’t smile. I tried hard to get them to smile. I would smile at them, hoping for a smile back and even while attempting to speak Russian to them, still no smile!
Honestly the Trans Mongolian Railway wasn’t the highlight of the two year around the trip for me (though to other members of my family, it was!). But I look back and think that it was a privilege to be able to go and I would never have been able to visit that area of the world including the places we stopped at (like Irkutsk in Siberia or Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia) if not for the train journey.
If I were to sum the experience up it’d be that I won’t do it again but I’m so glad I did it.