Beijing to Moscow by train, with my 82-year old grandma
Before the trip
It has always been my wish to take a train from Beijing to Moscow, and since I learned of this railway in geography class in middle school, I have been super yearning! I didn't expect to complete this wish with my mother and grandmother. There are a total of 2 trains from Beijing to Moscow, namely K3 and K19. The difference is that to get on the K3, a Russian visa and a Mongolian transit visa are required; it is an older train without air conditioning, 6 days 5 nights, the whole journey takes about 7600 kilometers, the ticket price is cheaper. K19 only requires a Russian visa, the train is better with air conditioning, 7 days 6 nights, the whole journey covers 8981 kilometers, the ticket price however is more expensive. Both trains pass through Lake Baikal, and the scenery is beautiful!
After learning that we are going to Russia by train, most people thought we were crazy. People started asking: Is the price of the train cheaper than a plane ticket? Is the train comfortable? Is the scenery along the route worth the train ride?
The answer is: the price of our train ticket was almost 3 times that of a plane ticket; the train was comfortable, the bathroom was very clean, our cabin was safe and clean. The scenery along the way was super beautiful, I stayed up during the day as much as I could to enjoy the views even when I felt sleepy.
Before getting on to the train, I was curious about everything on the train: how our cabin would look like, whether it would be comfortable, when would the train make stops, would there be food vendors at these stops, how tasty would the food be onboard the train, etc. So I ended up writing this article as an account of my journey, in chronological order (in fact, every day I wrote on the train).
Let me show you a few photos of our cabin, the whole cabin is ours!
Around 9 o'clock in the evening, we arrived at Beijing Station. After entering the station we saw our Moscow-bound K19 train and got really excited! We and the other passengers were all waiting in room #8. Because there was a large tour group going to Lake Baikal, so the train didn’t feel empty like we were told by people who had taken the train.
There were Chinese and Russian attendants on the train, The Chinese attendants seemed to mostly work in the restaurant onboard the train.
Our cabin looking down from the top bunk (comfortable for 3 people, 4 people would probably feel a bit crammed)
This is my bed, and the bedside lamp. There is a small area to put toiletries (very practical design).
When we got on the train, there was a Russian grandma attendant. He took away our tickets, and after we settled down in our cabin, he gave each of us a pack of clean blankets, a bed sheet, a pillowcase and a towel. (You need to tidy up these things before you get off the train, give them back to the train attendant, and he will return your ticket to you).
The train left Beijing Station at 11PM, it was already 1AM after we all settled down. There goes our first day of the trip.
The train was still travelling in China this whole day, the Russian grandpa came over in the afternoon to hand us the entry form, the conversation was pretty much lost in translation. He might be worried that we couldn't fill it out, I looked at the form, it had English, and I started filling out the form. About 10 minutes later, the grandpa came over to check my form. Because I didn’t know when the train would enter Russia, I asked him about the exact entry date to use on the form.
We went to the Chinese dining car on the train for dinner (because it would be changed to a Russian diner the next day, so we wanted to experience as much as we could). My grandmother and I, we ordered 2 dishes, 2 bowls of rice, for a total of RMB￥52, the taste was mediocre, but the ingredients were very fresh.
Stir-fried tomato and egg, green pepper chicken.
The scenery of my great China.
Our cabin (the blue section is a pull-down bed, pull-up sofa)
Have to go to bed early tonight, we’ll be in Manzhouli (located on the border with Russia) in the early hours of tomorrow morning, and then the train will change tracks, change dining car, border entry checks and so on.
5AM, Manzhouli railway station
About exiting China:
We were woken up around 3:30AM, by 4AM the train arrived at Manzhouli border check. We actually didn’t have to get off the train, we just had to wait on the train for border control staff to verify our passports and visas. After verification, there was about 1 hour left before departure, so people could get off and wonder around at the station. (In fact, there wasn’t much to see at the station, people got off to get a stretch and use the bathroom on the second floor, or go to the small supermarket on the second floor to buy snacks, exchange for Russian Rubles. Starting from the next stop, only rubles would be accepted at the train stations). After our passports were stamped, they were handed back to us by border control.
About entering Russia:
After returning to the train, it took about 20 minutes to cross the Chinese border and enter Russia. All passengers had to wait for Russian border control to verify passports. There were a total of 4 to 5 groups of inspection personnel. The first group came to collect passports, a female staff took photos of every passenger. Then there was a pair of officers and a police dog, mainly to spot check luggages. There was also a pair of officers, came up to check if there was anything hidden on the train, they even removed ceiling tiles to check. After the inspection was complete, all of our stamped passports were returned to us, remember to keep the small white cards. Then all passengers had to get off the train and wait about 3 to 4 hours, because the train had to be changed (apparently Russia uses wide rail tracks, and China uses standard sized track)
P.S after entering Russia remember to adjust your watch because now Beijing is one hour ahead.
Our first train stop in Russia (the stop was about 4 hours).
Food we bought from the village, costed about RMB￥20
There was a restaurant at the station but their menu didn’t look tasty to me. So if you want to get snacks, you can take the overpass from the station, cross the street, walk for about 3 to 5 minutes and buy from the village.
Once we got back on to the train, departure to Moscow was at 1PM (Beijing time). I learned about Siberian Railway, Lake Baikal, and Ural Mountains in my geography class, now everything felt so real and so near. I felt so excited and couldn’t fall asleep, I kept going to the window and snap photos. The first sunset we saw was pink, it was really beautiful. We were on route to Lake Baikal, it’d take 4 hours to pass the lake. I couldn’t wait!
The pink sunset that night, with grandma.
Got up early in the morning and wait to pass Lake Baikal. It was about 11AM, the lake finally appeared! The whole window was full of the blue lake, incredibly beautiful, it was truly indescribable.
Before reaching Lake Baikal, there was a short stop at a small station. You could take this time to clean your window for better photographs of the lake later. You’ll thank me for this tip, haha.
P.S Now the time difference is 3 hours
The food we bought: yogurt, hot dog and a not-so-good-looking bread, they taste pretty good though
The train run along Lake Baikal for about 3 hours, but don’t worry, you wouldn’t feel bored, the scenery is just beautiful, you’d probably wonder why time goes by so fast.
For me, Baikal is not a lake, it is an ocean, it is so huge!
The tour group from China got off at Lake Baikal, the train became much emptier, it felt like half of the train got off. There were a few more passengers getting on from different stations, but there were at most 7 or 8 people in our car (full capacity is 36 people).
Today we passed through Siberia, because the cellphone signal wasn’t good, I couldn’t get the GPS map to work properly. We pretty much spent the entire day in Siberia. There were small forests all the way, and some sporadic villages. The train stopped at two big stations, make sure you get off and buy some local food, especially those not-so-good-looking pancakes, they only cost a few RMB and they taste so good! They come with vegetable or meat fillings. Fruits and yogurts are also available, they are must-have’s for long-distance train rides! Sunrise and sunset were the two most beautiful times of a day on the train, other than that I spent most of the time reading books or got off to walk around a bit when the train made a stop.
Tomorrow I’ll try the Russian dining car, and I’m looking forward to more beautiful scenery.
Wander around at a train stop, buy local stuff.
Today’s highlight is a small forest and some small towns. We didn’t have much to do over lunch, so we went to try the Russian dining car. The taste was just average, but very expensive. Two tiny tuna salad and a small potato beef stew costed RMB￥150. None of us ate enough. We discussed whether we should order more but we decided not to. We went back to our cabin to eat and we bought more snacks at train stops.
P.S. the time difference now with Beijing is 5 hours.
There is a small episode about jet lag: my grandma woke up at 3AM local time! She did her routine massage like every morning, then she couldn’t help but wake up my mother and me, it was 5AM, my grandma said “it’s already late, why don’t you get up? I’ve been up for 2 hours.” She took a look at her watch and said “look, it’s already 10AM now!”. It was early dawn, still dark outside, my mother paused for a bit and said “it’s 5AM, there’s a 5-hour difference! Let us sleep a bit more, the sun isn’t even up.” I listened from the upper bunk, then I fell back into sleep…
Food from the dining car, this costs RMB￥150
Me waiting for sunset
It feels like we are close to a big city now.
I didn’t see the sunset, because the train was travelling at a different direction, however I shot some nice sunset photos off the train at a stop.
8:20AM, we arrived in Moscow!
This was the last stop before reaching Moscow at 7AM. (I looked like a refugee escaping a war zone, I had no shower for a week…)
Tips on the Beijing to Moscow train ride
1. Sanitary condition:
Cabins are quite clean, bedding set is sterilized in sealed packaging. Cleaning staff vacuums every day, the floor is covered with carpets.
Toilets are also quite clean. There is hand sanitizer, toilet paper, disposable toilet seat covers. There is also running hot water, but you can’t wash your hair, the washbasin is small.
i) bring your own
ii) dine at the dining car
iii) buy from vendors at train stops
Coffee is also available onboard the train, beside the hot water stations, just remember to pay train attendants.
No shower. I tried washing my hair in the lavatory, got yelled at by a train attendant. I used a “no-wash spray” for my hair, it wasn’t bad.
People can speak English in large cities and at tourist attractions, but it might be a problem with the small shops at train stops. You can bring a cheat sheet with all the important terminology with you.
My grandma said “this train is comfortable, beautiful scenery all the way, slowly we are in Europe, it’s good!”
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