On the Trans-Siberian: from Irkutsk to Vladivostok
It was still dark when I boarded the train in Irkutsk. I had more than half of the train journey from Moscow to Vladivostok behind me - with 9289 kilometers the world’s longest train journey. In “On the Trans-Siberian: from Moscow to Irkutsk” I described the route until Irkutsk. My next destination was Ulan-Ude.
To Ulan-Ude, 4104 kilometers to Vladivostok
The views from the train journey to Ulan-Ude were great. The route went along the shores of the massive Lake Baikal, and continued in mountainous terrain. During this relatively short ride - six and a half hours - I shared a table in third class with a friendly Russian family. When we arrived in Ulan-Ude the conductor couldn’t get the door open. She asked the queue of waiting passengers for help, and people looked at me (probably because I was the only young guy). Since I couldn’t find a way to open the door gently I pushed with as much force as I could. The door burst open.
I arrived in what at first looked like a city from the Soviet-era. My hostel was a one minute walk from the city’s most famous statue: a 7.7 meters high bronze head of Vladimir Lenin. But I wasn’t here to see Soviet architecture. I stopped in Ulan-Ude because it is the capital of Buryatia, a region with Buddhist temples and where the Mongolic language Buryat is spoken. The next day I went to the ‘’Rinpoche Bagsha temple’’. I walked uphill through neighbourhoods with mostly wooden houses. It started to rain a bit when I reached the temple at the hilltop, though I was rewarded with a nice view of the city. I took a local bus back to the centre, then hopped on a regional bus to the town of Ivolginsk for the ‘’Ivolginsky temple complex’’. This complex is unique, because it was built during the rule of Stalin. It stands in the middle of a barren landscape.
Back in Ulan-Ude I went to an Irish pub with João, a Portuguese traveler I met in the hostel. It was a fun place where we met many locals. João had a problem though. The next day he planned to cross the border to Mongolia, but unfortunately he lost his immigration card - the piece of paper every foreigner receives when entering Russia. Foreigners have to hand in their immigration card again when they leave. When João phoned his embassy about this, they apparently replied that losing the card doesn’t have to be a problem, but that in theory he can go to prison for this. This made him nervous about the border-crossing the next day (“I don’t wanna go to jail”), though Russians we met at the bar reassured him everything was probably going to be fine. We ended up drinking a lot, and two days later I would get a text from João that he made it to Mongolia. Still I’ll share this advice for travellers going to Russia: guard your immigration card with your life.
To Khabarovsk, 3647 kilometers to Vladivostok
With my backpack, a hangover and a 50 hour journey to go I boarded the train to Khabarovsk. In my cabin was a couple traveling with their son of about nine years old. They had gone on holiday in Sochi at the Black Sea and were on their way home to the Amur Oblast in the Far East - a train journey of a week. Still the kid seemed to be in a good mood.
The second morning I experienced some fantastic Russian hospitality. When the family unboarded to go home, two women from Blagoveshchensk called Xenia and Yulia entered my cabin. They put a big breakfast on the table and offered me food as well. When I told them I already had breakfast, Xenia said: then this is lunch. In the evening the train crossed the long bridge over the Amur-river: I had arrived in Khabarovsk.
Hilly, green, and with pretty 19th century buildings, Khabarovsk was a good place to relax after a long journey. On the sunny second day I took a boat-trip on the wide Amur river. The boat went from the main boulevard to the long bridge and back, with the city skyline on one side and nature on the other.
To Vladivostok, 766 kilometers to go
For the last time I boarded the train, with just eleven hours to travel overnight. The next morning it was busy in the corridors, as this was the final station for everybody. We arrived at dawn. From the station I walked to Victory Square, from where I could already see one of the bridges over the Golden Horn Bay. I continued to my hostel, and couldn’t wait to get rid of my backpack and explore the city.
The rush of finishing the Trans-Siberian might make me biased, but I loved my stay in Vladivostok. The location is beautiful, as it has bays, hills, islands and the seaside. South of the city is the sparsely populated Russky Island, where I explored fortifications from the early 20th century. It was October, but still warm enough to walk around in a T-shirt.
Vladivostok’s odd geography aside, this is still a very Russian city with 19th century buildings in the centre, Soviet architecture in the outskirts, and Russian spoken everywhere. It’s hard to imagine North Korea is nearby. I met up with Ciprien and Baptiste, two Swiss guys I met on the train from Ulan-Ude to Khabarovsk. We went to the North-Korean owned restaurant in Vladivostok called “Pyongyang”. When the waiter took our order, Ciprien asked her whether she was from North-Korea. She confirmed she was, making me realise this was the first time I met a North-Korean. After some tasty food we took a bus to the centre, ending up in the bar named after the city’s famous band “Mummy Troll”.
On my flight back to Moscow I once more saw the distance I traveled. The flight time would be almost nine hours. My onboard-tablet displayed our route on the map of Russia, showing names that already brought back memories.
Practical advice on traveling here