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How to prepare for the Trans-Mongolian Railway as a family

Part 1 of Lotte’s adventure helps families prepare for the Trans-Mongolian, offering advice on building an Itinerary, arranging accommodation and trains, as well as providing information on the vaccinations you need before you leave.

Lotte travels the world with her husband and baby boy. She shares her travel adventures on her travel blog and hopes to inspire other people to travel and help them plan their trips. Part 1 of Lotte’s adventure helps families prepare for the Trans-Mongolian, offering advice on building an Itinerary, arranging accommodation and trains, as well as providing information on the vaccinations you need before you leave.

 

Let me start by saying that travelling the Trans Mongolian Express as a family is great! We travelled with our 10-month-old baby boy, our trip through Russia, Mongolia and China lasted 3 weeks and we had a wonderful holiday together.

Planning a (realistic) Trans-Mongolian family-friendly itinerary 

When I was reading the Trans-Siberian Railway Lonely Planet, the Real Russia website and other sources with info about the Trans Siberia and Trans Mongolia Express, it seemed impossible to narrow down an itinerary! There are so many interesting stops along the way you could travel for months... Unfortunately, that wasn’t an option so after much deliberation, our itinerary looked like this:

  • 2 days in St. Petersburg.
  • Night train from St. Petersburg to Moscow. 
  • 2 days in Moscow. 
  • Train from Moscow to Irkutsk (83 hours). 
  • 2 days in Irkutsk.
  • Train from Irkutsk to Ulan Bator. 
  • 1 night in Ulan Bator. 
  • 2 nights in Terelj National Park. 
  • 1 night in Ulan Bator. 
  • Train from Ulan Bator to Beijing.
  • 3 days in Beijing.   

Add to these two travel days to fly to Russia and back home from China and you are looking at a three-week trip. 

Looking back, there is only one thing I would change and that is to add one stop between Moscow and Irkutsk (most likely Yekaterinburg). While Frank and I didn’t mind being on the train for three and a half days straight, our 10-month-old baby boy started to get a bit bored after 2 days. It probably didn’t help that he was a little ill, but on the third day, it was quite challenging to keep him occupied.  

On the shorter legs (Irkutsk to Ulan Bator and Ulan Bator to Beijing) he was perfectly happy walking up and down the hallway and playing in our compartment. He also napped a lot, probably because of the soothing rocking motion of the train.

In any case, if you have (an) active kid(s) you may want to consider adding a stop to break up the journey a bit. If your kids are a little older and can read, draw, watch a movie, etc. it’s probably fine to do the Moscow – Irkutsk leg in one go.  

That said, be sure to bring enough entertainment, food and water on the train. You can read more in the article ‘what to pack for the Trans Mongolian Express when travelling with a baby’. 

How to get train tickets

Trans-Mongolian Express 2nd Class Carriage
Trans-Mongolian Express 2nd Class Carriage
 

Once we decided upon our Trans Mongolia Express family itinerary, I contacted the Real Russia customer service department. They provided us with a proposed travel schedule and after some minor adjustments from our side, they went ahead and booked both our train tickets as well as our tours.  

For the night train from St. Petersburg to Moscow we received an electronic ticket via email, it doesn’t get any easier than that. We just had to print this and show it to the provodnitsa before boarding the train. 

We collected our other train tickets from the Real Russia office in Moscow, though you can have these sent to your hotel as well (we stayed at an Airbnb, so I didn’t want our precious tickets to be delivered there).

Tours/excursions along the Trans Mongolian Express 

We had a hard time again to make a choice between the many excursions offered on the Real Russia websiteas so many of them seemed worthwhile. In the end, we did five tours during our Trans Mongolian trip:

  • A walking tour around St. Petersburg.
  • A tour to Lake Baikal and Listvyanka.
  • A city tour in Ulan-Bator.
  • A 3D2N tour to Terelj National Park.
  • A tour to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall.

All our tours were led by knowledgeable local guides who spoke English very well. Each of them did their utmost to make our trip an unforgettable one and they were all smitten with our baby.

The five tours mentioned above can all be done with children. Car seats were provided whenever necessary and during the tour programs, there was the time (or time was made by the guide) to feed our baby or to change his diaper.

Arranging accommodation and transport 

We arranged our own transport and accommodation in the cities where we stopped. However, if you prefer, Real Russia can assist in arranging transport and accommodation.  

In Russia, the Gett app (similar to Uber) makes ordering a taxi very easy. Getting around by metro in Moscow and Beijing is also very straightforward and in Irkutsk distances are small so we got around on foot.  

Keep in mind that traffic in Ulan Bator is horrendous (even more so than in Moscow and Beijing). We were extremely happy to stay in a hotel within walking distance of the train station (Voyage Hotel). I would have been so stressed had we been stuck in traffic in a taxi while trying to make our way to the train station on time!

Vaccinations and health issues 

Baby Sleeping on the Train
Baby Sleeping on the Train

Our 10-month-old baby follows the Dutch vaccination program and therefore already received most of the necessary vaccines (TDAP and Hep-B). However, he did receive an early MMR (mumps, measles and rubella) vaccine when we told our doctor about our planned trip. My husband and I already had all the required vaccines, including Hep-A. However, our son could not be vaccinated for Hep-A since the vaccine is only suitable for children of 1 year and older. I highly recommend checking with your doctor for advice regarding the required vaccines.

Our guide in Lake Baikal recommended checking for ticks after our hike as they are common in that region (though only in May and June). We didn’t find any, but I thought it was solid advice, be sure to bring tick tweezers. 

As little children are inclined to put everything in their mouth, we were very careful to keep our son from eating things from the floor of the train. We had a bottle of Dettol and used this to thoroughly clean the surfaces of our compartment (table, window and other surfaces our baby could easily reach). We made sure to clean his hands, face and feet a couple of times a day; however, you can never completely keep your baby from getting his hands dirty… 

The best season to travel the Trans-Mongolian Express 

For families, I recommend travelling either in Spring or un Autumn as the summer is too hot and the winter too cold to comfortably travel with (little) children. We travelled the Trans Mongolia Express in May, which I think is a great (if not the best 😉) month to make this wonderful journey.

Russia 

In the Russian cities, the weather was perfect (around 20 degrees Celsius), not too hot and not too cold for sightseeing.

Mongolia 

Our first two days in Mongolia were very hot (around 30 degrees Celsius) but after a rainy-day, temperatures dropped back to a comfortable 20 degrees.  

China

Beijing and the Great Wall were another story though and it was very hot (30+ degrees Celsius). If you prefer to avoid the heat in Beijing you could consider doing the Trans Mongolian Express the other way around, thus starting in Beijing in early May and ending in St. Petersburg late May (where temperatures are more moderate).

Want to know more about Phenomenal Globe? Read the interview here.

See our guide for more information about what to pack when travelling the Trans-Siberian with children.

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