Real Russia Blog

How much do you know about the Trans-Siberian?

How much do you know about the Trans-Siberian?

We like to think of ourselves as the Trans-Siberian experts – we’ve taken the Trans-Siberian and every year we help thousands of others take it too but… Well, with countries as fascinating as Russia, China and Mongolia there’s always more to learn.

We've put together a few of our favourite facts we've learnt over the last few months as well as a few of the favourites that got us interested in the Trans-Siberian too.

A legendary lost city

Located just beyond Nizhny Novgorod, which gained recent exposure because of its role as a 2018 host city during the World Cup, is Svetloyar Lake. Some Russians believe that Svetloyar Lake holds a secret, and somewhere in its waters is Kitezh, a mysterious, sunken city. The city is said to have become invisible when it was attacked by Tatars, and there is even an opera partially based on its legend, Сказание о невидимом граде Китеже и деве Февронии, or The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya.

Svetloyar Lake

Stuck in the middle with Tayshet

The railway station of Tayshet, when you hit 4644.5km from Moscow, is the half-way point between Moscow and Vladivostok, which is 9,289km from Moscow. If you stop in Tayshet station, make sure to take a moment with a drink and admire just how far you've come, and just how far there is left to go! Think back to how many people have passed through this hallway point on one of the grandest journeys there is.

The Trans-Siberian wasn't always accessible to travellers

Vladivostok, the final stop of the original Trans-Siberian was off limits to foreigners until 1990, even Soviet Citizens needed a permit giving them permission to enter. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule and in 1974 the USA's President Ford was given permission to visit for an arms summit with Leonid Brezhnev.

There are also, urban legends that David Bowie spent time in Vladivostok taking a ferry from Japan at the end of his 1973 Japanese tour. He's said to have taken the train through Russia due to his dislike of flying.

Vladivostok, Russky bridge

A station of marble

Slydyanka station is the only railway station in the world to be built entirely of marble. The station is famously close to the beautiful Lake Baikal, a highlight for many taking the Trans-Siberian. There is an old story that when the train stopped for 15 minutes, travellers would dash down to the water to dip in a hand for good luck. It wasn't unusual for these travellers to not make it back to the train in time, but what a picturesque place to be left behind!

Nowadays, the train only stops for 2 minutes and many travellers will simply choose to book a later train so they have time to enjoy Lake Baikal.

Slydyanka station

Home of Dance

Famous Russian male ballerina Rudolf Nureyev was actually born onboard the Trans-Siberian, near Irkutsk. His mother was travelling to see Rudolf's father in Vladivostok where he was stationed as a commissar.

It's not a one-track experience

Russian and Mongolian railways use the same size gauge which makes travelling between countries very easy, the train only needs to stop for custom and border checks. Chinese railways, however, use a different size gauge for their wheels so when you cross from Mongolia to China, the bogies need to be changed on every single carriage, so it'll fit on Chinese rails!

Chinese train

Baikal-Amur Mainline

The Trans-Siberian was originally planned as Moscow-Vladivostok, however, over time, that has evolved with the Trans-Mongolian which travels through Ulan Bator to Beijing and the Trans-Manchurian which travels through the Manchurian region to Beijing. This evolution has continued with the newest addition of the Baikal-Amur Mainline which runs parallel and northern to the Trans-Siberian railway route. It begins in Tayshet, the Trans-Siberian's midway point, and ends at Sovetskaya Gavan. It offers an alternative to the Trans-Siberian, showing off towns and cities that perhaps wouldn't be seen otherwise.

Leonid Brezhnev described the BAM route as the ‘construction project of the century’ as much of it was built over permafrost.

Real Russia Blog

Seasonal Guide to Ulan-Bator: Winter

Seasonal Guide to Ulan-Bator: Winter

Want to visit Ulan-Bator but not sure when`s the best time to make the journey? Well it all depends what you want to do while you`re there! Real Russia is here to help with our seasonal guide to Ulan-Bator so you can make the most of your time whenever you go.

Mongolia is known as the ‘Land of Blue Sky’ and gets around 260 days of sunshine a year, however, it's also a very cold climate. Winter is the longest season and temperatures can drop as low as -26 degrees. The coldest month is January. Because of the dry air though, the weather is easier to deal with than in other places. The low temperature leads to some of the most exciting natural sights that can't be seen anywhere else, when the temperature drops low enough all of the rivers, lakes, streams and ponds freeze. Many rivers freeze almost to the bottom which is an ethereal sight, Lake Khovsgol is particularly beautiful.

While it does snow throughout winter, it is not heavy snow compared to Russian winters.

What should I do?

Mongolia offers two chances to celebrate New Year, once on January 1st on the Gregorian calendar, and the lunar new year called ‘Tsagaan Sar’ or ‘the White Moon Festival’. Typical celebrations involve burning candles on the altar to symbolise Buddhist enlightenment and there are holiday specific greetings such as ‘Amar Baina uu?’ meaning ‘Are you living peacefully?’ It's also common to visit friends and family, gathering at the home of the eldest family member to exchange gifts.

This is a great chance to learn about regional celebrations and find the similarities and differences in culture.

The winter conditions, with snow storms and cold winds, are called ‘zud’, however, winter actually has less wind and snowfall than during spring so as long as you pack appropriately you'll be able to do anything.

Best Winter Excursions:

City Day Tour by Car

It might be cold but that doesn't mean you can't see the sights of Ulan-Bator. This full day of sightseeing takes you to all the famous landmarks and historic cultural points of the city. You'll start by visiting Gandan Monastery, the biggest Buddhist Monastery in Ulan-Bator which is attended by hundreds for worship daily. You'll also go to see the National History Museum and the Fine Art Museum. There's also time to relax, shop for local goods and admire the beauty of Ulan-Bator. You can even climb Zaisan Hill to admire the panoramic views.

Day Trip to Aglag Buteel Monastery

The Aglag Buteel is a Buddhist Monastery situation in picturesque highland overlooking the valley, about 100km to the east of Ulan-Bator. The Aglag Buteel monastery is surrounded by mountains and pine forests and is decorated with many works of art.

There is a walking path at the top of the hill with many stone carvings along the way that provides spectacular views of the countryside. Granite rocks have been carved as Buddhist statues, each having a symbolic significance. If you walk around, you will see intricate mythical animal carvings made out of wooden roots and rocks surrounding the mountain.

If you want to find out more about Ulan-Bator, and other cities throughout the seasons, you can view the rest of our seasonal guide here or view our excursions page here

Real Russia Blog

Seasonal Guide to Ulan-Bator: Summer

Seasonal Guide to Ulan-Bator: Summer

Want to visit Ulan-Bator but not sure when`s the best time to make the journey? Well it all depends what you want to do while you`re there! Real Russia is here to help with our seasonal guide to Ulan-Bator so you can make the most of your time whenever you go.

Summer is the warmest season in Mongolia, lasting late May to September, and is definitely the most popular time for travellers. July is the hottest month of the year with average temperatures above 20 degrees, this makes it a great time to explore Mongolia's beautiful nature. There is more rain in summer than in spring and autumn which gives life to the lakes and rivers and it can prove refreshing during the hotter days! The beginning of summer is considered the most beautiful time of year.

What should I do?

Summer is packed with fun festivals that show off Mongolia's rich, and unique, heritage. July hosts the Playtime festival, the largest annual live music festival in Mongolia, which takes place just before the Naadam festival.

The Naadam festival is a must see for any culture lover as it showcases three of Mongolia's most cherished pastimes, wresting, archery and horseback riding. Summer is also a great time to take advantage of the warmer weather and visit the awe-inspiring Genghis Khan statue.

Best Summer Excursions:

Two Night Trip to Bogd Khan National Park

Delve into the history of Ulan-Bator, this trip takes you on a southern escape into the Bogd Khan National Park via Zuunmod town, the cetnre of Tuv Province. Spend two days enjoying traditional gers, beautiful larch trees, amazing scenery, monastery ruins and a museum dedicated to Mongolian history and architecture.

Overnight Trip to Visit a Nomadic Family

Spend a night as a local. A unique chance to become part of a nomadic family for a couple of days as you are taken from the city to a family in the countryside where you'll stay with them in their own ger. You'll get to experience the everyday life of the nomads, learning about how they live and their culture as well as trying their homemade dairy products and food.

You'll have the chance to explore the surrounding area to experience the beautiful countryside in Mongolia and enjoy the lifestyle of the nomads.

If you want to find out more about Ulan-Bator, and other cities throughout the seasons, you can view the rest of our seasonal guide here or view our excursions page here

Real Russia Blog

Ten Facts You Might Not Know About Mongolia

Ten Facts You Might Not Know About Mongolia

Find out more about the fascinating country and its rich history.

1) 30-40% of the population remains Nomadic. Mongolia is famous for its Nomadic history and much of that is still seen in modern Mongolian life. The Naadam festivals celebrated horseback riding, archery and wrestling all of which have their roots in the Nomadic lifestyle. Mongolia remains one of the world's few remaining cultures with 30-40% of the population remaining Nomadic. Most nomads work as herdsmen, moving their livestock throughout the year to find the best conditions.

2) 45% of Mongolia's population live in its capital city, Ulan-Bator and 60% of Ulan-Bator's population lives outside the city in ger camps.

3) Bactarian camels are native to Mongolia and are famous for their two humps. They're much rarer than their one humped counterparts. They're beloved animals in Mongolia, they even have a festival dedicated to them that involves camel racing and pageantry.

4) Mongolia's largest festival is the Naadam festival which involves horse racing, archery and wrestling! It's a fantastic festival attended by locals and travellers annually. It's a fun event with traditional dress, folklore, local food and much more. It's a great chance to learn about Mongolia's heritage from people who still cherish it.

5) Wrestling is an important part of Mongolian culture, and a yearly tournament is held on Mongolian's Independence Day. The first-place winner earns the right to call themselves Arslan (Lion), and if they win two years in a row they earn the title Avrag (Titan). The runner up is called Dan (Elephant) and third-place is Nachin (Eagle).

6) There is a theory Mongolian horsemen invented Ice-Cream! They would take cream in containers as provisions for long journeys across the Gobi in winter. As they galloped, the cream was shaken and the sub-zero temperatures caused it to freeze as it churned. This would then create Ice-Cream. The expansion of the Mongol empire spread Ice-Cream through China and Marco Polo is then said to have bought the idea back to Italy from his travels in 1295.

7) Mongolia is the most sparsely populated nation in the world with only 4.3 people per square mile. For context, China has roughly 142 people per square mile.

8) There are 13 times more horses than humans and it's estimated sheep outnumber people anywhere from 8 to 30 sheep per person. Mongolia isn't alone in this though, New Zealand has 20 sheep per human and the Faukland Islands has 368 sheep per human.

9) Mongolia's main religion is Lamaism, of the Yellow sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It originated in Tibet around the 7th Century and Mongolian ruler Altan Khan introduced Lamaism to the Mongolian population in the 16th Century. Altan Khan was also the first

10) Mongolian is a member of the Ural-Altaic family of languages, which includes Finnish, Turkish, Kazakh, Uzbek and Korean among others.

Do you know any other facts about Mongolia? Which was your favourite fact?

Real Russia Blog

Seasonal Guide to Ulan-Bator: Spring

Seasonal Guide to Ulan-Bator: Spring

Want to visit Ulan-Bator but not sure when`s the best time to make the journey? Well it all depends what you want to do while you`re there! Real Russia is here to help with our seasonal guide to Ulan-Bator so you can make the most of your time whenever you go.

Spring is a relatively short season, starting around Mid-March and only lasting two months. It's a complex season in Mongolia as while it is time for the snow to melt and animals to come out of hibernation the beginning of spring is spent recovering from the harsh winter. Because of this, we wouldn't recommend homestays at the beginning of spring as families will be focused on rebuilding their crops and caring for their animals after the winter.

Spring still offers some incredible festivals as the weather starts to warm up, and in the east of Mongolia you can witness Gazelle migrations which are an amazing sight.

April has the least amount of rain throughout the year, and while March to Mid-May will bring sunshine you'll also find sudden snowstorms and biting wind chill can take temperatures down to -5 and light rain is common from May. The rain is good for the farmland but you'll need to be prepared when you pack.

If you want to go during a hospitable but quieter time, May is your best bet.

What should I do?

Bridging the gap between Winter and Spring is the Great Winter Festival which is around 28th February-10th March. The beginning of March also features the celebration of ice on lake Hovsgol and the festival of One Thousand Camels.

April, in particular, is one of the best times to visit the ruins of the Mongol Empire. A particular highlight is the Nauryz festival, the Kazakh celebration of the coming spring, which takes places over two days towards the end of March and culminates with a community parade in Ulgii.

Typically, there isn't any eagle hunting after March as prey, like foxes, will have just had their litters and will be carrying their cubs with them. Towards the end of spring is also a great time to visit nomadic families as many of the farm animals like cows and horses, will be having their young.

Best Spring Excursions:

Day Trip to Khustain Nuruu National Park

Explore the grasslands and wildlife of this natural wonder. This tour drives you west from the capital into Khustain Nuruu National Park where you'll find yourself surrounded in greenery with grazing sheep and yaks accompanies by lone horsemen and nomadic gers dotted across the countyside.

Day Trip to Nomadic Family

This tour takes you on a unique journey to meet a nomadic family. You'll have the opportunity to dine with the family as you learn about the nomadic lifestyle and culture, and try homemade dairy products. Use the afternoon to enjoy a leisurely stroll in the surrounding area or admire the landscape from horseback.

If you want to find out more about Ulan-Bator, and other cities throughout the seasons, you can view the rest of our seasonal guide here or view our excursions page here

Real Russia Blog

Naadam Festival 2018

Naadam Festival 2018

The Naadam (Наадам) festival in Mongolia is the biggest festival of the year, celebrated nationwide from 11th to 15th July.

The Naadam festival, also known as Eriyan Guryan Nadaam, means ‘the three games of men’ and is celebrated annually in July.

Celebrations kick off with an opening ceremony which includes music, a parade and a march by Mongolian soldiers. The soldiers march commemorates the revolution of 1921 when Mongolia declared itself an independent country.

The rest of the festical celebrates three competitions: wrestling, horse racing and archery. Each of these capture the ancestral roots and cultural heritage of Mongolia but have also modernised as more and more women are now competing.

What is the cultural significance of wrestling, horse racing and archery?

Wrestling signifies the belief men, and in particular soldiers, need to remain in peak physical condition. Unlike modern amateur or Greco-Roman wrestling there are no weight classes or time limits. This means all competitors need to be well rounded and able to adapt to a variety of opponents and styles.

Horse racing plays homage to what a vital part horses have played in all aspects of Mongolian history. Traditionally, horses made it easier to travel for trade and socialisation and were also an important part of Mongolian diets where due to their nomadic lifestyle and harsh winters it was not easy to grow sustainable crops. Even in modern Mongolia, many rely on horses as transportation and to support their work. Children learn to ride horses from a very early age, even some toddlers will be getting familiar with horse riding.

Archery showcases the strategy and precision of Mongolian soldiers. Over centuries, soldiers have developed their combat skills using archery and fed themselves through hunting. Archery allowed Mongolians to establish their place as great warriors and this pride continues, showcased through the Naadam festivities.

The Naadam festival features many events alongside the trip-sports, including folk dancing, exhibitions and craft fairs showcasing locally made goods. Many will even wear traditional costumes allowing you to immerse yourself even further in Mongolia's cultural heritage.

If you are planning an adventure in Mongolia and would like any travel advice or assistance booking, then do not hesitate to contact a member of our travel team who will be pleased to help.

You can rest assured that all of your travel plans will be taken care of efficiently by our dedicated team of experts. If you require visa services, train tickets, accommodation, a professional guide or internal transfers then look no further.

Real Russia Blog

Customer Tales: The Ultimate Trans-Siberian Adventure

Customer Tales: The Ultimate Trans-Siberian Adventure

Unforgettable 5-weeks journey along the Trans-Siberian railway and beyond

Read how our customer Linda fulfilled a lifelong dream, with her daughter, taking a tailored Trans-Siberian tour with Real Russia. She spent 5-weeks experiencing as much of the diverse cultures as she could along the way and taking in the unrivalled sights.

So, what did she experience on the world’s most famous rail journey?

The Rossiya train

We booked on the Rossiya, the flagship of the Trans-Siberian. Interestingly, for staff benefit, no matter how many time-zones we passed the train kept to Moscow time – this is crucial to understand when using the restaurant car!

The Rossiya was home for four days, we travelled hundreds of miles with ever-changing scenery. From the riches of central Moscow we noticed changes in housing immediately, memorably an estate of pink houses with marshmallow like roofs.

As we made a stop at its grand station, I concluded in hindsight I would have liked to have stopped at Yekaterinburg, famously where the massacre of the Romanov Royal family took place. Now memorialised in a little church a little way out of the city.

Irkutsk and Lake Baikal

We arrived at Irkutsk, the capital of Siberia, to see Lake Baikal, the world’s largest freshwater lake. We booked a day trip to Lake Baikal from Irkutsk by taxi. As it came into view the site was immediately breath taking, on one side of the lake was a seaside complex and on the other majestic mountains loomed large.

​ Serene Lake Baikal – a jewel of the Trans-Siberian


Ulan-Bator, Mongolia’s capital, the land of Genghis Khan. We arrived at 5.45am to the most glorious sunrise. 1.5 million people live in Mongolia, and 1 million of them live right in the capital. A huge golden god oversees the capital and is worth a morning trek. Mongolia is known as the ‘land of sky’, nothing but miles and miles of horizon. We found four more travel companions and hired a jeep and driver, who would also be our chef for the next six days to head into the Gobi. At the time, there were no roads to the Gobi; only well used scrubland tracks with flocks of sheep, goats and camels that scattered when our jeep appeared. We stayed in local yurts along the way and our meals were rice with goat meat, only horse milk was available.


Our train was now the Trans-Mongolian, a proud engine with 16 coaches. As night descended the train pulled into a huge factory-type complex. My daughter said, ‘I feel like I’m going up’; we drew back the curtain to find ourselves 10ft in the air, supported by hawsers, as the men below changed the wheels from 8’ to 6’. Foreign trains could not use China’s tracks without this change.

We arrived in Beijing and stayed in the Old City. We explored Tiananmen Square, with the huge photo of Chairman Mao being the meeting place for all tours and taxis. We visited the Forbidden City, home of China’s emperors for 500 years. We climbed part of the Great Wall whose route we had already followed along the train journey from Mongolia. We experienced a cultural evening of song, dance and food. We visited a silk factory and finally, a jade factory.


We left Beijing after 4 days and travelled to Xian, home of the Terra Cotta army. It was impressive, each face unique, the detailing intricate. Our guide pointed out though sometimes described as life-size, being made around 2,200 years ago they would have been huge compared to the population, therefore formidable guardians to protect the emperor in the afterlife.

We visited a Rescue Centre for pandas, after an hour of waiting Bam Bam appeared right in front of us. He put on a tree climbing display for half an hour before shuffling back into the undergrowth.

Hong Kong via Shanghai

Shanghai was a beautiful modern city where we stopped for 3 days before Hong Kong, our final destination.

Hong Kong

We climbed to Victoria Park on the funicular railway revealing a stunning harbour view; and visited the oldest Taoist temple in the world where a local shaman will put a curse on the head of your enemies at £4 a head. You will also find the third largest Marks and Spencer in the world, constructed in adherence to Feng Shui naturally.

We did a whole island tour by coach and sampan, Hong Kong was beautiful, the temperature is never lower than 15 degrees throughout the year.

We flew back to Heathrow, my dream holiday over. We had physically traversed over a third of the planet by train.

Where would you go?

The Trans-Siberian route offers a completely unique experience that can be tailored to suit your dream journey. Thanks to our dedicated and knowledgeable customer service we can work together to make sure you won’t miss a thing.

​If this personal experience has inspired you, why not to take a look at the Trans-Siberian routes and start planning your adventure?

Real Russia Blog

The Camel Festival in Mongolia

The Camel Festival in Mongolia

Your Must-See Experience

The Thousand Camel festival takes place annually between the end of winter and beginning of spring in Dalanzadgad. Participating in this spectacular 2-day event is an amazing and unique opportunity to interact with the two-humped Bactrian camels and Mongolian camel herders. Every year the festival gathers more than a thousand camels, and over a thousand participants and spectators. The camels are especially pretty in winter when their fur becomes thick and lavish to stand the cold temperatures.

The Role of the Camel in the Nomadic Lifestyle.

The festival celebrates the endangered two-humped camels (Bactrian) and the role it played, and continues to play, for nomads in the Gobi. These amazing animals carry everything that a Mongolian needs to build and live in a ger (also known as a yurt). Camels are much tougher than horses and can cover 50 miles in one day, and run very quickly.

Nowadays camels have been replaced as a means of transportation by cars, but the popularity of camel racing reflects the admiration still given to them. There are approximately 500,000 Bactrian camels in the world, and 300,000 of them habit in Mongolia.

Mongolians eat camel meat, similarly to goat, and use camel wool for making clothes like jackets and socks, and blankets.

The Festival

Camel riders before the start of races

This exciting and fun event takes place in the Gobi during the time of the year when the desert is covered in snow and temperatures drop below zero. It features traditional music, costume competitions, dancing, polo competition and camel racing. After the festivities, the spectators can ride the camels and visit some of the Gobi’s unique sights.

The festival begins with a camel beauty parade where the big, fluffy animals parade in front of the crowd. They then embark on the race, where the herders drive the camels on a 15km race across the steppe. The average speed of camels is about 12 km per hour, which corresponds to the speed of a galloping horse. Racing camels is the most beautiful and popular competition of all the holidays and events of Mongolia attracting many visitors.

​ Un unlimited expanse of steppe

In addition to the race, another highlight of the event is a Polo match. Two riders sit on each camel; one controls the camel, while the second one hits the ball with a stick.

Other highlights of the festival are traditional performances of Mongolian folklore and a fair of products from camel milk and camel-hair.


If you would like to experience this unique spectacle at the end of February – beginning of March, please contact our travel specialists and get first-hand advice.

Real Russia Blog

Experiences interacting with locals

Experiences interacting with locals

Don’t let a fear of not speaking the language keep you from traveling.

Jessica from How Dare She is a ‘country collector’, completing trips in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Oceania; totaling over 50 countries so far. Through travel she wants to explore the cultures and peoples of the world, and change those, “I could never” moments into, “I can’t wait!“ moments. Writing exclusively for Real Russia, Jessica tells us all about her experience interacting with locals along the length and breadth of the Trans-Siberian railway.
I don’t speak Russian. I don’t speak Mongolian. I don’t read Cyrillic. I don’t speak Mandarin and reading the characters is Chinese to me. With that in mind, one might think it would be difficult to interact with locals in China, Mongolia and Russia. Well, one would be wrong.

China – Flexing my muscles with an old lady in an alley

In China, interacting with locals can be extremely tough – the toughest I’ve found in my travels in fact. But once you break the ice, you’re in. Like anywhere else in the world, a smile goes a long way. I was walking in the hutongs of Beijing (small alley neighbourhoods) and wearing a tank top because I was fortunate to get a few rare sunny, blue sky days. An older woman was sitting in one of the alleys and she pointed at me, and then at her shoulders. Clearly commenting on my tank top. I pointed to the sky and flexed my biceps, laughing, and wondering how, “sun’s out, guns out” translates in China.

I don’t think the phrase translated, but it didn’t stop her from laughing. I wonder what she thinks I was trying to say? It doesn’t matter. For the rest of the week, every time I walked down the hutong, there she was, in her chair. And whether I was in a tank top or covered up, each time I passed, her face lit up, she started laughing and tossed her flexed biceps in the air. Sometimes you don’t even need to speak a word to create a memory.

Mongolia – An offer for marriage, and baby goats

You would have to work extremely hard to get a cold reception in Mongolia. Everyone is smiling and everyone is happy to welcome you, especially into their gers (mobile homes, like a yurt). When looking for a place to stay in the desert, you don’t call ahead. You just turn up to a ger, if you can find one, and knock on the door. Mongolian culture values guests, and you will be taken in. But it doesn’t stop there – you’ll first be greeted with camel milk tea and a type of fried sweet cookie. I was with a group and every family that we stayed with was beyond generous, sharing their homes, food and spirit. I don’t think I’ve ever seen people smile so consistently, and for so long.

One Mongolian in particular, smiled just a little extra as I cuddled one of his baby goats. The family had never hosted foreigners, so I’m sure they were amused at our fascination with the animals that surround them every day. He laughed at me with our guide. She told him how much I liked the goats and sheep and he perked up, quickly chatting to the guide. “If she likes the animals, she can have some! I have a son her age. She can move to Mongolia and she’ll get the animals AND a husband!”

Both the family and the group burst into laughter and I told him that I had to think about it. It’s not what I’m looking for, but aside from how tempting the landscapes and animals of Mongolia are, people who are as happy as Mongolians are the kind of people I want in my life.

Russia – Playing stupid

Relaxing on a stationary train

On the train from Novosibirsk to Omsk it became clear to me quite quickly that I was the only English speaker in the car. And over the course of the first few hours, it became clear that everyone else noticed too. If I’d bump someone while walking to the bathroom, an instinctual, “excuse me” gave me away. By the next few hours, people were eyeing my every move. The looks on their faces said, “who is this girl and why is she here??” The stone-cold facial expressions hid whether this was curiosity or irritation.

Then, one passenger came over and sat across from me. “Hello, where are you from?” he asked, with a very focused effort on his English. I looked up and smiled and greeted him back, and told him that I’m from the United States. The rest of the car perked up like prairie dogs. He asked where I was going. When I answered his second question, six other passengers rushed over.

Third class on the Novosibirsk-Omsk train

Apparently, they all wanted to practice their English and to chat, but they were just afraid to try.They saw that I had a deck of cards and asked if I knew how to play, “the Russian game.” I did not. The remainder of our ride together was consumed by playing this game. While it isn’t ideal to learn a card game without being able to explain the rules, I eventually got it. Then I realized I was wrong. Then I got it. We laughed and spent the next four hours playing and working through what English they knew and what Russian I did. Most of them were in the army, going home from an assignment. They talked about their jobs, their friends and their families.

The icing on the cake? I asked the name of the game. “It’s called Stupid, because if you lose, you are the stupid one.” Can’t argue with that logic. I don’t know that I’ve ever been happier to be the stupid one in the group.
Restaurant carriage on the Novosibirsk-Omsk train

Thanks Jessica, for your insights into your experiences with locals across the Trans-Siberian railway. Make sure to follow her inspiring global adventures on her travel blog How Dare She, her Twitter, Facebook and Instagram jess_ismore. Click here to read more of her blogs on the Trans-Siberian!
And if you want to follow in Jess’s footsteps, Real Russia offer a comprehensive range of tours, taking in the three different ‘Trans-Siberian’ routes, between Moscow and Vladivostok, and Moscow and Beijing.

Click here to take a look and book now!

Real Russia Blog

Perceptions on Mongolia

Perceptions on Mongolia

In this first blog, Jessica shares her opinion on Mongolia and its incredibly friendly people.

Last summer, Real Russia were lucky enough to work with Jessica, an American travel writer that has visited more than 95 countries in the last few years, sharing her experiences with the world through her blog How Dare She, her Facebook and her Instagram page jess_ismore.
Alongside writing two fantastic, and informative, guides about planning a Trans-Siberian adventure (Travelling solo as a female on the Trans-Siberian and Making the most of the Trans-Siberian), she has put together a few blogs exclusively for Real Russia, going into more depth about her incredible experiences travelling the most famous railway in the world.
In this first blog, Jessica shares her opinion on Mongolia and its incredibly friendly people.
Take it away Jessica!

On the road to Mongolia

When I thought of the Trans-Siberian railway, I honestly never thought of Mongolia. I thought of cold days in Russia huddled around a bottle of vodka. More on that in my upcoming blog about Russia. But as I started to investigate the Trans-Siberian journey, I was excited to find out it could be started from Beijing. Which meant that the previously mysterious Mongolia would be on my route.
On the train from Beijing, you know you’ve arrived in Mongolia when the cars start clanging around. At the border, the wheels are changed for the different tracks and I should have had a few more beers from the dining car if I wanted to sleep through it.

Bogie changing at the Chinese-Mongolian border

Despite the somewhat restless night, I woke up at about 5:30 as the sun started to rise. Taking advantage of a train full of snoozing passengers, I grabbed my camera and searched for the best spot to see the sunrise. Soon, light was pouring over the landscape of the Gobi and I knew I was going to get what I came for.

Sunrise over the Gobi desert

Before I knew it, we were arriving in Ulan Bator, as was a snow storm. In May. But I guess they don’t call it the coldest capital in the world for nothing. Luckily, I just had one night in the cold capital before heading back out to the desert to see the real and raw Mongolia that had been so hyped. Off to 8 days in the desert.

Smiles, landscapes, animals and meat

So, what was Mongolia like? Four words: smiles, landscapes, animals and meat.

Smiles. Mongolians are known for their hospitality, and for good reason. We went ger (pronounced like ‘gear’) hunting to find a place to stay at night, and it was expected that you could show up to any ger, unannounced, and be taken in. Every family greeted the group with warm smiles and tea. At one home, the father of the family even hinted he had a son for me if I liked Mongolia and wanted to stay.

Landscapes. Going around the country was a constant battle of charging my camera because I just couldn’t put it down. The variety is wide – from ice gorges to sand dunes, lakes to sparse deserts – but absolutely stunning all the same. The summer made for long days and incredible, late, sunsets.

The Flaming Cliffs

Animals. The nomadic culture of Mongolia stems from the need to make sure the animals are fed. If you don’t like cuddling baby goats, then maybe Mongolia isn’t for you (then again if you don’t like cuddling baby goats, you may need to re-evaluate life). Don’t try to cuddle the baby camels though, mom doesn’t like it and she’ll be sure to let you know. The cows are fuzzy and the horses majestic. And you’ll see more than just livestock – mountain goats and rare birds take as much advantage of the landscapes as humans do.

​ The smiling goat

Meat. While I’m no vegetarian, I am not a big meat eater. Which was a challenge in Mongolia. Mutton, horse and camel are common staples of the Mongolian diet. Don’t cringe away just at the sound of it though. It is worth a try, and some like it more than others. But it can be hard to think about it when you’re having dinner in a ger surrounded by the family’s livestock. We even got the chance to see a camel slaughter, which is so rare to get a peek into that our guide had never seen one in her whole life living in Mongolia. Two families came together to take on the huge task, which was completed far from the other camels who are smart enough to get a sense of what’s going on.

Food in a Ger Camp

Back to city life

Back from the desert, I had one more day in Ulan-Bator before hopping back on the train to Russia. While I waited for the laundromat to wash the entire Gobi out of all my clothes, I wanted to check out the bustling capital, and couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast between the traditional and humble (and massive) black market, with the shiny tall buildings housing the country’s business side, all with towering mountains in the background. How could a country be so modern, and just kilometres away, so authentic to their origins? It’s truly impressive.
Luckily, the train from Ulan-Bator to Russia offered the same views and time to reflect on the previous week.
I expected to like Mongolia, but I didn’t expect for the warmth of the people to so wash over the cold of the landscapes. I expected beautiful sites, but I didn’t expect for the vastness and diversity of the countryside to keep my jaw perpetually dropped.

Happy camels in the desert

Thanks Jessica, for sharing your experiences in the incredible Mongolia. Be sure to come back soon to read more about Jess’s adventures along the Trans-Siberian railway, and make sure to follow her inspiring global adventures on her travel blog How Dare She, Facebook, Twitter and her Instagram jess_ismore.

If you want to follow in Jess’s footsteps, Real Russia offer a comprehensive range of tours, taking in the three different ‘Trans-Siberian’ routes, between Moscow and Vladivostok, and Moscow and Beijing.
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