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Trans-Siberian Handbook

Trans-Siberian Handbook

What to take

Contents | Introduction | Individual itineraries or organised tours? | Route planning | What to take | Sample Route Guide: Trans-Siberian Route and map 1 | Other railway lines linked to the Trans-Siberian | Best of Trans-Siberian



The best advice today is to travel as light as possible as pretty much anything you’ve forgotten can be purchased in the larger cities.


For summer in Moscow and Siberia pack thin clothes, a sweater and a raincoat. In most hotels you will be able to get laundry done, often returned the same day. Take shirts and tops of a quick-drying cotton/polyester mixture if you are going to wash them yourself.
    Winter in Russia and northern China is extremely cold, although trains and most buildings are kept well-heated: inside the train you can be warm enough in a thin shirt as you watch Arctic scenes pass by your window. When you’re outside, however, a thick winter overcoat is an absolute necessity, as well as gloves and a warm hat. It’s easy to buy good-quality overcoats/jackets in Beijing. If you’re travelling in winter and plan to stop off in Siberian cities along the way, consider taking thermal underwear and ridge-soled boots. At other times of the year your shoes should be strong, light and comfortable; most travellers take sturdy trainers. On the train, though, Russians wear flip flops or slippers.

If you’re going on one of the more expensive tours which include baggage handling, take a suitcase. Those on individual itineraries have the choice of a rucksack (comfortable to carry for long distances), a zip-up holdall with a shoulder strap or a frameless backpack. It’s also useful to take along a small daypack for your camera, books etc. Since bedding on the train and in hotels is supplied you don’t need to take a sleeping-bag, although some travellers prefer to carry their own sleeping-bag liner. Never travel with an ounce more than you absolutely need. Few people will have luggage weighing 35kg but be aware that is the limit in compartments and if travelling from Beijing this rule is likely to be applied.


Useful items
A moneybelt is the best way to safeguard your documents and cash. Wear it underneath your clothing and don’t take it off on the train, as compartments are very occasionally broken into. A good pair of sunglasses is necessary in summer as well as in winter, when the sun on the snow is particularly bright. A Sigg flask or thermos which can take boiling water is very useful, as is a mug (insulated is best), fork/spoon/knife set and a universal adaptor.
    The following items are also useful: adhesive tape, ball-point pens, business cards, camera and adequate capacity memory cards for a digital camera, torch (flashlight), umbrella, games (cards, chess – the Russians are very keen chess players – Scrabble etc), toilet paper, calculator (for exchange rates), notebook or diary, penknife with corkscrew and can-opener (although there’s a bottle opener fixed underneath the table in each compartment on the train), photocopies of passport, visa, air tickets, etc (keep them in two separate places), spare passport photographs for visas, sewing-kit, string (to use as a washing-line), tissues (including the wet variety), universal bath plug (Russian basins usually don’t have a plug), washing powder (liquid travel soap is good) and multi-purpose travel body wash that doubles as shampoo. A compass is useful when looking at maps and out of the window of the train. Earplugs can be a bonus both on the train and in noisy Chinese hotels. Don’t forget to take a good book (see pp41-3).
    If you are going to Beijing consider taking a face mask – the kind cyclists in big cities wear – to protect you from the worst of the smog.
    It’s also a very good idea to bring things to show people: photos of your family and friends, your home or somewhere interesting you have been. Looking at photographs, especially of people, is a great way to break the ice when you don’t speak much of the local language.

The Russians are great present givers (see box p76) so if you are invited as a guest to a local home take a box of chocolates, a bottle of wine or, better, bring things that are harder for Russians to get, such as souvenirs of your country. Foreign coins and badges are also good, as Russia is full of collectors.

Travellers expecting lavish meals in dining cars are doomed to bitter disappointment; though the menus in Russian restaurant cars are sometimes long, often they’ll only have a few items on the list. However, there’s no need to panic and bring a rucksack filled with food as it is much easier nowadays to get provisions in Western-style supermarkets in the big cities and also at the stations you stop at (see pp122-3). A recent development also is the arrival of food-peddling ladies who walk up and down the carriages, selling savoury cakes, crisps, chocolate, instant noodles, soft drinks and beer, so you won’t go hungry. However, if there is anything you feel you can’t live without – particular brands of things such as Marmite or Vegemite – and it is easy to carry do bring it.

Medical supplies
You may consider bringing aspirin or paracetamol; sunscreen lotion; DEET-infused insect repellent and a compact mosquito net (vital if you’re travelling in summer); antiseptic cream and some plasters/Band Aids; a medical kit containing sterile syringes and swabs for emergency medical treatment. Note that some Western brands of tampons and condoms are not always easily available in Russia or China, so bring your own if you favour a particular kind. Bring an extra pair of glasses or contact lenses if you wear them. You may want to take along something for an upset stomach but use it only in an emergency, as changes in diet often cause slight diarrhoea which stops of its own accord. For vaccination requirements, see pp44-5.
    The above items can be purchased in pharmacies all over Russia, as well as in Ulaanbaatar and Beijing, but if you’re after specific brands, your best bet it to bring them from home.

Mobile phones, laptops and other digital media
Pretty much every traveller and local brings a mobile phone on the train, and these can be charged using outlets in the carriages; platzkart carriages tend to have one socket at either end that supports 220v; there are also a couple placed at berth 7 and 27. If you have an unlocked tri-band or quad-band phone and you are spending some time in Russia, it pays to pick up a SIM card from a Russian mobile company (see p67-8).


Trans-Siberian Handbook


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