O'Sullivan family travels and beyond

Trans-Mongolian across Russia/Siberia, Mongolia and China


We boarded late at night in Moscow with a supply of noodles, biscuits, fruit, water and snacks for the long journey ahead. Six long nights.
The compartment was much less plush than the Paris-Moscow sleeper, with 4 basic bunks and a little table. If you are planning this trip for a romantic break, you might want to upgrade to first class like Joanna Lumley, as your loved one wouldn’t be too impressed in our second class option. A shared toilet at the end of the corridor was basic (stainless steel, flushes straight onto the tracks – so cold bum if your child flushes it while their sister is sitting there! – and the washbasin had only a trickle of cold water) The toilet were locked about 15mins before and after every station stop so we had to check our timings as sometimes this would mean hours without access to a loo. Try explaining that to a 3 year old!
The restaurant car for the first 4 nights was Russian, with a brisk woman who seemed reluctant to engage. I take it the meat-eaters’ meals were not too bad from the comments from our lovely neighbours Kevin and David who were travelling to Mongolia, but our veggie option was potatoes in some kind of lard, served with a garnish of cold tinned peas which were sprinkled with ice. Thank god we brought the snacks! We could get off at the stations to buy more supplies and even if this was in the middle of the night, there was always a booth selling noodles, crisps, water and beer so we wouldn’t starve (except in Mongolia where they only accept Mongolian currency which we didn’t have) It was nice to stretch the legs now and again, even in the cold. We saw the train carriage receive the delivery of more coal and the guards chipping the ice from the bottom of the train. The schedule was posted in the carriage, so we knew when we were stopping and for how long. Amazingly, we kept time throughout the whole journey – wonder why Southeastern trains can’t do that.
The train staff were Chinese and our carriage guard kept the coal fire going, meaning although outside maybe -7 or lower, inside was a unbearable 27 degrees at night.
The smell of the fuel fumes was a bit rough for the first day or two, but that eased … either that or the smell of 5 unwashed O’Sullivans took over! There was a constant supply of boiling water to make tea or heat noodles from a coal-fired samovar. We had packed hot chocolate and cup-a-soups as well as instant pasta so didn’t have to go to the restaurant for every meal and swapped fruit and chocolate with Kevin and some of the other passengers.
So what did we do without TV, radio, internet etc? We played card games, talked, tried to teach Seamus how to tell ‘knock, knock’ jokes, sang songs, told stories, the girls did some Maths and English homework and looked out at the snowy world around us.
The train runs on Moscow time during its journey through Russia, so passengers would be waking up whilst the outside world thought it early afternoon. We switched to Mongolian time at the border. The border check took place quite late so we kept the kids up as late as we could.
The scenery throughout was at times lovely, from the snowy trees of Siberia to the frozen Lake Baikal, where the fishermen had parked their cars on the ice. There were  huge Russian towns, with lots of industry too. Through Mongolia the landscape changed with small house groups and yurts. Much of the journey was during the night so we
couldn’t see everything. We saw ponies and even camels. Sadly there were lots of dead animals every 100m or so, which must have frozen to death. We met Ari on board, who explained that the Mongolians had experienced a really harsh winter this year. She was travelling to Beijing to return to study and was great with Aoife, Orla and Seamus,
learning the rules to Happy Families and Dobble (the fabulous game made for us by Orsi , our ex-au pair)782 793798
On day 5 the dining car was changed to Mongolian restaurant, with beautiful carved decorations and Mongolian waiting staff who were more pleasant than our Russian friend.
When we crossed the Mongolian Chinese border (more checks and locked toilet for nearly 4 hours!) we had to change the bogey wheels as the tracks are a different size in China. As it was around midnight, we tried to sleep with lots of shunting and rocking late into night whilst the Chinese railway men listened to Simon and Garfunkel panpipe music very loudly.
The scenes out of our window included huge frozen rivers, small Chinese buildings as well as huge skyscrapers. The dining car had changed yet again, this time a Chinese style. We were given vouchers for our free breakfast at 6:30am and a free lunch at 9am!
We arrived, bang on time, after travelling over 8,000km and many time zones, ready for a shower and getting used to being on solid ground again, before exploring Beijing.

Author: threekidsintow

We are Caroline and Ian. We recently undertook an adventure, packing up everything and travelling with our three children. Our blog started as a way of capturing our memories of the preparation and interesting aspects of our journey. After a twist of fate, we're back in the UK much sooner than expected so who knows what's next for us now we're back home with our three kids in tow!

2 thoughts on “Trans-Mongolian across Russia/Siberia, Mongolia and China

  1. It’s wonderful to sit here cosily (well our heating has broken but I’m relatively cosy!) and read about your adventures. What resilience those in tow are building! And C & I will be able to write a great parenting book about getting things in perspective . Do you try to learn “Hello” in the different languages? Or wouldn’t the guards be impressed? L


    • Hi Linda, so far they’ve mastered hello and a few basics in French, Russian, Chinese and Japanese. So far our efforts have gone down ok, although I think it is because we are such a novelty. Mongolian was too tricky and we were just passing through, although we asked our newly-made friend Ari if she could do Mongolian Throat singing!


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