Svezhy Veter Travel Agency
426000 Izhevsk Karla Marxa 228a, Russia
There are various ways to book tickets for the Trans-Siberian train. We had read stories about people who just turn up and buy once they’re in the country as this is one way to obtain tickets at the cheapest price. On the flipside, by doing this you risk not being able to find tickets for your preferred departure date.
We were taking some fairly expensive camera equipment with us and thought that traveling in a first class compartment would be a safer way to go. We also needed to be in Japan within about a month of leaving Moscow so we decided that buying our tickets in advance would probably be the most sensible thing to do.
We found the Svezhy Veter Travel Agency through online and guidebook research and they looked like an established company. The final price, which was close to $1,000 per person for the entire trip, was a little higher than we would have liked, but when you consider all that this included it wasn’t too terrible. In addition to the actual train travel all the way from Moscow to Beijing and organizing our two stops along the way, the price included the six nights accommodation on board the trains as well as two meals a day for the three days we were on board the Baikal train from Moscow to Irkutsk. The final ticket price is dependent on how many stops you make (it’s cheaper if you don’t make any at all) and also on the level of accommodation you choose.
There are other companies that arrange package tours for the train journey. One company, called "Vodka Train" caters to the 18-34 year old age group. We met four people traveling on this tour and whilst they traveled on their own on the train, assigned guides met them at each stop. They had to share a four-person compartment but were fortunate in that their group size was small and they all seemed to get along so well.
There was a mixture of other ages and nationalities on the trains, some like us who had arranged their tickets and accommodation independently, and others who were traveling in small groups and had tour guides meeting them at each stop.
Our first point of contact with Svezhy Veter Travel Agency was to email them with the dates we hoped to travel on. We wanted to leave Moscow around April 29th and make stops in Irkutsk and Ulan Baatar so they advised us on taking the following schedule and calculated our ticket price from this:
29th APRIL - Train 002 "Rossiya" leaving Moscow at 21:22 and arriving in Irkutsk on 3rd May at 02:33 Moscow time (All the trains in Russia run on Moscow time, irrespective of where you are!) OR Train 010 "Baikal" leaving Moscow at 23:29 and arriving in Irkutsk on 3rd May at 04:30 (which was 9.30am local time).
5th MAY - Train 364 leaving Irkutsk at 15:10 (local time) and arriving in Ulan Baatar at 06:20 two days later.
11th MAY - Train 024 leaving Ulan Baatar at 08:05 (local time) and arriving in Beijing at 3.30pm the following day.
Once we confirmed the trains and dates with them, we pre-paid for the tickets by credit card. It was somewhat disconcerting having to pay the full amount up front to a company half way around the world but I guess we can vouch for their honesty now!
Our schedule funnily enough followed exactly that of the Vodka Train group. If you have more time, I would definitely recommend spending more time in Mongolia than we did. There isn’t much more to do in Listvianka than we covered in our two days although if you go during the summertime, there are greater opportunities for hiking and camping at other parts of Lake Baikal which could extend your stop there out to a week or more.
Tickets for the Trans-Siberian are only issued 40-45 days prior to the travel dates. Given our travel plans, we arranged with the Svezhy Veter Travel Agency to pick up our onward tickets at each stop. We were sent email instructions with details of where we should go in Moscow and Irkutsk to pick up our tickets and who we should ask for. It all felt akin to a reality TV treasure hunt but when we arrived at the various offices, our tickets were waiting for us. The only time we experienced any problems was with the tickets from Irkutsk to Ulan Baatar. There is no first class section on this train so in order to have the compartment to ourselves, we paid for all four berths but had mistakenly only received two tickets. It was resolved eventually but involved a long and painful drive across Irkutsk where the rush hour traffic is unbelievably bad! Fortunately in Ulan Baatar we had the option of having the tickets delivered to our youth hostel, which we gratefully accepted.
Overall, purchasing and obtaining the tickets through Svezhy Veter was easier than it would have been trying to negotiate with our limited Russian language at the Moscow train station. Admittedly it costs more, but we were able to lock in all our departure dates without having to worry about whether we would be get a bunk or not. Trains across Siberia and Mongolia are not a daily occurrence so booking ahead, especially if you want to make stops in more remote towns in Siberia and Mongolia is probably a good idea.
If you do book through Svezhy Veter (or any agency for that matter) I’d strongly recommend asking them exactly what your ticket includes. We met a friendly, English-speaking Russian on the Baikal train who examined our tickets and after checking with the provodnitsa, informed us that we were entitled to two complimentary meals a day in the dining car. Svezhy Veter had made no mention of this to us, which seemed like a major omission of information. Even though their booking service is efficient I got the sense that their system is so standardized that beyond giving us the ticket pick-up details, they neglect to provide any additional information to their customers. It seems like it would be a courteous and helpful gesture if they provided their customers with a leaflet or email with Trans-Siberian advice and tips such as the one we received from the HOFA homestay organization in St. Petersburg.