One day we had this crazy idea of going from Hong Kong, my wife’s home country, to France, my home country, by land. To spice things up, we were accompanied by Darian, our 2 year-old son. Our objective was to settle in Europe after 2 years traveling around the world, so we already had a bit of fatigue before starting the journey. The most worrying point of the trip was to take the Trans-Siberian train with our toddler. We were really worried how we would be able to stand more than 80 hours on the train with such an energetic young boy.
In anticipation, we decided to buy a few toys in Hong Kong and waited for the train ride a month later to introduce them to Darian. But what about the fact that we would take the Trans-Siberian without speaking any word of Russian?
This article is about our experience taking the Trans-Siberian train with our son in July 2019 and two different trains, second and third class.
Booking the tickets
We took the train around mid-July, which is the busiest period of the year. Prices are dynamic, so they are a little higher at that time. We booked our train on the Russian railway official website. The main problem is actually to book a seat early enough ! We were quite busy traveling in China and Mongolia, visiting the Shaolin Temple or camping on the Great Wall. I wanted to wait to get my Russian visa in Beijing before booking the ticket. In the end, we booked the tickets only 6 days before the departure. All the trains were already fully booked or atrociously expensive, so we improvised as we always do, and we booked two different trains to get from Irkutsk to Moscow.
We decided to stop in Omsk, as it is pretty much in the middle of these two cities, but since Hong Kong citizens can only stay in Russia visa-free for 14 days, we opted not to spend the night there. In front of us was a dreadful 81 hours in a train, eased by a 4-hour break.
Ticket for the first train : Irkutsk to Omsk
Irkutsk to Omsk – 5.03pm to 8.48am (Irkutsk time) : 1 day 15 hours 45 minutes – 2nd class carriage
This train was still available and cheap because the destination wasn’t as popular as Moscow or St-Petersburg. No, the destination was the city of Kislovodsk in the Caucasus region. The price difference between the second and the third class was so little that we opted for a bit more comfort.
We paid 4.765₽ (68€) per person, with the child being free since he’s just two-year-old.
Second train : Omsk to Moscow
Omsk to Moscow – 1.10pm to 6.15am (Irkutsk time), 8.10am to 1.15am (Moscow time) : 1 day 17 hours 5 minutes – 3rd class carriage
The options were limited to get to the capital, and we decided to book this train even though it meant arriving in Moscow at 1.15am. That’s clearly not the best time to arrive in such a big unknown city but well that’s part of traveling ! The price difference between the second and the third class was almost double, so we seized this opportunity to get to know the Russian third class despite HiuYing’s concerns. The two beds available were the worst of the carriage, right next to the toilets and in the pathway.
For this train we paid 4.433₽ which equaled to 63.25€ per person. Again, as it is the case on every train in Russia, our son was free.
In total we paid 131.25€ per adult to go from Irkutsk to Moscow and a 81-hour train ride. The child didn’t need a ticket.
81 hours on the Trans-Siberian train with a two-year-old, how did we survive?
We made a great job not thinking too much about it, but a few days before the start the stress was rising. How the hell are we going to keep a super active two and a half year old kid entertained for almost 4 days straight?
Our experience on the train :
The first train : Irkutsk to Omsk (40 hours)
We started our journey from Irkutsk after having the chance to explore the nearby majestic Baikal Lake. We stayed only a night in Irkutsk through Couchsurfing, and that morning we went twice to the supermarket in order to prepare enough food for at least the first train.
We brought cheese, many boiled eggs, rice crackers, oatmeal and enough bread to survive for a week.
Irkutsk was the starting point of the train, we took a cheap taxi through the Yandex app to get to the station and hopped in after having printed our tickets at the station.
The Russian 2nd class, named Kupe, is separated by multiple compartments inside the same carriage. There are 4 beds inside each compartment, and you can even lock the door for a maximum of privacy and safety at night. Two toilets are shared with the whole compartment, boiled water is available at all time as well as a few overpriced snacks. There’s also a restaurant carriage, we never used it since we knew that it was overpriced and not great.
After we entered the train a staff lady provided clean pillow case, two bed sheets and one small towel per person. You’ll need to do the rest by yourself.
We didn’t know how to behave at first, two persons were sharing the compartment with us and one of them was very sick. Since we had the upper beds, we were scared to seat on their bottom beds, even though it’s just the norm here. Not much contact with them, and they left in the middle of the first night, which meant we had the cabin for ourselves until the late morning, when two ladies joined at the first main stop. They were very friendly, always invited us to sit and leaving space to eat. They also shared lots of food with our kid, who quickly developed an addiction to Russian biscuits.
Overall our son was well accepted, many other kids were in the same carriage and he went to play with most of them. We couldn’t communicate, but people were usually friendly and smiley to us.
Thanks to the numerous breaks on the trip, I went to buy things outside multiple times, such as chicken and I even went to the supermarket during a 40-minute break in a small town. There I managed to buy these Russian biscuits. The train makes numerous stops, most of the time for just a minute or two, but sometimes for 20, 30 and even 40 to 50 minutes. There are little kiosks right next to the track, but they are overpriced and sell mostly drinks and snacks.
We slept very well for the second night, and we arrived in the early morning to Omsk, our disembarkation point.
In Omsk a Couchsurfer met us at the station even though it was 6.48am!! Previously, we had opened a public trip on Couchsurfing, and Victor sent us a message in order to help us in our journey. We walked to his place, where we were able to charge the phone and computer’s battery, eat a quick breakfast and go to the supermarket while HiuYing went to a kids’ playground. Most importantly we were pleased to finally take a SHOWER ! Of course on the train it isn’t possible, so we had to settle for baby wipes, but wow, a warm shower just feels so much better !
The supermarket was small and I didn’t buy much things, unfortunately I’ll regret my decision later, because the second train didn’t stop as much as the first one !
4 hours later we were back at the station, where our train to Moscow was waiting for us. It was full of young military in our carriage. As mentioned before, we had two very bad, being two upper beds near the toilet. It was a rough transition from the comfort of the 2nd class.
I wrote a lot on the computer during that afternoon, then things started to heat up, Darian broke the ice, people started to talk and invited us to sit. They shared some food with us, and soon after I was playing cards with them. Google Translate helped me a lot there, as no-one was really speaking English! But thankfully, smile is universal.
The next morning we woke up early, because our son had pooed. Unfortunately, it leaked a bit, on the bed sheet. I had to clean it in the toilet before giving it back to the staff. They didn’t give me a replacement, but at first they gave always 2 bed sheet. One of it is actually supposed to be use as a blanket, but well we used it as a bed sheet for the second night.
We were quite concerned about not being able to feed Darian enough, but in the end he probably ate more than usual. We just have nothing else to do inside, so we definitely didn’t forget any moment to eat!
The second day we played cars all together again, talked once again thanks to the precious translator. They were quite interested in our story, and we shared with them our experience hitchhiking in Europe or camping on the Great Wall of China. A young girl decided to give me an interview for a local media of Smolensk, a city located near Belarus and also her work place. She told me it was unusual to meet English-speakers, especially traveling around the world with a kid. It was a fun moment even though I never got the chance to see the result !
Finally in the afternoon we stopped long enough for me to go to the supermarket. I had more than one hour to shop and I even went to eat in a restaurant. I came back soon after and was able to share some food with our new friends before saying good bye!
We slept one last time until arriving in Moscow, at 1.15am local time ! As soon as we went down the train, Darian asked us for another train ride. 81 hours weren’t enough to quench his love for trains! But that’s it for us, we were finally out of the Trans-Siberian train! We were thinking to sleep a bit at the station, but our Couchsurfing host told us before hand that he would be awake at this time, and there wouldn’t be any harm if we come straight to his place. So we quickly walked towards the exit, ordered a Yandex taxi and arrived to our host’s place at 2am. Finally, a shower and a bed. That’s all we wanted.
Welcome back to Europe ! We made it, Moscow…