Wanderlust Wendy

Trans-Siberian Journey Part 4: Ulaanbaatar to Irkutsk

Our train departing from Ulaanbaatar was already at the station when we arrived, but boarding didn’t begin until around 30 minutes before departure. When booking this trip, I booked second class for journeys that are around 24 hours or less, so for this 23-hour leg, we were in second class. 

Old World Charm

Our sleeping quarter
Old school water boiler. Key to making that morning coffee!

The 305 train is markedly older than our ride from Beijing, but it has that old world charm. The interiors of the train are lined with well-worn wood and metal. Even though it’s old, everything is functional. In second class, there are 4 beds to a cabin. I booked the top and bottom bunks on the same side for me and Xav. Two Chilean travellers arrived shortly after. They became our travel companions for the evening. 

Our train cart also hosted a group of Chinese/Mongolian tourists,  who were full of energy and were walking up and down the carts chatting and snapping photos. So far on this trip, I haven’t been far from Chinese tourists. My people really are everywhere. The energy from this train is much more lively than the first journey that was filled with mostly European tourists. 

Border Control

We settled into our bunks and passed time by reading, napping, and snacking. Around 10pm, we pulled into the Mongolian side of border control. Agents boarded the train, we showed passports, and they routinely looked through our luggages. The process was straight forward. 

The train continued for 15-20 minutes, then came the Russian border. This time was much more comprehensive. The process took over an hour, and our passports were checked no less than 5 times. 

There were agents who came into the cabin to check every nooks and cranny. Although it’s such a small space that I wasn’t sure what he’s checking for. Another agent asked us to open up our luggages. Finally, a non-uniformed agent came by to ask questions about our stay in Russia. This seemingly intense man made a joke with Xavier about his name being in the movie X-man. That joke dissipated any tension in the air. Border agents are human after all. 

Our Chilean friends were great conversationalists and we kept each other entertained throughout the long border-crossing process. The duo has both been traveling for over 8 months. They shared travel stories in China, and we shed insights on lives there as expats. Meeting other travellers is one of the great joy of traveling. They normalise the nomadic lifestyle, and inspire us to explore new destinations. 

Good Morning, Russia

When we woke up in the morning, our Chilean friends had already gotten off the train in Ulan-Ude. Since the train doesn’t arrive in Irkutsk until 2:30pm, we had the cabin to ourselves for the day. 

I made myself a cup of coffee in my collapsable silicone travel cup. As I sipped on my coffee, our train reached the infamous Lake Baikal, the largest freshwater lake in the world. The view was breath-taking. I counted my blessings to be able to wake up in such a tranquil setting. 

Along the glistening blue water lined wooden houses  and large pine forests. Idyllic Russian villages appeared one after another, until we reached the sprawling town of Irkutsk. We arrived around 2pm. Thank goodness to international roaming and Google Maps, I quickly found that we could take the local tram for $1 to our hostel. And off we went to explore our first stop in Russia!

Planning your own Trans-Siberian journey? Check out the complete summary from our journey and pre-departure planning tips!

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