The Trans-Siberian: Manchuria and Mongolian journeys Travel Guide

Once you decide to take the magical journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway, the next thing you have to decide is where to go. At the city of Ulan Ude, the Trans-Siberian Railway splits into two major parts. The Trans-Manchurian Line takes travelers through China to Beijing. The Trans-Mongolian line will take you on a more rustic and meandering route through Mongolia before eventually taking you to Beijing. Undecided on which way to travel? Check out this guide on the many destinations of the Trans-Siberian railway.

The Trans-Manchurian Line

Also known as the China Far East Railway, the Trans-Manchurian line of the Trans-Siberian railway takes travelers from Moscow to Beijing. There's much to see along the journey. So much, in fact that while direct trips are possible, many travelers opt to buy their tickets in stages to allow time to visit the cities along the way.

One of the most popular stops along the Trans-Manchurian line is Changchun. This far Eastern Chinese city is a bustling, safe metropolis and trade center with roughly 7.5 million residents. Visitors to Changchun frequent its large, scenic parks like Shengli Park that offers petting zoos, bumper cars, boating and water sports in summer and skating in winter. Or for more urban fun, visit Wenhua Square and take in the Japanese architecture or take an audio tour of the nearby Puppet Imperial Palace where scenes from the 1987 film The Last Emperor were filmed.

Harbin is slightly smaller than Changchun with only about 6 million residents. But what Harbin lacks in size it more than makes up for in beauty. Visitors are floored by Harbin's unique architecture built in European, Chinese and Russian styles. St. Sofia Orthodox Church, the Dragon Tower and Zhongyang Dajie attract many tourists and locals every year. After you're done sightseeing, you can visit Yabuli International Ski Resort, visit the Ice Lantern Garden Party, or see the many ice sculptures erected in the winter. In summer, Harbin's many parks and its Sun Island Scenic Area offer plenty to see and do.

Manzhouli is another Chinese city with a small, comfortable population of around 300,000. Visitors stop at Manzhouli on their Trans-Siberian adventure to experience the art, architecture and people of a city that is a unique mix of Chinese, Russian and Mongolian cultures.

One of Manzhouli's main attractions is the one-of-a-kind Matryoshka Doll Square. This 9,000 square foot central square features exuberant design, regular activities a 90-foot tall Russian doll at its center. In winter, locals and visitors enjoy the Manzhouli Ice & Snow Festival that runs from February to March. Wherever they go, tourists are most impressed with the friendly nature of the locals and the many unique souvenirs available for sale.

The Trans-Mongolian Line

The Trans-Mongolian Line takes travelers from Ulan Ude to Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia. Unlike the Trans-Manchurian line, there are fewer big cities to stop in on the way. But the small towns that do dot the Trans-Mongolian line offer lots to see in the way of culture, unique architecture and beautiful scenery. As on the Trans-Manchurian line, many Trans-Mongolian travelers break up their trip to visit the scenic places that dot the way.

Sükhbaatar is one of the first stops along the Trans-Mongolian line. This Mongolian city sits right at the juncture between the Gobi Desert and the steppes of Dornod. Visitors to this scenic city have the advantage of seeing both in one stop. Here, 200 extinct volcanoes, ancient statues, shifting sand, stark rock and lush grasslands -- frequented by gazelles -- meet and encourage visitors to camp out, trek and take guided tours to take in the beauty. Watching the sunrise from Shiliin Bogd Uul is a popular tourist activity and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Further down the Trans-Mongolian line is the Mongolian City of Darkhan. At this stop, tourists will find a small but lively town with a rich culture. Visit the Karagiin Buddhist monastery or the Museum of Darkhan-Uul to see a vast collection of archaeological findings, traditional clothing, taxidermy and various artefacts. Wherever you go or stay, you're sure to soak up the regional culture and come away with unforgettable experiences.

Erenhot is another fascinating stop located just across the border from Mongolia in neighboring China. This wonderful city is one of the busiest on the Trans-Mongolian line. Even visitors who merely stay for the train's brief layover can soak up a lot of culture by visiting the hotels and restaurants around the station.

Those that stay longer can venture further into the city. Tourists particularly enjoy Erenhot's dinosaur museum. The area around the town is a favourite haunt of palaeontologists because of the vast number of fossils found there. Many of the unique unearthed specimens are displayed in the local museum.

Trans-Siberian Travel Tips

Whether you devote a couple days' touring to each city on the many stops between Moscow and Beijing, or make one continual journey, there are a few things it pays to know. These insider tips will help make your visit that much more comfortable:

-There are many trains on the Trans-Siberian, Trans-Manchurian and Trans-Mongolian lines. Even among individual routes, not all journeys are the same. The general rule is the lower the number of the train you're on the fewer stops it makes.
-Pack snacks. There will be plenty of food in your train's dining car. But it is often over-priced and sub-standard. At stops, you may find grocery stores, kiosks or restaurants but they may be unpalatable or few and far between. To supplement, many travelers prefer to take energy bars and other snacks with them.
-Pack warm-weather and cold-weather clothes. Whichever route you take, you'll encounter cold temperatures that you'll want to wrap up for. But the interior of the train is well-heated. Dress in light layers inside the train. On days when you go out, dress in easy-to-remove layers so you'll be comfortable indoors and out.
-Don't be afraid to disembark. Most areas are tourist-friendly. And trains come by so frequently that waiting on the next trip won't delay your trip much longer than a day or so.

Now that you know the ins and outs of the Trans-Siberian railway, you can travel with confidence. Take the scenic express route to Beijing or use the railway as an opportunity to absorb the unique culture of the area.

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