Cities on the Vodka Train – Trans Mongolian Railways

City Stops
Overland travel offers the intrepid traveller the opportunity to experience the heartbeat of every city they visit – and our destinations offer more backstreets than you can shake a stick at…

It’s noisy, smelly and expanding faster than Homer Simpson’s waistline, but Beijing still has an undeniable charm. Squashed between the high rises are pockets of hutong life: Buddhist temples tucked next to racy nightclubs, fresh hawker food sold in front of designer clothes stores. A city in the midst of an identity crisis, there’s a lot more to it than an old palace and that famous Wall…

Inner Mongolia (as opposed to Outer Mongolia, otherwise known as Mongolia)… home to passionate grassland nomads with a Chinese twist.

UB is the only capital city in the world where you can freeze, melt, survive a dust storm only to fall down a man-hole with no cover – all in one day! This eclectic city of decaying Soviet apartment blocks, monasteries and gers is dragging itself into the 21st century, but retains its sense of quirkiness and unpredictability… anyone for a wrestle?

Steppeing out
You only need to go a few kilometers out of the city to see a traditional culture unchanged since the Mongol hoards did their stuff. We stay in traditional ‘gers’ – felt huts used by the nomads – have the chance to ride with the local horsemen, explore the vast countryside (‘steppe’) and generally space out! Bring your boots and look out for those wooden saddles! Vodkatrain’s Ger Camp is situated in the stunning Terelj National Park, the playground for Ulaanbaatar’s frustrated city nomads.

Nestled between Mongolia’s ancient and modern capitals, the vision blurring pothole that is the main road stops at this isolated haven. Przwalski horses, sand dunes and stunning backdrops… we stay in gers (satellite dish optional) and take a breath.

Kharkhorin. Chinghis (Genghis to those outside Mongolia) Khan’s ancient capital and the site of one of the few monasteries to survive communism, Erdene Zuu. A spectacular arrangement of temples and stupas that warrants the ass breaking ride out there… see how the other half of Mongolia lives.

Forget the clichés – this is no gulag town. An impressive mix of traditional style and modern attitudes, this sleepy city offers traditional Russian hospitality, but laces it with a hefty shot of Siberian vodka when you’re not looking! Fortunately you can escape to nearby Lake Baikal for some fresh air and a sobering icy dip…

There are more statistics about Lake Baikal than you can shake a shaman’s stick at – but you’re going there to take a break not write a thesis! Staying in a lakeside village, you can steam away the grime of the long train ride in a traditional sauna, take a boat ride or explore along the original Trans-Sib railway line. Pack a sense of adventure as facilities are basic!

One of Russia’s more colourful cities, this is where the Americans ‘lost’ a spy plane in 1960, and the last Russian family (the Romanovs) lost considerably more a few decades earlier. With a burgeoning cafe culture and laid-back feel, this is the ideal spot to break that long train journey from Moscow to Irkutsk. Head out of town and make like Godzilla as you straddle two continents at the Asia/Europe border.

Russia, MOSCOW
Home of the Bolshoi, the Kremlin, and a lot of good stereotypes involving bread queues. Moscow is enjoying a renaissance – albeit more capitalist than cultural – and its charms should not be underestimated. Extensive renovation of the key attractions, a thriving underground club scene, and the ghosts of KGB agents combine to make this a most interesting place to loiter a while.

Peter the Great wanted it to be the ‘Venice of the North’ – and he did a pretty decent job. He got as far as the marble palaces and the grand avenue of Nevsky Prospect, but it took the inimitable Catherine the Great to create the world famous Hermitage museum and gallery. Always the home of intellectuals and liberal thinkers, today it is the centre of Russia’s alternative culture – and one of Europe’s most unusual live music scenes.

Uzbekistan, TASHKENT
At the heart of the Silk Road, Tashkent cleverly juggles its cultural and historical past, the soviet era’s impact and modern lifestyle of the 21st century. Although much of the Old City was lost to an earthquake, Tashkent still retains some of its ancient treasures, and visitors should not leave here without visiting the Chorsu Bazaar – the lively and loud spice market.

Uzbekistan, SAMARKAND
One of the most famous cities of the ancient Silk Roakd, Samarkand continues to cast its spell on travellers from across the globe. A city with over 2,500 years of history, the centerpiece of Samarkand is the ancient Registan, the famous 3 madrasahs inspire the most well-travelled explorers to delve deeper into the wonders of the ancient world. You’ll definitely be using your second memory stick here.

Uzbekistan, BUKHARA
Never heard of it? Perhaps you should have. This is one of the most enchanting and mesmerizing cities you will ever come across. Not much has changed since its creation 2,500 years ago, although Genghis Khan did his best and destroyed all but three monuments. After 800 years, Bukhara is still the perfect place to relax with your feet up as you eat some Rice Plov and witness a city in unchanged time.

Kazakstan, ALMATY
The former capital is now mostly famous for its parks, tree lined streets and the white caps of the Tien Shan that lurch over the city. A simple wander through its streets will reveal its many hidden treasures. With its abundance of shops, restaurants and clubs, you’ll want to kick back like a local and absorb yourself in the culture of the city.

Kazakstan, ARALSK
You probably won’t find Borat or his infamous sisters, however you will find a city with a rich Kazak culture, which will remind you just how far you are from home. Once a popular fishing city at the Aral Sea, the diminishing sea levels now make Aralsk the port of the shipwrecked; the many fishing boats that didn’t follow the stemming tide now lay aimlessly abandoned and basking in the Central Asian sun.

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