Arrive at Vladivostok Airport, where you will be met and transferred to the centrally located four-star Hotel Hyundai. We will enjoy a welcome reception dinner at our hotel, whilst you meet your fellow travellers and anticipate the 15 day voyage that lies ahead.
Vladivostok is a military port, located on the western shores of the Sea of Japan and is home to the Russian Navy’s Pacific Fleet. Due to its military importance, the city was closed to foreigners between 1930 and 1992. Vladivostok (literally translated as ‘Ruler of the East’) offers visitors an interesting opportunity to explore its principal military attractions including a visit to a preserved World War Two submarine. Our city tour will also take us to the iconic suspension bridge over Golden Horn Bay, one of the largest of its kind worldwide, which opened in 2012 for the APEC conference.
Following a champagne reception at Vladivostok Railway Station, and with a military band playing on the platform, we will board the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express. After settling into our modern, stylish cabins we enjoy dinner in the restaurant car as our rail adventure westwards begins.
Located 15 miles (25 kilometres) from the border with China, Khabarovsk stretches along the banks of the Amur River. Khabarovsk was founded as a military post in 1858, but the region had been populated by several indigenous peoples of the Far East for many centuries. It is now a busy city with tree-lined streets.
Located next to the station we will pass the memorial to Yerofey Pavlovich Khabarov, the Far East explorer the city is named after, and see the impressive World War Two memorial to the fallen soldiers. We will also have time at the Regional Museum where the local history has been well-preserved with a rich collection of artefacts describing the cultural and natural history of the region.
Sovetskaya Gavan, formerly Imperial Gavan (or Harbour), is situated to the north of Khabarovsk and is the eastern terminus of the Baikal-Amur mainline and therefore our starting point on the BAM. It has one of the best natural harbours of far eastern Russia and from 1950 until 1954, the town was the site of the prison gulag camp Ulminlag.
From here we travel the short distance north to Vanino, a relatively new town built in 1944 and home to transit labour camps for the goldfields. We will also visit Vysokorgonaya, a gold mining and logging town that was a centre for Japanese prisoners of war. Most of the town was built by these prisoners and the railway station itself has a very distinctive architecture built in the form of a Japanese temple.
Komsomolsk reflects the majestic and expansive urban architecture of the Soviet era, including the stupendous Pervostroitelei Avenue, 80 metres wide and lined with 1970s and 1980s blocks with Soviet store fronts and signage intact, with parks and playgrounds hidden behind it. The city was also the gulag capital of the Russian Far East, with over 900,000 prisoners estimated to have passed through its camps.
Today offers the perfect opportunity to practice your improving Russian or watch a DVD as you watch the world pass by. For those who like to socialise, the Bar Lounge Car is the perfect place to enjoy a chat with your fellow passengers as you listen to our resident musician.
Heading west we visit Tynda. With a population of around 40,000, it is the largest town for over 300 miles in any direction. It was built to be the administrative centre for the construction of the BAM route during the 1970s and our visit to a local museum gives us a fascinating insight into the building of this line.
Among Russian historians, the name of Nerchinsk is associated with a late 17th century treaty that defined the border between Russia and China. Bypassed by the building of the Trans-Siberian line, Nerchinsk leads a forgotten existence with just a few reminders of its more illustrious past. Central to the town’s heritage is the Butin Palace Museum, a palace adorned with huge mirrors. Stretensk is also a community that survives far from the beaten track of the main Trans-Siberian line and offers a rare and exclusive opportunity for our guests to see how families exist and livelihoods are maintained despite the isolation from major conurbations in this remotest part of Siberia.
Our visit to Irkutsk, the ‘Paris of Siberia’, takes in the most significant sites and museums in this fascinating city, including an exploration of the classic wooden architecture with its intricately carved lace- like decorations that has given many of this region’s buildings such a distinctive and unique appearance. We also visit the Volkonsky House Museum, which is dedicated to the memory of the aristocrats who were exiled to this remote outpost after the failed Decembrists uprising of 1825, and we recreate the atmosphere of that time with a champagne reception and private concert.
You could learn to cook some traditional Russian dishes with a local chef and prepare your own lunch with our Freedom of Choice option. Or you might also wish to visit a traditional Russian Dacha (summer house) or an urban apartment to get an insight into the everyday life of an average Russian family.
Please note: Freedom of Choice touring options may be subject to variations dependent on finalised train timings and local weather conditions.
Few natural sights can surpass the beauty and grandeur of Lake Baikal and is a major highlight on our Trans-Siberian journey. Lake Baikal is the deepest lake in the world and holds 20 per cent of the world’s freshwater. Also known as the ‘Pearl of Siberia’ it is home to a unique breed of freshwater seal and over 50 species of fish including omul. For five hours we wind our way through tunnels along cliff hugging tracks above the lake with a vista of snow capped peaks along the far shore forming a picture-perfect backdrop, with a full appreciation of the engineering achievement which produced this part of the railway in the early twentieth century. To add to the grandeur of the day our Golden Eagle train will be hauled by a Soviet Era steam locomotive on this beautiful section of line. There will be plenty of opportunities to take photographs as the train winds its way along the lake. This will be an unforgettable part of your journey.
Weather permitting, we stop in an extremely picturesque location by the lake for photographic opportunities and for the brave hearted there is time for a refreshing swim in the crystal clear and ice-cold waters of Baikal. Travelling onwards to the end of the Baikal branch line, we leave the train and travel by boat on the lake to Listvyanka, a small Baikal settlement nestling at the base of the surrounding hills and visit the Lake Baikal Museum and Aquarium where you can learn about the flora and fauna of the lake.
We will enjoy a delicious barbecue prepared by our own chefs, including freshly smoked omul fish, in the delightful covered dining area on the shore of Lake Baikal to complete a memorable day.
As part of our Freedom of Choice excursion programme you can choose a hiking opportunity up Chersky Mount, or you can choose to take the chair lift, which offers some spectacular and panoramic hillside views of the grandeur of the lake below.
The ethnic and cultural diversity of Ulan Ude, the capital of the Buryat Republic, offers a unique insight into its heritage. As we tour the area you will notice the different faces of these welcoming Buryat people. During our exploration of the Old Believers’ Village we have the opportunity to learn about the culture and history of these religious people as we are treated to a concert featuring local traditions and folk singing.
Our rail adventure finally takes us into Mongolia and a three night stay in its capital, Ulaan Baatar. Mongolia, once the very centre of an enormous empire led by Genghis Khan, is a country of beautiful landscapes and nomadic people, rich in culture and history. Mongolia is famous for its endless green Steppes, grazing livestock and white, nomadic Gers (Yurts) dotted all across the countryside.
We conduct a short tour of Ulaan Baatar visiting the Gandan Monastery, one of the most important Buddhist Monasteries in Mongolia housing a community of over 500 monks. The full name, Gandantegchinlen, translates as the great place of complete joy. At Chinggis Square (formerly Sukhbaatar Square) we can see the central monument to Genghis Khan; undoubtedly the most feared and revered Mongol.
On the first day of the Naadam Festival, we observe the elaborate opening ceremony which consists of local dancers, athletes, horse riders and musicians, before travelling outside Ulaan Baatar to watch the national horse race. The competitors in the riding events are all children between five and twelve, many of whom have been in the saddle since the age of one. As they race along the plains for 20 kilometres, thousands of spectators line the remote track to watch up to 1,000 horses with children sitting confidently astride their small but sturdy Mongolian steed. It is claimed such equestrian skills won Genghis Khan an empire that stretched from the Sea of Japan all the way to Europe.
In the evening we will enjoy a performance of traditional Mongolian throat singing and contortionists.
This is a unique opportunity to be among the few non-Mongolians to experience the spectacular, but little known, Naadam Festival and soak up the exciting atmosphere of this national holiday. Once a religious ceremony, the festival now formally commemorates the 1921 revolution when Mongolia declared itself a free country. In recent times, women have been allowed to enter and they now compete in two of the three events, horse racing and archery.
Today is the day for all the main competitions and will attend the archery, wrestling and ankle-bone shooting events.
Breakfast is served in the hotel and transfers are provided to the airport for departing flights.
Due to the popularity of the period around the Naadam Festival we reserve accommodation for our guests at a number of the best hotels in Ulaan Baatar including the Kempinski and Ramada. Please note, we cannot guarantee your preferred choice of hotel