14 independent reviews for Trans Siberian railway tour WBRL4 star rating

These full and frank independent reviews are from travellers who have booked directly through responsibletravel.com. They are not edited by us or any of the companies we work with. Find the real story, from real travellers below.

Bindi Shah review 28 Mar 20121 star rating

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?



2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?



• Trip notes are inaccurate and out of date – we appreciate that things change, however the notes didn’t include updates to the trip that were in cases more than 6 months out of date.. Do not rely on the trip notes or choose this operator on this basis.

• Our group leader was inexperienced and had only been to the countries on our trip once before us, when he was simply shadowing another group leader.

• The group leader added no value to the trip, do not be fooled by this, as we were, when deciding to do the Trans Mongolian trip through this operator rather than Vodka Train or other providers. They also use local agents at every destination to sort out everything so why pay extra for a group leader who does nothing?

• Despite telling the operator about our dietary requirements, being vegetarian, several times prior to and during our trip, we were lied to (told by the local guide that our food had been cooked separately) and then fed meat! Simply unacceptable.

• The Group Leader was not aware of what we were expecting (i.e. based on the trip notes) and so we were found ourselves being surprised constantly. He struggled to communicate properly with the group.

• We were often on parts of the trip with another travel group and what they seemed to get was a much more professional service. Their group leader seemed to be on the ball, adding value to their trip – e.g. providing them information on whether there would be a food coach on the train or not, when passport checks would happen, helping them with immigration forms etc etc.

• The local guides we had varied greatly – a few were fantastic, while others were so poor, that we wondered why they even came with us. For example our local guide for the Great Wall, had never walked up to the Great Wall and had only taken the cable car, so when we asked how long the walk would take, he could not answer us. As above, another lied to us about our meal and decided to bring his wife along for the trip and a free feed, guess she would have eaten our share.

• It wasn’t simply a case of a bad trip leader, our experience with the entire organisation found nobody wanting to take responsibility for several mistakes, a fight to try and get anything fixed and a ruined holiday as a result. Think twice before paying up for a holiday with this operator.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


The operator try and claim that they are a “responsible” travel company, but they are far from it. One of the visits, to the Old Believer’s Village, just seemed like a big set up. The Lotus Children’s centre, cafe and Kindergarten that we were supposed to visit in Mongolia, did not happen. We were only told this by our group leader literally on the day we thought we were going to start this particularly visit.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Read the operator's response here:

We do strive to make sure everything in our trip notes as up to date, however things do rapidly change which means occasionally the smaller changes will not immediately be visible within our documents. We are working on updating all of our trips with a new content management system, and hope to publish the improved versions of trip notes over the coming months for all trips to ensure inaccuracy is not longer an issue.

The concerns that were raised about your leader were taken very seriously, and were investigated fully by our operations manager. We take great pride in our recruitment and training program. Once a leader is recruited they undergo an intensive week of training covering all of the technical aspects of leading and this is followed by a training trip in which we focus on practical training. We believe that this combination of formal classroom learning and practical on the road training allows our leaders to observe and understand group dynamic and customer service as well as the administrative aspects of the job. We are sorry you felt this about the leader we have received a number of feedbacks from other travellers who have travelled with him and while the comments have varied widely, including a number of travellers who rated him as excellent overall, they did not share similar concerns.

This is clearly disappointing and being a vegetarian that has travelled in this region I understand the difficulties on a personal level. As you would be aware, vegetarianism is not really understood in some parts of the world, but whatever the case, your tour operators are there to respond to your distress. Both your tour leader and local leader did take this issue seriously and are upset that it did not come across this way at the time. An agreement had been made with the local operators to have vegetarian food prepared and your tour leader had confirmed this. We do run this trip successfully for other vegetarians, so we feel they have communicated the message of vegetarian options to the local operator. This will be re-communicated. We are only able to apologise that the operator in the end did not provide the option nor were able to offer an alternative on the spot once the error was realised. Your tour leader did confirm he did later offer to find some food in another place.

We have been in touch with your local guides to inform them that it is not acceptable to have family members on any part of the trip with passengers. The guides will be able to learn from the techniques that your tour leader employed in explanation regarding the time/distance during an activity (Great Wall).

While we never like to receive complaints it is through feedback that we can assess our strengths and weaknesses and consider any changes that need to be made. Your feedback was taken very seriously and the issues you raised have been investigated fully in conjunction with our team in China and Russia.

Responsible travel is very important to us and as an industry leader in sustainable travel it is at the forefront of everything we do. Since opening our doors in 1989 we have been dedicated to a style of travel that is culturally, environmentally and socially responsible. We support and work closely with the homeless and children and teenagers through our two foundation charities, Nochlezhka and Upsala Circus. We are sorry to hear you did not enjoy your visit to the Old Believer's village, having looked into the matter further and looking into the feedback from your fellow travelers on the tour they did not share similar concerns, we do however apologise that you were unable to partake in an activity that you thought would be included. Trip notes are managed from our head office, so a communication error meant this update was not made on all of the documentation. Your leader was probably not aware that the notes produced by head office might have said something different. This is an oversight and the details will be updated.

Samantha Thomas review 15 Aug 20115 star rating

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


It's hard to choose but it's definitely a choice between the home stay with the Buryat family on the shores of Lake Baikal or the night out under the stars with the Nomad family near Hustai National Park. Of course, having a brilliant guide really helped too!

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Don't think twice - just do it! Pack light, if you think you won't need it, you probably won't. Make sure the pair of shoes you take are super comfortable. Download metro maps for St Petersburg and Moscow before leaving.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


I hope so! It was certainly a much better experience for the stays in small hostels and with families, and they were the places where the best memories came from.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


An absoloutely incredible trip. Super company, fantastic guide, wonderful scenery, amazing food... It really was a perfect holiday.

Richard Morris review 23 Sep 20114 star rating

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Visiting Countries that I have never visited before.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


I hope you like vodka and close encounters of the human kind.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


Not particularly.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


It was a challenge but overall it was fantastically organised and executed by an excellent and ethical Tour Operator. I would recommend you guys to all my friends.

Julia Ware review 25 Jun 20105 star rating

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Going to Suzdal for the walking tour and the wooden village, also camping for a night in a Ger in Mongolia beautiful National Park.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Make the most of each day, with trips and sight seeing. In Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar be careful, especially when it's dark. There are many desperate people looking for money. Realy important if you leader recomends somewhere, really try and do it, they have done it before and if they think you would like it you probably will.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


It benifited the local people in the remote, village area's of the trip not so much in the towns and cities, but you felt they made more of an effort to make and sell things they have made.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Totally amazing, had the best group ever!!!!! and the greatest leader of all times!!!!! We are going to look in a few years to do more of china and winter in Russia, hopefully with the same group of people.

Richard Coombes review 25 Sep 20104 star rating

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Meeting new people with whom I got on extremely well.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Remember you have a choice as to how to see your fellow-travellers, and how to react to conditions along the way. Decide to see the good in people and to laugh at inconvenience.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


I suppose the hostesses with whom we stayed in Moscow and Baikal benefited. Hard to quantify otherwise.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Very positive - better than I dared hope before setting out. The following could be considered: A. Remove the Vladimir leg, or at least improve the timing of the travel. We got off the train groaningly early in the morning and the tour around Suzdal was not really sparkling enough to compensate. B. Is there really no alternative to getting a train leaving Moscow for Irkutsk at 13.35? Basically we lost the whole of that day in Moscow. C. Consider 2 nights in Ger camp and only 1 in the dust bowl that is Ulaanbaatar. Finally, I think we would all welcome clarity over why we lost our leader in Mongolia. Different stories abounded, and no-one from the operator (apart from Max himself) sought to explain or reassure us.

Alan Kay review 13 Jul 20104 star rating

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Staying in a "Yurt" in a Ger camp in Mongolia, was the most amazing time that I can remember. Everything was so well organised, even to the young girls who came around at 10pm to light our stove.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Have a sense of humour, patience when things you are not use to happens, and involve yourselves in all of the activities. Make sure to bring a sink plug for the train. A pre-paid travel money card is definitely the way to carry money

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


I hope so, the operator is very strong on this issue, and our tour leader was excellent in explaining the various ways in which we as a group could help.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


A most enjoyable way to spend 21 days travelling from St. Petersburg to Beijing on a train with like minded people.

Andrew Service review 26 Oct 20094 star rating

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Mongolia and the trip to the Ger District.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Be patient on the trains.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


Yes to a small extent.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Excellent good value for money.

Jessica Dromgoole review 17 Sep 20094 star rating

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


So many choices... Taking a boat at 1am to watch the bridges open in St Petersburg. The Museum of the Revolution in Moscow. Wandering through Suzdal with an old woman who adopted me. The banya in Listvianka. Horseriding in the ger camp. Seeing the Great Wall for the first time.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Take vitamins. Russian and Mongolian food is very high on stodge. Take nice facewipes. The train toilet is awful even when it's at its best and it's the only place to wash. Be ready for extreme temperature changes from within to outside of the train.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


We did feel that, although it was sometimes hard to avoid using plastic bottles even when we were trying.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


It was a great holiday, full of new and exciting adventures. The group was more prominent than we'd expected, and the leader not great, which was good for my teenage daughter, less good for me.

Ian Daniels review 31 Aug 20094 star rating

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


To view Lenin in his mausoleum was an incredible experience. (Remembering how difficult it was to even find information about the USSR or Russia during the Cold War..because they were portrayed as "so bad" ...it is still amazing to find international relationships really are so much better these days.) Absolutely loved Saint Petersburg (will be going back there!). The train is a great relaxer - but the time still seemed to fly!

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Understand the comments about culture shock etc are very conservative. We were very surprised at how easy everything was and how good the accommodation was. The worst room we had was better than we had expected for the best. The entire trip is now fairly "mainstream" - with English understood by a large number of people with whom we interacted. Plan for the cold and wet - the weather was much cooler than we expected for summer.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


Tourism generally would seem to provide financial input to the areas (especially of benefit in Mongolia) and the interaction of ideas probably makes any move back to totalitarianism much more difficult. The way the particular holiday was organised seemed to be sensitive to the environment - but clearly the locals are "geared to tourists". The level of "restoration" of buildings etc and the amount of new infrastructure means that tourist sites in these areas are generally about the concept, size and colour of historical buildings rather than seeing the originals.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Very good. Easier than expected - so less of an adventure and more of a holiday. The guide for the tour was very good at her role.

Recommendations/issues (where is the spot for these on this form?)... The issue of inappropriate behaviour by one of the guest house owners needs to be addressed. The local tour guides were generally very good - but seemed to stay with the script rather than react with empathy. Examples (a) When the group were much more interested in seeing things than hearing about the history, continuing the history lesson for nearly half an hour was not good (especially when it could have been done during the bus ride just prior). (b) When many members of this group and the previous group had been sick, there was a pretense by that it was the first time - whereas quicker action to have everyone back in town may have been a much better response. Despite that, it was overall very good.

Georgina Wright review 24 Feb 20094 star rating

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


All of it was very entertaining & memorable. I think the highlight was the standard of some of the accommodation. It was surprisingly excellent!

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


To go! The group size was just right & the guide Nitu, excellent. If you are a woman then be aware that you may well get some hassle & some inappropriate proposals. I would recommend that women always stay in pairs or larger groups

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


I think so as we ate locally & used local transport where possible. We were also looked after when people tried to unfairly over inflate the price for us, a factor which I thought was very important. We were also given lots of advice regarding beggars etc & I felt that this info was very helpful. It helped me understand local customs etc much better.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Of all the organised tours I have done (and there have been quite a few) this was the best!

David McGuigan review 9 Oct 20084 star rating

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Meeting the people.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Book it but be prepared to spend a lot of times with strangers who you may have nothing in common.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


I hope so.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Excellent. The guide was excellent. His enthusiasm and dedication to the job was a credit to his company.

Marie-Pierre Blanchette review 5 Oct 20084 star rating

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


I will take home with me many great memories, that will stay with me forever: our excursion at Lake Baikal with the very nice local guide Genia and the lovely stay at Nadia's is one of my favorite. Also worth mentioning: the amazing and tasty food sold by the babouchkas in some train stations along our route in Siberia, the horse-riding in Mongolia and the Great Wall in Mutianyu in China.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Good sense of humour, lots of patience, being prepared mentally for long inactive moments on the train, toilet paper, some anti-diarrhoea medicine, coins from your country to give people on your way.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


If I would have been able to book myself directly with local guides I would have done so, but I guess the tour operator offers the closest thing to this alternative. I think the local guide and the tour leaders really deserve to be well-paid for their job and I don't know how much of my money goes in their pockets...

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


It was amazing overall!!

Dianne Bealer review 23 Aug 20083 star rating

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


There were many memorable parts so it is difficult to choose the best. Beijing was an eye opener. The amount of work done for the Olympics was amazing. The main Hutong around the lake with all the restaurants exuded character. Mongolia was my least favourite. Russia was amazing. Moscow and St Petersburg have a lot of character and are way nicer than I imagined. But perhaps the most memorable was the beautiful town of Suzdal (close to Moscow) with its 30 churches and picturesque setting.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


This is in no way a luxury trip. Despite the accommodation being good (except Moscow) there are lots of difficult aspects to the trip. For example catching the metro in Moscow with all your luggage, being on the train in very cramped space for several days and nights virtually without a stop (and no shower), not having maps of cities when you are not in a hotel... my advice is to do your homework before you go because you have lots of free time with little guidance. Also be fairly fit as you do a lot of walking.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


Yes as much as possible. I did quite a lot of shopping along the way!!! The trip used local guides... some public transport...

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


An interesting adventure.

Richard Cartwright review 4 Mar 20073 star rating

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


I guess no specific part of the holiday was as memorable as the entire trip was memorable. The trip covered a large area, and each bit as unique as the next. The organising was second to none and the use of local guides through the trip was really good and allowed you to get a better feel for the place and the locals.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Other than what’s been mentioned through all the guides - do brush up on language skills!!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


I hope to think that some of the trip did benefit local people and I wish this could have actually been utilised more.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Overall the holiday was very good, if not quite exhausting to cover so much space in such a short time. It has given me an introduction/ a taster.....for me now to explore and utilise.

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5 stars
I am reborn! Simply the best holiday I have ever been on
4 stars
Some great stories to tell the grandchildren. Would recommend to a friend
3 stars
Very enjoyable
2 stars
It was OK
1 star
A bit disappointing really
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