Irkutsk

Brief History

Irkutsk was founded in 17th century and, during the early 19th century, it became a major center of intellectual and social life, as many Russian artists, nobles and officers were exiled to Siberia for their role in the Decembrist revolt against Tsar Nicholas I. Irkutsk’s large streets and ornate architecture led to it being called the “Paris of Siberia”. During the Russian Civil War following the October Revolution, the city then became the site of violent clashes between the “Whites” and the “Reds”, until admiral Aleksandr Kolchak, commander of the largest contingent of anti-Bolshevik forces, was executed right in Irkutsk, putting an end to the White Army resistance.

Why you should stop there

There’s not much to debate here, you HAVE to stop in Irkutsk. Not much for the city itself, but for the fact that it is the closest city to the west bank of the Baikal and the main departure point for any means of transport going to the lake, being it Listvyanka or Olkhon island.

Apart from its proximity to Lake Baikal, the city itself is quite nice at first impression, it has many well-kept traditional Siberian wooden homes, each of them unique with their hand-carved decorations. Plus, it’s definitely more relaxed and a lot cheaper than the big cities such as Moscow and St. Petes.

Time Zone

UTC +8 (= Moscow +5)

How to get around

Irkutsk is a fairly compact city and relatively walkable within the centre, still, the public transport system is quite good. There is no subway, but buses and trams can get you wherever you need to get. Here is a map of the tram routes and one of the trolleybuses.

What to see

The Houses of the Decembrist exiles. One is Volkonskiy House, (behind the Transfiguration Church on Ul. Timuryazeva, near the bus station), another is Trubetskiy House (ul. Dzerzhinskogo 64). Also worth seeing is the Sukachev Estate (ul. Dekabristov Sobytii 112), which is the estate of one Irkutsk’s 19th century mayor.

Karl Marx Street. It is the central and one of the most beautiful streets in the city. It starts at Angara embankment near the monument to Alexander III, crosses Lenin Street and continues for about two km. Architects from St. Petersburg attended in the design of most buildings. You will find plenty of fashion shops, cafes, restaurants, bars and cinemas.

Lenin’s Monument. Located at the intersection of Lenin Street and Karl Marx Street, this bronze sculpture by N. Tomsky appeared in 1952. It’s a copy of the original sculpture that had been made in 1940 for Voronezh and repeated – for Leningrad, Vilnius, and later for Irkutsk.

Holy Cross Church. Built in 1747 and decorated with complex geometric patterns, its old porch was replaced in 1960 with a two-story porch in the Empire style. Successful placement of the church on the hill, at the intersection of the main streets of the city, provides an exciting perception of the historic quarter.

Monument to Alexander Kolchak. In the night between the 6th and 7th February 1920, the Supreme Ruler of Russia Alexander Kolchak was shot in the vicinity of the Znamensky Monastery . A monument to the Admiral was established in 2004, on the site of its execution.

Eat, Drink & Sleep

Sleep.

We stayed at “The Best Hostel in Irkutsk”, on Ul. Karla Marxsa 41 (price less than 10 EUR/night): huge hostel, big kitchen and common room, free chai and cookies, very cool atmosphere! Also super easy to find.

Eat.

Karl Marx Street is filled with restaurants and cafes. Or you can go to any “stolovaya” to taste cheap Russian traditional food.

Drink.

Stratosphere club: Siberia’s largest disco, located on ul. Karla Marxsa.

Listvyanka

Listvyanka is a small village on the south-western bank of the Baikal, about an hour drive from Irkutsk and it represents quite a popular destination for both locals and tourists, due to its location that makes it easy to reach and that provides direct access to the lake at the same time.

How to get there

You can reach Listvyanka by bus or marshutka from Irkutsk bus station – Avtovokzal (the ride usually takes 1 hour and 30 minutes). Tickets should be around 100-120 Rubles.

What to see/do

  1. Enjoy the beach! Lie in the sun, swim (if you’re brave enough) and just enjoy a relaxing afternoon.
  2. Taste hot-steamed omul’ fish! You’ll find it at the market, buy one with some local bread and enjoy on the shore. It really is delicious.
  3. Hike to Bolshie Koty on the Great Baikal Trail. It is a 22km hike that gives you the chance to enjoy the Siberian forest along the shores of the Lake. The Great Baikal Trail is a project initiated by a non-profit group foster the development of ecotourism. More info here.

Eat & Sleep

Sleep. We stayed at Belka Hostel, on ul. Chapaeva 77A, it’s a 15-20 mins walk from the waterfront, very nice and cozy. (Around 600 RUB/night).

Eat. Omul’ fish!

 

Olkhon Island

Lake Baikal is a must-go on the Trans-Siberian route, being the most attractive and most fascinating place in Siberia. It is the biggest lake in the world for water capacity, more than all the 5 US lakes together. It is also a magical place to visit…

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The West coast is the more frequented and it is reachable from Irkutsk by bus. The East coast is reachable from Ulan-Ude. To get to the Northern shore, take the BAM railway until Severobaikalsk. The problem of the Lake is that there is no road that connects all the shores of the lake. So, if you want to go from Listyanka to Olkhon, for instance, you will have to go back to Irkutsk and take a bus from there to the island.

If you take the train from Irkutsk to Ulan-Ude, you will be able to see the lake from the train. We strongly recommend you to do that: the view is amazing! We took the night train and woke up at 5 am to see the sunrise on the Baikal… There are no words to describe how wonderful the view was.

One must-see location on the Baikal is Olkhon Island. To reach it, take a marshrutka from the Irkutsk bus station. The trip lasts from 6 to 8 hours and the schedule of departure changes frequently, so we suggest you go to the station the day before, ask for departure times and book the tickets in advance at the ticket office. The marshrutka will take you to the village of Khuzhir, the only inhabited center of the island. From there, you can go to the beach, visit the Shaman rocks and book tours around the island.

Spoiler alert! If you like surprises, don’t read this!

In our opinion, it is better to go to Olkhon without knowing anything about it, so your experience will be authentic as possible. You just gotta trust us on this one, go there and you’ll see.

However if you want to know something more about the island, check our diary page.

A deserted village, a sandy and rocky panorama, wild cows, horses and stray dogs, no type of night illumination whatsoever: the perfect setting for a horror movie is what’s waiting for you on this amazing island, the 5th center of Shaman Energy in the world.

In winter, until April, the lake is completely frozen, while the ice melts around May. If you go there in the summer, you may even try to put your legs in the water, and, even though Russians even swim in there, we warn you: it is freezing.

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Shaman rocks

What to see

We strongly recommend to take the one-day guided tour around the island. It costs around 800 roubles, but it is really worth it. A old and super-resistent Russian Lada minivan will take you to the Northern point of the island, from where you’ll be able to admire the immensity of the lake and, if you’re lucky, even spot some Nerpa seals resting on the rocks.

Go to the Shaman rocks in Kuzhir, on the Maloye More (Small Sea) shore of the lake. Shamans from all over the world gather here to hold ceremonies and celebrate the energy concentration of this sacred place. Attention: do not touch the “lentochki” (the colourful laces around the trees and sticks) – it is said to bring bad luck.

A good idea while on the island is to rent a bike and ride around the village and the amazing beaches.

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Sleep

The place where most foreigners stay in Olkhon is called “Nikita’s”, a nice guesthouse with a bar, restaurant and curious wooden architecture. Rather expensive but worth it if you want a private bathroom and running water.

Otherwise, if you want to spend less and are apt to adaptation, take a cheap guesthouse in the village (ice-cold showers, no proper toilets, except from some hole in the ground with a disgusting excrement smell, and very bad internet connection). Still, despite the difficulties, we believe it is the best way to enjoy the atmosphere of the island. We stayed at “Bereg Nadezhdi”. 
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Soon, enjoy your stay here and.. watch out for the cows!

Ulan Ude

Brief History

Ulan Ude is the capital of Buryatia, a Republic located in Eastern Siberia and named after the nomadic Buryat Mongols that first settled in the area. Although Russians make up the majority of the city’s population, the native Tibetan Buddhist and Shamanist Buryats (a race of Mongolian descent), which remain a minority, have influenced its lifestyle and culture quite noticeably. While most of the original Buryat  religious building got destroyed by the Soviets, Shamanism, Buddhism and Orthodox Christianity are all commonly practiced in Ulan Ude.

Why you should stop there

Beeecause, hello, biggest Lenin head statue in the world?! Isn’t that reason enough?!

Still, Lenin aside, Ulan Ude is a pretty fascinating city in itself. Its mixture of Russian and Buryat culture makes it a very interesting place, that has its own special atmosphere, and, unlike other Siberian cities, it does make you feel like hey, you are in Asia. Buryat people, with their almondly-shaped eyes and their strong Mongolian features are immediately recognizable and what’s most charming about them is their love toward nature, and their peaceful and calm attitude, probably due to their strongly animistic beliefs.

Also, Ulan Ude is a great starting point to explore the less traveled-by eastern shore of Lake Baikal.

Time Zone

The time zone is GMT +8 or Moscow +5.

How to get around

The city center is quite small and compact, which makes it easy to walk anywhere. The main street is Lenin street (duh) and there you’ll find many hotels, museums, shops and cafes. The train station is about 10 minutes walk from Lenin street, and the bus station is also located in the city center. If you don’t wanna walk, there’s tons of marshutkas that will take you to any part of the city.

What to see

  • The world’s biggest Lenin Head, in Ploshchad Sovietov, the main city square. The head is more than 7 meters tall and it was unveiled in honor of Lenin’s 100th birthday in 1970.
  • Lenin’s street, the main pedestrian street.
  • The Ethnographic Museum, (to reach it take bus 37 from the Baikal Plaza Hotel bus stop, on the south corner of Ploshchad Sovietov), it’s an open air museum with old yurts and cossack houses, where you can learn about the history and traditions of Buryats and Evenks native tribes. There’s also a zoo but whe don’t recommend visiting it as it was probably one of the saddest places we’ve ever seen.
  • The Selenga river bank, near the main bus station.
  • Rimpoche bagsha buddhist center (Take bus 97 from the Baikal Plaza hotel to the last stop), it’s a new lama temple with a panoramic view on the whole city.
  • Ivolginsky Datsan, located some 30 km from the city (bus 130 from the bus station to Ivoginsky village and then take a marshutka to the monastery), it is the centre of Buddhism in Russia (with permission from Stalin), and it was visited by the Dalai Lama several times.

Eat, Drink and Sleep

Eat: local buryat food, such as “buuzi” (meat dumplings), “pozi” (bigger steamed dumplings)  and “Khushuur” (a sort of meat pastry).

Sleep: Ulan Ude Traveler’s House = best hostel in town, cheap, young and super friendly, plus it’s right on a corner of ploshchad’ Sovietov.

Drink: Churchill pub on Ploshchad’ Sovietov, the prices were a bit on the expensive side for Siberian standards, but it’s located right in front of Lenin’s Head and the atmosphere is pretty nice.

 

Chita

Brief History

Chita is a city located at the confluence of the Chita and Ingoda Rivers and on the Trans-Siberian railway. Now the administrative center of Zabaykalsky Krai, it was founded in 1653 by the Cossack Pyotr Beketov, although before this, the region had been inhabited for centuries by local mongol and tunic tribes, as well as by various Chinese merchants.

Why you should stop there

Many travellers bypass Chita if they decide to reach China via Mongolia, yet Chita is also a connecting city of the so-called Trans-Manchurian, making it possible to reach Beijing via Herbin, without having to cross Mongolia. The decision on whether to stop or not in Chita then really depends on your preferred route and your final destination.

Time Zone

UTC +9 (= Moscow +6)

What to see

Kazansky Orthodox Cathedral, on ul. Butane 6, it has a typical Vladimir-Suzdal architectual style. 

Museum Church of Decembrists, on ul. Dekabristov 3 (Trolley # 1 or 3 from the Railway Square to the Magazine Vesna).

The datsan, on ul. Bogomyakova 72, it is a big Buddhist temple and school.

 

 

Khabarovsk

Brief History

Khabarovsk is a city on the Amur River in the Russian Far East, very close to the Chinese border. Unlike Vladivostok, Khabarovsk has never been closed to foreigners, which is why it retains a distinct international feel, rare for the Russian provincial centres. Its lands have been populated for centuries by the indigenous Tungusic people, and in the mid-17th century became the scene of hostilities between the Russian Cossacks, trying to expand into the region, and the Chinese, invested on securing the region for itself. Nearly a century of skirmishes followed, one of those involving Russian explorer Yerofey Khabarov, whose name the city later adapted. The Treaty of Nerchinsk (1689) ended the conflict and made the area an undisputed part of the Chinese Qing Empire. Then, in 1858, the area was ceded to Russia under the Treaty of Aigun.

Why you should stop there

Often overlooked because of its proximity to Vladivostok, Khabarovsk could easily be a highlight in the long line of predominately dull cities along the Trans-Siberian. Its attractive parks, beaches, outdoor beer tents with live music, and classic architecture make it an enjoyable stop.

Time Zone

UTC +10 (= Moscow +7)

How to get around

There are two kinds of transport in Khabarovsk: trams and trolleybuses are operated by local transit authority, while marshrutkas are all private. Buses are split between the two. While the fares are mostly equal,  municipal vehicles have a timetable which can usually be found at the bus stop while private buses do not and stop circulating when it gets unprofitable.

Still, Khabarovsk is a relatively compact city, and at times using your feet is the quickest method of transport.

What to see

Walk on Muraviev-Amursky. You can walk on the main avenue from Lenin Square to the Amur River and you’ll find all sorts of shops and places to eat.

Cathedral of the Transfiguration (Spaso-Preobrazhensky Cathedral). Located on Lenin street. this golden domed church was only completed in 2004 and it’s the 3rd tallest church in Russia. 

Dynamo Park. Located on the 62 South side of ulitsa Karla Marksa, this park spreads over  30 hectares and is very popular among locals on sunny days. 

The Vyborg Market (Vyborgskaya ulitsa). It’s a huge and very lively market, with not only local Russians but also a visible example of the proximity to China, with many Chinese traders selling imported products of every variety.

Sleep

Kakadu Hostel (Khabarovsk Sheronova Building 10, price around 10 EUR/night).

Drink

The River Promenade is full of open air cafes and bars in large tents, best for spending summer nights.

Vladivostok

Brief History

Founded in 1860, Vladivostok was initially an important naval base of the Czarist period, and it later turned into an important railway station, at the Eastern end of the Trans-Siberian rail. Since then, it became a commercial center at the crossroads of Russia, China and Japan, having maintained this role until now.

Why you should go there

Vladivostok is the mythical end point of the Trans-Siberian main route, a place where you go and say “Yes, I did it!”. It is the last stop of your epic trip, a pleasant city to walk around and to admire the nature of the Russian Far East, the desolate lands and the bays in the Pacific Ocean. It is also the major connection in the area, from where you can continue your trip to Japan by boat.

Time Zone

UTC +10 (= Moscow +7)

How to get around

The city centre is only a short walk from the train station, and most of the sights can be easily reached on foot. Still, since Vladivostok is situated on steep hills, walking can be physically demanding but buses and marshutkas are available. Beware of the frequent traffic jams though!

What to see

City center: walk along the three main avenues to see the ancient czarist buildings near Ploshad Revolutsii. Ulitsa Fokina is the correspondent of Moscow’s Arbat Street, that leads to the main beach, bars and shashlik kiosks.

A view from the top: if you take the funicular up to the top of the city, you will have a great view of the whole bay.

S-56 Submarine: take a look at this submarine from the WWII period.

Sleep

Teplo Hostel (ul. Posetskaja 16, about 10 EUR/night) ; Gallery and More Hostel (Admirala Fokina st. 4B, about 10 EUR/night).