Getting In | Train | Russia Far East
Trans-Siberian and Trans-European Trains
It's not as crazy as you'd think. Trains from any point in Eurasia can be taken to Moscow and the Black Sea port of Sochi. From there you can take a short 1 hour flight on Armenian Airlines ($150) to Yerevan, or go by plane, bus or boat to Georgia ($15-100). Ships dock at Batumi and Poti, where trains continue on to Tbilisi and into Armenia (Vanadzor, Giumri and Yerevan).
We even heard from a traveler who begged his way from Istanbul to Batumi on a cargo ship, then by box car to Tbilisi. He complained because his bus far was $17 to Yerevan.
The train from Paris to Moscow to Sochi takes about 5 days and costs around $350 one way. From Japan to Sochi is about 10 days and costs around $500 one way, cheaper if you are willing to ride in last class.
The train from Batumi to Yerevan is only $35-60 each way, and from Tbilisi to Yerevan only around $30-50 each way. Batumi to Yerevan takes around 48 hours, from Tbilisi to Yerevan around 12 hours.
Long Distance Trains
Ever thought of taking a look at the oldest land routes Armenians still follow in their rush to the market system? Follow the Trans-Siberian railway, and you will be tracing part of that route, and seeing just how wide-spread the Armenians are.
The Trans-Siberian Railway, which travels from Moscow's Yaroslavl Rail Station to Vladivostock is more than 9300 km long. It may be the cheapest way to cross a third of the world. There are two trunk lines; the 7865 km Trans-Mongolian Railway branch via the capital of Mongolia Ulan Bator to Beijing, and the 9001 km Trans-Manchurian Railway to Beijing via Harbin and north-East China. There are Russian trains and Chinese trains that run weekly on these lines. In addition there is a Moscow-Beijing line via Urumqi in China to the Kazakhstan border. You can travel all the way to Moscow, or stop off at Novosibirsk or Omsk, and catch Armenian Airlines or Arax Airways flights to Yerevan. From Eastern Europe in Budapest, Berlin, Paris or London, you can follow the same route in the opposite direction to Moscow, Novosibirsk or Omsk and then travel down.
Basics: You'll need visas for each country you are traveling through: In Europe, EC and US passports are valid for entry. Eastern European countries generally allow you to arrange visa at the border. For China, Russia, Mongolia and/or Kazakhstan, you need to obtain beforehand. For a Chinese visa, inquire at your nearest Chinese embassy. Same for Russia Federation. For Mongolia, you need a transit visa. The embassy in Beijing ( 532-1203), Jianguomenwai Compound, Xishua Beije 2, is open Monday, Tuesday and Friday from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. A transit visa takes 1 day for $10 ($16 for UK), or a few minutes for an extra 50%. From the embassy in Moscow ( 241-1548) at Spasopeskovsky pereulok 7/1, it is a little more expensive.
Citizens of Shengen countries and the US are supposed to be allowed entry to Kazakhstan with their valid CIS member state passports, but you probably should inquire at the nearest embassy to obtain one ahead of time. In any case, expect to have to pay something ($50-100) as you cross the border.
Outside China and the CIS, contact any Intourist booking office (see group and individual travel) for information and booking arrangements.
Hong Kong Student Travel ( 725-3898), 10th Floor, Star House (by Star Ferry), Kowloon sells Beijing-Moscow tickets.
Wallem Travel ( 528-6514), 46th Floor, Hopewell Center, 183 Queens Road East, Wanchai is the area's Intourist/Aeroflot Rep, charges a bit more, but they are reliable.
Monkey Business in Hong Kong (v 725-3898 fax 723-6653), flat 6, 4th floor, E-block, Chungking Mansions, Kowloon, specializes in the Beijing to Europe Train. They issue a voucher which you take to Beijing for the tickets.
The Monkey Business Office in Beijing ( 301-2244, extension 716), room 716, Qiao Yuan Hotel, Dong Binhe Rd., Youanmenwai. Open 7 days a week. Monkey Business also has contacts for cheap beds in Moscow and Budapest. They can get you to Moscow, or any city on the route, and you can fly Aeroflot the rest of the way. To get to the Beijing office, take bus #20 (also #14, 54 or trolleybus # 102, 106) from outside he Beijing Main Railway Station to the end of the line. Walk left (west about 20 minutes along the canal to the hotel).
China Travel Service and Information Center in London ( (071) 388-8838 Dept.), 3-5 Chalton St., London NW1 1JD, and the
UK China Travel Service ( (071) 836-9911) can arrange low-cost Moscow, Trans Siberian and China travel with all the visas.
In Budapest, contact John Horvath ((1) 142-0552, 153-4722 extension 396), c/o Elite Angol Tanszek, Ajitosi Durer sor 19-21, H-1146 Budapest. He can arrange tickets on the Trans-Manchurian tickets from Berlin or Budapest. All Railway Centers in Europe can book rail tickets to Moscow and beyond. In fact, with the break-up of the Intourist monopoly, they may be much cheaper in price than booking through an agent.
Distant Horizons, 36 Elm Avenue, Long Beach, CA 90802, specializes in unique adventure and culture tours, including Central Asia and the Caucasus.
Geographic Expeditions ((800) 777-8183; (415) 922-0448; Fax: (415) 346-5535), 2627 Lombard Street, San Francisco, CA 94123, has been bringing in tourists to Armenia for several years now. In the same league as Distant Horizons and MIR for quality, service and good prices.
Check with Gateway Travel ( (612) 9745 3333, fax (612) 9745 3237 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) at 48 the Boulevard, Strathfield NSW 2135, Australia, for top-end prices but specialists in Russia and Armenia.