Our route to Lake Baikal
This is the route we drove to Lake Baikal. If you are interested, you can click on this image below and it will take you to the actual Google Map online. You can then zoom in (or out) to have a more detailed look.
Our route through the Altai Republika
This is the route we drove in the Altai Republika. If you are interested, you can click on this image below and it will take you to the actual Google Map online. You can then zoom in (or out) to have a more detailed look.
Russia – Mongolia border crossing (Kyakhta / Suukhbaatar – Lake Baikal area)
When driving towards the Russian – Mongolian border we encountered a police check just before you get to Kyakta. They only wanted to see our passports.
At the Russian border they opened the gate for us, she writes down the licence plate number and explains where we need to go. We are basically following the signs for cars with the white arrows on a blue sign. They have separate lanes for buses and trucks which are marked. We turn to the left of the building and are told to stop at the stop sign, park the car and go into the customs office.
It’s the portacabin on the left of the stop sign where you enter on the far side, up some steps. He takes the temporary entry permit, crosses out the sticker part at the front and stamps the back. We are given the temporary car papers back.
Customs then checks the car, but no paperwork is involved. They want us to open some drawers and doors, but again no thorough check. A few minutes later we get the ‘ok’ and are told to wait in the car until the cars before us have gone past immigration. There are only 3 cars in front of us, so we move up fairly quickly.
At the immigration booth (the last one on the left), we park the car again and get out with our passports. You can stand on the big wooden box so they can see you. Here they keep your exit card (that you filled in when you entered the country, together with your arrivals card) and stamp your passport.
20 minutes after entering the first Russian gate we leave the last gate where they just want to see your stamped passport before they wish you a pleasant journey.
No-men’s land is short, the gates are open so we drive in. The guard working there gives us a small slip of paper for the car (we’re calling it the car customs control form) which we have to fill in (we do this later as you are allowed to drive on). We drive through the right lane where the disinfecting pit is waiting for us. This time we have to pay for the privilege: 50 Roebles. We park the car in line, just before the under cover area for the customs check and somebody walks over. We have done it again, we missed picking up a paper slip at the gatehouse (which is behind you on the left after you exit the disinfecting pit).
We walk back to the gatehouse where the guard wants to know a few details from the car before he gives us our temporary import paperwork (name of driver, nationality of driver, licence plate, make of car, year it was built, colour and where you will leave Mongolia. He fills in a long number on the right and enters details in his computer too.
You then enter the main red big brick building and go through immigration. Passports are stamped and then you go to the customs officer sitting at a table in on the right hand side. Next to the x-ray machine that wasn’t used when we were there. He gives you a customs declaration form each which you have to fill in, date it and sign it before he stamps it.
The car customs control form needs to be stamped 4 times before you can enter Mongolia. We call it that as the form allows them to make sure you pass each check with the car before you leave.
One stamp is collected in the central office, two are given by the customs officer inside (he generally walks to the desks on the right hand side after passport control to get them for you) and the last one you get outside. They should check the inside of the car, but this time we got the stamp without them even giving Lara a second look.
We drive off to the last official gate where we hand in our car customs control form and they want to have a quick look at the passports as well. We’re back in Mongolia and drive through that random gate we thought was the start of the border on the way out. It’s open this time, so we drive straight through.
This time it took us 2.5 hours on the Mongolian side because we had a problem with our visa and they made us buy a new single entry visa. We also found out it is very simple to get your visa on arrival at the border (single, double and transit visas can all be bought at the border for USD85, 120 and 55 respectively). Why we couldn’t find this out before buying our visas for Mongolia in Laos I don’t know.
Mongolia – Russia border crossing (Tashanta-Tsagaanuur – Altai Republika area)
We were stopped before we reached the border, or so we thought. According to the gps the border was still about 5km away, but we were stopped by a guy next to an official looking sign. He asked us about tax, Mongolian tax. We just looked confused and at that moment he received a phone call.
Evidently the phone call was more important than us and a potential bribe / income as we pointed towards the border with a smile and he waved us on, almost impatiently.
A little further (few 100m) was the gate where the guard wanted to see the driver’s passport and the car registration papers which he both took into his office where he (presumably) put some information into his computer before he came back with the tiny bit of paper we call ‘customs control paperwork’. It’s a big name for a tiny piece of paper, but essentially what it does is make sure you go through each step with your car. They give you a signature or a stamp every time and when you leave the final gate of Mongolia they check if all stamps / signatures are there when they collect it and send you on your way to no-man’s land.
But we weren’t there yet. After we received the we were told to park the car and enter the building on our left.
The guy in the first office on the left waved us into his office. He asked for our passports, but when we handed them over he didn’t actually look at them. Instead he asked if we needed to change Tugrugs into Roebels. We did, so he gave us a quote 60 Tugrugs for 1 Roebel. We weren’t interested in that rate (it should be around 44 to 1) so we left.
Our first real stop was customs. This is the office on the left hand side as you enter the building. It even had a sign in English ‘Customs’ above the window. She wanted the driver’s passport, the car registration paper, the customs control paperwork, our temporary car import permit (which we had with us from when we entered Mongolia before) and our personal customs declaration forms (also from when we entered Mongolia before).
She kept the personal customs declaration forms, the temporary car import permit and added some more details to her computer before giving back the driver’s passport, car registration paper and the customs control paperwork.
Now it was time to inspect the car. They were a bit more thorough then they had been on entering Mongolia, but they were not difficult and only glanced into most drawers. They gave us a stamp on the customs control paperwork (the tiny bit of paper) and send us back inside.
Next up was passport control. Strangely she also wanted to see the car registration paper and entered something in her system. She send us on our way, but when we showed her the customs control paperwork she took it and added her signature to the list as well. She pointed to the next office, apparently customs too. He was on the far left as you come in (level with the passport control booth on the right, nearly at the end of the hall).
He wanted to see our car registration paper again, added something to the computer and put his signature onto the tiny bit of paper too. This customs control paperwork was now full, we had completed all steps and were told we were finished.
As we walked outside we decided to have a quick chat to the Mongol Rally people who were all parked in a holding area, obviously not allowed to enter Mongolia. But after a brief chat with some of the guys, the Mongolian customs officer told us to move on as the border was closing on the Russian side. A shame as we would have liked to talk a bit longer.
But as we drove out of the Mongolian gate to show them our passport stamps and hand over the customs control paperwork full of stamps and signatures, we understood why they wanted us to move on – it was a long drive to the Russian border post!
After about 5km we arrived at a closed gate. The Mongolian – Russian border. A Russian soldier came outside and asked for our car registration paper and driver’s passport, which he took back inside his office. A few minutes later he came outside, handed back our paperwork and opened the gate for us.
As soon as we passed the gate we were on tarmac… but we had to drive at least 20km before we came to the actual border post!
Our first stop was at the disinfection pit. There was no disinfectant in the pit, but they had a big truck parked next to it with a hose and 2 guys. They sprayed the wheels and charged us 100 roebels. We got a receipt so that was probably a fair price…
Then we entered the gate. The lady at the gate opened up for us and told us to park on the right hand side, directly after the gate next to the offices there. Inside another lady wanted to see our car registration paper and the driver’s passport again. She added something to her computer (becoming a bit repetitive isn’t it?) and came outside with us to show us where we had to go next (after parking the car in the undercover area for cars):
- passport control – first office on the left hand side in the undercover area
- customs – second office on the left hand side in the undercover are
- inspection of the car – where the car was parked in the undercover area
The immigration officer asked us how we had entered into Mongolia and wanted to know the sequence (China – Mongolia – Russia – Mongolia – Russia – Kazakhstan). When he knew the sequence he asked if we had a second passport. He wanted to see the Chinese visa (and entry / exit stamps?). He looked a bit surprised when Jon gave him an Australian passport as his second one, but gave us no hassles. He wanted to see my second passport too and only checked if it was the same nationality. Here we also had to fill in our arrival and departure card. He asked us to circle business visa and never asked us any questions about our business. Nor did we fill in company / contact in Russia.
Jon had in the mean time started the customs process for the temporary car import papers. Again we had to fill in the same form twice. It was very similar to the form we had filled in before, but this time they had an English version for us which made filling it in a bit easier. They still had somebody helping us fill it in though.
She entered details into her computer, printed an empty sticker (it looks empty, but when you look closely there are some details printed on it in white) and wrote something on it. Only one sticker is printed and that is added to the form we keep after inspection. The other one is kept by the border post after they inspect the car and stamp both temporary import papers.
Inspection was again quite minimal although this guy was the first who figured out we had pods and wanted to see one of them. But when Jon opened one up he only glanced at it and told him to close without even lifting up the lid to the clothes.
There was a bit of discussion when they send us off. They were telling us that after the gate we would have to drive another 500m and then stop at a building for a final immigration check. They couldn’t agree if it was a red or green building – it was green.
Anyway, they send us off. We drove to the gate where they just wanted to check our passports and again she told us about the green building on the left hand side for our final immigration check.
We drove on and stopped at this building. There is actually a sign on the right hand side of the road alerting you to this building and the immigration check (in English) so you shouldn’t have any problems finding it.
Inside was a small office where the guy wants to see the passports again. He enters some information into the computer and keeps the arrivals card. We get our departure cards and passports back and are send on our way again.
We’re in Russia again!
The whole procedure on both sides of the border took less than 2 hours, including our 15 minute chat with the guys from the Mongol Rally.
Both sides had been extremely efficient and extremely friendly.
We only spent a week in the Lake Baikal area and a week in the Altai region, but we had no problems with the quality of diesel in Russia.
We don’t like their system of filling up though. You have to pay for a certain amount of liters first before they turn the pump on for you. You can’t leave money or a credit card to fill up and pay afterwards, you have to nominate a number of liters.
The first time we had to fill up in Russia we weren’t sure how much we needed and paid for too much. At first they didn’t want to give the difference back to us, but after they consulted with management we got some Roebels back. It’s a pain as you can never fill up to the top for a long journey, but we’re getting better in guessing how many liters we want.
Diesel is around 30 Roebels a liter (about $1 in August 2013).
As we were only 2 times in Russia for a short period, we decided not to buy a sim card. We have heard you get 200Mb at fast speeds each day after which the speed drops. You can still use data, just very slowly. It sounds good, but we don’t have any personal experience with it.
Food and shopping
After Mongolia we were in heaven in the Russian supermarkets as they are a lot more ‘western’ than we have seen so far. They have lots of bread, milk, yoghurt, cheese, sour cream, pasta, muesli and gherkins. They also seem to be particularly fond of peas and corn. We found some beans in certain supermarkets, but that was a bit hit and miss. Maybe in the bigger towns and bigger supermarkets you will find everything you want, but for us it was still a challenge and several supermarkets had to be visited to find all the things we were after. But our staple food can easily be found in Russian supermarkets.
We loved omul, a smoked fish from the salmon family, which you can buy around Lake Baikal. They served it with potatoes and ratatouille. Delicious. We bought several more to take with us.
The roads in Russia are good. They are tarmac and smooth. The minor roads we drove on were mostly graded, but there are some rough tracks too. Most of those we saw in the Lake Baikal area, but they were working on the road, so maybe in a few more years that will all be tarmac too.
To enter the Russian Federation with tourist purposes foreigners must have valid visas. Russian tourist visa can be issued for not longer than 30 days! When entering Russia with a tourist visa, you could be also asked to present your tourist confirmation, voucher and a return ticket with a fixed date of departure from Russia at the border checkpoint. You must also prove that you have sufficient funds for your trip
Visa can be obtained by submitting completed Electronic Visa Application Form which is a web-based application, available online at http://visa.kdmid.ru
After filling the Electronic Visa Application form online, applicants will have to print a copy of their application form, sign and date it, glue the required size photo to it and submit this printed original form, along with other necessary documentation, to the Russian Embassy in Canberra. You can apply for visa personally or by post. Our postal address: Embassy of the Russian Federation, 78 Canberra Avenue, Griffith, ACT 2603
When mailing your application along with all required documents a self-addressed pre-paid return envelope should be enclosed. Otherwise, your visa will not be processed. To avoid your correspondence being lost in mail, we recommend using Express Post or Registered Post envelopes. Please note that we forward back only prepaid envelopes with the track number on it. The consular section of the Russian Embassy will not be responsible for any loss or mishandling of the mail by the Postal Service or any other delivery agent.
To obtain a visa you should submit to the Consular section:
1. A completed application form (http://visa.kdmid.ru), one per person.
2. National passport (original) valid for at least 6 months after the intended date of departure from Russia. At least one page of the passport should be free from notes
3. One professional passport sized (3,5 x 4.5 cm) The photo should be attached to the specially marked place of the application form.
4. A copy of high quality or original standard tourist confirmation (“Podtverzdeniye”) and a tour voucher from a hosting Russian travel agency or hotel, registered with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and authorized to invite foreign citizens in the Russian Federation. Confirmation carries a REFERENCE-NUMBER of the hosting company (which confirms that this company is allowed to receive foreign tourists), personal data of each tourist, dates of trip, itinerary in Russia, services as paid. Confirmation and voucher must be signed by authorized person and carry the official seal of the Russian travel company.
5. Copy of itinerary (flight details).
Should the consular section of the Russian Embassy wishes to contact you, please state clearly your contact telephone number (office and after hours) in the application form.
Single-entry visa is valid for one visit to Russia within the specified dates of arrival and departure.
Double-entry visa is issued for two entries (all arrival and departure dates must be indicated).
Consular services fees in AU dollars per person:
ten business days processing: single-entry visa $110 (not longer than 30 days) or double entry visa $190 (not longer than 30 days)
two business days processing: single-entry visa $220 (not longer than 30 days) or double entry visa $330 (not longer than 30 days)
Payments are to be made in cash, money order or by bank cheque written out in the name of the Embassy of the Russian Federation (we don’t accept personal cheques as well as credit cards).
When trying to call I was told to call consular in Canberra on 02 6295 9474, then spoke to that person and was told to call consular general in Sydney as they deal with Brisbane on 02 9326 1866 or 9326 1702. When I called at 11.15 I was told only consular between 3-5pm on those numbers.
for us: lake Baikal area for a week or so, starting in early Aug (7th?), then another week in early September to cross into Kazakhstan, then another 2-3 weeks to drive from Kazakhstan border to Ukraine border, around early to mid November
others: mid Aug for 2 weeks (Lake Baikal and drive to Kazakhstan border, 14 Oct for 2 weeks to drive from Kazakhstan border to Ukraine border.
check images of 6 screens to fill in on electronic application form. Ask them about Date of your visit to consulate or visa centre. This is compulsory but we don’t intend to visit as they are in Canberra and Sydney. Can we visit the Brisbane consular office instead? (not an option in the drop down menu)
you should be able to present at the port of entry the copy of your invitation or visa support papers along with your passport and visa.
Animals in Russia
We didn’t see many animals in Russia. Not sure if that’s bad luck or there just aren’t that many around. Here are the ones we saw: