Travelling To and From China by Train
There are several interesting options for entering or departing China by train. These include some of the greatest overland journeys in the world such as the Trans-Siberian train journey and the Silk Road. It’s possible to come overland to China all the way from Europe and continue right on down to Vietnam.
The Trans-Siberian Railway:
China to Russia or Mongolia by Train
The world’s most famous train journey can be started or finished in China. While the classic Trans-Siberian journey is entirely within Russia (from Moscow to Vladivostok), a more popular route is the Trans-Manchurian (directly between Russia and China via Manchuria) and the most popular rail journey is the Trans-Mongolian (between Russia and China via Mongolia).
The Trans-Manchurian train (#019) departs from Beijing each Saturday at 22:56 and reaches Moscow exactly 6 days later. It is possible to stop at a number of places on the way, including Irkutsk. But note that there is no rail pass that allows you to make stopovers. Instead you need to purchase separate tickets for each leg of the trip.
Heading from Moscow to Beijing, Train #020 departs Moscow on Fridays at 23:53 and arrives in Beijing 6 days and 27 minutes later.
The Trans-Mongolian train (#003) departs from Beijing each Wednesday at 7:40am and takes 5 days and 11.5 hours to reach Moscow. Heading from Moscow to Beijing, Train #004 departs Moscow on Tuesdays at 21:35 and takes 5 days and 12.5 hours to reach Beijing. Note that nationals of most countries will require a Mongolian transit visa for this route. But most people who take this train will want to stop in Ulan-Bator for a few days. However, Chinese Railways only sell tickets on this train from Beijing to Russia, not to Mongolia. So if you want to stop in Mongolia, you would still have to buy a ticket at least to Khabarovsk in Russia and then simply leave the train when you reach Ulan-Bator.
A better option might be to take Train #23 from Beijing to Ulan Bator. This train departs on Saturdays at 07:40 and arrives in Ulan Bator about 30 hours later (the border crossing is a drawn-out affair). Train #24 from Ulan Bator to Beijing departs on Thursdays at 8:05. During summer there is an additional service from Beijing to Ulan Bator on Tuesdays, departing at the same time.
Another option for reaching Russia from China by train is the twice weekly service from Harbin to Vladivostok. Train N23 departs from Harbin East Train Station every Saturday and Wednesday at 20:48 and arrives in Vladivostok at 01:00 on Monday and Friday respectively. From Vladivostok it is possible to take the classical Trans-Siberian route to Moscow. The return train (N24) departs Vladivostok on Mondays and Thursdays.
The Silk Road:
China to Kazakhstan by Train
Though much more difficult to organize than the Trans-Siberian, the Silk Road is potentially a much greater adventure. The Old Silk Road ended at Xian, having come in from Central Asia through north-west China. It is possible to cover a good part of this route by rail, by first taking a train from Xian to Urumqi in Xinjiang Province. From Urumqi there is a train to Almaty in Kazakhstan.
Train N955 from Urumqi to Almaty departs twice weekly (On Saturdays and Mondays at 23:58) and arrives some 32 hours later. The journey includes a painful 6-8 hours of border formalities and wheel changes.
Train N956 from Almaty to Urumqi departs on Mondays and Saturdays.
China to Vietnam by Train
Another international train option is to head down to south-east Asia via the train from Beijing to Hanoi. Train T5 departs twice weekly (on Thursdays and Sundays) from Beijing West station at 16:15 and takes approximately 40 hours to reach Hanoi, arriving at 08:10. This train can also be caught from Nanning (departs 21:15 on Fridays and Mondays) from where it is only 11 hours to Hanoi.
Train T6 from Hanoi to Beijing departs on Tuesdays and Fridays.
China to North Korea by Train
It’s largely irrelevant since you can’t travel to North Korea except as part of a tour anyway, meaning your train ticket will be booked for you. But Train K27 from Beijing to Pyongyang, departs four times each week (Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays) at 17:30. It arrives in Pyongyang at 19:30, taking just over 24 hours.