The Silk Route by Private Train: Westbound
Photo credit: Willis Hughes
Beijing to Moscow via Central Asia Aboard the Golden Eagle
On this epic journey of nearly 7,000 miles, you’ll follow the path of the Silk Road in the comfort of luxurious private trains. Witness the meeting of East and West as you travel one of the world’s great trade routes, spanning China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and finally Russia. Along the way you’ll visit 10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including caves decorated with a thousand years of Buddhist frescoes, the massive ruins of a lost city, and the fabled Silk Road oases of Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva. The tour begins and ends with two of the world’s great cities, Beijing and Moscow.
There’s also the option of taking a shorter version of this trip that includes only the Central Asian and Russian segments: The Silk Route ’Stans by Private Train.
Travels to: China, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Western Russia
Photos and details: Discover what life is like aboard the Golden Eagle and Shangri-La Western Express.
Days 1-3: Beijing (China)
Arriving in Beijing, transfer to a premier hotel for a three-night stay. Explore the city’s most iconic sights including the Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square, and the Forbidden City where 14 Ming and 10 Qing emperors ruled. Alternately, make a tour of Beijing’s modern architectural wonders, visiting the Olympic Village (with its Bird’s Nest stadium), the National Center for the Performing Arts (known as the Egg), and the CCTV Tower (a geometrical marvel). On Day 3, make a trip outside the city to see the Great Wall. That afternoon, board the high-speed Bullet Train and head to Xi’an. Check in to a five-star hotel upon arrival.
- Visits to some of China’s most awe-inspiring landmarks, including the UNESCO-listed Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, and Great Wall
- The comfortable, exhilaratingly fast Bullet Train trip from Beijing to Xi’an, covering more than 700 miles in about five hours
Days 4-5: Xi’an
Begin the day by visiting Xi’an’s 14th century walls, the most complete city walls remaining in China. Then stroll, shop, and sample delicious street food in the Muslim quarter that surrounds the Great Mosque. Outside of town, there’s the opportunity to visit the Museum of the Terra Cotta Army, which displays one of the world’s great archaeological discoveries – the life-size statues found at the tomb of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang. Alternatively, remain in the city and tour the collection of the Han Yangling Museum, including chariots, weapons, and figurines exhumed from the nearby tombs. Attend a Tang Dynasty dinner and cultural performance on the first night, and on the second begin the private train journey aboard the Shangri-La West Express.
- Xi’an’s Great Mosque, which combines elements of Islamic and Chinese architecture
- The strikingly lifelike, 2,000-year-old Terra Cotta Warriors – UNESCO-listed treasures, some 8,000 of which stand guard at the tomb of Qin Shi Huang
- Second century BC tombs of Emperor Liu Qi and Empress Wang at the Han Yangling Museum
Days 6-8: Dunhuang, Turpan
Check into a hotel for the night in the small oasis city of Dunhuang, which was once an important Chinese garrison on the Silk Road. Amid the neighboring dunes, explore the UNESCO-listed Mogao Thousand Buddha Cave Complex, containing almost 500 frescoed grottoes carved between 700 and 1,700 years ago. Then head to Turpan, another Silk Road oasis, and tour the ruins of Jiaohe, an island city built in the 2nd century and decimated by the Mongols in the 13th.
- The frescoes of the Mogao Thousand Buddha Caves, representing a thousand years of Buddhist art in China
- The 2,000-year-old irrigation system used to cultivate wine grapes in Turpan
Days 9-10: Kazakhstan border, Almaty (Kazakhstan)
Cross into Kazakhstan and transfer to the luxury Golden Eagle private train. Make a stop in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city and a thriving business center situated amid the majestic Tien Shan mountain range. Lunch here in a traditional Kazakh yurt.
- Vibrant, modern Almaty’s beautiful setting in the green foothills of the Tien Shan Mountains
- Getting a taste of Kazakh culture with lunch in a traditional yurt
Days 11-13: Tashkent (Uzbekistan), Samarkand, Bukhara
Cross the Uzbekistan border and make a stop in Tashkent, the capital and largest city, touring some of its noteworthy sights including Amir Timur Square and Kukeldash Madrassah. Continue to the blue-tiled Silk Road oasis of Samarkand, Tamerlane’s legendary capital, hailed by UNESCO as “the crossroad of cultures.” Take in massive Bibi Khanum Mosque, Ulug Bek’s incredible observatory, and gracefully proportioned Registan Square. Next, spend a day in beautiful Bukhara, Central Asia’s most ancient living city. Its UNESCO-listed Old Town encompasses more than 140 protected monuments, including the Lyabi-Hauz Plaza at the heart of the city and the Ark Citadel, Bukhara’s original fortress.
- The classic glazed tile façade of Tashkent’s Kukeldash Madrassah, one of the largest 16th century madrassahs remaining in Central Asia
- UNESCO-listed Samarkand’s Registan Square, bordered by three beautiful madrassahs
- The 14th century conqueror Tamerlane’s architectural legacy in Samarkand, including Bibi Khanum Mosque, the largest mosque of its day
- Ulug Bek Observatory, where Tamerlane’s grandson made historic advances in astronomy
- Bukhara’s evocative Old Town, with its ageless domed bazaars
- Central Lyabi-Hauz Plaza, adorned with a reflecting pool
- Ark Citadel, Bukhara’s giant ancient fortress
Days 14-15: Merv (Turkmenistan), Ashgabat, Darvaza Gas Crater
Cross into Turkmenistan and head to the UNESCO-listed ruins of Merv, a city of Bronze Age origin. It was such an important Silk Road stop that it grew into one of the world’s largest cities, only to be brutally sacked by the Mongols in the 13th century. In the modern capital of Ashgabat, explore the flamboyant gilded architecture that has sprung from the rubble of a massive 1948 earthquake, and gain insight into the country’s history and culture at the beautifully situated National Museum. As the train heads back toward the Uzbek border, disembark for a nighttime excursion to the flaming Darvaza Gas Crater, one of Turkmenistan’s most unusual sights, nicknamed “the Door to Hell.”
- The vast archaeological site of Merv, one of the world’s great lost cities
- The opulent modern architecture of Ashgabat, which holds a Guinness record for the highest density of white marble buildings in the world
- Learning the story of Turkmenistan at the National Museum, where the collection includes Stone Age tools, drinking horns used in Zoroastrian rituals, and beautifully crafted amulets
- The brilliant glow of Darvaza Gas Crater at night
16-17: Khiva (Uzbekistan), Kyzyl Kum Desert
Reentering Uzbekistan, visit the city of Khiva, the last great oasis on the northern caravan route. Wander through the winding alleys of the UNESCO-listed Old Town filled with minarets, cobbled alleys, mosques, and the beautifully preserved Kunya Ark, the original residence of the ruling khans. Then travel across the vast Kyzyl Kum (Red Sand) Desert, where caravans and conquerors have journeyed for thousands of years. From on board the Golden Eagle you may spot a camel or two.
- Khiva’s Old Town (Ichon-Qala in Uzbek), a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Tash-Hauli Palace, built in the 19th century for the khan and his four wives
- Dzhuma Mosque, famous for its carved wooden pillars
- Kunya Ark, the original residence of Khiva’s khans
Days 18-21: Volgograd (Russia), Moscow
Arriving in Russia, visit Volgograd (Stalingrad during Soviet times), where a war memorial and a museum commemorate a crucial WWII battle that took place here. After a final night aboard the Golden Eagle, arrive in Moscow and check into a five-star hotel for two nights. Spend the last full day of the trip seeing the city’s classic sights including Red Square, home to iconic St. Basil’s Cathedral and the massive Kremlin.
- Volgograd’s Mamaev Kurgan war memorial and Panorama Museum, both of which commemorate the first WWII battle in which Hitler was defeated
- Red Square, the heart of Moscow and a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Dates & Prices
Minimum group size: Minimums vary – call for confirmation status
Land Tour Price, Per Person.
Call for dates and prices
- Accommodations, as noted in the itinerary.
- All meals, from dinner on Day 1 through breakfast on final tour day, including a generous allowance of wine, local beer, and soft drinks with lunch and dinner.
- Arrival/departure transfers, provided you arrive and depart on the tour start/end dates and in the tour start/end cities.
- All guided off-train tours, as outlined in the itinerary.
- Services of an experienced Train Tour Manager as well as local guides for scheduled off-train tours.
- Complimentary tea, coffee, and mineral water from your car attendant at all times while on board the train.
- All gratuities.
- Baggage handling.
- Complete pre-departure information, including detailed packing list, reading list, and Touring with MIR handbook with country-specific information, maps, and travel tips.
- Assistance booking your custom flight arrangements, on request. (Please note that international airfare is not included in the land tour cost.)
- International airfare, including taxes/fuel surcharges, and surface transport to the point of joining/leaving the tour. MIR is able to assist with arrangements, as detailed in the itinerary.
- Meals and drinks not specified as included in the itinerary.
- Single supplement (difference between double rate and single occupancy rate) if requested or required.
- Optional pre- or post-tour extensions.
- Expenses incurred as a result of delay, modification, or extension of a tour due to causes beyond MIR’s control.
- Visa fees, excess baggage charges, airport departure taxes, vaccination, and other medical costs.
- Travel insurance including cancellation, medical, and evacuation insurance.
- Items of a personal nature such as phone calls, email, laundry, and alcohol.
- Travel entry pass to Turkmenistan payable on arrival.
Level 2: Moderate
This rail journey by private train features significant touring on foot, throughout which travelers are expected to keep up with other group members. Walking during touring days will be on a variety of surfaces, with many streets and sidewalks being uneven, and elevators generally not available during touring excursions, leading to some stair climbing. Challenges on board on board the train include long onboard distances with heavy doors, as well as steep steps and gaps to navigate while embarking and disembarking. Only those willing to accept local standards of amenities and services should consider joining this program.
Travelers must be able to walk a mile per day keeping up with other group members. Streets and sidewalks can be uneven or unexpected surfaces, and handrails are not always present. Steps, which may be required due to lack of elevators, may be steep and/or uneven, and may also lack handrails. The distance on board the train between sleeping and dining carriages may be significant, and there are many heavy doors to navigate when moving throughout the train. Those travelers in Heritage Class on the Chinese train do not have access to en suite running water or en suite WC. Getting on and off the train involves navigating steep steps, low platforms, and possible gaps between the train and the platform. Navigating rail stations may also involve traveling up and over steep steps/footbridges to cross tracks, or steep steps and dark tunnels to cross under to/from the train station. Although porterage is provided where possible, you may have to carry your baggage for short distances.
General shortcomings of the tourism infrastructure may include problems with bureaucratic service, and availability and quality of public restrooms when not on board the train.