Discover Russia: lake Baikal

In the southern part of frigid cold known as Siberia in the evergreen Russian taiga forests lies the enormous and magical lake Baikal that is unlike any other lake in the world. The deepest and the most ancient lake on the planet is renowned for its beauty and often referred to as Sacred Lake by Russians. I chatted with my friend Anna who took a trip there a couple months ago. Here, she shares her tips and advice, including an extended route to central Asia and the best place to stay!

There are three islands of freedom – Jamaica, Cuba and Olkhon. And we are all brothers!  — Panphil Nsalkhanov, Maly Khuzhir, Olkhon Island

  • What did you expect to see there in the first place and what were your impressions about the Baikal? 

I’ve always wanted to go to Lake Baikal. What did I know about it? That it’s the deepest freshwater lake in the world and that it’s very beautiful. When my friend and I bought the tickets we were super excited but then we started having thoughts: “it’s just a lake, what’s so special? Nature is always beautiful. What if we have too many expectations?” But now I can say: it’s incredible, you just can’t get enough of it.

  • What makes this place so special and magical?

It’s everything: the nature, the people, the sky full of stars. The feeling of freedom that you have: when you are on Olkhon Island you are far away from the reality, routine and problems. Let’s just say, we met a guy on Olkhon who planned to stay for one month, and he’s been living there for 7 years so far.
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  • How long should stay there? 

For Lake Baikal, I would say at least a week (and at least 4 days on Olkhon Island). There are other famous spots on Lake Baikal such as Listvyanka and Slyudyanka that we didn’t have a chance to see because were short on time.

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  • What else is there to see apart from the lake?

There are plenty of things to do. Of course it depends on your route. We did Ulan-Ude – Ulan Bator (Mongolia) – Irkutsk – Olkhon Island. Here’s a quick overview at what you can do there:
Ulan-Ude: it’s the capital of The Republic of Buryatia with Buddhism as one of the main confessions. Must do: go to Ivolginsky Datsan (the Buddhist Temple), tie a colored ribbon round the tree in the grove behind the temple for good luck – really works!
Ulan Bator: I’m super happy we went to Mongolia. Must do: travel to Gorkhi-Terelj National Park and live in a yurt with locals. I fell in love with Mongolian culture and people. It’s a fusion of the past and the future. If you are lucky to have more time than we did – then go travel around Mongolia.

Irkutsk: it was just a starting point for us to get to Olkhon. But I should say the city is beautiful and it’s famous for its old wooden houses with carved windows.


Olkhon:
see the stars at night – one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen! We could spend hours lying on the shore and watching the stars. Travel the whole island; go say hi to the Mayor of Khuzhir (main village of the island) – he’s a very nice guy that takes good care of the island and talk to locals in Maly Khuzhir (small village) – not sure whether they speak English but you will pretty much understand each other over a drink.

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  • Where should you stay?

I would recommend Golden Gobi hostel in Ulan Bator and Nikita’s Homestead on Olkhon.

Golden Gobi is owned by a very nice Mongolian family and you get a delicious home-made breakfast. They also provide really good excursions to Gorkhi-Terelj National Park. Oh, and they even picked us up at the bus-stop!

Nikita’s is one of the most famous places to stay among tourists. We’ve been to Olkhon in midseason (May, 2015) and it was the only lively place on the island – very cozy and fun. If you stay there you should book a ride to the far shore of the island with lunch break outside where you can try a traditional Russian soup “Ukha” (fish soup). Yummy!

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Thank you so much, Anna!

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