Arrived in Irkutsk at 12.30pm on the train and tried to rush across to the bus station as I knew there was a bus for Khuzir on Olkhon island, the biggest island in Lake Baikal, leaving at 2pm. When I got there the lady in the ticket office told me the tickets had sold out for that day and the next day. I started to panic about what I was going to do, but when I went out the front of the bus station I saw minibuses with signs on the side saying ‘Olkhon’, so paid 700R for a seat in one of them. The minibus was completely full and I was sat on a fold-down seat near the front, so was not the most comfortable 7 hour journey. I met some people from South Korea on the bus and we had dinner together while we waited more than an hour at MRS for the ferry across to Olkhon. I found out later we were quite lucky, as earlier in the week some people had been waiting 2 days for the ferry crossing as the queue was so big and the ferry is quite small.
The drive from the ferry was very bumpy on the hilly dirt roads and took about an hour to get to Khuzhir. I was staying at Nikita’s in a dorm which was a fairly high 1000R a night, but included breakfast and dinner. It was only 5 minutes walk from the central tourist office drop off place.
After dinner I walked to the Shaman rocks which were about 10 minutes walk behind Nikita’s and watched the beautiful sunset over the amazing scenery of the lake.
The next day I booked onto a 4×4 tour of Cape Khoboi, the Northernmost point of the island. While waiting I bumped into 2 colleagues from work who were booked on the same tour – proving again what a small world it really is!
On the tour I could see why 4×4’s were needed as it was an incredibly bumpy ride across the dirt roads, with our driver driving like a lunatic, probably trying to impress the all-female tourists he had on board. We stopped at an old fishing village and a few other points before we got to Cape Khoboi. There we had more than an hour to walk to the end, where there were beautiful views of the clear waters of the lake and the cliffs of the island. It actually looked a lot like Wales! Fish soup was served for lunch before we headed off to another viewpoint before heading back to Khuzir. I would definitely recommend the tour as the scenery was beautiful, and cost just 700R, plus had to pay an extra 60R for entrance to the National Park.
I was meant to stay 2 nights at Nikita’s, but ended up cancelling my night in Irkutsk as it was so beautiful at Lake Baikal and didn’t want to leave so soon.
At night the stars were beautiful, and even though the skies were hazy or cloudy all the nights I was there was able to see the Milky Way one night. The other thing was had to wait until around 2am until it was properly dark.
The next day I walked around the lakeside by Khuzir then went to the big beach to the North of Shaman rocks. I wanted to attempt swimming in the lake after I’d seen so many Russians do it, but also knew from putting my hand in before that the water was ice cold. Eventually managed to slowly acclimatise myself to the shockingly cold temperature by sitting on the edge with my feet in for a while, then moved more and more into the water very slowly. After about 20 minutes or more of doing this I managed to walk fully into the water. The freezing temperature was still a massive shock, but managed to submerge myself and have a bit of a swim. Had to come out after about 10 minutes cos a massive rain storm came which forced everyone to leave the beach.
Later I went on one of the 2 hour sunset boat tours on the lake which was good fun. Halfway through the trip they gave us bread to feed the seagulls, so our boat and the other two boats in the convoy were surrounded by flocks of seagulls.
Before I started the Trans-Siberian trip I thought that Baikal would be the highlight of the trip, and so far I’m right as visiting the vast, bleak but beautiful landscapes together with the deepest lake in the world has been an amazing experience.