Arshan is a village about 3 hours by bus (or 2 hours by car) from Baikal lake, and it is a start of Sayan mountains. In fact, it is a famous (among Russians) thermal waters resort, so it is quite touristique and there are a lot of souvenir shops, organized hot springs, and buses daily to Irkutsk and Ulan-Ude.
Arshan in located in Buryatia and most of the people who live there are Buryatians.
You can start exploring Sayan mountain range from Arshan, and get as far as Mongolia (which is quite near, in fact). Also, you can do a few short day trekking walks there or swim in the mountain river. There is also a meditation and yoga camp, they can rent you a tent, so you will be able to enjoy the nature (without necessarily involving in the activities they do in the camp).
It’s very easy to find accommodation in Arshan. Almost all local people who live on the main Traktovaya street offer a room for rent at their houses. Usually it costs from 60 to 200 R ($2 to $7) a day for a person. You can recognize the “landlords” very easily: they have a sign with “Zhilye” written on it. You can find them hanging around the bus station and other places where there are many tourists or just selling food, herbs and souvenirs on the street.
A very good alternative to a homestay is a tent camp on Kynryga river, in a 15 minutes walk from the bus station. The camp is located in a very nice and quiet place just next to the river and can really make you feel the nature of the area. One very nice thing about this camp is that there’s a daily meditation and hatha yoga practices for those, who’re interested (for free).
You can either come there with your own tent and pay 90 R ($4) a day for a place, or rent a tent, a mat, and a sleeping bag for 190 R ($6) all together.
You can also pay 55 R ($2) and be fed twice a day with a nice vegetarian meal cooked from the local stuff.
What to Do in Arshan
The best activity you can find in Arshan is to walk around the hills (it is a start of Sayan range mountains). There's a river Kynryga, which goes far in teh mountains, you can walk along this river, and that's what most of the people do. There are a few waterfalls along the way, and most people stop at the first waterfall and swim there, but if you walk about 20 minutes more you'll get to the place (along the river), where there are hardly any people. There are a few spots to camp also. It gets dark around 7 in the evening, so it's better to come back before that time.
Sayan mountains are great for hiking, horseriding, or rafting. There are no travel agencies directly in Arshan, but in the yoga camp we talked of above, they propose some trips like that. However, when we were there, everything was booked and the nearest trip was going to be in a week. Usually, it costs about $30-$50 a day per person.
If you want to make sure you'll be able to try some of these activities, we recommend you to book them beforehand with the tour operators presented on our site in Baikal / Activities section. They have really good inexpensive offers, or otherwise, you can book a 10-day rafting trip.
Some Practical Information:
The shops are located on the main square, next to the bus stop. There are all kinds of products available, ice-creams, smoked fish, and beers in open-air cafes. There are also two cantines that serve very cheap food, but it's not of a good quality. It's better to eat in the yoga camp, where they can feed you with vegeterian (and non-vegeterian stuff) for $2 only.
In the mornings, from 10 to 2, there's a market, where the local people sell veggies, milk, cottage cheese.
There's a post office, that's located on the main square, it's open: 9.00-17.00, closed 13.00-14.00, days off: sat and sun. There's also an international phone office, which is always crowded (you'll have to wait 2 hours in the line), it's opened every day, from 9.00 until 21.00.