From Beijing to home in England by train
24.03.2007 - 14.04.2007
Feeling a little restless and wanting to cram in at least one adventure before I returned home from China I decided to Take a train from my temporary home in Tianjin to my real home in Huntingdon. I was a bit fed up with Beaurocracy at the time so I left most of the planning in the hands of a great company based in Beijing called ‘Monkey Business’ (Beijing@monkeyshrine.com). This meant that all my accommodation, tours and often food were taken care of before I arrived at any of my destinations. Also there were a few groups on a similar plan so rather than travelling on my own I was often in good company. There were 2 British guys and an American couple. They were a lot of fun and the trip wouldn’t have been the same without them. Along the way I met several other people like the Aussie couple I shared my cabin with on the way to Mongolia, who were great company.
The great thing about these sort of trips is the people you meet, trying, experiencing, seeing all the different foods, landscapes, cities and cultures at a glance just enough to leave a good impression and great memories.
Like most of my adventures I have written a book based on a travel diary so to give you a small taste of this amazing journey I will give you the basic itinerary of the trip with a few quotes from my diary to illustrate what it was like.
“I will travel through many countries, walk on water, drink with monkey’s, ride horses, have good times, even greater times, have sad times and shit times.
Do please read on.”
* Tianjin to Beijing – 1 hour 30 minute Train journey
“Loaded to the gills with luggage at my home for the last 6 months, Tianjin, I denied my girlfriend Rose to see me off at the train station despite the pain in my heart and the pain coming through the phone receiver, then I picked up my last pay from work and headed to the station to embark upon the very start of my epic train journey.
Next came an average and short 1½ hour journey into Beijing, with the odd bit of kindness and patience displayed by a few fellow passengers. I rolled into Beijing main station and then started the gruelling 5 minute walk to my Hostel : ).
The weather was drab and dark, in stark contrast to the excitement I felt about my trip, but I guess more reminiscent of my feeling having just left Rose.”
* Beijing – One night in Hostel
“My night in Beijing was nothing short of just a practical solution. The guys sharing my room at the hostel were good chaps. I shared a durian (stinky, slimy fruit) with an American with a cold, discussed British and Dutch Social and Economic policies with a guy who had travelled up and down China (on a bicycle!) and shared the odd conversation with another American and a Japanese guy.
“As you can imagine, budgeting the trip and attaining all the different currencies needed was not easy. In the end I went for a simple approach to the problem. I changed most of my money into dollars and the rest was changed into whatever currency was needed at that time. This worked well (score one for the traveller!).”
* Beijing to Ulanbaatar – 1 night on train
“So, you want to know about the train.
Well it’s a big, big train and seems quite clean and surprisingly comfortable. Outside the scenery rolls by. Round peaked, stepped mountains, the Great Wall, yellow-earthed plains, factories, quarries and the odd yellow-bricked town.
I will not be getting off this train once for the entire thirty-hour journey and we’ve only been moving 4 hours so far (26 more to go!). But still, the time is passing ok and my head feels fine (reference to a 5 month long re-occurring headache). Although my stomach as predicted is a little rocky.
There is a bathroom at both ends of the carriage and is so far clean but pokey (as you would expect). At one end of the hall outside my cabin are a samovar (free hot water) and the train assistants inside their own cabin.
So far all is well, lets read on and see how things develop.”
“sometimes the longest journey of all can be over the shortest distance, yet the shortest one can be over the longest. This is my current feeling as hour casually passes hour talking to my new friends.”
“I’ve eaten, which as it turns out, a journey unto itself. It takes a lot of time, patience and ingenuity to make a good edible meal on a train, only a second to fuck it up, but still only takes a few minutes to scoff it down.”
“Alrighty, its 1:30am and we have just entered Mongolia. We (my cabin mates and I) watched the changing of the Bogies, which was quite interesting in an odd sort of way. The Mongolian engineers lifted the entire train with us still on it and then slid the whole underside of our carriage out and replaced it effortlessly with bogies of a different gage. This is because, rather conveniently, both Mongolia and Russia have different sized tracks to the rest of the world.”
“If my writing has taken a turn for the worse its because I badly need to pee. The toilets have been locked since 8:30pm. They lock the toilets 30 minutes before and after stops and border checks to stop any unauthorised or unpaid for use of the train.
Border checks are a painful but necessary part of travelling across half the world on a train. They stop on both sides of the border and you must fill out a range of immigration forms and then have your Passport and Visa scrutinised by stern looking officials in pointy black leather boots. Your cabin is also given a once over by the official. During this time you must remain in your cabin and be seated on the lower bunks. They take many, many hours. I guess this border check took about 6 or 7 hours in total but I have read the Russian border check can take over 10 hours, so I shouldn’t complain.”
“I had a peaceful yet short sleep last night after we arrived in Mongolia at about 2am and I FINALLY got to pee (2nd best pee ever - the best pee ever was in Tokyo on new years 2006).
I awoke this morning at 6am and instinctively looked out of my cabin window. The view took my breath (and sleepiness) away. I saw the Gobi desert endlessly stretching past the window covered in snow and bathed in the light of a beautiful sunrise.”
*Ulanbaatar – City tour + One night in Ger Camp
“Even though I’m a little cold and tired, I have just taken my first shower since I left my apartment in China 3 days ago. So as you can imagine I feel pretty good right now.”
“I stayed in the surprisingly roomy and comfortable Ger with the two Brits. The décor was simple with the beds and tables painted with strong oranges and blues.”
“We spent the night playing some hilarious drinking games and running across the camps frozen plains to the small toilet. It was a wooden shelter the size of a porta-loo with a hole in the floor above a great big dug out and a mountain of poo.”
“This morning we did some archery (I was crap at fist but got the hang of it), played footie with a flat ball we found and walked up one of the many grassy hills to find a bullet ridden burnt out car on top.”
“What better way to take in the endless grassy plains, hills and blue skies than to ride around them on a small horse.”
* Ulanbaatar to Irkutsk – 2 nights on train
“There’s no dining car ahhhhhhhhhhhh but I am prepared with a few packets of instant noodles, a few cans of Tuna, some powdered fruit juice mix and some biscuits. Let the feast commence.”
“What’s the best way to pass a two day journey on a train in a small hot cabin, well the answer is sharing it with three beautiful Russian women playing cards, reading and having frequent visits by two adorable Mongolian children.”
“It’s coming up to 7am and we have stopped near the Russian border. I had just woken after a short sleep and stepped outside to find a toilet only to discover the great big train I had got on yesterday has been reduced to one carriage, where the fucks the train gone? And why is that scary looking Alsatian starring at me? To ease my worry I had a early morning toast of Vodka with an old Russian guy sat on the platform.”
“I have found the best way to express your gratitude to foreign hosts is to give them a postcard from home and when one is returned then all the better.”
* Irkutsk – 1 night home stay
“After so long in Asia, Russians scare me! With their large build, quick pace, shaved heads, beer bottles in hand, 90’s clothes and harsh sounding language. So as I walked the streets I was always on guard and felt nervous every time I had my camera out.”
* Irkutsk to Balshoe Goloustnoe – 2 hour mini bus journey
“I am happy to be re-united with my fellow monkeys”
* Balshoe Goloustnoe (Lake Baikal) – 1 night home stay
“Staying in a beautiful wooden house, in a beautiful village next to an amazingly beautiful frozen lake with a stereotypically huge Arian host and loving it.”
“Had my first traditional sauna with the guys and despite being slightly hellish and hot when your in there, the minute you cool down you want to go straight back in.”
“Jesus can walk on water and so can I. Yes, today I walked on the largest frozen fresh water lake in the world and I was pretty bloody nervous to start but after a while that all slipped away and I took in the breathtaking remote views surrounding me.”
“last night we continued our traditional monkey drinking game of ‘ring of fire’”.
* Balshoe Goloustnoe to Remote resort – 9km walk
“Not content with a remote village I have booked a night at a place so remote it doesn’t even have a name. But to get there I have to walk 9km on the frozen lake with only the company of my stern Russian guide.”
* Remote Resort – 1 night log cabin
“This place is fantastic. It’s peaceful, beautiful and there are no tourists or other people to take this feeling away from me. I’m off for a sauna next to the lake.”
* Balshoe Goloustnoe to Irkutsk – 2 hour mini bus journey
“Harsh 70’s sounding Russian disco music and a puncture, thank god for books and walkmans”
* Irkutsk – 1 night home stay
“After our steak meal and Guinness at ‘Bier Haus’ Martha ended up talking to a guy we had just ignored and regarded as being a nutter. He insisted on taking us to a bar so we followed him but as time bore on I started to get a bad feeling. He kept saying just a little further and when I was just about to suggest we flee we reached a dark alleyway leading into a dingy looking court yard. I thought this is it, now we will pay the price for being stupid tourists but as it turned out he had brought us to a rather nice bar with a live band and we had a good night. Just goes to show how pessimistic and judgemental I can be.”
* Irkutsk to Moscow – 3 nights on train
“I was just thinking about a scene form the film ‘about a boy’ that I think applies well to this trip. Hugh Grant is talking about filling his jobless and familyless days. He says he breaks up the day into units of time (one unit = about 30 minutes). This is what I do on this train. Reading = 3 units, trip to the dining car = 1 unit, watching a DVD on my laptop = 3 units, cards = 1 unit, nap = 4 units, writing this journal = 1 unit etc.”
* Moscow – 3 nights hotel
“I had forgotten how much I love European architecture and this city is packed full of it”
“I have seen so much walking around Moscow and riding its huge ornate metro system: Red Square, The Kremlin, The Preserved body of Lenin, The most amazing Cemetery and everything in-between. Yet I feel there is still so much left to explore.”
* Moscow to Prague – 2 nights on train
“Some trips are not about the journey itself but the people you meet and on this journey the kindness of strangers has been more than I could expect.”
* Czech Republic – 1 night Prague
1 night Friends Uni town
1 night Friends home town
“This leg of the journey has been a great change of pace. My tour guide in the Czech Republic has been Misty (A Czech friend from University) who has shown me around Prague drinking all the way, taken me to his University town drinking all the way and taken me to his home-town with a little drinking involved. Over the last few days I have seen the most beautiful city in Europe, played on Paddle boats, watched 300 at the cinema, enjoyed Czech food and beer, met Misty’s girlfriend and family, downhill biked and so much more. I have to give credit to Misty as he has been a very relaxed guide and great company.”
* Prague to Brampton – 1 night on train
“Compared to the Russian trains this German train is like staying in a 3-star hotel”
* Brampton – The End
“The first thing I heard as I arrived in London was ‘there are delays on the…..’ and the first thing I had to do was pay £4 for a single tube ticket. I am home wherever I like it or not”
That’s it hope you made it to the end of this story (I’d like to see you condense it anymore than I have) I enjoyed the trip immensely and have no regrets.