Tag Archives: Train

Day 151 – When the lights go out

Whilst the statistics have told us that Shanghai is the biggest city in the world, it hasn’t actually felt like it that much in terms of the number of people we have seen.

That changed today.

A combination of a weekend and a public holiday meant that the streets are rammed with people in the way that can annoy you.  Think Meadowhall on the last Saturday before Christmas and you are somewhere close, but with the added ‘benefit’ that the Chinese people have a different tolerance to personal space and willingness to walk into you without feeling the need to apologise.

By the end of a morning walking round the wonderful maze of alleyways of the Tiangzang area (a delightful collection of shops and cafés) I had spend a good period of my time staring in that English way and muttering under my breath.

The rest of the day was spent sat on another Chinese train travelling across the country.  The hard sleeper layout is a much more communal affair with 6 bunks per ‘room’, and by room it means alcove off the corridor.  A great way to get to know our G group (and a number of other people) better as we discuss the politics of China and play one of the most complicated game of Uno ever.

UNO was concluded by the light of mobile phones and torches when the 10pm light curfew arrived 20 minutes early and the subsequent getting ready for bed was made more challenging than it would have already been.

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Days 143 to 145 – Nightrain

Our overland journey through S.E.Asia continues with the most audacious journey of the entire trip, a three day, two night train journey from Hanoi in Northern Vietnam to Beijing in the north of China.

We boarded our train at 6pm on the first day and headed north towards the border, reaching the end of the Vietnamese railway system in Dang Dong at around 11pm. Our train at this stage is a paltry 2 carriages and we and only 3 other passengers depart to go through the deserted customs and passport control manned by Chinese officers in really badly fitting uniforms (a trait of all the single party communist states we have visited).

Swapping on to a Chinese gauge train of the same size we get our heads down and head into China only to be awoken at around 5:30 at Nanning station where we have to disembark for a couple of hours to allow some shunting to add additional carriages to the train. We leave the waiting area to attempt to bolster our food supplies of pot noodles, Oreo biscuits and crackers but sadly the ATM and our cards are not compatible so we resort to a rationing plan which works beautifully.

Our long day on the train is spend hogging one of the few plug sockets to power our range of gadgets whilst we start to plan our Japan leg of the trip, catch up with photos and blogs and play the highly addictive Rayman Runs game. We are easily distracted by the sights out of the window where you can almost visible see the raw materials of the world pouring into the country with huge infrastructure projects of concrete and steel appearing every few minutes, we have never seen so much construction in one country before.

Westerners appear to be a rare sight on the train, particularly as we travel through the less well known parts of China and we regularly find people stood staring into our cabin, unnerving at first but a smile works wonders and people seem for the most part very friendly. That said we are glad that the other two berths in our cabin are not sold and we get the place to ourselves for the second night running and we watch a film on the iPad and enjoy a cup of tea after managing to turn a pot noodle container into a makeshift tea cup.

Thanks to the ultra smooth Chinese railways we wake after another good nights sleep and eventually depart the train after 41 hours feeling pretty refreshed and head out into the clear blue sky ready for whatever China has in store for us.

Day 136 – It’s raining again

When we jetted out of the UK in November we were dreaming of a year without winter. Such thoughts were brought to an abrupt halt as we arrived in ‘sunny’ Rio to 2 days of solid rain, but after that the sun came out and we have enjoyed the last four months of our trip almost entirely without the presence of precipitation. Even when we have had the odd shower in a few places, it has been of the tropical variety in hot climates that help to clear some of the humidity.

All good things, as they say, come to an end and as we travelled north on the night train the sound of rain could be heard against the windows. We awoke on the approach into Hanoi, skies grey and laden with rain, and out of the train window we see that shorts and sandals had been replaced with shoes, jeans and umbrellas. Stepping off the train we also discovered that the rain had brought its long time meteorological friend with it. The cold.

For a short period of time it is nice to feel the need to have a hot drink in a cafe, not need to cover yourself in suncream and insect repellent, and get a sense of weather similar to home. Walking round the city, avoiding puddles, and seeing the lights slowly illuminate the night sky through the drizzle you get a slight sense that Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner could have been in part inspired by Hanoi in the rain.

Day 67 – The Day We Caught the Train

We are awaken by the sound of a train horn sounding in the distance. It is a reminder, if we needed it, that today we head off to Cusco aboard the Andean Explorer.

A remarkably grand form of transport compared to everything we have been on so far in S.America – a 1920s style Pullman train that will make the journey over spectacular terrain an extraordinary experience (a big thanks to my Dad for the generous Christmas gift of the tickets).  In fact, by some accounts, this is the second most scenic railway journey in the world.

In the UK taking the train is normally the most time efficient option, but in Peru our choice is slow in comparison to the bus, our normally favoured transport option. It takes a leisurely 10 hours compared the 6-7 it takes by road.  But this is not a journey made for the speed, but one for the sights and experience.

Our train pulls out of Puno train station bang on the scheduled 8am departure time and the railway line literally runs through the middle of the town for a few minutes before the urban landscape gives way to the open countryside.

The first part of the journey runs along the banks of the mighty Lake Titicaca, who’s beauty is only slightly marred by the site of the most expensive hotel in Puno (and perhaps Peru) – Hotel Titilaka.  At $1000US a night it is prohibitively expensive for all but a fortunate few, and it is a shame that  it’s architect seems to have taken inspiration from a 1960s UK housing estate.

Inside the train we are treated to a fabulously grand decor.  Comfy armchairs provide seating, brass and wood decorate the interior, and the last two carriages are a cocktail bar and viewing carriage complete with glass roof and open rear section!  Leaning against the brass railings in this last car and watching the track and the world drift by is truly mesmerising, with the sound of the train on the tracks softens almost into melody.

Throughout the journey we predominantly are treated to views of the Andean highlands and the sights of indigenous subsistence lifestyles which are almost unrecognisable from anything we have experience of.  Families living seemingly on top of the world and in the middle of nowhere with only the food, clothes and materials that they can make themselves.

On a couple of occasions the greenery is punctuated by the sight of a town or city.  Very much like Puno, the train track runs directly through them and the road transport is brought to a standstill as the train trundles through and across roads with the horn blaring loudly.  It isn’t just the cars that are impacted, the train runs straight through the town market!  Locals move the stalls that are directly in the way off the track temporarily before placing them back down as the train passes by – its an amazing sight – and those that remain all but touch the side of the train!

We agree that it feels a little strange being in such opulent surroundings looking at the relative poverty of the town as we slowly pass by, but the local children and adults alike seem happy to see the train and we are constantly waving and smiling back at them.

Throughout the journey we are treated to food and drink of the highest standard, a full 3 course dinner, Pisco Sour cocktails and afternoon tea of sandwiches and cakes!  So much food that when we finally arrive at our destination of Cusco we are not really in need of much sustenance so just settle into our accommodation and have a brief walk round our latest destination.