Sunday, May 11, 2014

Planning My Siberian Train Trip

After reading Paul Theroux's "Ghost Train to the Eastern Star" and later "The Great Railway Bazaar", I decided that I would enjoy traveling by train through Russia, Mongolia, and China on the Trans-Siberian Railway on the Trans-Mongolian route rather than the Trans-Siberian route from Moscow to Vladivostok or the Trans-Manchurian route from Moscow to Beijing via Manchuria. The Trans-Mongolian route would allow me to visit Mongolia to take some tours around the Ulaanbaatar area, including staying overnight in a "ger" and riding a horse on the steppes before continuing my train travel to Beijing. You can see my route in the blue line from Moscow via Ulaanbaatar to Beijing along with the other routes in the map provided to me by Mark Smith of The Man in Seat Sixty-One His website was an invaluable tool for me to plan my trip as well as buy my Trans-Mongolian train tickets.

I then planned my train route through China following the red line with stops in Guilin for a repeat visit to Yangshuo which I visited in 2009, and then on to Nanning where I plan to take the international train to Hanoi. After Hanoi, I plan to take the train down to Danang where I will stop for a visit to Hoi An. This will be my third visit to Hoi An, a beautiful arts and crafts port city, with delectable restaurants throughout. After that I will take the train the Nha Trang for an island party boat ride and some wonderful snorkeling.

From there I will visit Delat, a Central Highland town, famous for its embroidered art work. I received a gift of a village scene from the owner of the Hy Vy Hotel in Saigon who had unsuccessfuly applied for a US Visa to visit her two childeren who were attending school in San Diego. I sent a few letters to the State Dept. on her behalf and advised her on how to explain that she intended to just visit and then return to Saigon to run her hotel. On the third time, she was successful and following that she sent the beautiful embroidery.

From Delat, I will be taking a minibus to Ho Chi Minh City and tour there a few days before flying to Bangkok. While in Thailand, I plan to visit several islands like Ko Chang, Ko Samet and Ko Samui as well as Krabi.

On my way back to Seattle, I will take advantage of stopover priviledges offered by the Star Alliance, Eva Air and stop in Taipei, Taiwan (TPE) for about a week. I previously done one week stopovers in Japan, but this will be my first time visiting Taipei so it should be very interesting.

Since I always use frequent flyer mileage for my international trips, I began my search on September 18th for flights to Moscow and from Bangkok on the United Air website that were leaving near the end of May 2014. I plugged in my search for multi stops beginning with the SEA-DME (Moscow) leg and then did a BKK (Bangkok) to SEA leaving around the end of July. I immediately got the first leg to DME, and then I saw that I could do a stopover in either Frankfurt, an intermediate stop on the way to DME, or in Taipei. Since I had never been to Taipei, I decided to book the one week stopover there. I ended up using 62,500 United frequent flyer miles with airport service fees of $96, and will be flying from SEA to DME on Lufthansa, and from BKK via TPE to SEA by Eva Air. I did a search of the same flights using Kayak, and I came up with a price of $5,480.

Other than generally figuring out the major places I want to visit, I normally only make advance travel and hotel arrangements on the first day I arrive or if I am arriving in a city after dark. This time, I had to make reservations for my travels through Russia, and China so that I could get the required "invitations" for my visa applications. Typically I use the Lonely Planet guidebooks as a starting point in looking for budget accommodations, but this time I used Hostelworld. It is a great resource because there are detailed descriptions of the amenities, accommodations and prices, traveler reviews, locator maps, and you can make reservations as well as change them for a small fee.

Here, I have laid out my airline itineraries, US Passport, copies of my three visas, the three guidebooks I used in my planning: "Trans-Siberian Handbook", Lonely Planet Guides, "Trans-Siberian Railway" and "Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos & Northern Thailand", Russia Invitation Letter, Russia train confirmation, and the Godzilla Hostel confirmation.

Once I get to Beijing, I just have three other set times where I have to be and that is my Air Asia flight from HCMC to Bangkok on July 6th, my Bangkok flight to Taipei, Taiwan, and my return flight from TPE to SEA on August 1st. After Beijing, I will still have about 2,700 miles of train travel plus some bus travel before arriving in HCMC, so I will need to keep "track" of my pace through China and Vietnam.


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