Macau by Kevin Jaako

Trip Planning For China Thinking about a slow trip to China?

In China by Nick Nomi0 Comments

We’ve been looking at our next trip away from the continent and at the minute, we are focusing our efforts on China. Thinking of the sheer size of the country we’ve decided that it’s likely that for our first trip – we’ll stick to just one or two places – perhaps take in a city or two (Shanghai, Macau…) and then something a little more scenic (Guilin, Zhangye…).  We are yet to decide on how we’ll reach China – but we’re looking into train travel over flights – the real way to slow travel.

As there’s an awful lot to consider – I’ve decided to post much of our research, along with some helpful hits and tips for planning slow travel trips to China right here on the blog.

Thinking About Trains – Europe to China

As we love travelling by train it seems only right that we should complete our first long distance experience (while writing the Slow Travel Diary anyway) by embarking on another trip on the rails. Last year we travelled from London through Paris and to Annecy, and then just a month ago, completed the trip to where we are now, in Firenze, Italy, by travelling by TGV to Turin and then onwards by the Frecciarosso to Firenze.  The year before we travelled from London to Venice by train stopping off in Paris, Lyon, Annecy, Turin, Milan, Genoa, Santa Margarita Ligure (and Portofino), Firenze and Venice. We’ve also travelled through South East Asia by train (including a fantastic journey from Bangkok to Chiang Mai in 3rd class), the UK and through Germany to Denmark – though much of this we’ve yet to write about here (but we will be adding as much as possible!!) In short we love train travel. 

As we’re currently based in Firenze, it’s highly likely that we’ll travel by train first from Firenze to Padova, and then cross into Germany, first stopping at Munich and then onwards to Berlin (and visit Maria’s family for a day or two), and then from Berlin to Moscow (perhaps visit some more of Maria’s family) and onwards from Moscow to Beijing on the great Tran-Siberian Railway – a dream come true. 

Below is a breakdown of that journey split into the 3 major legs of the route – all based on our research so far.

Now if you do your research you’ll note that you can also travel by Milan and a few other cities in both Italy and Germany – but for now we’re sticking to this route as it’s simple and quick.

The connection details for this route, travelling on a weekday, as booked through Rail Europe (though we will likely book directly with TrenItalia when it comes to it as prices are mostly better) are as follows:

Take the 12:15 Frecciargento 9416 train to Padova from FIRENZE Santa Maria Novella which arrives at 13:52 in PADOVA.

At 14:07 board the Eurocity 86 in PADOVA which arrives at 20:24 in MUENCHEN HBF

Then switch to the 22:15 City Night Line 1246 in MUENCHEN HBF which arrives the following day at 08:00 in BERLIN HBF.

It’s also possible to simply spend the night in Munich and then take the slightly faster ICE in the morning direct to Berlin.

All these routes are easy to book via Rail Europe – which is best especially for those new to International rail travel – but there’s a higher degree of customisation on offer if you book with the individual carriers – so TrenItaliaDeutsche Bahn, etc.

This is a slightly more complex route – there are several ways to attack it – including forwarding onto Warsaw, going through Ukraine, etc. Each has their benefit – for example – taking the direct route will require us to get a transit visa for Belarus, while going instead to Warsaw and then onwards to Moscow via Estonia will not require a visa. For ease we will likely take the direct overnight train, which starts in Paris and stops in Berlin (as well as Warsaw, Brest and Minsk) en route to Moscow.

There is a daily direct  N24 / N453 sleeper train from Berlin Hauptbahnhof at 21:49 which arrives in Moscow a little over 24 hours later at approx. 0:04.

The legendary route itself.  I’ve wanted to ride this route, and a huge collection of others, all my life – since being a boy full of romantic ideals and boyish dreams (all still present and intact I might add) – the child in me will squeal in delight as we board this train – and thankfully, my wonderful multilingual wife will be along for the ride, in her native country no less, she’ll no doubt supervise me as I go about bothering people hoping to bump into a mystery or two as the noisy wrangle of steel ploughs through Siberia, across Mongolia and through the Gobi dessert before reaching the beautiful landscapes of China.

The Trans-Siberian railway has 3 routes – two of which go to China. We’ll most likely travel on the Moscow to Beijing via Mongolia route.

The weekly Trans-Mongolian train leaves Moscow just once a week on Tuesday night. It embarks on a massive 4,735 mile journey which takes 6 nights to complete. We’ve yet to decide on the compartment – but we’re aiming for a first class 2- birth. There’s plenty of agencies to buy tickets from but we’ll probably go with one of the Russian ones as we’ll be starting from Moscow.

Tours in China

Now I’ll be honest, I’ve taken one tour in my entire life –  a private tour of the Necropolis under the Vatican..and that was because it’s the only way to get under there. I’m not a fan of tours. But for a country like China, it’s beginning to dawn on me that we’ll probably benefit from a tour or two – especially in the countryside and, if we decide to head in that direction, places such as the Gobi Desert.

I’d prefer to avoid the traditional  tour operators who more often that not operate scams to force people into shops and the like (I really don’t have the patience for such things) and so have been researching new operators such as Jetbay – who at least on the surface seem to offer a more modern, moderated and tailored approach. Additionally they have some good resources online for trip planning especially for China, and some interesting tours that take in both the larger cities and the outer regions of of the country-  that I think will be helpful to open our eyes to places we might not otherwise think of visiting.

At the minute – it’s likely we’ll stay in Beijing and then move onto Guilin. Though, depending on time, we may also go to Macau and Shanghai. This of course will only be ideal if we stay for at least a month – as we’re not fans of rushing – as I’m sure is obvious – this is the Slow Travel Diary after all. However, as mentioned – it’s likely that we’ll take a tour of several places to get a general idea of the cities and then move onto the second half of our trip – say a week in Shanghai if we like it, or 2 weeks in Guilin exploring the wilderness. Though this is still very much in the air – pending further research and hopefully a few hints and tips from the travel community…

If you have some tips of your own – particularly on train journeys in China (we’ll be covering this in a later post) – and on your experiences taking tours in China – then we’d love to hear from you in the comments. 

* Cover image is by Kevin Jaako

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