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Does anyone have experience or know about travelling from South East Asia to Europe, all by land? I'd be happy to catch a quick flight here and there but would prefer to do the entire trip by land.

I really don't know much about making the trip and would love to receive some first-hand advice. I really don't have to stick to any plan/time constraints, but I'll ideally start the trip in Thailand and end up anywhere in Europe.

  • What's the best route?
  • How long should it take?
  • What sort of monthly budget would I need?

Thank you!

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4 Answers

I have never done such a trip, but you should have a look at train lines.

I think the Transsiberian has a route linking Moscow to Beijing. Then, to progress further west, it depends on which European country you wish to reach. The Moscow-Berlin-Paris train leaves several times a week and takes 38 hours, including one night on board.

A good website I recommend you is Seat61. Here you may find some information about getting from UK to anywhere in the world by train.

Keep in mind that such long-distance routes go accross multiple countries. In western Europe, this is not an issue. Crossing all the countries in-between may require you to get as many suitable transit visas.

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Your first stop is The Man in Seat 61, a site dedicated to train travel around the world and getting there from England by train in particular. The focus is on train travel but overland alternatives (buses, boats, etc.) are mentioned when trains don't cut it. So read London to Thailand overland.

Starting from Thailand, crossing Myanmar is pretty much impossible. So you need to cross into Laos or Cambodia, then Vietnam, then China (you can cross Laos directly into China, but it makes for a complex trip). According to Seat61, either option lets you travel from Bangkok to Hanoi in two days, with a 3-day trip through Cambodia being a more comfortable option. Seat61 has a map of trains and connecting buses in the region.

From Hanoi, it's all plain sailing, or rather plain train riding, through eastern China, then on the Trans-Siberian to Moscow and from there wherever you want to go to in Europe. Again Seat 61 has the details; there are daily connections between Hanoi and Beijing, with a twice-weekly direct train taking two days. The Trans-Siberian travels the 9000km from Beijing to Moscow in 6 days.

Alternatives for this part of the journey are scarce. While not as impossible as Myanmar, western China (Tibet and Xinjiang) is restricted to most travelers. You may or may not be able to cross Xinjiang and into Central Asia, then proceed west either through Russia or through Iran into Turkey. This depends on your nationality, your taste for adventure and how much time you have. You may follow one of the many Silk Road itineraries, if the journey is that much more important than the destination.

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Xinjiang is not as "restricted" as it seems. On my trip to Urumqi last year, my friend from UK managed to get a visa from the Chinese consulate in Almaty within a week. Clearing the border immigration over land is a breeze on the China side (i.e. no haggling on bribes, etc.). However, after the change of administration in Beijing later that year, they tightened the visa regulation (invitation letter, etc.) and as of this moment it's still tedious to get a Chinese visa. –  Brennan Neoh Jun 8 '13 at 2:09
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I have attempted to travel from Singapore to London overland, and in the end abort the trip when I reached Astana, Kazakhstan. My itinerary is as follows:

  1. Singapore
  2. Kuala Lumpur - via bus transfer from Aeroline
  3. Butterworth - via train from KL
  4. Hatyai - via cab and car transfer from Butterworth
  5. Bangkok - via train from Hatyai
  6. Aranyaprathet and Poipet (border town of Bangkok-Cambodia) - via car transfer
  7. Siem Reap - via car transfer from Poipet
  8. Phnom Penh - via car transfer from Siem Reap
  9. Ho Chi Minh City - via bus
  10. Hanoi - via train
  11. Nanning - via train
  12. Beijing - via train
  13. Xi'an - via train
  14. Urumqi - via train
  15. Almaty - via train
  16. Astana - via train

From Astana, you can book a train to Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and went on further to Europe.

Cost

From Singapore onwards, I would say set aside about USD5,000 to USD6,000 to be safe, depending on your preferences. I have land myself in several scams as I have no choice but to make the payment. Guess that's part and parcel of learning while travelling. Also, long-distance travel on train can be rather tiring and exhausting. So you might not even want to choose the cheapest alternative all the time. One issue with China trains is that if you are rushing, it is difficult for you to book the tickets that you want as well.

Time

I set aside two months to complete the whole journey. In the end, we took slightly more than one month to reach Astana. My take is two months might be a little too rush, given that you might not always go according to your plan. During this trip, I have cancelled several destinations due to inability to find the transport, and end up staying in one city longer than expected. Still, I think this is the beauty of a long distance trip like this.

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Route

If I start from Singapore (the tip of the Malayan peninsula), I will take a train to Butterworth in Malaysia followed by a train from Butterworth to Bangkok. From Bangkok, I will take a train to Udon Thani so that I can cross over to Vientiane (Laos) by Bus. From Vientiane, I will travel by bus to Hanoi then continue my train journey to Kunming and head straight to Beijing. From Beijing I will take a train to Urumqi in the Xinjiang province then follow it up with a weekend train ride into Almaty (Kazakhstan). I will then take another train from Almaty to Moscow, followed by Moscow to St. Petersburg and finally from St. Petersburg to Germany.

Time

I will give myself approximately two months. This includes rest in between the trips, and cater for technical and unexpected delays. I think there is a chance that it might take you a 1 1/2 months, but I highly advice against pushing it too short a time frame as immigration and customs might be nasty along some of the borders (i.e. bribes, long queues, etc.).

Costs

Inclusive of visas, food and rooms at hostels/guesthouses along the journey, I would set aside about US$2,000 for the entire trip. Some immigration officials (especially along the Laos border) would request for a fee for immigration clearance, and that is taking into account as well for the amount I mentioned.

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Take note that train from Singapore to Malaysia has ceased operation since early 2011. Read en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanjong_Pagar_railway_station However you can book bus/coach from Bugis to Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur) –  Rudy Gunawan Jul 29 '13 at 5:42
    
@Rudy There's still a train from Singapore to Malaysia. It calls at Woodlands Checkpoint instead of Tanjung Pagar railway station. –  Brennan Neoh Jul 30 '13 at 8:38
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protected by Mark Mayo Jul 28 '13 at 17:33

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