London to Hong Kong Part 9 – “Harbin”

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Leaving the farm stay

Our time had come to an end and though I couldn’t wait to continue the journey, I felt somewhat nostalgic when I realised that I would probably never see Vladimir again.

We left at approximately 9am and made our way back to Irkutsk. Vladimir dropped us off at our next destination and he urged the boys to come visit him when they were bigger. I hope they do. I hope they will one day trace the steps we took on this trip and reconnect with Vladimir.

Things to do in Irkutsk with little time

We arrived at a quaint little unit that I found the night before scrolling through Airbnb. It is close to the tram and quite central for a decent price. We paid $72AUD for the night, but you can get it cheaper. The host were extremely accommodating and will help you out with anything you need!

With only had half a day that evening to check out Irkutsk. We had lunch and spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the streets of Irkutsk. I wanted to look for a Russian hat or even some warmer boots that were typically Siberian. We found the
central market in Irkutsk. Lots of produce and meat, which were able to purchase or our next rain journey. Just on the outside of the building though were more shops and small clothing markets.

I found a pair of Siberian boots that seemed to be the fashion and I didn’t waste any time in switching to these. I fitted right in with the locals!

                                                     My Siberian boots

That evening we had dinner at an Argentine Steakhouse and had an early night because the next day we woke up before the crack of dawn (mind you dawn isn’t until at least 9am). I wanted to catch an Uber from the unit to the station, but the argument was that traffic could be bad and it would make us late. Also, we had a tram around the corner of the place and it was more reliable. I didn’t win this argument and so we walked to the tram stop and made our way to the Irkutsk station.

On the tram very early and it’s cold

Waiting at Irkutsk station for our train

now awaiting to board the train

 

Irkutsk to Harbin

We were back on the train, this time for a two-day journey to Harbin. We knew what to expect and this brought about a sense of familiarity and confidence.

 

Goodbye Russia!

We finally arrived to our last Russian town called Zabaykalsk, which is the border town between Russia and Manzhouli, China. Zabaykalsk/Manzhouli is one of the three direct connections between Russian and Chinese Railways.  We had a 6 hour stop over here, so that the train could change over to accommodate to Chinese railway lines.

Zabaykalsk is a small town, with hardly any trees and no high buildings. We walked around and found ourselves in rundown, dry, dusty, pathless streets with dogs in every house barking at us. It wasn’t THE place to spend 6 hours in transit, but it was still very pleasant because the people in the corner shops were extremely friendly. We bought a Bilash for a snack, which is like an empanada with meat inside.

25 minute journey

                               

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Hong Kong to Ho Chi Minh Part 7 – “Hanoi”

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Today we spent the day visiting temples, walking around the lakes and checking out the local food markets. Lots of very interesting foods – some of which I would never eat!

The temple of literature, dedicated to Confucius is quite large, with a beautiful big pond and garden surroundings.

 

Having lunch at a small restaurant near the side of the road and had no idea what the meat was! One of them was definitely beef, but the other we couldn’t be certain. It was a rice noodle dish with greens and some spring rolls. In this instance I chose to live by the motto “ignorance is bliss”. If you’re adventurous and you can live by this motto, you will spend less time stressing, and more time enjoying the local culture.

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Hong Kong to Ho Chi Minh Part 4 – “Guangzhou to Hanoi train journey”

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Today there was not much site seeing but a day spent purely travelling. Thankfully we had a pleasant start – we didn’t need to be at the station until much later as the train departed at 11.40. Jason took the boys downstairs from the hotel to watch some kite flying. We had a decent buffet breakfast with almost everything you can think of to eat! With a full tummy we set on our way to Guangzhou south station.

We got 2 first class tickets on the bullet train ($200 yuan per adult).

Tip: If you want to save some bucks, you can get away with only buying two adult tickets. As children are free in most of China and Vietnam, just hope that there are empty seats so that you can seat them. The Guangzhou to Nanning East train ride took 3.5 hours.

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Hong Kong to Ho Chi Minh Part 1 – ” Our Journey”

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Our inspiration

We saw someone’s blog from Singapore to London by train and thought what a great idea and what an adventure it would be to do this with our two boys (aged at the time 2 and 3 years old).

Travelling with children can often be stressful and many choose to wait until their children are old enough to “remember” or old enough so that it is easier for the parents. But who wants to wait when there is a whole world out there waiting to be explored and not enough time!

Exactly a year ago (2015), we were planning our trip to Europe (Paris, Bruges, Austria and Germany (where most of our time was spent). We now have the experience of long travel and train journeys through parts of Europe with our boys, and can safely say that they loved the train rides and have more of an idea how to cope with long travel journeys.

Of course travelling from Singapore to London is quite an ambitious journey to do in one go. Hence, we thought we would complete this adventure in stages. And thus, Hong Kong to Ho Chi Minh is just the beginning of this ambitious excursion.

Below is a draft outline of our travel plans.

hong-kong-to-vietnam

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Draft travel itinerary:

Day 1: Arrive at Hong Kong and spend the weekend catching up with friends and site seeing.

Day 4: Hong Kong to Guangzhou – catch the train from Kowloon station (known as Hung Hom) to Guangzhou East station.

Day 5: 1. Guangzhou to Nanning fast train (am). Approx. 4hr travel time. You can see China railway for tickets.

2. Nanning to Hanoi. Take the train from Nanning main station, which leaves every day around 18:10 and arrives at Hanoi Gia Lam station around 05:20 the next morning. See https://www.chinaticketonline.com/internationaltrains/ for train tickets.

Day 6: Hanoi to Halong bay (approx 3 hr travel time). Take a 2 days/1 night cruise at Halong Bay.

Day 8: 1. Halong bay to Hanoi (am)

2. Hanoi to Lao Cai (pm) on an overnight sleeper train (approx. 8hr travel time) on SP1

There are many options to travel by train from Hanoi to Lao Cai. We chose SP1 & Sp2.

SP1 & SP2: Recommended train with very few stops. Conveys Vietnamese Railways air-con soft sleepers, air-con hard sleepers, air-con hard seats. This train also conveys various privately-run sleeping-cars for tourists, including Fanxipan, King, Ratraco, Orient Express, Livitrans, Royal, TSC, Tulico, Pumpkin and several others. We chose to travel with the Vietnamese railway air-con soft 4-berth sleeper. An awesome website with heaps of information about train travels can be found at seat61.com.

Another useful site is dsvn.vn. Here you can view what coach (carriage) and cabins are available. The only problem we found was that you cannot purchase a ticket outside of Vietnam, which made things a little difficult. Nevertheless, this site was great in order to determine availability and to cross-check with the other website that we ended up purchasing our tickets from – baolau.vn. The reason we cross-checked both sites was because baolau.vn does NOT allow you to select your coach or cabin.

Day 12: Lao Cai to Hanoi (pm) on overnight sleeper (approx 8hr travel time). SP2.

Day 14: Train from Hanoi to Dong Hoi.

From here we will visit Phong Nha Cave, Paradise Cave and the Vinh moc tunnels, which all are a fascinating piece of history!

The rest of our trip is yet to be confirmed, but I will update as we go along (hopefully I have internet and TIME).

Please feel free to read my other updates and blogs of our journey, as each has some info about doing this journey with kids. If you’ve ever wanted to do something like this, then there might be some useful information for you.