During the month of September, I took 29 trains from Lisbon, Portugal to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh), Vietnam. I’ve approximated it to be about 25,000kms of travel, but the more accurate distance results will be published shortly on the Ultimate Train Challenge website.
I sat on these 29 trains a cumulative amount of 339 hours and 50 minutes. That’s over 14 days – straight.
My top five train rides for time were:
Trans-Manchurian from Moscow to Beijing: 150 hours
Hanoi to Saigon: 35 hours
Prague to Lviv: 23 hours (technically this was two trains, with a one-hour break in between)
Shanghai to Guilin: 22 hours
Barcelona to Zurich: 16.5 hours
Given that I was “only” on trains for 14 days (!), I also had time to check out a few sights in a flurried fashion along the way. Here are some highlights:
I ate my way around Lisbon Portugal, sampling their heavenly seafood rice and famous pastéis de Belém.
I felt sorry for myself in Barcelona, Spain before finally settling firmly ON the beaten path.
I stayed with a long-lost family friend and her family in Zurich, Switzerland, and caught up with another friend who treated me to cheesy raclette (yum)!
I reconnected in Prague, Czech Republic with a group of friends who I met on a tv shoot last year, and I found myself caught off-guard and very much “naked”.
I hit rock bottom in Lviv, Ukraine before coming up for air and realizing that it’s a gorgeous place worthy of a future visit.
I took a few days to hike in the Carpathian Mountains in Ukraine (a real highlight of the whole trip), and dug a little bit beneath the surface of the country, experiencing paradoxes like the Very-Fast Train which was One Hour Late.
I reflected on the first half of the trip and braced myself for the second half while in Moscow, Russia.
I got to know Michael and Jeannie a whole lot better (in a good way!) on the epic one-week journey from Moscow to Beijing on the Trans-Manchurian train.
I came full-circle in my life and travels by unwittingly revisiting the exact spot on the Great Wall of China that I had been to 18 years prior on my first overseas trip.
I wandered further down memory lane in Guilin, China on a river tour that was about 100 times more crowded than I remembered it.
I had a series of random experiences on Asian trains on the long disjointed journey from Beijing, China to southern Vietnam and Saigon – the final Ultimate Train Challenge destination.
Although the trip itself is complete, my writing about it isn’t! In the next few weeks, I’ll be publishing some entertaining videos and video diaries of my Ultimate Train Challenge adventures, as well as a number of posts about Saigon – a place that wended its way very close to my heart in the short 11 days I stayed there.
I feel so blessed to have experienced this once-in-a-lifetime adventure. It was fast, furious, exhausting, exhilarating, and a collection of random experiences – memories and stories – I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.
Memories and stories; the best souvenirs a Professional Hobo could ever hope for.
This trip would not have been possible without our generous sponsors; HostelBookers arranged for accommodation in Lisbon (Rossio Patio Hostel), Lviv (Mister Hostel), Moscow (Prosto Hostel), Beijing (Happy Dragon Courtyard Hostel), Guilin (How Hostel), and one glorious week in Saigon at Thien Thao Hotel. (Remember – HostelBookers isn’t just for hostels; you can book all sorts of accommodation through them with no fees, and a guaranteed low price).
Eurail also hooked us up with Global Passes, which gave us the ability to roam at will through up to 22 countries in 15 days.
Active Ukraine treated me to my trip into the Carpathian mountains, and Oksana also gave me a quick tour of Lviv, and met Jeannie and I briefly in Kyiv. Ukraine absolutely wouldn’t have been the same otherwise.
Real Russia was responsible for getting us on the Trans-Manchurian train from Moscow to Beijing, and provided us with all kinds of logistical assistance leading up to the challenge.
Lastly, China Odyssey Tours made our trip through China a breeze, with organized private tours, transfers and ticket purchasing services, thus allowing us to simply enjoy all that China had to offer instead of stressing about how to get around in our semi-delerious state.
Thank you, thank you, thank you!