Train-ing around the world

posted in: Personal, Travel | 0

This morning I was thinking about my Gap Year in 2009, and how long ago that seems now.

Back in 2009, I took a Gap Year after finishing school and before starting at Oxford (incidentally, I was accepted at Oxford the week before Christmas of 2008, and then left for my travels on the 1st January 2009: it was a good two weeks!).

As a wide-eyed 17 year old planning the trip, one day while looking at a map of the world I realized that you could travel overland to Thailand from England. I thought that even though flying was the most common route, perhaps traveling overland would be ultimately a much more fulfilling experience. I told my Mum this. Unsurprisingly, she first thought I was joking. Once she realised I wasn’t joking, the worrying set in. Nonetheless, my mind now set, aged 17 I began organizing and arranging the logistics. As you might imagine, travelling overland from London to Bangkok is a little tricker than just buying a plane ticket online. We had to arrange a number of visas along the way (Belarus; Russia; Mongolia; China; Vietnam; Cambodia; Thailand), and many of the trains we were catching only ran once or twice a week. Navigating changing time zones and planning the correct trains to take was, at times, a headache. But we did it, eventually. Once I had turned 18, I was ready. The visas were completed, and we had a huge stack of train tickets and timetables.

On the 1st January 2009 I set off on this trip of a lifetime with my best friend. We travelled overland to Thailand from London, going through Europe, Russia, Mongolia, China, Cambodia and Vietnam. This trip was life-changing. We saw the Siberian winter; experienced the isolation of the Great Wall; saw the splendour of the Forbidden Palace; diced with death crossing the road in Hanoi; met pythons in the Mekong Delta; cried at the killing fields in Cambodia; learnt to dive in Koh Tao; danced all night on the beach at a Full Moon party; hiked through the Thai mountains, saved a hurt puppy by carrying it on one hand while climbing up a waterfall; showered for a week in said waterfall; played alone with baby tigers and lions; worked for a month building a new canteen at a rural Thai orphanage for children whose parents died of HIV; and so many more experiences that I cannot list them all. I still dream about it, and often wish I could go back and do it again (But of course, there are some bits I don’t miss, like being lost in Moscow in the freezing cold; leaning on a cage of pythons when I have a severe snake phobia; only eating Mars Bars and Pot Noodles for a week on the Trans-Siberian, etc).

Whenever I talk about the trip, the immediate response is always one of incredulity. Indeed, to this date I don’t know anyone else that has done that trip. Thinking outside the box really can lead to some good results.

Gap Year Map3
One hell of a train journey…

 

Trans-Siberian
Trans-Siberian
Great Wall
Great Wall