Barnstaple to Hong Kong by train

How to get round the world by trainA couple of years ago I was talking to my friend over a pint and discussing the best way to get to the far eas. Ostensibly it was to go surfing, he mentioned that one might be able to take a train from our local station to a regional budget flight hub in the far east for onward travel to the Indian ocean islands.

I quite liked the idea of crossing the gobi desert enroute to the waves. I knew I would not be able to take a board with me, they are very strict about things like that on Great Western, and the hassle of having a longboard sticking out of my compartment 9000 miles across Russia was an uncomfortable contemplation. I saw myself dragging a 10′ Takayama through a scene from Chekhovs ‘The Cherry Orchard’, searching for a tavern in the late summer sun while families watch me from behind picket fences and long corn.

I also envisioned our local train station: It is ten to eight on a busy weekday morning. I am at the front of a long queue attempting to purchase tickets from Barnstaple to Hong Kong, and wanting to double-check I can make all my connections. I can feel the other travellers looking at the back of my head willing me to give up, but I can’t. I must make sure that Ulan Bator is in the correct time zone for the connection to China.

Of course these days the optimum method for organising this sort of journey is with a computer, and the armchair world that opened up to me was a beautiful thing. I had the romantic carriage from Berlin to Moscow with double bed and ensuite shower for less than a single from here to London. I had the cost and time of train number 4 out of Moscow heading across Mongolia to Beijing. I had the time taken for the carriages to be craned off russian gauge dollies onto the chinese tracks. I had the cost of upgrading to ‘soft class’ on the chinese trains south to Hong Kong.

Unfortunately I never took the journey. Time and work precluded the adventure, and I flew via Dubai and Kuala Lumpur to Sumatra. However the journey is in my imagination, it might one day happen. Perhaps you and I will meet in a tavern in Omsk, the sun setting over the steppe. The horizon still and bereft of humanity.

The notes I made in the picture above included flights to continue round the world.

If this journey piques your interest have a look at


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.