1st August - 25th August 2014
Package travel from the Baltic to the Beijing and beyondThe Trans-Siberian/Mongolian railway represented the second phase of our journey. It also symbolized the end of our "plan each day as it comes" lifestyle we'd become accustomed to in Europe because the twenty five day leg was ultimately booked through two travel companies. Now I know what some your thinking "package trips are a lazy way to do things and they drain any sense of adventure away out of backpacking" and in many ways I agree. However for us the main positive of travelling via this method was the visa assistance we'd receive.
When Jono and I planned our round the world journey (or as much as we could plan at the time) we knew are only chance of having two months to travel in Europe lay in the hands of our UK provider Trailfinders. As we were both new to over-landing for such a length of time and we had the joy of completing three sets of visa applications (at the time you needed a visa for Mongolia), two of which were for countries notorious for having difficult embassies it made sense to pay a little extra to have a professional to guide us. Our decision certainly paid off as the Mongolia and Russia visas arrived relatively quickly, however China had to be difficult.
If your attempting to travel in China one thing you must be aware of is the need to have an "EXIT TICKET". Without one your unlikely to get a visa. Now this would normally be fine but if your avoiding flights ad having to plan a few months in advance you are unable to make pre-booking in China earlier than one month before departure. This as you imagine did not sit well with us and it did not sit well with the Chinese embassy. At this point we were beginning to panic because this would scupper our entire challenge. Thankfully the good people at Trailfinder's advised us to write a letter explaining we would like to take a legitimate rail route from Nanning to Hanoi. I'm sure there were an array of phone calls involved but without their help we would have been stuck in a rut.
The second tour operator we booked through were the aptly named Vodkatrain. As the name suggests Vodkatrain create package tours through Russia, Asia, India and parts of Europe.
To look back at our Vodkatrain and China antics check out the links below.
Listvyanka (Lake Baikal)
Gorkhi-Terelj National Park
Mongolia to China