In the first edition of this series we finished in Kabul, Afghanistan. As discussed in that post, there aren’t actually any passenger trains running to Afghanistan, and so we’ll need to take the safest route to a train station in a neighboring country.
On our previous trip to Afghanistan our guide wouldn’t take us south of Kabul by road, and so our best option is to retrace our steps back north to Uzbekistan. We’ll walk back across the bridge into Termez in Uzbekistan, and then catch the train up to Tashkent — from where we can continue our journey to Hong Kong.
We’ll take an over night train from Tashkent to Astana, departing Tashkent at 03:50 and arriving into Astana at 18:33 the next day. We can theoretically buy these tickets from Kazakhstan Railways online for £44 or £54 depending on level of comfort desired, but it may prove easier to purchase them from a tour agent for a small markup and not have to deal with website registration and figuring out the Russian names for the cities.
It is well worth spending a couple of days in Astana to see the incredible post-soviet architecture built as part of making this city the new capital of Kazakhstan.
From Astana there is one train a week to Urumqi in China, departing 16:45 on a Saturday and arriving into Urumqi at 10:10 on a Monday. Tickets cost around £123 or £138 — again, depending on comfort. The carriages are Kazak, and fairly old. Alternatively we could travel via Almaty instead and pick up a Chinese train from there, which run twice a week.
From Urumqi to Beijing things start becoming easier, with China’s investment in railways meaning more frequent and more modern trains. It’s still a long journey though, with the longest option departing Urumqi at 18:50 on day 1 and not arriving until 09:30 on day 3. Train tickets are usually bought at the train station, but to guarantee availability you can book through tour agents.
Beijing is another city well worth spending some time in, maybe with a side-trip to the Great Wall. There are some great food tours to be had in Beijing, so you may want to spend a few days here.
From Beijing there are a number of options for getting to Hong Kong. The high speed rail link opened up in September 2018, cutting the journey time down to just under 9 hours. But as expected, this is also the most expensive option.
The high speed link also has sleeper trains, involving a change of train in Guagzhou. It’s time-effective, but it’s designed for weekend travelers and so only runs Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights.
The classic sleeper trains take 24 hours, departing Beijing at 13:01 every other day and arriving into Hong Kong at 13:01. It’s a nice relaxed journey, and the cheapest option. And since we’ve already come this far, we’re not exactly pushed for time. Tickets can again be purchased at the station, with Beijing staff speaking some English, but tickets sell quickly — so it may be worth purchasing online via an agent.
Stay tuned for next month’s post in this series of fantasy train journeys, and feel free to leave a comment on where you’d like us to go next.