Last train to Pingyao

Pingyao old town

Train tickets for sleeping berths between Beijing and Pingyao (a touristic city about 12 hours south of the Chinese capital) are quite hard to get. Instead of traveling on a different date – where beds would be available for that overnight ride – I did choose to go “soft seat”. This means essentially a journey in third class, having just a seat.

The reality is actually much worse than that. Once on the train, my seat was taken by people without reservation. They would quickly vacate my seat, once they figured out that I had a reservation – but then they’d just would seat next to me. Means, two seats would occupy three persons. And I wasn’t the only traveler in this situation – my estimate is that the train left Beijing with about 15% more passengers than seats.

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Party city Beijing

The Great Wall between Jinshanling and Simatai

The train between Ulan-Bator in Mongolia and Beijing in China contains possibly the most scenic leg on the whole Trans-Mongolian train journey. Two hours before arriving into Beijing, the landscape changed from a flat desert into a green valley. Alongside the hill, our train was squeezing through tunnels and numerous bends. Jason, Ania (from my Gobi desert trip) and Adrien (a French bloke from the hostel in Ulan-Bator) were busy taking pictures through the windows.

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No desert for old men: The Gobi

Gobi Desert

Many backpackers do choose the same route (hey, they all read the same guide book…). Therefore, it is no wonder that I kept bumping into the same few people more than once. And it’s always nice to see a friendly and familiar face when arriving in a new hostel. Ulan-Bator was no exception to this experience. During the train ride to this city I bumped into two couples sitting in the compartment next to me. Since I knew them from back in Irkutsk, I decided to go to the same hostel as they were. This was a perfect decision, since I met there yet another couple I knew from back when I was in Siberia.
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Binge drinking in Irkutsk and Lake Baikal

Russian tourits having fun on frozen Lake Baikal

Irkutsk is one of the main hubs for tourists in Siberia. There’s enough infrastructure to stock up on food and head either east (Vladivostok), south (Mongolia) or west (Moscow). When I arrived there, a number of administrative tasks were on my mind: Getting the visa for Mongolia, see a barber shop, post some postcards and mail a DVD containing about 4GB of pictures as backup from the camera’s memory stick to Switzerland. Eventually – among all these tasks – I would have some time to visit the city and also stock up some cup noodles for the onward journey.

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