Katie and I are at the beginning of our own Trans-Siberian experience. Currently we are in St. Petersburg and plan to head east to Lake Baikal, then south to Mongolia. On this podcast, Jari and Nadezhda gave me some great tips on riding this famous train across Russia.
Here it is, my last podcast about Russia! I talk about our final week in the country, then Katie joins me to discuss the good, bad and simply interesting facets of our journey.
In this episode, I'll fill you in on what we've been up to in the last week. Katie and I have been traveling across Russia on the Trans-Siberian Train. We started the week in Suzdal, a little village near Moscow. We ended it in Krasnoyarsk, around 4000 KM to the east.
Katie and I met Jari and Nadezhda during our stay in Helsinki,. All of us used to live in Beijing, so we had a lot in common. We swapped many China stories, and I found out that they had taken the Trans-Siberian train from Vladivostok to Helsinki.
As many of you know, last year Katie tore her Achilles' tendon while playing frisbee in China. During her lengthy recovery, we managed to squeeze in a trip to northern Thailand. Chiang Mai and Pai were beautiful places; I'd love to go back some day. For us, one of the highlights of Chiang Mai was renting a scooter and driving to a temple above the city. Here are some photos:
The three of us boarded a train bound for Kunming, a small city of three million, about five hours away. Our tickets were for a sleeper car, with beds stacked three high. But instead of using all of the bunks, everyone sat on the bottom one, four to a bed. I ignored this convention and went straight to the top bunk, where I organized my backpack. Soon I felt a yank on my foot, and then I heard a continuous, angry shout. I turned around and saw a train employee who reminded me of Nurse Ratched. Apparently, the “convention” of sitting on the bottom bed was actually a “rule.” After I climbed down, Nurse Rached yelled at me some more, then stormed off. Per an eery custom in China, everyone else around us was locked into a distant gaze, as if completely unaware of the scene unfolding before them.
The train was nearly empty, and it left an hour late. Most of the carriages were sleepers, though there were also a couple of hard-seat cars and a luxurious dining car. We spent most of the afternoon watching the ocean-side scenery, including rice fields at the foot of emerald mountains, cemeteries, wooden houses and tropical vegetation. We also passed through several towns and cities. Before coming here, it was hard to imagine what 90 million people, packed into a country twice the size of Wisconsin, might look like. But after seeing city after huge city, I was beginning to understand.
Our Train arrived in Da Nang at 6am. We walked to the main road and got on the bus to Hoi An. The attendant was wearing sunglasses, and a mask covered her mouth. A local woman who boarded the bus in front of us paid 20,000 dong. I tried giving the attendant the same amount, but she demanded 40,000 each. After getting ripped off – and threatened with a knife – in Can Tho, I was already leery of Vietnamese bus attendants. And now we were being charged double, simply because we were foreigners.
The idea of riding a train across Australia might bore some people to tears, but it got me excited. I would have loved to have taken the Indian Pacific train all the way from Sydney to Perth, but with my flight to Cambodia quickly approaching, I didn't have the time. Luckily, I could still do a large portion of that trip. I would catch the train as it passed through Adelaide, and ride it all the way to Perth.
Eventually I reached the Gibson Steps, just a few minutes from the end of the 100 KM hike. Hundreds of tourists were slowly making their way to the beach for a good view of the Twelve Apostles. I also walked down the steps, though with a different motive. I wanted to hitch a ride back to Geelong (public transportation was hard to find in these parts), but I was filthy and smelly from five days' walking without a shower. I had to do something about my body odor before I would have a prayer of catching a ride. Absent a shower, I figured an ocean bath would be my next best bet...
After the sun had set, I tried to explain a special event that was about to take place: a total lunar eclipse, where the sun's rays would be refracted upon hitting the Earth, turning the moon red. I took out my phone and showed my new friends the Chinese character for “eclipse.” Then I showed them the character for “blood,” since this type of eclipse is known as a “blood moon” in English. One of the men immediately understood and explained it to his friends. Some people sitting near us overheard the discussion and started making comments about the eclipse. Soon everyone in our car was looking for the blood moon.