Why train trips?
Growing up in the New England region has meant that long-distance train trips are a somewhat regular part of my life. The eight and a half hour train trip from Armidale to Sydney takes place whenever there’s a birthday, wedding, or special occasion in the Northern Tablelands, and the Armidale to Newcastle trek (a slightly shorter six hours) used to be a special treat in university when we wanted a night out that didn’t end at 1am.
In both China and South Korea, I availed myself of the G-Train and KTX respectively whenever I wanted to visit Shanghai, Seoul, Hangzhou, or Busan. These trips were fast and not particularly beautiful, but it’s fair to say I’m a fan of rail travel. It’s roomier than flying or taking a bus, and what you lose in travel time, you make up for in often beautiful views along the way.
While I’ve taken a few long haul trains in Australia and Thailand, I’ve never really made a dream train trip – something epic like the Trans-Siberian or the Orient Express. So, below are eleven (I couldn’t cut one, dammit!) train trips I’m daydreaming about taking someday.
#11 – The Pride of Africa
Described (by them) as the most luxurious train journey in the world, the Pride of Africa is a two-week rail journey that takes passengers through South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania – stopping in at a number of destinations along the way.
Run by Rovos Rail, the picturesque journey through the heart of African safari territory can cost anywhere up to and $56,000 US. Probably a trip I’ll need to save for when I’ve written a few best-sellers/married Scarlett Johannsen. Rovos Rail also do other length African trips, including the Cape to Cairo that takes you from the bottom
#10 – Hiram Bingham
From Africa to South America, where the Hiram Bingham takes travelers along one of the most scenic three-hour journeys you’ll ever encounter. Starting in Cuzco and winding its way up to Machu Picchu, the stunning train ride is named for Hiram Bingham III, the man credited with ‘discovering’ Machu Picchu. Compared to the rather pricey Pride of Africa, the Hiram Bingham weighs in at a more affordable (but still not cheap) $1100 US. Thanks to Julio of Travel World Heritage for correcting this price for me.
#9 – Maharaja Express
We skip across to India now, where the regal Maharaja Express runs a number of routes running from 3 to 7 nights and covering such famed locations as Delhi, Mumbai, and Jaipur where you’ll do such fancy things as watching elephant polo, sipping champagne by the Taj Mahal, and exploring the jungle in search of tigers.
Maharaja Trains also offer trips on such grandly named trains as the Palace on Wheels, the Royal Rajasthan, and the Golden Chariot (which hits Bangalore and the beaches of Goa).
If you’ve ever seen the fantastic Wes Anderson movie, The Darjeeling Limited, you might also be interested in taking the Darjeeling-Himalayan Railway, although the train pictured in the movie is more akin to the above luxury trains than the ‘toy train’ that runs the Darjeeling to New Jalpaiguri route.
#8 – Rocky Mountaineer
Traveling through the stunning beauty of the Canadian Rockies from which it gets its name, the Rocky Mountaineer can be taken from coast to coast or in a smaller, more bite-sized (but no less amazing) journey.
The pricier (around $5200) Coast to Coast connects Vancouver and Halifax over 12-13 visually amazing days, but smaller trips such as the Rainforest to Goldrush or the Coastal Passage offer stunning views on a shorter time frame for closer to $3000. With the stunning views of snow-capped mountains, pine forests, and dazzling lakes, the Rocky Mountaineer is one to aspire to.
#7 – The Royal Scotsman
Nobody does luxury and pretension quite like the British (except maybe the French), and with the price-tag of close to $9000 for a four-day tour of the Scottish Highlands, you’d expect nothing less than the devastatingly fancy. The trip does include activities such as clay pigeon shooting on an estate, five-star dining, and all the whiskey you can drink; not to mention a stateroom that puts to shame most of the hotels you’ve ever stayed in.
#6 – Qinghai-Tibet Railway
I first learned about the Qinghai to Tibet Railway when I was researching my 10 Different Places to Visit in China piece way back in 2012, but never did get the time to take this epic train journey that starts on China’s densely populated east coast and ends up in the mountainous tranquility of not entirely happy to be occupied Tibet.
The railway is the highest in the world and is remarkably affordable at less than $200 for the three day Beijing to Lhasa trip. If you’re expecting the kind of luxury offered in other train trips mentioned on this journey, though, you’re in for a shock. Like most rail journeys in China, the Qinghai-Tibet is bare bones travel, but totally worth it for the stunning views.
#5 – The Indian Pacific
Australia’s Indian Pacific and Ghan Express are both iconic and lengthy treks across the barren red center of the country, but I’ve had a soft spot for the Indian Pacific ever since taking the Sydney to Broken Hill leg of the trip when I was a child growing up in Menindee.
The trip between Perth and Sydney takes 4 days and 3 nights, and allows you to take in the stark beauty of the Western Australian and South Australian deserts, as well as seeing much of New South Wales’ interior. Prices range from $1679 to $3599 AUD, but do include comfortable accommodations, all food, and (in the case of the more expensive platinum ticket) off train excursions to places such as Broken Hill, Adelaide, Kalgoorlie, and Perth.
There is also the option to ‘break’ your journey in Adelaide, giving you a chance to experience the city before resuming your journey across the country.
#4 – The Oriental Express
Not to be confused with the more famous Orient Express, the Oriental Express is a luxurious journey through South East Asia run by the same company who runs the Royal Scotsman, the Orient Express, and the Hiram Bingham. With that kind of pedigree, you’re not likely to get South East Asian prices, but you’re getting a standard of travel that is far removed from the cramped, slow trains that are more common in the region.
The journey joins Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Singapore, Bangkok in Thailand, and Vientiane in Laos – and there are a number of packages ranging in price from $2400 to just shy of $10,000 depending on the length and content of your journey.
#3 – Jungfraujoch and Glacier Express
Combining two of Switzerland’s most famous rail trips, this double package features Europe’s highest rail journey (a day trip to Jungfraujoch) as well as the eye-popping Glacier Express to St. Moritz. This journey is all about stunning views, snow, glaciers, and cool mountain air – and weighs in at a remarkably cheap $1670.
For skiing enthusiasts or those who just have an immense appreciation for mountains and glaciers, this is a trip that cannot be missed.
#2 – The Orient Express
The first name that springs to mind when you think of luxury train trips, the London to Venice Orient Express is the benchmark for rail royalty. Prices are around the $5000 mark, but the trip offers a rare glimpse into the glory days of rail travel – when ‘first class’ meant a dining car, a smoking room, and a suite that makes a seat in first class on a plane look like a slap in the face.
The Orient Express also runs to other iconic European locations such as Budapest, Istanbul, Paris, Prague, and Stockholm – making it an expensive but unforgettable way to see Europe.
#1 – The Trans-Siberian Railway
The Trans-Siberian journey from Beijing to Moscow is high priority on my bucket list. I contemplated making the trek across to London for my friend’s wedding by Trans-Siberian, but the two week travel time and near 5000 Euro price tag meant it wasn’t really feasible at this point in my life.
While it’s possible to do the lengthy trip across the largest continent in the world in less time and on a lower budget, part of the appeal of the legendary trip is being able to stop off and experience places such as Ulaan Baatar in Mongolia, Lake Baikal, and the like.
Have you ever taken one of the above train trips? What was your experience like?
Or do you have another epic train trip you think everybody should try before they die?
Cover photo courtesy of b4bees