The End. The trip in numbers

This overland trip from London to Singapore was, in numbers:

24 countries visited
19,598 km (!!!) and…
0 planes taken!
112 days on the road
7 boats
3 minivans
19 buses
37 trains
1 car
1 Russian van
1 camel …

…and 67 dwarves

and also:
5 posts on this blog written by my wife and all the others by me, and not the other way round! (she did correct my English to be honest, edited bits and did an amazing job with the photos)

0 days to prepare the trip (I am romanticizing it, but surely it was not much preparation…)
747 lines methodically recorded in a spreadsheet to track all of our expenses and hopefully help future travelers to be convinced that it is totally possible
97.49 euros spent per day for two. If you doubt that I counted, check this post!

dozens of border crossing from hell

hundreds of laughter

thousands of great pictures

and uncountable exceptional memories

but it is mostly one:

One amazing girl,

for who leaving our jobs and going out on such an adventure was a triviality.
For who having no financial security or future prospect was not a concern.
For who happiness is not a target but a simple daily reality.

On that 23rd of June 2015,  she made me realize a kid’s dream when I boarded the Trans-Siberian train: An icon of the end of the 19th century, a mammoth engineering project that took decades to build and cost the lives of thousands of people, which made the world look a lot smaller.

For all of this and so much more, thank you Mel. I love you dearly.

“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”
Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

TransSiberian-2

 

—THE END—

 

[Travelonomics] How do you spend your money on a sabbatical?

Due to popular success of my little analysis of the price of coffee through our trip, I have looked into the numbers to give more insight about how we spent our money. For a rationale (sort of), look here.

 

The Split

So, what do you spend your money on such a trip? Here is the pie chart:

Pie_chart1

Surprisingly, even without trying, we split our money pretty equally between transport, accommodation and food (Please note that the drinking part is pretty negligible!)

A few comments about this:

  • Misc. costs is everything from buying toothpaste to sending postcards. All the things I am not bothered to categorize. Ultimately, it is very small.
  • we traveled fast (4 months for almost 20,000km): this inflates the cost of transport.
    To save money: travel slow. Also note that you can save a lot of money on transport if you are smart (hello Trans-Siberian train!)
  • Visa cost has been quite low to us because we have European passport and we paid only for Russia, China and Laos (It cost a lot of sweat too)
  • Food in / Food out is how I categorized cooking at a hostel/house versus going to a restaurant. There is no question that by balancing this ratio towards cooking, you will save a lot of money in Europe! It is not through in South East Asia however.

What about a roof?

So how much does it cost to have a safe shelter during a long travel? Well, the ultimate answer is: ‘not as much as you think’. Look below, and remember that we are a couple, so we do look for private rooms, preferably comfy and in city centers. The cost below is an average per person per night in EUR.

Graph1

A few comments:

  • You: “you made a mistake, there is an outlier at the bottom”
    Me: “No, that is the price of a room in Amsterdam during the tulip festival…”
  • You: “Is Russia so cheap?”
    Me: “Not really, we just slept a lot of nights in the train, so we did not fully experience the Russian price madness (at least when it comes to accommodation)”
  • You: “It costs the same to stay in Germany and China? (!!!).”
    Me: “Yes. Some countries have been really good at understanding the business of (foreign) travelers and hostels are fairly expensive (Hello China, hello Turkey!). ”
    It is often much cheaper to stay in hotels than in hostels/guesthouse in these countries, particularly if they are recommended by your favorite travel guide or website…
  • Also remember that sometimes, when you travel for a long time, you just want to stay in a very nice hotel and relax, so there may be little spikes in the data!

Table1

 

I really hope that this data would be helpful to you if you are thinking about making the big plunge into a sabbatical.

The last (few thousands) mile (s)

Thailand to Singapore

Chiang Rai, Day 101-103, Chiang Mai, Day 104, Bangkok Day 104 to 106, Koh Lipe 106 to 108
and a day lost in the train across Malaysia

A story of trains, a familiar land and the rainy season

More borders

The border crossing from Laos to Thailand was slightly stressful. Stressful because the boats arrive around 6pm (awkwardly docking an hour after passing under the Friendship Bridge – or border, probably to prop up the local economy) and the border closes…at 6pm.
Slightly only because in actual fact the border closes at 10pm. All the stories are concocted to make you stick around in what is a totally unremarkable border town, you have plenty of time to get to the border by Tuktuk for an inflated price (20,000 LAK per person for a 10 minutes ride). If like us you have grossly underestimated the amount of LAK necessary for the two day boat trip + border crossing (admin fees, bridge-crossing fee, etc), you will probably go hungry and have to borrow cash from a fellow traveler just to get across the border.

Pseud0-back home

Once you cross the border, everything falls into place: you are now in Thailand, a country familiar with tourism where transport is efficient and cheap, food is excellent and cheap and hotels quality to price ratios are among the best in the world. Yes: and cheap. Believe me, after traveling through Russia or China, ‘and cheap’ is not a detail to our budget anymore. We joined forces with other weary travelers and hired a private mini-van to take us from the Thai border to Chiang Rai directly.

Thai-2

The skies can open up any time…

When is a good time to go to Thailand again?

Flowing from Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai (a bigger, more touristy version of the former) and then Bangkok has been smooth, booking hostels as we arrive and feasting on street food. Buses and trains are very comfortable and our journey was easy. Our final stop before home, the beautiful island of Koh Lipe, was another story. Why? Have you heard of the rainy season or the monsoon in South-East Asia? Then you should check the seasons if you are about to book.

Thai-3

Would-be paradise (without the big black clouds…)

Riding the storm, then riding home

Koh-Lipe is beautiful. At least in pictures. An hour and a half speed boat ride in a storm may make you miss this point. Luckily, since you travel during the rainy season, you have a good rain proof bag, a poncho and sea-sickness pills. Obviously we did not. We had one useful thing: mosquito repellent, which quickly became our best friend when we arrived on the island. Black sea and thunderstorms deterred us from going snorkeling or diving, anyway the marine national park is closed during this period. Why are we here again? We are being hard on ourselves: we wanted to have the best season in Europe (late spring) and arrive in Mongolia for the Nadaam festival early July. We knew we would be ending our trip in the rain. This is why, after a break that was relaxing whatever I may say, we took a long ride home, two days of trains from Thailand across the whole of Malaysia without even stopping, to arrive as planned just on time for the 50th anniversary of our host country, Singapore. And what a blast!

The end of the story over the week end, stay tuned!

Thai-5

The last in a long series of overnight trains was not bad at all…except for the lights and loudspeakers announcing EVERY stop through the night!!

 

 

Our journey through Laos

——All the pictures from Laos here!————
Laos, Luang Prabang Day 96 to 98, Going down the river to the Thai border, Day 99-100

After days in Mongolia and China, crossing the border to Laos was a walk in the park (well, not exactly though…). Luang Prabang has to be one of the most chilled cities in the world. We immediately felt at ease and somehow much closer to home:
shiny happy people, excellent food (and cheap), natural beautiful surroundings, and of course the usual little scams where people try to sell you things for more money than you would find them in Europe…

Three days in this heritage city went fast and we found ourselves quickly on a boat that would lead us, two days later, to the Thai border, a very enjoyable ride if you manage to avoid the rainy season, unlike us…

I will stop here for the story and move on to traveler’s advice:

If you are a traveler, don’t bother to buy the ticket in advance, particularly in low season, just show up at pier (it is 110,000 LAK). Of course make sure that you Tuktuk driver does not rip you off to get there (it is far, but no more than 20,000 LAK far) and you want to get there early not to sit for the next 10 hours next to the engine…

The boat stops overnight at Pak Beng, a village that has probably been created just for this boat stop. A pretty useless stop to feed up on coffee, beers and pizza at London prices (remember, there is nothing around…) and off you go to the Thai border the next morning. When you arrive at around 6pm , don’t listen to touts, the border closes at 10pm, plenty of time to go there with a Tuktuk that should cost no more than 10,000 LAK if you can bargain, the rest is straightfoward!

Enjoy the boat!

 

 

 

 

 

The looong bus ride – from Kunming to Luang Prabang

MJ: As anyone who has attempted to traverse continents overland would know, there is no rail network in Laos. And since I was intent on visiting Laos (Luang Prabang, to be exact), and I’m about as stubborn as they come, we were destined to endure a very long bus ride!

Unlike most other journeys we have made thus far in the trip, this one was by far the most exotic – meaning that it was impossible to find any information, let alone book tickets, in advance.

If you’ve traveled through South America, you will not consider 24hrs on a bus as a particularly long journey…but as expected, the comfort level is not quite the same.

A bit of info for anyone foolish enough to make this trip: The bus leaves from Kunming at 18:30 everyday from the south coach station which is easily reached by metro (25mins) from the main railway station.

Kunming Metro
In theory it would be possible to leave on the same day without spending a night in Kunming, but there’s no way to book tickets in advance (or even to call them for info) so you just have to try your luck at the bus station.

Cost per ticket 398 yuan – cash only (as with most places in China)

If, like us, you don’t speak Chinese, ask someone to write down the details of your booking request beforehand as there is no desk for ticketing in English. They will ask you where you want to sit in the bus, upper or lower, front or back. Now if like us you have visions of ordinary long distance buses in your mind you will be fairly ambivalent about your seat number/location (top or bottom). Big mistake!

Great expectations…Lionel understood top or bottom to be a double decker bus with reclining business class seats like the DB buses which traverse much of Europe – could there even be power points and wifi??

Bus
Hahaha! We were just lucky there weren’t any chickens.

Bus Interior
Top or bottom? Well lets just say that an average size person cannot sit up on a bottom bunk so you choose.

Front or back? This is the view from the back and as you can see there is a lot more space in the front three rows so I would recommend asking for a “seat” up front.

See below for the row (10 seats) at the back of the bus.

Laos-7

All things considered (see above), we got lucky but with a “double” bed that barely measured 5ft it was not going to be a comfortable night.

Bus Interior 2

As I’m slowly adjusting to what would be my surroundings for the next 24hrs I note that a child beside me looks far too comfortable for my liking – oh of course because he’s barely 4ft tall! Smug little brat – reminds me of those kids swimming in their first class seats on airplanes looking up at you with their smug little faces as you squeeze past en route to cattle class. Rant over.

The bus was almost empty when we bought our tickets the afternoon before BUT it fills up and it became quite clear that we were quite far off the backpacker trail – not another laowai in sight!

I was able to ignore my own discomfort momentarily to giggle at the horror on the faces of people walking down the bus as they slowly came to realize their fate had landed them in one of the two 5 person bunk beds at the back.

Bus Interior 3

The bus left on time and although we were melting in the bus station without air conditioning or fans it cools down once the bus is moving.

Did I mention there was no toilet on the bus? Luckily there were regular breaks so it wasn’t too bad. Besides, after Mongolia we are accustomed to heeding the call of nature alfresco.

As if the journey wasn’t rough enough of itself, some of our fellow passengers decided to help themselves to our laptop and passport case while we were sleeping.

I think I woke up before they had figured out how they were going to safely stash the stolen goods, because no sooner had we gone to the front of the bus to complain to the driver, than we returned to find our things had mysteriously reappeared on our bed!

The China/Laos border is about as inefficient as you can imagine. We stopped at 5AM for two hours only to continue and reach the border by 8:30AM. It was 11AM before we were on the road again in Laos.

Travelers tip: take plenty of cash with you. There is no ATM at the border and the Laos visa costs $30-40 US + $2 service fee. We used every last bit of cash that we had = 24hrs of starvation.

The scenery as you ride through Northern Laos is beautiful, the roads much less so. We spent the next few hours reliving our off road adventures in Mongolia.

Laos Road

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!