Public transport from Europe to South-East Asia

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1. Posted by Jari Weisdorf (Budding Member 3 posts) 2w Star this if you like it!

Hi fellow travellers,

We are a couple (male-female) about to plan a trip from Denmark to Singapore by public transport (mostly train, but possibly also buses and ferries). We count on spending 1-2 months on the trip allowing for stays and a bit of exploration along the way. Our guess at an itinerary sounds something like Denmark-Germany-Poland-Slovakia-Hungary-Serbia-Bulgaria-Turkey-Iran-Pakistan-India-Bangladesh-Myanmar-Thailand-Malaysia-Singapore.

First, we'd like to hear if anyone else has done a trip of this kind and could give some general advice?

Secondly, we have a bit of difficulty in finding information about rail networks, especially in the Asian countries. So if anyone knows about the availability of long-distance train rides in these countries it would be a help as well.

Third, we are not sure about visa restrictions and if we need to apply before entering any of the countries, this also applies mostly to the Asian countries.

Of course, we welcome any other advice you would share with us!

Thanks, Jari & Sinika :)

2. Posted by leics2 (Travel Guru 3362 posts) 2w 2 Star this if you like it!

>Secondly, we have a bit of difficulty in finding information about rail networks, especially in the Asian countries. So if anyone knows about the availability of long-distance train rides in these countries it would be a help as well.

The Man in Seat 61 is a fantastic source of up-to-date information about train travel around the world. Scroll down the page to find the countries you mention in the left-hand menu:

https://www.seat61.com/

You can find the official railway website for each country if you goolgle the country name + 'official railway website'. Most have English pages e.g.

India https://indianrailways.gov.in/

Thailand: https://www.railway.co.th/Home/Index

Singapore: https://www.lta.gov.sg/content/ltagov/en/getting_around/public_transport/rail_network.html

> Third, we are not sure about visa restrictions and if we need to apply before entering any of the countries, this also applies mostly to the Asian countries.

You haven't given your citizenship so it's impossible to give accurate information. When it comes to entry requirements/visas it is your citizenship (i.e. the passport you carry) that matters, not where you're living.

The official website of your citizenship may give the entry requirements for each country you plan to visit.

Covid has, of course, created additional problems. For example, Danish (and other EU) citizens are usually eligible for an Indian e-Visa but all Indian e-Visas have been suspended. It is my understanding that any other type of Indian visa must be applied for well in advance.

You will need to check for any additional Covid restrictions and/or requirements for each country nearer the time of your planned visit.

You should also check your citizenship country's travel advice nearer the time of your visit. If a country advises against all travel to another country ordinary travel and health insurance usually becomes invalid.

[ Edit: Edited on 11 Oct 2021, 17:19 GMT by leics2 ]

3. Posted by Jari Weisdorf (Budding Member 3 posts) 2w Star this if you like it!

Thanks a lot for your answer! The Man in 61 link is particularly helpful, looks like a truly great resource that we're gonna look through. We both have Danish citizenship. We'll look through the websites on visa requirements, but don't find it easy to get an overview.

4. Posted by leics2 (Travel Guru 3362 posts) 2w Star this if you like it!

You're welcome!

The Man in Seat 61 is indeed an excellent website (and he's a very nice chap!).

If the Danish government doesn't have an overall travel advice site for its citizens with relevant entry requirements you'll just have to visit each country's own official website. If the country has an embassy or consulate in Denmark their websites make the best starting point e.g.

Bangladesh: https://bangladeshembassy.dk/consular/visa-guidelines/

Pakistan: https://bangladeshembassy.dk/consular/visa-guidelines/

India: https://www.indianembassycopenhagen.gov.in/

5. Posted by karazyal (Travel Guru 3610 posts) 2w Star this if you like it!

Hi.
Guess I am a little more pessimistic for this long journey. Are you choosing rail travel for the experience or to save money? If for money you will be sacrificing valuable time for saving a little bit of money.

My longest train rides were from Chiang Mai to Bangkok a few times. Also Bangkok to Hat Yai several times when I was doing visa runs in the old days. I have used trains from Southern Thailand to Malaysia, hitting Penang and KL with a final stop for Singapore. Long bumpy, shaky rides! I really felt grubby by the time I reached places to take a shower. A lot of the travel was during the night hours where you really don't see much other than train stops to pick up/drop off passengers. Frequently passing behind factories, junk yards, farms, apartment buildings and sometimes, if lucky during daylight hours you might pass by something interesting .

  • Watch your bags, there may be thieves! Some train rides can be chilly when the A/C is on.

If you have not traveled a lot maybe include some flights to connect long distances so you have more time on the ground to actually see something. For some of the countries on your list you could spend weeks just exploring vs a few days. Some people are happy with passport endorsements more than actually seeing stuff.

Normal stuff, have more than one debit and credit card! Cards can be lost, stolen or simply damaged and not work in ATM machines. Not knowing how much experience you have traveling, be careful with your passport! Lose it or just damage it by getting it wet or ripping pages out means you are in trouble! Safeguard your passport!

Good luck.

6. Posted by berner256 (Moderator 1527 posts) 2w Star this if you like it!

One to two months isn't a lot of time, particularly if you want to make several stops along the way. If you're using public transportation, know that at some destinations the vehicles do not leave at a specific time, usually only when most, if not all, of the seats are occupied. So you need to be flexible. I've traveled overland from Europe to Asia and the other way around. Your easiest and quickest way is to go from Europe via Russia to China, then continue to Vietnam and the rest of Southeast Asia to Singapore. I've traveled with someone who uses this rail route several times (he doesn't like flying and has a home in the U.K.). If you're thinking of doing this, I suggest taking the Trans-Mongolian, which is operated with a Chinese crew (either from Moscow or Beijing). On one segment of another Europe-Asia itinerary, I traveled from Zahedan, Iran, to Quetta, Pakistan, through the Nok Kundi desert. One problem on that route is bandits. The truck I was in had to make it to a fort before nightfall. Research your route carefully, particularly if you plan to go through troubled lands. Some regions are lawless. I once was robbed in the no man's land between Pakistan and Afghanistan, going from Chaman to Kandahar. Choose border crossings carefully for safety and security. It's my understanding that the borders between Bangladesh and China with Myanmar are closed to foreigners. But there's the possibility of entering Myanmar from India. But you'll need to recheck and verify that information. And because of the pandemic, you'll need to review all entry requirements, including those for COVID testing and vaccination. In some cases, you might be required to also show proof of medical insurance that covers COVID. Suggest that before you go you consider purchasing emergency medical and evacuation insurance coverage.

P.S. I have traveled by train in Russia, China, Vietnam, India, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.

[ Edit: Edited on 12 Oct 2021, 17:34 GMT by berner256 ]

7. Posted by mikasaeran (First Time Poster 1 posts) 1w Star this if you like it!

Is it possible to take the train from Europe to Asia?
The most usual (and easiest) route from Europe to China is via the classic Trans-Siberian Railway, shown in blue on the map below. . You can also use trains to reach Central Asia from Europe and Moscow. Step 1, London - Moscow - This is the first step, with daily trains taking 48 hours

8. Posted by Jari Weisdorf (Budding Member 3 posts) 1w Star this if you like it!

Hey guys, thanks for all contributions, looking through your comments we definitely have a few extra things to consider like safety issues.

Our purpose with this trip is actually just to get to South-East Asia, where we wanna travel around for some time. But right now corona is still making things difficult in that part of the world, so we figured we would take a slow form of transport that would also give us some adventure on the way without being very expensive. By the time we get there things should look better corona-wise. No guarantee though, but that's our hope.

We are well aware of the Trans-Siberian/Trans-Mongolian railway, but decided not to use it because it would take us too fast through Asia. We might take it on the way back though! We have considered the Silk Route through Russia, Kazakhstan and into China though. Any experiences with that?

We have found some difficulty when researching our preliminary itinerary because Turkey (with otherwise great train network) has cancelled all international and long-distance trains due to corona. So we are looking at crossing the Black Sea with a ferry that runs extremely erratically or otherwise going north of the Black Sea.

9. Posted by berner256 (Moderator 1527 posts) 1w Star this if you like it!

I still think that one to two months isn't sufficient time to travel roundtrip overland from Europe to Southeast Asia, stopping at various sites along the way.

Use Google Maps or Rome2Rio to discover how long it takes to get from place to place using various modes of transportation.

You don't disclose when you plan to make the trip. As for now, for example, foreigners with visas still are not allowed to enter China. I have a 10-year multiple-entry visa to China and I still am not allowed to visit.

See this link: https://www.iatatravelcentre.com/world.php

Entry requirements are constantly changing because of the pandemic. This is not likely to go away in 2022. Your travel plans must be flexible, allowing you to make changes, some of which might be substantial (for example, bypassing some of the destinations you had planned to visit).

You say that taking the Trans-Mongolian from Moscow to Beijing is too fast. Well, it takes six nights one-way. If you were doing that roundtrip it would consume 12 nights. That's not much time left to visit a variety of places in Southeast Asia if you were planning to spend a month for the entire trip. Taking the Silk Road would likely take more time and increase the uncertainty, since you will have to traverse more borders, some of which may be in troubled lands.

Suggest you cost-out your travel plans. Taking the Trans-Mongolian and the Trans-Siberian might be more expensive than flying. It cost me less to fly from Vladivostok to Moscow than taking the Trans-Mongolian from Beijing to Moscow. Yes, it's possible to travel on a tight budget from Europe to Southeast Asia and back. But you might discover you'll need more time, particularly if you're using local public transportation. And you'll definitely need more time if, for example, the ferry crossing the Black Sea has an erratic schedule (sailings delayed or canceled) and perhaps might not be running at all, requiring you to make significant adjustments to your travel plans. The more complex the plans, the more chances things could go awry.

10. Posted by AndyF (Moderator 2422 posts) 1w 1 Star this if you like it!

I'm confused. It's just about getting there, but the easy ways are too quick. Can't be both, surely.

The tricky part is usually getting through Iran to Pakistan to India. Lots of personal safety issues. I'd take the Trans Siberian / Mongolian unless you are really looking for a challenging adventure meeting men with kalashnikovs.

A look at the guidance on The Man In Seat 61 says for example that

" it takes a lot of D.I.Y. organisation including all the bureaucracy involved in getting an Iranian visa, and there are serious security concerns with bandit attacks in southeast Iran near the Pakistan border. It's not a route I'd advise for most people."

It additionally says that trains Pakistan>India are currently suspended due to tensions in Kashmir.

Further on, you may have problems with the Myanmar military regime. Wikivoyage suggests it's not feasible to cross the land border from Bangladesh independently. From India, perhaps, but they say "Entering Myanmar from the other land border crossings (than Thailand), though, is a different story. At the very least, you must apply for special permits in advance, and you may need to join a guided tour in order for the permit to be granted."

If planning for Turkey and the Black Sea area is proving difficult, I think there will be far greater obstacles further on.