The Long Journey Home – Saigon to Conisbrough – 10th May to 9th June 2019
The suggestion for a trip such as this was something I thought to be a little bit crazy when it was first banded around about 5 years ago. At which point, I’d not been to Russia or Belarus, or anywhere in Europe east of Poland, let alone considered going to China. Vietnam had been a well-trodden entity at the time but other than the western parts of Europe, getting from Saigon in Vietnam to Doncaster in South Yorkshire, by train, was going to test even the most hardened trip planners out there.
Circumstance dictated that a trip such as this needed a lot of attention and due to work commitments on both our parts, we postponed even considering the trip more times that we’d liked and in mid-2017, just after I’d decided to leave GB Railfreight, it was decided that 2019 would be the year and the moment I got a new roster, after starting my current role with Freightliner in January 2018, in June 2018 the dates were set for the following June of 2019.
I’d already spent a fair bit of time trawling the internet to figure out just how long it would take, as a bare minimum, to get from Saigon, Vietnam, to the UK; travelling via China, Russia, the Trans-Siberian and then through Europe to Paris and through the Channel Tunnel to the UK. It was immediately evident that it would take us at least 4 weeks.
So, by late 2017 there was already half-plan, in readiness for 2019, to fly to Saigon on a given date and then head north through Vietnam to Hanoi, over the border into China on the Hanoi – Nanning – Beijing train, which conveys through coaches on certain days of the week, then to head through Mongolia to reach the Trans-Siberian Railway. Where, I have to say I was in two minds as to whether to head west and back towards the UK, or head east to Vladivostok first; just to say we’d been! When I discovered a “secret train” that didn’t get many mentions on the internet at all, let alone on either the Chinese Railway or Russian Railway websites, I became very interested in trying to figure out if we’d be able to get tickets for the train that didn’t exist; from Harbin, China, to Ussuriysk, Russia. While it seemed that trains did run over the border from China, via Suifenhe, to Grodekovo in Russia, there didn’t seem to be any connection mentioned, anywhere, to get between Grodekovo and Ussuriysk. Despite a couple of internet reports saying otherwise, although they were from a few years previous.
A breakthrough in the planning came at Christmas 2018 when one of our group announced that he was going to North Korea and would be heading there by train from Beijing on an organized tour. Yep, I considered this a breakthrough, even more so when I’d done a bit of research. I already knew there was a direct train from Vladivostok, Russia, to Pyongyang, North Korea, through searching trains at Ussuriysk when I’d been trying to find the through Harbin train. Initially though, research showed that the through train from North Korea to Russia was off limits to foreigners, well westerners anyway. However, a very recent announcement from North Korea (early 2018) then announced that foreigners could use the through train to Russia as a means to enter or exit North Korea; but, and I can’t stress this enough, only as part of an organized tour to North Korea. This fresh take on getting from China to Russia, certainly the extremities of eastern Russia, was a welcome find and I was put in touch with Koryo Tours, who our friend had used to book his tour. And although we wouldn’t be going until June 2019, contact made in January 2018 confirmed that we would be able to plan a trip through Koryo, which would allow us to travel by train from Beijing to Pyongyang and then onward by train from Pyongyang to Ussuriysk in Russia. The key part of which was the confirmation that we’d be able to ride the train from Pyongyang all the way to Tumangang, on the DPRK/China/Russia tri-border area, before doing the usual tour of the Rason area, then being taken back to Tumangang to exit by train to Russia. That’s what clinched the deal, the fact we could get all the way from Vietnam to Vladivostok by train, and in a relatively straight line, not involving Mongolia and days of needless travel east. So, by the end of January 2018 our journey through North Korea was set, and thanks to Koryo Tours we were able to plan the trip a year out as the trains from Beijing to Pyongyang and Pyongyang to Vladivostok only ran on certain dates of the month; so we fit everything either side of the dates that suited us best. There was no more contact with Koryo Tours from late January 2018 to early January 2019, at which point we picked up where we left off and officially booked our trip with them. Thankfully the operating dates of the trains through the DPRK had remained the same in 2019, as they had been in 2018.
Once back in touch with Simon at Koryo Tours, booking the actual tour around the DPRK was straightforward enough. We were given plenty of reading material, which allowed us to choose exactly what we wanted to fit in around Pyongyang but the Rason area tour is pretty much set in stone. Even though all my contact with Koryo was, and continued to be, through e-mail, to book our tour we had to create an account on their website and complete all the required details that would then allow Koryo to book the trip, including arranging travel insurance and the all important DPRK Visa. Once all the required documents had been uploaded and we’d completed our profile we paid the required deposit, which must be a minimum percentage of the trip’s cost, up to a maximum percentage. With the balance having to be paid in full when visiting Koryo’s office in Beijing, we opted to pay the maximum to save on the amount of cash we’d have on us when travelling through Vietnam and China. With a date and time set to meet at Koryo’s offices there was then very little contact with Simon until shortly before we set off from the UK; and attention turned to other pressing things.
Other than the Visa for the DPRK, we needed visas for China, Russia and Belarus and as we were in Vietnam for less than 15 days, at the time of our trip British citizens didn’t require a visa. The problem with getting visas is that it takes time and requires you and your passport to be in the country when applying. So, to make sure there was enough time to get the visas we needed trips out of the country in early 2019 were cut to the bare minimum; allowing the maximum amount of time to apply for the visas, all of which had to be in person. Filling out the application forms online wasn’t too difficult, and I managed to do mine while at work on nigh shifts, which numbed the pain a little. Each application involved a trip to London, which thankfully now costs me nothing. The Belarus Embassy in Kensington was first and as it was only a transit visa we required, it should have been an easy application but I had a hard time explaining to the staff there that I didn’t need a Russian visa first, as I was visiting Russia before Belarus and it didn’t matter to the Belarussians if I had a Russian visa or not. When they then started asking about train tickets to exit the country I pointed out that they weren’t on sale until 30 days before the departure date and was only able to offer them a copy of my already booked ticket from Vienna to Zurich; which sufficed and he relented and allowed my application to be processed. My passport was ready to collect 7 days later, and I collected it in person and took it straight from the Belarussian Embassy in Kensington to the Russian Visa Application Centre near Bank.
There is no need to make an appointment at the Russian Application Centre but attendance in person is mandatory as fingerprints are taken during your application. My initial concern that it was going to be an endurance at the Russian Application Centre couldn’t have been more wrong. All my documents were in order, including having the mandatory “letter of introduction”. There are many places that can supply it, but I got mine through Real Russia online, application took minutes and the PDF documents were in my inbox minutes later; all for the sum of £15 per person. The only issue I had during the application process was that the photo I handed over was very similar to that on my passport, and I was even wearing the same jumper. When I pointed out that I’d had said jumper for 15 years I was spared the rigmarole of having to get some more photos and get back in line. The whole application process, including the fingerprint taking, took minutes and I was handed a slip confirming that I could collect my passport the following week. I’d not originally planned to visit the Russian Application Centre on this day, but it confirmed the process was robust for when we both visited together the following week. At which point I collected my passport and Flossy put his in for processing; albeit after he had to print out the second page of his letter of introduction. A mistake that cost £5 to allow use of their on-site computers and printers!
Last, but not least, was the Chinese visa, which also required mandatory attendance in person at the China Visa Application Centre near Barbican, for fingerprints. All applications had to be made with a prior appointment as well. All application paperwork is checked at the reception before you’re given a number to wait in line. A simple mistake cost us 50p each to use their on-site photocopier to copy our passports. While the requirement list does include this, it’s not bullet pointed and seems to be missed by about 50% of the people walking through the door. As it was lunchtime proceedings took a little longer than they could have, with everyone being out at lunch. Once everyone returned though things started moving along nicely and we were soon sat at a kiosk having all our paperwork check over again, this time a bit more thoroughly. Not that I’m knocking the Chinese for being thorough at all, but as our train tickets from Vietnam into China didn’t have both our names on it, I had to e-mail the guy processing our application my original booking; which had all the details on. Further to that, as the hotel bookings only had my name on them, but were for two people, Flossy had to write a short letter stating that he was travelling with me and would be staying at the same hotels. Once all our paperwork was in order and our applications accepted, we were given a payment slip and then had to go downstairs, wait for our number to be called and then pay for our visas. Each visa was issued as a 2-year multiple entry visa and our passports were ready for collection just 3 days after we’d submitted our application.
As things started to get towards being set in stone, a couple of things became apparent when using the Russian Railways (RZD) website. One was that some trains ran on dates of the month and the other was that some trains ran on days of the week; and that’s excluding those that run on either odd or even days of the month. When dealing with trains that are on the go for over a week, piecing things together sometimes becomes a bit blurry at the edges. So blurry that unless you constantly check what you’ve done, you will come unglued! It almost happened to us, right around the time ticket booking would commence and it was only by checking what I’d planned that I figured out that we needed an extra day in the plan thanks to me not counting the number days a train was on the go for correctly. The result of that being that everything immediately after I now needed the extra day in the plan ran on specific days, which then meant more extra days were needed in the plan and before I knew it a complete re-write of the Russian bit of the plan was needed. Which resulted in us not being able to head to the furthest east part of the Baikal Amur Mainline (BAM), Sovetskaya Gavan Sort. Which was a shame but as a happy medium I was able to add a detour trip in to Tommot instead.
As is usually the case with train ticket booking, when the time came to get cracking nothing flowed like it should have done but having gone through all the websites I’d be using to book them, I’d marked on my plan the date I expected them to go on sale. Tickets within Vietnam were pre-booked using Baolau.com, which even allows you to pick your coach and specific seat/berth. Baolau also booked our Hanoi to Nanning ticket but this wasn’t issued as an e-ticket but rather a voucher that had to be exchanged for a proper ticket at Hanoi Gia Lam station. It is possible to book tickets through from Hanoi to Beijing on the days the through coaches are used but it’s a damn sight cheaper to break your journey in Nanning and book a separate internal Chinese ticket for the rest of the way to Beijing. Which is what we did.
Tickets in China were initially booked through Trip.com, mainly because someone else I knew had used them recently and they charge considerably less commission than any of the other agencies that booked Chinese train tickets. Their website was easy to use, paying for tickets was simple and they even have an app where your tickets are visible. As tickets became available to purchase hardly any of them were booked in the order we needed them and as a result, when Trip.com couldn’t book some of the tickets, some of the others became useless as there was no move to string together then. I turned to China Highlights for help when the one key ticket we needed from Nanning to Shijazhuang wasn’t booked by Trip.com. At which point both websites showed that there was no availability on the train we needed from Nanning to Shijazhuang, yet there was from Nanning through to Beijing. So, I set about abusing China Highlights website to try and fill in the gaps that Trip.com hadn’t been able to; and immediately came unstuck!
After I’d filled in one of the gaps on a move somewhere between Shijazhuang and Beijing, I then had an e-mail back from China Highlights to say they couldn’t book the requested Nanning to Beijing tickets due to a clash on the Chinese Railways booking system. This referred to the other tickets we had booked along the way from Shijazhuang onwards and immediately blew my plan of getting China highlights to book us Nanning to Beijing tickets and only using them to Shijazhuang, right out of the water! Chinese Railways don’t allow any clashes at all with ticket bookings on their system, which prevents what I was trying to do and also prevents people from booking tickets on two different trains for the same journey, because they want the back-up. After some hasty ticket cancelling on Trip.com, and a probably very costly phone call to China highlights in Beijing, we had tickets booked form Nanning to Beijing direct, albeit Beijing West and not Beijing main station. That minor issue was rectified when I asked China Highlights to book us tickets on a local EMU from Beijing West to Beijing, which despite not showing up in a search, or as a travel option, on their website, they were able to book for us. I have to say the customer service a China Highlights was excellent and the lady I dealt with really did know her stuff; which is more than can be said for Trip.com’s customer service, that said though, they do have more advanced IT systems, including webchat and an app.
Our train tickets for Beijing to Pyongyang and Pyongyang to Ussuriysk in Russia would be handed to us by Koryo in Beijing, which then just left the small matter of getting from Ussuriysk, via Vladivostok to the UK. I already had an RZD account that I’d used for booking tickets 2 years previous and it still worked. The RZD website is very easy to use, payment worked first time every time and their app is fantastic. Not only does it allow you access to all your train tickets, it also gives realtime information on trains both individually and at stations. You can pick your coach and berths during booking and when booking more than one person you can request, for example, two lower berths to be reserved. Once the tickets are reserved and your reservation accepted you then have a limited time to complete the transaction and pay, before the system resets itself. Everything is visible on your account and PDF tickets can be downloaded at any point. Some trains have goodies for sale via the website, which you can order online at any time and they’ll be delivered to your seat. Which is handy if you want a pair of RZD slippers for those long journeys, or your pen has run out.
Like the RZD account, I already had a Belarus Railway (BCh) online account and booking tickets online is even easier than on the RZD website. The only issue being that it doesn’t allow you to request two lower berths when booking two people and will only allow an upper and lower at the same time. To get around that I just booked the tickets separately and chose the individual berths I wanted each time. Tickets are e-mailed as PDFs, but they can also be downloaded from your account at any point.
Getting tickets from Vienna onwards was simple enough with the overnight ticket from Wien Hbf to Zurich Hbf being booked on the Austrian Railways (OBB) website, TVG tickets from Zurich Hbf to Paris Gare de Lyon being booked directly on the TGV website and Eurostar tickets to get us back through the Channel Tunnel were booked in person at St Pancras; which is pretty much a necessity when booking Priv tickets with Eurostar. And that, as they say, was that. 2 weeks before we set off everything was booked, and all tickets were printed out. Everything was looking good, until 2 days before we set off for Vietnam.
Nothing was drastically wrong; it was an e-mail from Koryo to say that our train from Pyongyang to Tumangang was now a day later than originally planned. What this meant was an extra day in Pyongyang but likewise it meant we’d now have no time at all in the Rason area, other than spending the night between arriving into Tumangang and then heading into Russia the following day; and if the train was late from Pyongyang it might not even be an overnight stay. This situation actually benefitted us as it meant we could have a day trip from Pyongyang to the DMZ (North/South Korea border area), which we otherwise wouldn’t have had time to do, which was all hastily arranged by Koryo before we headed out to Vietnam two days later. We were all set…..
Booked through China Southern Airlines
CZ304 2235 Heathrow – Guangzhou
CZ367 2000 Guangzhou – Ho Chi Minh City
Saigon – Hotel Huong Mai – a two-minute walk from Saigon station. The rooms at the Huong Mai weren’t big but did have double beds. There were quite a lot of small ants running around the place and I was quite surprised at how many I found when I lifted the toilet seat. It was nothing that wasn’t dealt with but wasn’t something some would want in their room at night. I have to say though, none ended up on my bed at all! The AC worked brilliantly, and needed to, and there was very hot water available, with toiletries provided in the bathroom. A fridge in the room kept my water cool, if nothing else.
Hanoi – Eternity Hotel – The blast of cool air from the Hotel Eternity lobby, when we opened the glass doors, was already very welcome and the very sprightly young girl who checked us in had clearly been shouted away from her dinner to do so. She spoke good English, processed us in quickly and escorted us up to our 8th floor room, which had comfy twin beds, very good AC, decent Wi-Fi (near the door), plenty of toiletries and few freebies to use with the kettle in the room; including free bottled water and a fridge-freezer to put it in. The bathroom was a decent size and had a large bath, which was just what we needed for an afternoon of washing clothes, and more importantly, the water was piping hot to allow us to do it.
Beijing – Howard Johnson Paragon Hotel – directly opposite the Beijing Railway station and all we had to do was use one of the handy over bridges, situated at each end of the station forefront, to get over the main road and we were there; even if we did end up going to the wrong side of the building first!
The Paragon Hotel’s first impression was one of luxury, yet it had only cost around £180 for the three nights. It certainly wasn’t your everyday crank’s hotel, but the bit of luxury was probably going to be the last we had for a while, so we reveled in it. The lobby was massive and when we got to our 7th floor room, we found the AC to be already on and the view from the window was straight over the station building opposite. It was quite possibly one of the best hotel views I’ve ever had, and when the station building was lit up that night it was a cracking sight. Just watching the little humans running around like ants was calming enough when staring down from a high. The room itself wasn’t massive but the AC worked well, the fridge didn’t but there was a kettle for tea/coffee, free water daily and the shower turned out to be a good powerful one, with free toiletries provided each day.
Pyongyang – Yanggakdo Hotel – situated on its own island in the middle of the Taedong River. Right outside the towering 42-floor high-rise that is the Yanggakdo Hotel was a car park crammed with tourist buses; 99% of which were for Chinese tourists. Inside the impressive foyer, chaos reigned with the number of arriving tourists, which had clearly arrived on the same train we had. We were spared the stress though, and Mr Yang handed us a room key, for room #15 on the 37th floor, and asked how long we needed to freshen up before dinner. After agreeing on 30 minutes we joined the fun and waited for the liftboy to usher us into one of the 8 lifts that would take us up and down the building many times during the next few days.
Our room had twin beds with decent quilts but rock-hard pillows. The air-con had already been on and we had a fridge that came in handy. There was a kettle, rafts of toiletries, slippers, at least 10 charging sockets, a telephone that could be used to make international calls and the water in the bathroom was piping hot, with a nice powerful shower. All-in-all it was way above the standard we’d usually stay at but worth every penny. The best bit about the room was the fantastic view over Pyongyang city and the Taedong River below. Having not got our bearings by this point, we didn’t have a clue what we were looking at but the vibrant colours of the high-rise flats all over the city really stood out, even in the dull conditions and dying light.
Rason – Namsan Hotel in Rajin – The Namsan Hotel was situated in the centre of Rajin and offered decent views from our 3rd floor window. The room was actually nicer than that in the Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongyang and had three beds in it, split into two rooms. There was no air-con but as the temperatures in the Rason area were cooler at night it wasn’t needed. While the water was hot at the Namsan, the shower was shocking and was about as much use as something not very useful; but still, we persevered with it and even managed a shave before presenting ourselves downstairs at bang on the time we’d been told to be there.
Vladivostok – Primorye Hotel – The Primorye Hotel had looked the best of the bunch near Vladivostok station and it gave an impression of grandeur when we walked into the reception, with its own bakery shop in the foyer and an area when outsiders could sit and eat. The receptionist spoke good English and quickly checked us in and gave us the all-important WiFi code before we headed up to our 3rd floor room. The room itself had a small bedroom with twin beds, separate from the main room area, which had a large sofa, seating area, TV and fridge but no air con. The bathroom had everything we needed, including plenty of toiletries and a nice sized bath to allow us to get some washing done later. Impressed with our room we both set about abusing it straight away.
Novosibirsk – Park Inn – Check-in time at the Park Inn was 1400 but, if there was availability early check-in was allowed and we were very grateful there was availability when we got there at 0630. Between 6am & check-in time there’s a 50% of the room rate additional charge, and at £51 we had no issues paying the extra £25 at all, which even included breakfast that morning as well, and was a bloody bargain really! Our room, on the 8th floor, overlooked Novosibirsk station and we could see the train we’d just got off from the window. As you’d expect from a Radisson Hotel the room was spotless, well appointed, had all the mod-cons and tea/coffee making facilities along with free toiletries in the bathroom, which randomly had a heated floor.
Crewe – Waverley Hotel – good old standard UK B&B, a little rough around the edges but had a bed and a shower, which was all that was needed.
All booked online except for Eurostar tickets
Vietnam – Baolau.com
China – Trip.com & China Highlights
DPRK – Koryo Tours
Russia – Russian Railways (RZD) website
Ukraine – Ukraine Railways (UZ) website
Belarus – Belarus Railways (BCh) website
Wien to Zurich – Austrian Railways (OBB) website
Zurich to Paris – TGV website
Paris to London St Pancras – Eurostar ticket office in person at St Pancras (well in advance)
Wednesday 8th May 2019 (Off to a flying start)
This day had come around all too soon, and yet not soon enough. The 18 months of preparation work was either about to start paying off or I was going to realise I’d missed something when I was halfway to Kings Cross! To be honest, as 91110 shoved me up the East Coast Main Line towards London on the 1545 Leeds – Kings Cross, time flew by and the whole journey was just one big blur. I spent most of the journey trying to get to grips with what had gone into the planning of this trip and the beginning of this whole thing is most of what I managed to pen before having to alight at Kings Cross. Where, by the time we got back into the country, a new era of train travel will have commenced on the ECML and I might even have to try and avoid one of the new pieces of Hitachi crap on my way home. And just as they start on the ECML they will have fully displaced the HSTs out of Paddington on Great Western services; not two days later.
The Piccadilly Line tube service was running ok, even if it was wedged to the gunnels during the evening rush hour. Still, I should thank my lucky stars that I managed to get on the correct tube to Heathrow Terminal 4, and not realise too late that none of what I was seeing either looked or sounded familiar! The result of that was that Flossy arrived at Terminal 4 almost an hour after me, when he’d realised the error of his ways and returned to Acton Town to try again!
Despite being able to technically check-in online on the China Southern Airlines website, everyone still had to go to the check-in desks anyway, so it was a waste of time even logging on, let alone printing the boarding cards, that weren’t boarding cards. While I’d waited the queue at the China Southern desks had been going pretty quickly and thankfully the bus-load of people that had arrived had gone by the time Flossy turned up and we were soon in receipt of boarding cards for both our flight to Guangzhou, China, and our connecting flight onwards to Ho Chi Minh City. I did have to present our train ticket from Hanoi, Vietnam to Nanning, China, so the airline could prove they’d done their screening. Its their fault if we turn up in Vietnam without proper documentation to allow us to enter and they were making sure we’d be leaving Vietnam within 15 days of our arrival: as per the current rules for British Citizens without a visa.
After depositing my big bag with the airline, for the first time in many years, with plenty of time to kill still, we managed to pint before our flight was allocated a gate; which was the penultimate one of the day to depart from Heathrow Terminal 4. I’d expected it to be utter chaos when boarding a plane to China, and I’m not sure why. I was utterly wrong to think it though and the whole plane was boarded in a clam manor and we even sat on the tarmac for 25 minutes, with everyone on board, waiting for our booked time slot. Take-off was ok and the cabin service started, as the on-board crew said it would, 30 minutes after take-off. It was all very efficient, made so by the fact that 3 trolleys were on the go in each aisle to speed the whole process up a bit. By the time we were passing over Germany we were fed and watered, and the cabin lights were out on our Dreamliner. After watching a film, I had no choice but to try and rest my eyes and thanks to the plane not being full we were able to spread out on our row.
Moves for Wednesday 8th May 2019
|91110||Doncaster||Kings Cross||1545 Leeds – Kings Cross||1A39|
|B-1242||Heathrow Temrinal 2||Guangzhou Terminal 2||2235 Heathrow – Guangzhou||CZ304|
Thursday 9th May 2019 (Almost there….)
Arrival into Guangzhou, China was prompt and once off the plane we headed straight to the transfers area. I’ve never seen it anywhere else in the world, but the Chinese security staff were asking for power banks to be taken out of hand luggage and were checking them over once they’d been through the x-ray machine. They even had my camera out of my bag and went straight into the side pockets to check out the spare battery that was in it. It was all harmless though and took no time at all and we were soon roaming around the vast expanse that is Guangzhou Terminal 2. It is spotless, eerily empty and very, very big, but there are two smoking rooms, which kept Flossy happy, and we managed to get a coffee before boarding our onward flight to Ho Chi Minh City.
Again, with China Southern Airlines, but this time an Airbus A320 with no entertainment system other than the fold-down screens from the ceiling, this plane wasn’t as empty as the previous one had been. The service was as good though and there was a full meal service even though it was only a 2h25m flight. It also had been fully boarded well before its departure time and we sat on the tarmac waiting our slot, just as we had done at Heathrow.
We touched down at 2145, local time, 17h10m after taking off from Heathrow and after travelling a total of 11573km; 10035km Heathrow to Guangzhou and 1538km from Guangzhou to Ho Chi Minh City. The plane emptied out quite quickly but because we were towards the rear of it, we ended up on the second bus to the terminal building. As we breezed by the waiting area for visas on arrival, and scurried through the lanes towards the immigration desks, people just fanned out in front of us as more and more desks started to open up and we were through immigration 5 minutes after getting off the bus from the plane. Again, we’d needed to show our Hanoi to Nanning train ticket at immigration to allow us to be stamped in but there was no hassle at all; it was a most welcoming entry into Vietnam.
By the time I’d used the facilities our bags were coming off the carousel and as we walked out of the exit from the baggage hall my name was clearly displayed on a sign in amongst the waiting crowds. I’d pre-booked a taxi through Booking.com and after finding the sign with my name on we were led to a kiosk initially, then once the boy had hold of the correct paperwork we were taken to a waiting taxi, operated by Satsco; as per the e-mail I had from Booking.com when we landed. The driver was a bit of an idiot but managed to deliver us safely to the front door of the Hotel Huong Mai, which is right by Saigon Railway Station. From plane to hotel had taken no more than 40 minutes.
We were expected when we walked into the Huong Mai and it seemed that due to ongoing renovation works, they don’t currently have rooms with more than one bed, so we were given a room each for the same price as what we’d have paid for a twin room. I did have to change rooms though as the bathroom door wouldn’t close and the heat coming into the room was battling with the AC that was trying to cool it down. They were fine about it though, but we did end up having to pay for the room in cash and not card as we’d have preferred. Thankfully we’d already got some Vietnamese Dong before leaving the UK.
The rooms at the Huong Mai weren’t big but did have double beds. There were quite a lot of small ants running around the place and I was quite surprised at how many I found when I lifted the toilet seat. It was nothing that wasn’t dealt with but wasn’t something some would want in their room at night. I have to say though, none ended up on my bed at all! The AC worked brilliantly, and needed to, and there was very hot water available, with toiletries provided in the bathroom. A fridge in the room kept my water cool, if nothing else. I’d like to say sleep was most forthcoming that night, but it was far from it. I’m not sure whether excitement or jetlag kept me awake; but cold I fuck as like get to sleep!
Moves for Thursday 9th May 2019
|B-1801||Guangzhou Terminal 2||Ho Chi Minh City||2000 Guangzhou – Ho Chi Minh City||CZ367|
Friday 10th May 2019 (Let it begin – The Long Journey Home!)
I was up by 5am, there’s only so much tossing and turning you can do before it gets boring. As a result of the lack of sleep I had plenty of time to enjoy the facilities and to repack my bag; now there was no need for a coat and jumper, or long pants for that matter. Having not taken so much stuff away with me for years, I was all at sixes & sevens trying to make everything fit into a given place in my big bag but got there in the end and was downstairs raring to go by 6am; with Flossy appearing shortly afterwards.
We grabbed a quick bite at a café outside Saigon station before marching onwards to the platforms with our two big bags. Access to the platforms is only allowed with tickets and Vietnam Railways (DSVN) had installed London Underground type barriers since my last visit, which were being held open by a member of staff, to let people through. The station booking hall was quite subdued of a morning, probably as there weren’t many trains heading out of town early doors. The platforms weren’t much busier either and as soon as we clapped eyes on the front of our first train of the trip, we knew it was going to be a good day.
Thanks to a good Vietnamese friend, Phan Hung, who I’d met on my first visit to Vietnam, we knew that Indian built YDM4 type D13E-708 would be working SPT2 0640 Saigon – Phan Thiet, the moment we landed into Ho Chi Minh City airport and I turned my phone on. The gen wasn’t wrong either and the little D13E was shut down at the head of its 10-coach train, with a buffet coach right behind the loco. After a few quick photos we walked to the rear of the train and boarded our 4-berth soft-sleeper coach. Our pre-booked tickets through Baolau.com had allowed us to select our coach type and individual berths at the time of booking and the two lower berths were welcome.
There was very little fuss when boarding the train and nobody had wanted to see or tickets. The AC was working well, unfortunately so were the voices of the children in the next compartment, and there were working plug sockets in each compartment. D9E-248 was shunting stock in the station area when D13E-708 eased SPT2 out of the platform; and so it began, our 22000km journey that would take us through 12 different countries, from one extreme of Europe to the other, and take 29 days to get us back to the UK. Bring it on!
The run out to Phan Thiet was quite relaxing once the kiddies had stopped running riot. The two women occupying the upper berths in our compartment were no bother at all and kept themselves to themselves. At Song Than D19E-958 was sat with a freight, which randomly had D19E-023 in large numbers on its bodyside. That was it then until we found D19E-939 with a southbound freight at Muong Man, which has been renamed to Binh Thuan, where the short Phan Thiet branch takes a right turn. This one had the same number on the bodyside as its did on its cab though.
Announcements on board, in both Vietnamese and English, were soon advising of our imminent arrival into Phan Thiet and we walked down to the front and back, to get some photos, before some folk had even managed to get off the train. The town at Phan Thiet is on the coast, some 4km away but there were plenty of taxis about to take people to where they wanted to be. We opted to sit it out in a nearby café, which at first glance you wouldn’t have even realised was open. They served up a half decent egg noodles & beef noodles, which we washed down with the strangest tasting Winter Melon canned tea, which had a hint of fig biscuit to its taste! The iced coffees we had before walking back to the station, after the heavens had opened, were just what we needed to perk us up for the return journey; and prevent the jetlag from taking over to give us another sleepless night!
We’d wrongly assumed that D13E-708 had been back to Muong Man to turn, while we’d been in the café, but it hadn’t and headed the train long hood leading for the return journey back to Saigon with SPT1 1305 Phan Thiet – Saigon. It was a relaxing journey and it rained most of the way back, which of course didn’t bother us one bit in our nice air-conditioned compartment. There were a couple occupying the two upper berths with their small child, which thankfully was very well behaved. Despite agreeing that we wouldn’t succumb to our jetlag and stretch out for forty winks, naturally, we did!
As both SPT2 and SPT1 only stop at three intermediate shacks on their 185km journey, they’re quite fast trans and run non-stop for 146km of it. By the Saigon suburbs we’d disciplined ourselves to sit up and stop lounging, for fear of not getting any sleep later that night. Managing to get one of the corridor windows open kept me occupied enough to not lay back down for the rest of the trip and as we were only 4 coaches from the front on SPT2 we even heard the little D13E being given what for as it got to grips with its train after a few speed restrictions. At the time, my good friend Phan was telling me that when his father, who has retired now, used to drive D13E’s for DSVN they didn’t like having them long hood leading due to all the smoke that gets into cab. He went on to tell me that the good old Alco smoke is the very reason that D13E only work SPT1/2 these days, as it’s the only train that’s comprised of a fully airconditioned rake of stock, so the smoke can’t get into the train coaches. Of course, during Tet when more locos are needed the D13E are used on other trains then, which had me thinking, especially as the Vinh based D13E locos were mostly solid freight only locos.
The evening rains had eased by the time D13E-708 rolled into Saigon station with SPT1, about 15 minutes late. The loco was off and running round before we’d walked down the platform and GE D9E-248 had run into an adjacent platform with a set of stock we’d passed it on outside the station; which turned out to be that for our SE4 1945 Saigon – Hanoi.
Surprisingly the station area wasn’t busy at all and once the platform had been cleared of passengers arriving off SPT1, the access doors to it were closed. I do find it a bit strange that access to the platforms is restricted as there are actually more shops/stalls/vendors platform side than there are in the booking hall area, or outside the station front. We chose the same place we’d had breakfast to have an evening bite to eat at and sat ourselves down in one of the minute chairs that Vietnamese cafes use countrywide. Some might say that miniature chairs are perfect for me but even I was uncomfortable with my knees around my throat while trying to eat a red hot bowl of Pho; most of which ended up being dribbled down my chin of splashing my legs as it slopped back into the bowl. I was sweating like a pig by the time I gave up on it too. It was very nice but a bloody farce to eat, and yet the locals do it with chop sticks and I couldn’t manage it properly with a fork and a spoon. A couple of cheap, shit cans of local piss water beer rounded our cheap culinary experience off nicely and when we left loads more tables were being laid out for what we assumed might be the evening rush with a few overnight northbound departures pending.
Our train was already boarding when we walked back onto the station and tickets were being checked at the barriers before people were allowed onto the platforms. Announcements for SE4 1945 Saigon – Hanoi were being made in both Vietnamese and English, with the English announcement asking all passengers with tickets for SE4 to come to the station. Our clean 4-berth compartment coach was towards the rear of the train and we were the only two people in it on departure from Saigon. Unlike the previous train, the compartments on SE4 even had USB charging sockets, although mine didn’t work, and a boiler for dispensing hot water at the end of the coach, with washing areas at either end of the coach too. Chinese built, Caterpillar engined D19E-919, from the first batch of the now 80-strong D19E fleet, was off the end of the platform when I went down to see what was heading SE4, with the doors of the front coach just fitting on at the very end of it. When we set off at 1945, Hanoi was 1726km, 40 hours and 10 minutes, 3 trains and 6 different locos away.
At Bien Hoa, 29km out of Saigon, we were joined in our compartment by a couple whose luggage was too big to put under the seats, so it just stayed on the floor of the compartment. They clambered up to their berths, got themselves sorted, closed the compartment door and turn the lights out; it seemed it was bedtime! To be fair, neither of us had an issue with it and as we were both that tired, it wasn’t long before all the mice on the mice organ were sock on. For those not understanding that means everyone was dossed out…..
Gen for Friday 10th May 2019
D9E-248 Saigon station pilot
D13E-708 SPT2 0640 Saigon – Phan Thiet, SPT1 1305 Phan Thiet – Saigon
D19E-919 SE4 1945 Saigon – Hanoi (to Dieu Tri)
D19E-958 (D19E-023) at Song Than 0700 northbound freight
D19E-939 at Muong Man 1000 southbound freight
D19E-960 (D19E-025) at Song Than 1655 on a freight
Moves for Friday 10th May 2019
|D13E-708||Saigon||Phan Thiet||0640 Saigon – Phan Thiet||SPT2|
|D13E-708||Phan Thiet||Saigon||1305 Phan Thiet – Saigon||SPT1|
|D19E-919||Saigon||Dieu Tri||1945 Saigon – Hanoi||SE4|
Photos for Friday 10th May 2019
Saturday 11th May 2019 (Continuing north towards Hanoi)
I’d been suffering with headaches almost constantly before setting off on this trip and thought they’d gone away when I’d gone almost a full day without one the previous day; they hadn’t and I woke with a particularly painful one but thankfully it didn’t prevent me from maximizing my sleep. By late morning it was gone though, and normal service resumed. It had been a decent night on board SE4 with no noise to speak of from our fellow passengers, either inside or outside the compartment. In fact, the one common denominator that kept waking people was the fact that we all struggled to open the compartment door to go for a piss in the night!
We discovered the hot water dispenser worked a treat and the water was piping hot. We also discovered that Flossy’s milk sachets had survived the flight from the UK but that my coffee sachets hadn’t! Despite having our own drinks on the table the staff walking up and down with trolleys of goods still wanted to sell us more and when the train stopped at Dieu Tri for a period, all the sellers from the station clambered aboard to try and sell their wares. We even had the pleasure of one old ada coming and sitting down with us for a bit in our compo but even her bad back didn’t get any sympathy from a hardened Yorkshireman and a sponge from Cumbria and she was sent packing! Probably because she wouldn’t let Flossy take a selfie with her…
Originally our plan was to get off SE4 at Dieu Tri and step back onto SE2 there. The idea being that we ended up on SE20 1845 Da Nang – Hanoi as it was the one northbound train that was due into Hanoi at a reasonable hour of the morning: with SE4 & SE2 arriving at 0450 & 0530 respectively. Due to the fact that tickets for SE4 from Saigon to Dieu Tri weren’t on sale when I wanted them to be, having already booked SE2 from Dieu Tri to Hue and SE20 from Hue to Hanoi, to protect the move I booked tickets on SE4 from Saigon to Quang Ngai instead, which is 3 hours north of Dieu Tri for only a couple of quid more than they would be to Dieu Tri when they went on sale. We got a bonus engine out of it when D19E-919 was replaced by D19E-916 at Dieu Tri, and the couple from our compo vacated at Dieu Tri leaving us to ourselves for the remainder of the journey.
We passed a few freight trains between Dieu Tri and Quang Ngai with DSVN’s most powerful locomotives, D20E’s. D20E-008 was heading south at Dieu Tri, D20E-016 was heading south at Khanh Phouc, D20E-009 was heading south at Tam Quan and D20E-007 was heading south at Quang Ngai when we arrived on SE2. Romanian built D11H-331 was stabled at the north end of Quang Ngai station and D19E-964 was just arriving with SE9 1430 (P) Hanoi – Saigon when I walked down the platform to spot what was at the head of our train. I was going to get a photo pf both trains but when I got my camera out of its bag it instantly misted up when exposed to the morning heat; after being in a cold air-conditioned coach for 15 hours. Some prick also nearly made a mess of the track when he blindly stepped off the platform into the path of the oncoming SE9 while his wife was shouting at him and he didn’t even hear me giving him what for from an arm’s length distance. He was very lucky that the train was only tottering in and the station staff were on him immediately; yet only to get him clear of the line and not to give him a right royal fucking!
When all the excitement was over we walked around the back of SE9 once it had blocked our direct escape route, and admired the rear 3rd class coach with its wooden bench seats and barred windows, which was wedged to the gunnels; and it was only about 37 degrees! Outside the station there are a couple of cafes, but none seemed to be serving food. A quick walk along the main road revealed nothing appetizing but we found a place tucked out of the way, behind the station car park wall, which served us up a good plate of rice, omelette and grilled pork; for VND 30000 each; which is about £1 each. The staff even used Google Translate to communicate with us initially, with the girl’s phone screen reading “would you like to buy something” when it was pushed into my face.
There were quite a few people waiting outside Quang Ngai for the arrival of SE2 2155 Saigon – Hanoi, while the ticket office was still doing a fair bit of trade in amongst it all. It looked like most people were buying advance tickets for another day though. The glass doors to the platforms were open about 115 minutes before the train arrived, about 45 minutes late. D20E-007 was still waiting over the back of the station with its southbound freight and D11H-346 had since arrived with another southbound freight, which looked like it would be heading south first.
There were no dramas when D19E-933 arrived with SE2 and despite the coach attendant having taken up refuge in our booked compartment, he had no issues with our ticket being from Dieu Tri; and once he’d unlocked our compartment and grabbed his stuff, we had it to ourselves for the journey to Hue. The hot water boiler on board needed a degree to make it work as it didn’t have a tap for us simple folk to use and it wasn’t as easy as just pressing the hot water button to get hot water into your cup. Yet randomly, pressing the clock button and hot water button simultaneously spat piping hot water into your cup at quite a speed, and quite dangerously if you weren’t prepared for it. We both came away unscathed though and survived to drink what we’d brewed.
We passed D19E-917 en-route to Da Nang with SE21 0700 Hue – Saigon and then an unidentified D19E with SE3 1930 (P) Hanoi – Saigon a bit further north, which would soon overtake SE21 and reach Saigon before it. At Tra Kieu D11H-35x was sat with a southbound freight and D11H-357 was sat waiting to follow us north with a northbound freight. 45 minutes later we rounded the triangle just outside Da Nang, where D19E-969 was waiting to head south with SE1 2220 (P) Hanoi – Saigon. As D19E-933 ran into the dead-end station at Da Nang, D19E-942 & D20E-005 were poised to shunt out when the points could be changed. The D20E was dropped onto a freight and the D19E dropped onto the opposite end of our train, shunted two coaches off, then dropped them back on with another two 4-berth soft sleeper coaches it had collected from over the way. Meanwhile, D19E-933 was detached from the opposite end of the stock and once everything was present and correct again, SE2 was sent on its way north, still around 45’ late.
The loco shed at Da Nang had D20E-002, D20E-013, a crash damaged Romanian D11H-350, Belgian built Cockerill D18E-614 and Czech built CKD D12E-635, a bit of a mixed bag of stuff really. After leaving Da Nang its only a short distance to probably the most scenic part of the journey, which starts at the bottom of the hill at Kim Lien. When we went trundling through Kim Lien, leaving D11H-336 & D11H-340 in the station that was the end of any hopes of a banking loco on the section and we staggered over the pass at a max speed of 25kph, looking across the sea to the ghostly high-rise skyline of Da Nang through the sea mist; until it started raining then we couldn’t see anything. It was still a very atmospheric journey through the green hills with the cloud drifting down the hillsides.
On the approach to Hue the coach attendant was very keen for us to get out of our compartment before the train arrived, so he could get into it and make it up. I noticed him have a look at his phone before telling us we were approaching Hue, which had the coach layout displayed on the screen and some of the berth numbers were highlighted. So, I guess that the on-train staff know exactly what berths are occupied throughout their journey. From the moment we stepped off the train at Hue, someone was either trying to sell us beer from their platform stall or trying to point us to the station exit, which is clearly signposted. Immediately outside the station building, to the right, is a large, separate booking hall which is open 24 hours according to the sign on its door. Our hunt for left luggage lockers revealed nothing but when I thrust my phone in a member of staff’s face, with Google translating “Luggage lockers?”, we were marched to the booking office, our bags were taken from us and stored behind the ticket counters; where plenty of others were clearly visible as well.
As we were bout 45’ late arriving into Hue, it cut down our 5-hour fester quite considerably, but it did mean that the Forbidden City at Hue was now closed and we wouldn’t be able to have an amble around it to kill some of the time. So, after a slow walk down to the banks of the Perfume River, where we sweat it out for a bit on a bench, while pondering A, what to do, and B, whether it was going to hammer it down and how we’d shelter from it if it did. As we couldn’t see the Forbidden City from where we were, we decided we’d done enough sight-seeing and Google Maps provided the answer to both aforementioned issues.
The place we settled on for food was a local place for local people, Tai Phu Restaurant. It had good write-ups on Google and was a lot busier than any of the other places immediately in its vicinity. Their menus had no English but did have big pictures of everything they served, which is all well and good if you know what you’re looking at. With a bit of help from one of the young waitresses, who spoke a little English, we ended up with noodles and pork with plenty of greenery trimmings; which she kindly added the condiments to at the table, then used a couple of chop-sticks to mix it all up for us, just like your mum used to do when you were a kid if there was something in it she wanted you to eat and knew you’d turn your nose up at it!
Once we’d finished our decent meal, we quickly paid the VND 25,000 each and exited so a large family could move into where we’d been sitting. The threatening rains never came but we took refuge in a coffee shop, called HT Coffee, on the way back to towards the station anyway; more for the excellent WiFi than the coffee. There’s only so much coffee you can drink on a nice balcony area, with your mate, before you end up back where you started and then turning to the hard stuff!
Opposite Hue station there are numerous cafes with the little chairs and tables set out. The first one we tried not only served us warm cans of Saigon beer, but it closed a few minutes after serving us! I was skeptical about using the ice to cool the beer down, which had been chipped off massive pre-made blocks in the shop, but my arse isn’t in tatters yet. The next place we tried, about 50 yards further along, looked more like it. It was busy, everyone seemed to be having a good time, there were big smoking thingies being used by the local youth and every table had a stash of cans of beer at them, accompanied by a bucket of ice under the table! We couldn’t read the label on the cans of beer we were served but they were ice cold, cheaper and tasted loads better than the Saigon crap we’d had previously. A visit to the toilet revealed where all the beer cans in Hue ended up, with a massive 15ft x 10ft pen enclosure full of them up to chest height, lining one side of the toilet area! And they were only the ones Flossy drank that night….
Our bags were still behind the ticket counters when we went to collect them, and we were invited in to get them; probably because the poor lass had struggled to carry them in earlier! The station area was quite busy and with a set of stock being positioned in platform 2, we could only see the main platform 1 area. There were quite a lot of westerners waiting for our train and most of them got off the following morning at Ninh Binh, 100km south of Hanoi. While milling around abusing the free WiFi and being asked if we anted to buy beer, I noticed a familiar number on one of the coaches in platform 2, which was in exactly the same font I’d expected it to be back home; and couldn’t resist a seminar photo with 31455, which for those that know me, was “my machine”. Randomly, the next coach along was numbered 31565!
D19E-947 turned up spot on time with SE20 1845 Da Nang – Hanoi, on board which we’d booked one of the two available VIP 2-berth sleeper compartments for the pricey sum of VND 1,650,000 each (£55 each). I’d been half expecting it to be a normal 4-berth compartment with only the lower berths made up, but I was wrong. I was a pristine compartment with only two lower berths, which had proper thick mattresses and a decent duvet. The AC was working well and on the table was a box of goodies that included two mugs to make the tea/coffee, bottled water, some wipes and a toothbrush/toothpaste. Everything worked a treat, and I had no issues opening the compartment door from the inside either. We mostly reveled in our spon compo and left the door open for a bit so all the other westerners could see what they were missing….
Gen for Saturday 11th May 2019
D19E-916 SE4 1945 (P) Saigon – Hanoi (from Dieu Tri)
D19E-964 SE9 1430 (P) Hanoi – Saigon (at Quang Ngai)
D19E-933 SE2 2155 (P) Saigon – Hanoi (to Da Nang)
D19E-917 SE21 0700 Hue – Saigon
D19E-969 SE1 2220 (P) Hanoi – Saigon (at Da Nang)
D19E-942 SE2 2155 (P) Saigon – Hanoi (from Da Nang)
D19E-947 SE20 1845 Da Nang – Hanoi
D20E-008 at Dieu Tri 0740 southbound freight
D20E-016 at Khanh Phuoc 0830 southbound freight
D20E-009 at Tam Quan 0930 southbound freight
D11H-331 at Quang Ngai
D20E-007 at Quang Ngai 1130 southbound freight
D11H-346 at Quang Ngai 1130 southbound freight
D11H-35x at Tra Kieu 1340 southbound freight
D11H-357 at Tra Kieu 1340 northbound freight
D20E-005 at Da Nang 1430 southbound freight
Da Nang Shed at 1445
D18E-614, D12E-635, D20E-002, D20E-013 & D11H-350 with major crash damage at one end
D11H-336 & D11H-340 at Kim Lien 1510 for banking duties
D11H-347 at Hue 1710 southbound freight
Moves for Saturday 11th May 2019
|D19E-916||Dieu Tri||Quang Ngai||1945 (10/05) Saigon – Hanoi||SE4|
|D19E-933||Quang Ngai||Da Nang||2155 (10/05) Saigon – Hanoi||SE2|
|D19E-947||Hue||Hanoi||1845 Da Nang – Hanoi||SE20|
Photos for Saturday 11th May 2019
Sunday 12th May 2019 (Finally reaching Hanoi – 1726km in)
Despite quite a lot of noise coming from the corridor of our coach at around 5am I managed to get back to sleep after a piss-stop but was rudely awoken by a knock at the door just before 7am. I lifted my head above the quilt just as Floss was sliding the door open, at which point I heard the word sorry being uttered by the guy stood there and witnessed the door being slammed shut again and Flossy locking it. What he couldn’t see very well from his position was the other guy at the door leaning in to hand us something, which probably turned out to be the free breakfast that was sat on the table when I woke up again; which the coach attendant had given Flossy when he’d surfaced. It didn’t look like it had been rolled around on the floor and there were no gritty bits in it when I ate the Banh Bao and the boiled eggshells were intact, while the banana was still yellow. It was a decent breakfast too, just what I needed when getting up at 0830, after a cracking nights sleep and feeling very relaxed. Not being disturbed by others in your compartment is always a bonus and was worth paying the extra for on this occasion.
We were waiting time at Bim Son while I ate breakfast and ended up departing a few minutes late after waiting for D19E-927 to pass through with SE7 0600 Hanoi – Saigon. At Ninh Bing Czech CKD D12E-638 was stabled at the north end of the station and classmate D12E-625 was waiting to head south with a short freight. Both there and at the next stop, Nam Dinh, there were rakes of DSVN double-deck stock standing around in sidings; possibly used for holiday specials? Some of the coaches in the rake at Nam Dinh had familiar numbers though, and continued the theme from the previous night at Hue; with 31411, 31413 & 31423 all being present…
While on the home stretch, at a wayside shack between Nam Dinh & Phu Ly, we waited for D19E-930 to head south with SE5 0900 Hanoi – Saigon before continuing north towards our penultimate stop before Hanoi. On the outskirts of Hanoi is the large freight transshipment yard, and small station, of Giap Bat, where I’d been reliably informed, I’d be able to see some of the Vinh based, blue D13E; as they worked a lot of freight north from Vinh to Giap Bat. I was reliably informed correctly when my eyes clapped themselves on my first blue D13E in the flesh. D13E-719 was tabled over the back of the yard, at the Hani end of it, along with one of the original batch of D19E, D19E-704; which had a strange looking front end.
Arrival into the train shed that is Ga Hanoi was a few minutes early and there were nothing but rakes of stock scatter around the place, with not an engine in the station, other than D19E-947 at the head of our train; which was detached almost immediately and sent back through the station towards the shed. On which was a selection of Czech built D12E, with D12E-626, 642, 644 & 656 visible at least.
Exit from the station premises was via the station over-bridge and then we were ushered to the exit and down the escalators to the station front, where the late morning heat hit us. Thankfully, it was only a 700m walk from the station front to the Eternity Hotel and before heading there we used the very handy mini-supermarket on the station concourse to get some washing powder; which soon set the theme for some of the afternoon.
The walk t the hotel only involved crossing one road but the foot-crossing across from the main station entrance was barriered over so it was a free-for-all getting over the road but moped etiquette seemed to allow for this and we crossed safely, despite the amount of traffic, and the fact the one-way street had mopeds going in either direction and at the corner nobody obeyed road or pathway rules; in fact, anything went on corners, in any direction!
The blast of cool air from the Hotel Eternity lobby, when we opened the glass doors, was already very welcome and the very sprightly young girl who checked us in had clearly been shouted away from her dinner to do so. She spoke good English, processed us in quickly and escorted us up to our 8th floor room, which had comfy twin beds, very good AC, decent Wi-Fi (near the door), plenty of toiletries and few freebies to use with the kettle in the room; including free bottled water and a fridge-freezer to put it in. The bathroom was a decent size and had a large bath, which was just what we needed for an afternoon of washing clothes, and more importantly, the water was piping hot to allow us to do it.
With nothing originally planned until the middle of the afternoon, after the first round of washing was done, and strung up from the curtain rails with the AC on full and the wall fan blowing directly on it, we headed out to what’s locally known as “Railway Street”.
Railway Street is basically a very narrow alleyway that trains run down just south of Hanoi main statin, to get out of the city. On which are now a load of cafes set up at the track-side, most with timetables of arriving and departing trains for the plethora of tourists and local alike to spot while the have a coffee at the trackside; or evening in between the tracks when trains aren’t due. To say train spotting isn’t a world-renowned sensible pastime, there were plenty of people photographing, videoing and taking selfies as D19E-948 ran through the alleyway with SE35 1310 Hanoi – Vinh. Which I should have done to Giap Bat as its one of the few trains that stops there but I’d not realised it was running on this particular day until we’d arrived into Hanoi. The moment the train passed, the coffee ship owners had their tables and chairs in the 3ft and people were soon lapping up the fact they could drink their coffee in between the tracks; yet people that walk across them in India are deemed as idiots and doing an unsafe act! Trainspotting made cool, but only when the act that is being committed around it involves looking great for that all-important selfie, with the two fingers sticking up in it! Still, I got some decent photos before leaving Flossy to it for a bit while I walked to the station to et tickets for the impending evening bash on trains to/from Gia Lam on the north of the city.
The walk to the station, down the main road running adjacent to the line, was by many a stall, all selling army clothing and not one seemed to have any custom at all. Two of the stall owners were sock on in their chairs and most of the others were on their phones trying to keep their minds occupied. There must have been 30 stalls, all selling the same things, with the same theme.
At Hanoi main station, the ticket office is clearly signed, in English, and while there were a few people waiting in the waiting area, there was nobody queuing at any counter. The first counter I tried, from the set on the left hand side of the ticket office as you walk in, had a girl serving who spoke decent English and the fact I’d already written out a list of trains that I wanted to book tickets for made life a little easier, although two round trips to Gia Lam straight off the back of each other did have her questioning my list; but I got what I asked for and thankfully could remember Flossy’s date of birth as they needed both our names and dates of birth to be able to issue the tickets.
Quest accomplished, I met Flossy back at the south end of “Railway Street” and we joined the “cool” gang in having a coffee before photting D19E-942 head south out of town with SE9 1430 Hanoi – Saigon; which we’d had into Hue the previous night on SE2 2155 Saigon – Hanoi. By the time we’d waked back to Hanoi station people were already being allowed onto the platforms to board LP5 1520 Hanoi – Hai Phong, and the afternoon bash commenced with Czech CKD D12E-634 on a load 10 rake, which of course we were at the back of in soft-seats. In the adjacent platform was the load 4 rake for QT1 1620 Hanoi – Quan Trieu, which didn’t have an engine on by the time we left.
The run out to Gia Lam is only 5km but it takes 18 minutes with an intermediate stop at Long Bien, on the outskirts of town. The railway runs through a couple of alleyway sections as it curves north out of town and there are numerous level crossings, after which the line ends up elevated above the roads below and on reaching Long Bien, only 2km north of town, the railway is completely elevated above the shops and road below it. Immediately after Long Bien station begins Long Bien Bridge, which takes the railway the 3km to Gia Lam and over the wide Red River below it. We found out the following day that the bridge was French built between 1899-1902 and itself it a bit of a tourist attraction. On both sides of the bridge are narrow roadways with mopeds constantly plying them, in amongst which was the odd tourist trying to get photos from the walkway at the edge. From the comfort of our AC soft seats we watched on as the masses went about their business on both Long Bien Bridge and the ones either side that were equally as rammed with traffic.
Long Bien Bridge runs almost to the extremity of Gia Lam station, where D12E-626 was stabled in the station yard and in platform 1, the only platform with standard-gauge tracks, was the load-5 Chinese rake for that nights MR1/T8702 2120 Hanoi Gia Lam – Pingxiang/Nanning. After watching D12E-634 depart with LP5 we were ushered off the station premises and we went for a walk down the road to see what we could find to eat. You’d be forgiven for thinking there is nothing near Gia Lam station and its almost like walking out of a local Indian station with its backstreets and local stalls. It wasn’t long before we found somewhere to eat, or more like the Pho stall owner enticed us to sit down; before rustling up a nice beef pho, which we ate from miniscule stools at very low tables but didn’t quite manage to get as much down our chins as our previous attempt at eating pho.
We photted little GE D9E-241 arriving with QT1 1620 Hanoi – Quan Trieu, just as the light was starting to fade, before grabbing a couple of beers at one of the stalls opposite the station entrance; while waiting for LP8 1500 Hai Phong – Hanoi to arrive. Which did so with an unexpected D19E-974 and 17 coaches. On arrival back into Hanoi I walked over the bridge with Flossy, who’d done his day’s bash, and went to try and get tickets for the following day’s similar bash, before going back to Gia Lam again. It was at this point in proceedings that they took a turn for the worst; when the same girl I’d bought the tickets off earlier told me that there were no trains from Hanoi to Gia Lam the following afternoon and only YB3 & DD5 started at Hanoi the following morning. All I could get out of her was that “today is Sunday and tomorrow is Monday”. When I eventually found out what the score was, the following day, it turns out that none of the locals north of Hanoi during the day, run into Hanoi at all; with everything starting & terminating at Long Bien until 1900. Although, everything is shown on the DSVN website as running through to Hanoi if you do an enquiry on trains running from Gia Lam to Hanoi on a weekday! That left me pondering the following day’s moves as I walked back onto the station.
Thankfully, the D19E hadn’t run-round the set it had arrived with and D12E-660 was heading LP7 1815 Hanoi – Hai Phong when I got over to the train. The train was wedged when it left Gia Lam and I sat in the station waiting area to await my chariot back to Hanoi, typing up a lengthy Facebook post. During which D12E-631 arrived into platform 3 and thinking time had got away with me I waltzed onto the platforms, pushing open the closed doors to the platforms in the process. Not wanting to walk to the back of the train, I just clambered aboard the front coach after half-heartedly showing my ticket to the coach attendant. When everyone vacated the coach at Long Bien though I began t get the feeling something wasn’t quite right and when I was asked to leave the train, I knew something wasn’t quite right. When I showed the attendant my ticket, he pointed at it and shook his finger. Thankfully, it didn’t take me long to realise that D12E-631 had actually been working YB4 1445 Yen Bien – Long Bien and when D9E-235 turned up spot on time with my booked train, DD6 1510 Dong Dang – Hanoi, all became clear; although the stock off YB4 had run empty to Hanoi station and was in the adjacent platform when I arrived.
Flossy was waiting outside the station for me when I got back with good news that all the washing we’d previously done had dried while we’d been out. Straight opposite Hanoi station is the iBerio Craft Beer Bar, where we ventured to for a swift one and at VND 65,000 for a large beer, we only had the one and ventured into the streets to try and find somewhere to eat. Most of the places around our hotel area were wedged but we managed to find ourselves a perch eventually and with the help of the couple at the next table got ourselves a decent noodle soup and some 333 beer; which was VND 20,000 per can was way better on the pocket.
Back at the hotel round two of clothes washing commenced and everything I was wearing was soon being put through the motions and was strung out to dry before my head hit the sack. At which point I could only hope they’d dried by the time I got up the following morning to head out on the bash.
Gen for Sunday 12th May 2019
D19E-927 SE7 0600 Hanoi – Saigon
D19E-930 SE5 0900 Hanoi – Saigon
D19E-948 SE35 1310 Hanoi – Vinh
D19E-942 SE9 1430 Hanoi – Saigon
D12E-634 LP5 1520 Hanoi – Hai Phong
D9E-241 QT1 1620 Hanoi – Quan Trieu
D19E-974 LP8 1500 Hai Phong – Hanoi
D12E-660 LP7 1815 Hanoi – Hai Phong
D12E-631 YB4 1445 Yen Bai – Long Bien
D9E-235 DD6 1510 Dong Dang – Hanoi
D12E-625 at Ninh Binh 0930 southbound freight
D12E-638 at Ninh Binh 0930 stabled up
D19E-905 at Phu Ly 1050 southbound freight
D18E-606 at Phu Ly 1050 northbound freight
D12E-626, 642, 644, 656 Hanoi Shed
D12E-623 Gia Lam stabled
Moves for Sunday 12th May 2019
|D12E-634||Hanoi||Gia Lam||1520 Hanoi – Hai Phong||LP5|
|D19E-974||Gia Lam||Hanoi||1500 Hai Phong – Hanoi||LP8|
|D12E-660||Hanoi||Gia Lam||1815 Hanoi – Hai Phong||LP7|
|D12E-631||Gia Lam||Long Bien||1445 Yen Bai – Long Bien||YB4|
|D9E-235||Long Bien||Hanoi||1510 Dong Dang – Hanoi||DD6|
Photos for Sunday 12th May 2019
Monday 13th May 2019 (A day in Hanoi before heading to China overnight)
Whether I was awake because my mind was concerned about the fact I was getting up early, or because it was concerned about my clothes not being dry was debatable; but the fact remains that I was awake well before my 0630 alarm call and was wary of my 0630 alarm call, and gathering up my clothes waking Flossy up. So, I got up, crept about the place, was grateful my clothes were dry and when I tip-toed to the room door, pleased with myself that I’d not woken Flossy, as soon as I turned the door handle it started beeping at me. That resulted in me shuffling out as quickly as possible and slamming the door harder than I’d have liked in a bid to stop the noise. As it turned out, Flossy would have slept through the zombie apocalypse that followed and never heard a thing; he was sleeping that solidly!
I’d originally been planning to do a simple out and back to Long Gia Lam of a morning, albeit, knowingly I’d now be making my own way back from Long Bien. At the station I was straight up to the ticket counter but then directed to a different one, across the other side of the waiting area, to that which I’d used the previous day. That was where the move went rapidly downhill. The fact there’d been no northbound trains displayed on the electronic screens was confirmed at the ticket desk when I was told both YB3 0605 Hanoi – Yen Bien and DD5 0705 Hanoi – Dong Dang were starting at Long Bien. The idea of the early get-up being that I could do one to Long Bien for the other forward to Gia Lam and then QT2 0540 Quan Trieu – Long Bien back for a walk back to the hotel. I bought three tickets anyway, which took a bit of persuading, as it probably made no sense what so ever to the lady serving me, for YB3 & DD5 from Long Bien to Gia Lam and QT2 from Gia Lam to Long Bien and was about to set off walking when a guy in a green polo shirt collared me outside the booking office.
It was only when I read the word grab on his shirt that I realised he was a “grab bike” rider and was offering me a lift. VND 50,000 and 10 minutes later I was deposited outside Long Bien station just as D12E-630 was disappearing onto the bridge with HP1 0600 Hanoi – Hai Phong; which I think might actually have started at Hanoi but as it hadn’t been on my list for tickets I’d not considered it. It was non-stop through Long Bien anyway and of no gain in the grand scheme of things anyway. While I was messing around down below the station, I heard the set roll in to form YB3 0621 Long Bien – Yen Bien and found D12E-642 at the head of the short rake when I got up to the platforms.
It was a warm day, at only 0630, and as I walked down the road from Gia Lam station, I pondered whether it would be a clever idea to walk back to Long Bien via the rail bridge, until I came across a group of green-shirted guys hanging around by the river bridge. That answered than and another VND 50,000 later, after bumbling over Long Bien bridge with thousands of others, I was deposited back at Long Bien station for round two.
Things had livened up a bit since when I’d first arrived, and it seemed like one side of the station was solely dedicated to kitchenware with every stall having variations of a theme: similar to all the army stalls outside Hanoi station. Again, by the time I got up to the platform, the set for DD5 0718 Long Bien – Dong Dang was sat in and people were boarding. The AC was already a respite from the humid morning, and I didn’t have long to wait at Gia Lam for my ride back to Long Bien. As expected, little GE D9E-241 returned with QT2 0540 Quan Trieu – Long Bien after stabling at Quan Trieu overnight ex QT1 1620 Hanoi – Quan Trieu, which we’d photted at Long bien the previous evening. Back at Long bien for the third time that morning, I wasted no time in setting off walking back towards Hanoi, which was a simple enough task and guided by ME Maps it only took about 25 minutes to reach Hanoi main station. After standing in front of the big fan in the ticket hall to cool off and dry out, I bought tickets for the afternoon bash, again involving some Long Bien leaps, and walked back to the hotel for breakfast; finding Flossy outside smoking in the security guard’s seat when I rocked up.
There was only one other person using the breakfast room at the Eternity Hotel at 0830. There was a decent amount of stuff to choose from, including quite a few noodle dishes. Fried eggs on toast sufficed though, washed down with coffee and tea; the latter because I got the jugs mixed up! Not wanting to head out too early, and knowing we had to fester around in Hanoi until 2120, we hung around in the room drinking tea for a bit, before tidying it up and checking out. Unlike the hotel we’d stayed at in Saigon, my card was accepted and worked first time and we were able t leave our big bags at the hotel while we ventured into the city. We didn’t realise until we returned but our bags stayed exactly where we left them in the hotel reception!
Armed with a map from the hotel reception, Flossy was in charge of the morning’s culturizing walk around Hanoi, with the first stop being the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long. We got there by walking along most of the narrow alleyways that the trains ran down, north of Hanoi station. We only found one open café and the train times displayed outside them all corroborated what the staff had told me at the booking office, with each listing train times at weekends and during the week separately.
It seemed Monday’s weren’t to be our thing when in Vietnam as the some of the sights at the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long were closed on Mondays. The sight itself dates back to the Ly dynasty in 1010 and remained the seta of the Vietnamese Court until 1810, when the capital was moved to Hue. Most buildings in the citadel were in varying states of disrepair by the late 19th century and by the late 20th century many had been torn down. It wasn’t until the 21st century that systematic excavations of the site commenced and in 2010 the site was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Of the buildings now remaining intact on the site, the D67 bunker has to be the most interesting, yet was one we couldn’t enter on a Monday! D67 was the command centre headquarters of the Vietnamese People’s Army and had underground escape tunnels for emergency evacuation. Around the outside of the building are various sets of steps down to the bunker, which are all blocked off, but you can see down to big rusty doors that lead into the now murky underground passageways.
Having paid our VND 30,000 for entry to the peaceful Imperial Citadel of Thang Long site we spent the next hours in the rather nice café cum restaurant adjacent, cooling off directly in front of a fan while drinking iced coffee! Flossy was dripping wet, bless him, but the huge fans did their bit and dried him off before round two of the sweaty walk around Hanoi commenced. While we downed two iced coffees each, the two well to do locals at the table beside us managed to polish off almost 8 ice-cold Staropramen; and it was barely midday!
We didn’t pay to enter anymore sites and just wandered around, taking in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the large Parliament buildings, the enclosed Presidential Palace and finishing with a walk along the front of the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh; all of which are situated in the same area, around Ba Dinh Square. Access to the restricted area in front of Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum is at either end of the site and bags have to be put through x-ray machines. There is also a strict dress code, which basically asks people to be respectful and wear sleeved shirts. One FYC and his girlfriend got turned away from the gatehouse while we were there, for not being dressed appropriately; much to Flossy’s amusement, more so for “his” beaded beard than anything else.
Further respite from the sun and humidity was sought at one of the many Highland Coffee outlets that are scattered around Hanoi. Their big fans dried Flossy off for a second time while we cooled off, with what can only be described as a coffee ice-cream in a plastic vat, which even came with a straw and a spoon! Culturizing done, we braved the heat for one last time and headed back to town, with a short stop at Hanoi station to use the facilities and for Flossy to stand in front of the big fan for a few minutes. As we were likely to run out of cash before exiting Vietnam, we also had to get some more money out of a cash machine, to last us the day. As booked though, the VND 500,000 transaction came out with just the one note!
Back at the Eternity Hotel we were able to site in the AC reception for an hour and abuse the hotel WiFi and facilities before asking for a taxi to take us to Gia Lam station. Despite having tickets for LP5 1530 Long Bien – Hai Phong, the heat had slowed our progress and we flagged it in favour of not rushing about and not carrying our big bags any further than we had to. The requested taxi was outside the hotel less than 5 minutes after ordering it and the journey to Gia Lam, via the bridge adjacent to Long Bien Road/Rail Bridge, took about 25 minutes and cost VND 118,000 on the meter. The driver was playing YouTube videos on his phone the whole way there, until he realised he didn’t know exactly where Gia Lam station was and then had to get maps up on his phone rather quickly. Thankfully for him, I was following our progress anyway and we directed him the short distance to our destination. He’d almost made it but just needed to remember on last turn…
Good old Google Translate, after my phone was held against the booking office window, soon had us paying VND 40,000 to allow us to leave our big bags in the locked storage room on the platform at Gia Lam. Outside the station there were a load more places open than the previous day and we sat inside some Bert’s local place with a cold coke, while abusing his very good Wi-Fi; waiting for LP8 to arrive. We photted GE D9e-241 arrive into Gia Lam with QT1 1630 Long Bien – Quan Trieu, which did so with D12E-630 dead on the rear, which was immediately detached on arrival and left at the north end of the station when QT1 headed on its way. While we stood waiting for QT1 to arrive a local ada got quite friendly with us and seemed to intimate that she’d seen us the previous day and it looked like she was inviting us back for tea! If the carcass on the table outside the stall was what was on offer, it definitely wasn’t something I’d have been indulging in. The dog’s head and feet were easy to make out and we could only assume that the meat scattered around it was the meat from its body?
When D12E-655 arrived into Gia Lam with LP8 1500 Hai Phong – Long Bien, the already running D12E-630 was dropped straight onto the rear of the train, while we boarded the front, hard seat, AC coach; for the journey over the bridge to Long Bien. The stock sat in the platform on arrival, with both locos shut down. After photting the leading loco we found loads of people on the tracks at the end of the bridge, photographing the bridge entrance, including a group of French tourists. It was a free for all as far as wandering about the tracks went and even two young girls walked down and posed for their photos while each took photos of the other. I’d not paid much attention to the offside of Long Bien station that morning but as time allowed we wandered down the steps and around the side of the station to the stalls down below and returned with a porcelain mug each; which would improve our tea drinking experience no end, as our plastic ones made it taste funny! There were some decent photos to be had of the train from down below the station as well. It looked like there was a fair bit of work going on at Long Bien station as when Flossy went in search of the bog, he was directed to a corrugated hut on the platform wit WC painted on it. When he opened the door, a less than impressed woman came bounding out; and I’m not surprised based on the fact it was a 2ft step up to then piss in a hole in the wooden floor.
By the time the toilet experience had run its course LP7 1826 Long Bien – Hai Phong was boarding, and we sat in a relatively empty coach, reveling in the AC, a good 25 minutes before departure. Outside our coach window two women were selling fresh bread, of all shapes and sizes, to locals walking down the platform. On arrival into Gia Lam, D12E-655 was detached from the rear while we walked up to the top end of the station to get what we thought was the loco attached to the Dong Dang end of the Chinese stock for our overnight to Nanning. We were mistaken on both accounts as the loco was 3ft gauge D12E-634 and neither it wasn’t attached to the stock as a result of its incompatibility.
Food before our overnight was going to be more Pho at the stall we’d eaten at the previous day but the neon lights of western stodge drew us through the doors of the Colonel’s establishment and KFC served us up a large meal for VND 101,000 each (just over £3); and provided phone charging facilities and relative comfort in AC. On the way to it we came across a sign advertising logistics which randomly had a photo of a UK class 66 on it, which on closer inspection turned out to be Freightliner liveried 66505! Which of course went straight on Facebook
With time to kill after our stodge we headed back to Bert’s café for a couple of beers before the train but as he had none in his fridge we ended up further along the road; trying to fritter away our Vietnamese Dong on cheap beer before we left the country. While we were sat drinking, a young lad came over the road and asked if we were Jonathan & David, the latter being Flossy’s middle name. It turned out he was the rep from Voilette, which is the company Baolau, who I booked the Hanoi – Nanning tickets through, use to get the tickets in Hanoi. It says on the Baolau booking voucher that a Voilette representative will find you at the station to give you your tickets, and he had done; although he didn’t give us our tickets until just before 2100, after another foreign couple turned up. At which point we were told our coach and berth numbers and to follow the instructions of the on-train staff when boarding. He then disappeared.
We’d seen little GE D9E-229 arrive into Gia Lam with DD6 1510 Dong Dang – Long Bien earlier and when it later arrived back into Long Bien with its 4 coaches and D12E-631 dead on the rear we assumed the GE had been run-round before DD6 had departed and D12E-631 had worked the train forward to Long Bien. Shortly after its arrival, D12E-660 arrived with HP2 1840 Hai Phong – Hanoi, the first train of the evening that runs into Hanoi, and once that had gone, we were allowed onto the platform to board MR1 2120 Hanoi Gia Lam – Pingxiang.
We had no problem walking to the front of the train, where the driver of broad gauge D14E-2011 even posed in the cab for photos. We ended up in the same compartment as the other two foreigners from the waiting room, who happened to be Polish and put our little 5-week long jaunt to shame, making it look like a weekend away when they told us they’d been on the go for 9 months, had travelled all the way around the world, still had a month to go and were heading back to Poland by train themselves! Hats off to them!
The Chinese stock for the daily MR1 2120 Hanoi Gia Lam – Pingxiang was very nice inside, clean and with working ai-con. The beds were comfy, and the toilets were perfectly acceptable, with washing areas at the end of each coach, hot water boilers too and smoking areas in the vestibules of the coaches. The stock goes forward attached to the daily T8702 0615 Pingxiang – Nanning and on Wednesdays & Saturdays at Nanning some of the soft-sleepers then attach to Z6 1100 Nanning – Beijing, which is a daily train but only has the through Hanoi to Beijing option twice a week. Upon boarding, our tickets were taken by the coach attendant and we were given a credit card sized piece of plastic that corresponded to our booked coach and berth number to replace it until we alighted. There was plenty of room for our luggage beneath the lower berths and above the upper ones in the storage space above the corridor. Thankfully, there were two charging sockets as well. Before departure, one of the coach attendants explained to us in English that at both Dong Dang, on the Vietnamese side of the boarder, and Pingxiang, on the Chinese side, we’d need to get off the train with all our belongings and head through immigration. When we asked if we could have one of the four empty compartments, we were denied based on the fact there could be people coming at later stops. And to be fair, they were all occupied the following morning.
D14E-2011 got us away from Gia Lam on time and made for a noise journey towards the boarder with its horn blaring all the time. The window seals weren’t great, and my earplugs didn’t keep much of it out either. The only criticism I have of the stock was the fat it was mos-tastic and I got bit numerous times before covering up with my quilt and melting beneath it, trying to hide from the ones I hadn’t killed! China, here we come……
Gen for Monday 13th May 2019
D12E-630 HP1 0610 Long Bien – Hai Phong
D12E-642 YB3 0621 Long Bien – Yen Bai
D9E-229 DD5 0718 Long Bien – Dong Dang
D9E-241 QT2 0540 Quan Trieu – Long Bien
D9E-241 QT1 1631 Long Bien – Quan Trieu (D12E-630 dor to Gia Lam)
D12E-655 LP8 1500 Hai Phong – Long Bien (D12E-630 dor from Gia Lam)
D12E-630 LP7 1826 Long Bien – Hai Phong (D12E-655 dor to Gia Lam)
D9E-229 DD6 1510 Dong Dang – Long Bien (to Gia Lam then dor to Long Bien and ecs back to Gia Lam)
D12E-631 DD6 1510 Dong Dang – Long Bien (from Gia Lam the dor back to Gia Lam on ecs)
D12E-660 HP2 1840 Hai Phong – Hanoi
D14E-2011 MR1 2120 Hanoi Gia Lam – Pingxiang (to Dong Dang)
Moves for Monday 13th May 2019
|Bike||Hanoi||Long Bien||Grab a bike – VND50,000, 10 minutes|
|D12E-642||Long Bien||Gia Lam||0621 Long Bien – Yen Bai||YB3|
|Bike||Gia Lam||Long Bien||Grab a bike – VND50,000, 10 minutes|
|D9E-229||Long Bien||Gia Lam||0718 Long Bien – Dong Dang||DD5|
|D9E-241||Gia Lam||Long Bien||0540 Quan Trieu – Long Bien||QT2|
|Taxi||Hanoi||Gia Lam||Taxi – VND118,000, 20 minutes|
|D12E-655||Gia Lam||Long Bien||1500 Hai Phong – Long Bien||LP8|
|D12E-630||Long Bien||Gia Lam||1826 Long Bien – Hai Phong||LP7|
|D14E-2011||Gia Lam||Dong Dang||2120 Gia Lam – Pingxiang||MR1|
Photos for Monday 13th May 2019 – Railway
Photos for Monday 13th May 2019 – Hanoi Tourist
Tuesday 14th May 2019 (Arriving into Nanning and then heading overnight towards Beijing)
Despite being told the first border check at Dong Dang would be at 2am, the knock on the compartment door came at 0050. Lots of people on board seemed to be prepared when the train rolled into Dong Dang and some even ran from the train doors to the entrance to immigration and there were no prisoners spared when luggage was loaded onto the conveyor through the x-ray machine. It was as though people thought they would miss the train if they weren’t first through. I did manage to get myself bollocked as well, when I clambered over the rollers at the end of the x-ray machine; not realising that there was a way around the back of the wall, which others used after me!
People were lined up in two lines once their baggage had gone through the machines, and two windows then processed people out of Vietnam. The guy at the window my line led to didn’t want to deal with me, waved me away and asked the next person to step forward. Thankfully, the same didn’t then happen when I approached the other window, where my passport was stamped with a Vietnam exit stamp and we were officially in limbo until we reached China.
There were toilets on the platforms at Dong Dang and during our processing out of Vietnam, DSVN’s D14E-2011 had come off our train ad ran back through the station to work back to Gia Lam with the opposing working of MR2; which was sat in the adjacent platform and must have arrived some time earlier judging by the fact everyone was on board, ready to go. Chinese Railways (CR) diesel DF4D-0577 must have worked into Dong Dang with MR2 and was waiting to shunt out when we got back onto the platforms, eventually dropping onto our stock to work back into China. Back on board MR1 there wasn’t much time to get dossed back out, so everyone just dozed with the compo door open until the attendant came around to tell everyone to get back off again at Pingxiang, which is 19km by rail from Dong Dang, over the Friendship Pass.
Being processed into China was a lot different than being processed out of Vietnam. First all foreigners had to scan their passport and have all their fingerprints taken, from both hands. This is probably why its now mandatory for all foreigners applying for a Chinese visa to visit in person. If successful the machine spits out a piece of paper with the word OK printed on it, then we were ushered into the channels to queue at the desks to eb processed in. At which point none of the Chinese border staff told any foreigners that they needed to fill out an arrival card; and it wasn’t until I got to the desk and the lady there shouted to someone on the radio, that everyone was then invited to fill them out, before being processed! Talk about chaos.
When I got back into the queue, which is always the wrong one, the guy in front of me didn’t seem to be having much luck getting into China. Firstly, he couldn’t get his fingerprints to work on the scanner at the desk, and when the guy scanned his passport, I could tell straight away he wasn’t happy with something. After a chat on the radio a few of the border police turned up and invited him to stand back to allow others to be processed instead. His wife was already on the other side and was keen to understand what was going on, naturally, but was ushered away by the police. Thankfully, I was quite quick with the fingerprint machine and was acknowledged for it by the guy at the desk. I was grateful that the stamp was in his hand so quickly after I’d stepped up to the desk and I was on my way after only a minute, or so. Unfortunately, I’d not realised that the toilets at Pingxiang were on the “limbo” side and the border staff wouldn’t let me back into the processing area to use them. Our coach attendant was kind enough to unlock one on board for me to use though, after he’d used Google Translate to confirm that I only wanted a piss; his phone screen merely said “Urine” on it when he showed it to me.
Now officially into China and 1912km into the journey home, sleep came much easier without the unwanted interruption of having to get off the train again. It wasn’t until 0930, when the attendant came around to say we would soon be at Nanning, that everyone came around and got prepared to get off. It was during a conversation with the Polish coupe at this point, that we ended up with some food for thought, which needed acting on later. We were only discussing how we were all getting back to our home countries when they mentioned that they’d been planning to go through Belarus from Russia but couldn’t do so now due to changes in the immigration process between the two countries. Something along those lines had been brought to my attention before this trip had commenced but both me and the person I’d been discussing it with had dismissed the quote on the FCO website as being related to the Visa free period for the World Cup the previous summer. Either way, more investigation was needed but we’d need to get some data connection first.
CR’s DF4D-0577 was still heading our train when T8702 0615 Pingxiang – Nanning terminated at Nanning. A load more coaches had been added behind our soft-sleepers, and I vaguely remember a jolt when laying in my berth at Pingxiang waiting for departure, where they must have been shunted to the rear before departure. We had no problem getting some photos before leaving the station, although one guy did try telling us to go the opposite way to exit the station but was fine when he realised what we were doing. Exiting the station was via an underpass that then leads towards the front of the station building, where we then had to negotiate our way back into to collect all our required Chinese train tickets.
I’d like to say it was a simple affair to get into Nanning station but after the first checkpoint there was a second checkpoint with security staff and x-ray machines. We both had to open our bags and had no clue what the staff were looking for due to the lack of English being spoken. Flossy had thought his multi-tool had been stolen during the flight from the UK to Saigon but it was pulled out of his bag and confiscated on the spot due to the large blade it had on it. While we stood there two other locals had small pen-knife types confiscated as well. They also wanted to see our aerosol cans but were instantly happy that we only had deodorant and shaving gel and let us put our bas back together before heading towards the station building.
All the signage at Nanning station was in English, as well as Chinese and the ticket office was easily located. Thanks to www.travelchineguide.com I had printed details for some of the stations we’d be visiting in China and the gen for Nanning said that ticket windows 14 & 15 were for collecting online tickets. The gen wasn’t wrong and as I held my bunch of reservation vouchers in my hand one of the girls behind the counter beckoned for me to go to counter 15; where all 22 of our pre-booked tickets were issued in a matter of minutes and very efficiently processed by the girl serving us. There’d only been one person in front of us at the ticket window and I was surprised at the lack of queues at any of the 16 ticket windows, it was all very civilized and calm; completely the opposite to what I’d expected.
While waiting for the tickets to be issued I’d translated “luggage storage” through Google Translate and had it poised on my phone screen in Chinese. While the girl was happy to point us in the right direction, she did tell us to go outside and turn left, while she was beckoning right with the arm. It was right and we found it easily. The two women that dealt with us were happy lasses and were withered that my name was Lee, just like theirs! I had to type my name into the system on her English keyboard as she couldn’t translate my name into Chinese script, which then had me doing it through Google Translate anyway; just to see what it looked like. It cost CY 20 each for our bags to be stored and we had to show both or passports and train tickets to be allowed to leave them. We were all sorted by 1045, only 38 minutes after arriving into Nanning and 15 minutes before Z6 would depart for Beijing at 1100. The cost of through tickets from Gia Lam to Beijing is phenomenal (over $300) if you book the through ticket. Booking a ticket to Nanning and then a separate ticket from Nanning to Beijing saves a hell of a lot of money but this option doesn’t guarantee you making the connection from T8702 to Z6 as you’ll have to exchange your ticket voucher for a proper ticket first. Cost was the sole reason we’d not decided to not do the through journey in one go and we now had 7 hours to kill in Nanning as a result.
Walking down the main road away from Nanning station gave us the first taste of China, and I can honestly say I’ve never been anywhere else like it in the world. Despite not being able to read anything, anywhere, everything was on such a grand scale, its hard for us Brits to understand without seeing it first-hand. There were flashing neon lights everywhere, scooters no matter which direction you looked, and nobody obeyed the road rules, with scooters using pedestrian crossings and footpaths wherever their owners saw fit. One thing I did notice very quickly though was how clean the atmosphere was and the fact that 99.99% of the scooters plying the city were indeed electric powered. Everywhere was clean and despite there not being any visible dustbins there was no litter anywhere, and people were going about their business in a civilized manner, at a civilized pace; and everyone looked presentable, despite the masses wearing facemasks and having their jackets on back to front while riding their scooters. To say I was in awe of the place would be a true statement.
Awe or not, we needed to figure out what we were doing, where we were going and what our end game was in Nanning. To do that we needed data and a conveniently located, rather empty, Starbucks café provided WiFi, charging facilities and a place to sit to figure all the aforementioned out, while benefitting from the delights of an iced coffee of a morning too. We’d purchased a Chinese SIM card from Amazon through Lyv.com, which provides SIM cards to foreigners on the Chinaunicom network. Its worth doing your homework on which service provider to use in China as some sim cards don’t work with foreign phone handsets. Once my SIM was in my Samsung Galaxy S8 it was straight onto a 4G network and once I turned my VPN on, I was able to use it as though I was anywhere else in the world, with access to Facebook, WhatsApp and the like being no issue. Flossy was having a spot of trouble accessing things on his “other” phone as he’d not set it up properly before leaving the UK and didn’t know what all his passwords were to be able to set it up either; it took him about 24 hours to get sorted!
A walk down the main drag to the Yongjiang River and over the Yongjiang Bridge to the other side led us to Nanning Bingjiang Park, a nice secluded place slightly elevated from the river and shaded by trees. This sufficed for somewhere to plonk ourselves down, before heading back towards the station. There wasn’t much noise in the vicinity of the bridge and that which there was, was from locals swimming in the river beneath the bridge. It was a 2km walk back and it was a hot afternoon, so on the way back we called in at one of the shopping malls for a bit of respite from the heat and stumbled into “KungFu”, or at least that’s the name we think the place had. Google Translate did a good number on their clearly printed menu. After which, we were able to confidently order what we wanted from it and the guy serving us looked impressed with our conduct. Our meals were fresh with a nice chicken & mushroom dish being accompanied by a vat of steam rice, some warm lettuce in soy sauce, which was surprisingly tasty, some kind of pork soup, which was a large piece of meat in hot water and got left untouched, and what Google Translate said were curried fish balls. Now I’m not a fish person at all, but the curried fish balls tasted nothing like fish and went down a treat with the tasty sauce. All in all, it had been a successful first meal in China and we headed back to the station stuffed.
It was easier getting through the security checks at Nanning station without our big bags and we sat in the shade at a café near the left luggage place, to wait it out; pondering the Russia/Belarus immigration system while we had time to do so. By the time we’d drank our cold coke, collected our big bags, figured out which waiting room our train would board from and then queued to get onto the platforms, Flossy had read lots of articles about the Russia/Belarus situation and was basically none the wiser! Now I might be completely wrong, but the situation seems to have arisen from Belarus allowing visa free entry into their country recently, which changed nothing in regard to how border crossings are conducted between Russia and Belarus, I might add. But it seems that Russia now has the hump and as there is literally no immigration anywhere along the Belarus/Russia border then anyone can enter either country from the opposite side without the proper documentation to do so, which has always been the case though! So, what has changed, other than the fact Russia seems to now acknowledge the fact they have no border control between themselves and Belarus? The big issue I can now see is that while we could get from Russia into Belarus with relative ease, once we’ve left Russia there is no entry in a Russia system to say that we’ve done so; so technically, Russia could say we’d overstayed on our visa. Again, this is something that has “always been the case” but if the Russians now acknowledge the issue they could well police it, and it seems their answer to the problem is to say its illegal for foreigners to cross the Russia/Belarus border; despite both countries having issued us with visas, which were processed off an application form that listed our exact entry and exit strategies for both countries. What needs to happen is the two countries need to get together and sort the issue out once and for all, and create a union allowing one visa to cover both Russia and Belarus and take away the issue they’ve created but never seemed to acknowledge, or manage. That said, we didn’t want o fall flat on or faces at the Belarus border, so would be looking at a plan once on board Z286 1735 Nanning – Beijing West.
People were queuing at the automatic ticket barriers 30 minutes before departure, but it was all very civilized, and once the access doors to the platforms were opened the barriers were turned on and tickets started to be put through. It was just like accessing the Underground back home, back in the days of tickets, and once through every waiting room leads to a set of stairs onto the station’s over-bridge. From where all platforms are accessible. Our train was being advertised as departing from platform 10, in the waiting area, and the electronic screens on the footbridge confirmed it. The train was formed of 19 coaches and we were in coach 10, berths 029 & 030. 2014 built electric HXD3D-0499 was at the head of Z286 1735 Nanning – Beijing West and there was already a guy in our compartment when we boarded our coach.
The stock looked newer than that we’d spent the previous night in, but the compartment interiors were very similar, although each berth on Z286 had its own TV screen and controls. Just like the previous night’s train though, this one was full of mosquitoes and both me and the bert opposite spent a long time swatting them and splatting them on the compo window. There was a restaurant car two coaches ahead of us and the boiler at the end of the coach provided endless cups of tea before bed: as well as filling many a noodle pot for the locals on board. After our Guilin North stop at 2130, where the last member of our compartment joined, the lights went out, the curtains were drawn, and the compartment door was closed and locked, which thankfully now seemed to be mosquito free!
Gen for Tuesday 14th May 2019
DF4D-0577 MR1 2120 Hanoi Gia Lam – Pingxiang (from Dong Dang)
HXD3D-0499 Z286 1735 Nanning – Beijing West (to Zhengzhou)
HXD3C-0292 5539 1300 Zhanjiang – Jinchengjiang (at Liuzhou)
Moves for Tuesday 14th May 2019
|DF4D-0577||Dong Dang||Pingxiang||2120 (13/05) Gia Lam – Pingxiang||MR1|
|DF4D-0577||Pingxiang||Nanning||0615 Pingxiang – Nanning||T8702|
|HXD3D-0499||Nanning||Zhengzhou||1735 Nanning – Beijing Xi||Z286|
Photos for Tuesday 14th May 2019
Wednesday 15th May 2019 (Arrival into Beijing)
After a very good night’s sleep, I didn’t surface until gone 9am and flossy was still in his upper pit at 1030! The scenery had changed since the previous night with vast swathes of flatness having replaced the nice atmospheric mountains but every now and again there were still concrete monstrosities rising directly upwards from the floor, standing like chess pieces on a board. There was no warning before the high-rises commenced, they literally where what cities were made of, there was nothing on the outskirts, other than other high-rises and even in areas that new high-rises were being built they were being done so on a massive scale; with about 15 being erected at a time. As I’ve said, you have to see it to comprehend the scale of things with your own eyes!
The day flew by with there only being the two stops between me waking and us arriving into Beijing West. The first at Zhengzhou revealed HXD3D-0499 being replaced by HXD3C-0331 during the booked 12-minute station stop. While we were there HXD3C-0407 arrived into the adjacent platform and terminated with K7959 Shanghai – Zhengzhou and the electronic screen was changed after its arrival to show the return service of K7960 1220 Zhengzhou – Shanghai. Shortly beforehand, DF7-5589 brought a set of stock into one of the other platforms. It was a very efficient stop and yet nobody had been allowed onto the platform until the train was already in; it was like turning a tap of people on when they emerged from the top of the steps leading down o the platform.
Dinner on board was provided from a trolley, being wheeled along the train by one of the buffet coach attendants. The plastic cartons of food were CY35 each and consisted of rice, sliced pork, cabbage, a warm carrot and ham mixture, some battered fish and a fried egg. The majority of it went down the hatch, apart from the fish bones. Randomly, the fish tasted nothing like fish again and had it not been for the bones, I’d have passed it on as chicken! It had a very similar consistency. We enjoyed it though and the locals in the corridor enjoyed us trying to figure out what it was when buying it. Unfortunately, Google Translate didn’t translate what the girl selling it said very well, so she just took a lid off and let us have a look instead.
At the last stop, Shijiazhuang, we departed 20’ late, where on our original plan we’d have been getting off and stepping up on trains towards Beijing and arriving there just before midnight. Thanks to Trip.com not being able to secure our tickets on Z286 from Beijing to Shijiazhuang though, we’d had to cancel everything beyond Shijiazhuang to allow China Highlights to get the job done and book us direct tickets from Nanning to Beijing West on Z286 instead. This did pose another problem though, in that we needed to get from Beijing West to Beijing, by train, to keep the dream alive. In a similar fashion to having to get from Hanoi main station to Gia Lam, just to bridge the gap. Thankfully though, China highlights had been able to solve that issue and booked us tickets on a local train from Beijing West to Beijing, even though the trains couldn’t be selected on their website yet could be on Trip.com’s but not booked!
We didn’t pick up any time to Beijing Xi (West) and arrived into the very posh station 25’ late at 1728. Getting out of the station commanded a master’s in geography, or being able to read Chinese; ad even then I’m not sure it was as simple as following a sign for an exit as everything pointed towards areas of the station and there was nothing to indicate an actual exit. When we took a stab at a set of stairs, they randomly brought us up to the front of the station building, right where our suburban EMU service to Beijing was being advertised! The nice lady at the adjacent entry barrier confirmed that we should just wait where we were, which we understood by gesture of course, and waited patiently by the entrance until the gates were opened and we were allowed into the station building. Tickets were checked against our passport before we had to put our bags through the x-ray machines and then we had to head down a level, before queuing at the entrance to the platform, where our tickets were checked again before we were allowed onto the platform; only 5 minutes before the train was due.
S107 1828 Beijing Xi – Tongzhou suburban service was formed of a fresh out of the box “high-speed” EMU, set number CRH6A-0438. It was absolutely spotless inside and out and had a cleaner on board who began mopping he floors throughout the train before it had even departed Beijing Xi. It was that clean you could have licked the windows and made the train dirty; I was ashamed to use the bog but needs must. While the English announcement on board said it was a high-speed train, the 9km journey from Beijing Xi to Beijing, which was almost completely in a tunnel under the city, was far from high-speed; but it did the job.
Thankfully, exit from Beijing station was a simple affair and there seems to be only one exit, which brings every arriving passenger to the front of the very impressive station building. Our hotel for the next three nights, the Howard Johnson Paragon Hotel, towered above us directly opposite the station and all we had to do was use one of the handy over bridges, situated at each end of the station forefront, to get over the main road and we were there; even if we did end up going to the wrong side of the building first!
The Paragon Hotel’s first impression was one of luxury, yet it had only cost around £180 for the three nights. It certainly wasn’t your everyday crank’s hotel, but the bit of luxury was probably going to be the last we had for a while, so we reveled in it. The lobby was massive and when we got to our 7th floor room, we found the AC to be already on and the view from the window was straight over the station building opposite. It was quite possibly one of the best hotel views I’ve ever had, and when the station building was lit up that night it was a cracking sight. Just watching the little humans running around like ants was calming enough when staring down from a high. The room itself wasn’t massive but the AC worked well, the fridge didn’t but there was a kettle for tea/coffee, free water daily and the shower turned out to be a good powerful one, with free toiletries provided each day.
After our discovery, or more like our acknowledgement of the Russia/Belarus border situation, the first hour at the hotel was spent fuckin about online trying to come up with a plan to circumvent the issue. There were three options, one being to stay on plan until departing Moscow on our booked train, get off at Briansk and then head over the Ukraine border on the next train to Konotop. Unfortunately, the only train over the Ukraine/Belarus border to Gomel that day was then train 100, 6 hours later, and there wasn’t even a train towards Kharkiv to head it off at the pass, or a move available in the Konotop area t save on the lengthy fester. So, plan B came into action, which was to cancel our booked train from Moscow to Gomel and book onto train 073 1500 Moskva Kurskaja – Kharkiv, which arrived there at 0423 and then book train 100 from Kharkiv straight through to Minsk, departing at 0617. Both tickets were booked on the respective websites of UZ & RZD, using Flossy’s china SIM as a means of connection as the hotel WiFi was a no-no. I had to put my UK sim back into my phone to allow my bank to sms me when making the final transaction; which was a little more of a faff that I needed but with the amount of fraud on my cards recently, I couldn’t complain.
With both tickets booked, and that hassle now out of the way, we headed out to find somewhere to eat, locally. There were plenty of fast-food joints available and a KFC immediately below the hotel if we needed. The first place we ended up in didn’t really suit us and when we realised why everything on the menu seemed to be raw meat, we made our excuses and left. The woman attempting to serve us couldn’t apologise enough, which was strange as it wasn’t her fault, we didn’t want to order raw meat and cook it ourselves at the table, which we eventually realised everyone else seemed to be doing. We got sorted next door though and while we were trying to use Google Translate to figure out what we wanted the lady at the counter handed us a menu that was hand-written with the English translations on it!
Back at the hotel it was clothes washing time and the poor bath didn’t know what had hit it, the tide mark around the edge was interesting, and the colour of the water was worrying. Still, they smelled fresh once cleaned and strung up to dry on the rail in the bathroom. It was nice to relax with a few beers of an evening and sleep in a comfy, non-moving, bed was going to be a luxury. Thankfully, the earplugs cut out all the road noise from outside, as the windows didn’t keep the outside out at all.
Gen for Wednesday 15th May 2019
HXD3D-0331 Z286 1735 (P) Nanning – Beijing West (from Zhengzhou)
HXD3C-0407 K7959 0843 Anyang – Zhengzhou
DF7C-5589 shunt stock at Zhengzhou
CRH6A-0438 (EMU) S107 1828 Beijing Xi – Tongzhou
Moves for Wednesday 15th May 2019
|HXD3D-0331||Zhengzhou||Beijing Xi||1735 (14/05) Nanning – Beijing Xi||Z286|
|CRH6A-0438||Beijing Xi||Beijing||1828 Beijing Xi – Tongzhou||S107|
Photos for Wednesday 15th May 2019
Thursday 16th May 2019 (Day 1 of 3 in Beijing – nedding about on DF4’s)
At 0559, according to my phone, I was frantically trying to turn my alarm off, thinking I’d overslept. When I realised it was the chiming of the clock outside in the street somewhere, I was somewhat relieved but equally confused as to what I’d been trying to do. At 0659 I was already awake and considering getting up, so the chiming came as no surprise and I turned my alarm off before it went off, so as not to wake the sleeping Flossy, who was completely oblivious to anything! My clothes were dry in the bathroom and I managed a shower, sorted my bag and went out, all without waking the dosser.
I was grateful that Beijing station was a simple station to navigate. I was also grateful, having looked in on the ticket office, that I didn’t need to use it at all during our visit. With only one way into Beijing station everyone passes through security, with most locals using the electronic barriers to put their ID cards on, while looking at a camera; very similar to using e-gates at airports. Those without ID cards can only use gate 15, where your tickets and passport are manually checked, and your ticket stamped before you’re allowed through to the security check area. Bags are x-rayed first, then you’re body-checked by a line of staff, before finally walking trough the plastic meat-locker style entrance flaps.
Once into the station area it might look daunting but its actually quite simple. The big departure screens show train number, followed by waiting room level and then the waiting room number; and every waiting room is very clearly signposted, so you don’t even need to be concerned about the waiting room level. There are fooderies and shops all around the place, including a McDonalds and KFC, with a load more outside the station front for good measure. McD’s provided me with an industry standard Sausage & Egg McMuffin for breakfast, wit hash-brown and coffee. I didn’t need to translate the menu as everything was written in English beneath the Chinese.
My K7711 0756 Beijing – Chengde was being boarded from waiting room 4, which was already full when I go there, so I joined the few already queuing at the barriers rather than standing elsewhere. When the staff come out to prepare for boarding everyone soon cottons on and the queues steadily grow, right until the last minute then it becomes a bit of a free-for-all towards the back of the queue as people just join where they feel like! Despite the platform number being displayed in the waiting area, its easy to find your train once your ticket has been stamped again, while going through the last barrier of the debacle. If you end up accessing the platforms via an upper waiting room some end up leading you directly down to the relevant platform, mostly from waiting room 8, others lead onto an over-bridge with screens at the top of every step. Usually, only your train will be displayed on the relevant screen, so there’s no ending up in the wrong place, either by mistake, or intentionally I might add!
K7711 0756 Beijing – Chengde was in one of the low numbered bay platforms at Beijing and while I was asked what I was doing when walking beyond the entry point to the leading coach, I had no problems walking to the loco, or taking photos of it; once the platform staff knew I had a ticket for that train. DF4D-4211 was chugging away nicely at the head of K7711 with DF4D-5295 sat at the head of another train in a nearby platform. While I’d not hear the loco at the head of my train working in anger, I did later head Df4D-5295 hammer through Tongzhou Xi at full throttle and it was a very pleasing 16-cylinder chug that it was emitting. I wasn’t expecting double-deck stock on any train in China either, which gave me something else to understand on my day’s tickets; whether I was in the upper or lower section as the upper & lower sections were numbered the same. Symbols on the ticket do show which section your ticket is in though and all mine had the same, indicating the lower section unfortunately.
It was a pleasant journey, 18km out to Tongzhou Xi, where I was able to watch DF4D-4211 depart with K7711 before being shown the station exit. With nearly 2 hours to kill, I walked down the road outside the station and came across a small park, which was right by the line, with a main road running under it at that point, and the metro running over it. It wasn’t an ideal place for photographing but it was shaded from the sun and I could see things coming for quite a distance in one direction. The result of my 90-minutes there was worth the walk, especially when DF4D-4250 hammered by with a heavy freight. Most trains that passed were heading west, away from me, but two came from the west and made for excellent shots as the passed by. I was also treated to two HXN class diesels hammering by on loaded freights, which didn’t sound quite as good as the DF4D’s but more like a muffled GE Gevo. They were still loud though and of the 8 trains that passed, only one was electric hauled.
Back at Tongzhou Xi station, the staff were quite taken aback when I went back through security and the guy on the platform looked positively flabbergasted when he checked my ticket to let me onto the platform. DF4D-4142 made for a nice photo as it ran in with 2258 1302 (P) Dandong – Beijing. On board which I now had two tickets, with Flossy choosing to be normal for the day, one of which was standing ticket in coach 8 and Flossy’s was a seated ticket in coach 13; which randomly only had about 10 people in the whole coach; so my own standing ticket seemed a bit strange! It was a relaxing run back to Beijing though and little did I, or the staff, realise that we’d be seeing each other again soon; once I negotiated my way out of Beijing station and then straight back in to do the return working of 2257 1220 Beijing – Dandong back out.
By the time I’d walked back to the station front, got through gate 15 and the security checks and walked upstairs to the relevant waiting room for train 2257, it was just being boarded and in the time it had taken me to go from coach 13 of 2258 to coach 13 of 2257, DF4D-4140 had dropped onto the opposite end of the stock and DF4D-4142 had been detached at the buffer stops end and was shut down on the stops. Again, one of the station staff queried what I was doing when taking photos, but she was more than happy to leave me be once she’d seen my ticket. It was a long walk back to coach 13 in the afternoon heat though; where the air-con was a welcome respite for the journey back to Tongzhou Xi, where the station staff really were withered when I turned up again!
So as not to look like a crazy foreigner or draw more attention to myself than I already seemed to be doing, I checked straight back in for my onward train to Miyun Bei after a quick visit to the booking office and the shop outside the station. A pre-written message on Google Translate asking for a ticket on S106 1848 from Beijing Dong to Beijing was all it took to get me a ticket and the guy understood it perfectly, only requiring me to hand over my passport to allow him to issue the CY3 ticket; which would save me the hassle of walking from Beijing Dong to the nearest metro station, 700m away, later that evening.
When the station staff realised I was heading on to pastures new shortly, they seemed content and allowed everyone onto the platform before DF4D-4136 arrived with Y513 0612 Handan – Chengde; again, with double-deck stock in its consist. Despite my lower-deck ticket, there was plenty of room on both decks in my coach and I was able to sit and have a bay to myself for the journey to Miyun Bei. Where, on arrival I thought I’d come across part of the Great Wall of China but it wasn’t, or at least I don’t think it was, and Google didn’t give me any ideas that it actually was either. Still, the turret sections looked like those I’d seen of it in pictures. Over the way though there clearly was some sort of tourist attraction located atop of a hill, with cable cars leading up to it; which might be what the taxi drivers outside the station were asking me about as I headed down the rather strange narrow alleyway from the station to the main road.
With time to kill for the second time during the day I headed down to a level crossing that I’d spotted on the way into Miyun Bei but as the shots from it didn’t look like they’d be that great I walked further down the road in an attempt to find another spot, which proved fruitless and I ended up back there soon enough. Initially I was a little skeptical about hanging around by the crossing, that was until the crossing keeper acknowledged me and even told me which was the two trains that went by were coming from. It’s a single-line section from Miyun Bei over a large bridge about 2km from the station so there was a 20-minute gap after blue liveried DF4C-0012 headed towards Beijing with a lengthy freight and DF4D-4250 trundled by with a short trip-freight, into the yard at Miyun Bei station.
I was pleased with the two shorts and hastily walked back to the station to be there in time for 6420 1043 Chengde – Tongzhou Xi arriving. When DF4D-4141 arrived promptly, I wasn’t quite with it in understanding what was going on behind me and it wasn’t until I’d boarded, to find coaches with opening windows, that DF4-0019/0015 shunted out from the yard and dropped on top on DF4D-4141. By which time I wasn’t allowed to walk towards the front of the train, or get back off to get towards the front; in fact I was only assuming at this point that it was in fact DF4-0019/0015 as I’d seen them on arrival earlier. While the windows opened in the coaches, they didn’t come down, or up in some cases, enough to allow me to get my fat head out but I could still hear the DF4s at the head of the train well enough and it was a very pleasant, if not sweltering, afternoon jaunt as far as Huariou. Where I had to get off to do Y514 back to Beijing behind. I wasn’t allowed to the front of the train at Huariou but all wasn’t lost and at least I could watch the train pull away before exiting the station, at which pint it didn’t seem like the front two were powering on departure; but that was soon rectified. Thankfully, Y514 1313 Chengde – Handan was booked to overtake 6420 before Tongzhou Xi and when DF4D-4204 trundled by the DF4 triplet, I was able to spot the number on DF4-0019 at least, which was enough for the mind to be at ease, and when I got back to Beijing Dong just after 1800, I was quite pleased with how the day had turned out.
There was no wondering down to find out the number of the electric waiting to take over from DF4D-4204 at Beijing Dong, everyone was immediately directed to head under the underpass and exit the station. Outside which people were queuing to get onto the station to board Y514 and weren’t allowed to do so until after the loco change had taken place. Quite a few people off Y514 waited around, like me, to do S106 1848 suburban towards Beijing & Beijing Xi; which at the same price as the metro was a better option and save a lengthy walk to the metro, although there were a load of taxi drivers hanging about waiting for their next fare.
Once Y514 had been sent on its way passengers for S106 were allowed through security and onto the platform, which there are only three of at Beijing Dong. Standing over the back of the station with an empty set was DF4D-5295 and when the driver noticed me with my camera out, he turned the lights on, on the front of the loco, which was appreciated in the fading light. S106 was formed of a different EMU to the one we’d had from Beijing Xi the previous night but it wasn’t any less clean, but it did have the same cleaning lady on board, who clearly recognized me from the previous night.
Flossy was waiting for me on the footbridge outside Beijing station when I got back, having been to Tiananmen Square, and we were soon stumbling across a common food chain in China, Mr Lee’s, just down from our hotel; where it would have been very rude not to partake. Mr Lee had a very good spicy beef noodle at Mr Lee’s, washed down with a cold beer to boot, and I had to get a couple of cups to take back home as souvenirs as well.
A visit to the supermarket on the way back to the hotel netted a few Weiss beers to take back to the room, where we plotted the following day’s proceedings. Strangely, the station wasn’t lit up like it had been the previous night; maybe someone hadn’t fed the meter?!
Gen for Thursday 16th May 2019
DF4D-4211 K7711 0756 Beijing – Chengde
DF4D-5295 ???? 0810ish ex Beijing (light back through Beijing Dong at 1030) ECS???
DF4D-4214 K1458 1900 (P) Tongliao – Shijiazhuang (to Beijing Dong)
DF4D-4142 2258 1302 (P) Dandong – Beijing
HXD3D-0239 T298 1613 (P) Mudanjiang – Beijing
HXD3D-0238 T297 1200 Beijing – Mudanjiang
DF4D-4140 2257 1220 Beijing – Dandong
SS9-0149 stabled at Tongzhou Xi with a Beijing Dong – Yanjiao set
DF4D-4136 Y513 0612 Handan – Chengde (from Beijing Dong)
DF4D-4204 6420 1043 Chengde – Tongzhou Xi
DF4-0019/DF4-0015 top 6420 from Miyun Bei
DF4D-4141 Y514 1313 Chengde – Handan (to Beijing Dong)
Moves for Thursday 16th May 2019
|DF4D-4211||Beijing||Tongzhou Xi||0756 Beijing – Chengde||K7711|
|DF4D-4142||Tongzhou Xi||Beijing||1302 (15/05) Dandong – Beijing||2258|
|DF4D-4140||Beijing||Tongzhou Xi||1220 Beijing – Dandong||2257|
|DF4D-4136||Tongzhou Xi||Miyun Bei||0612 Handan – Chengde||Y513|
|DF4-0019||Miyun Bei||Huariou||1043 Chengde – Tongzhou Xi||6420|
|DF4D-4141||Huariou||Beijing Dong||1313 Chengde – Handan||Y514|
|CRH6A-0623||Beijing Dong||Beijing||1834 Tongzhou – Beijing Xi||S106|
Photos for Thursday 16th May 2019
Friday 17th May 2019 (Day 2 of 3 in Beijing – Pre-trip briefing with Koryo Tours & Tiananmen Square)
With an 0930-meeting planned at Koryo’s office, a way from Beijing station, we were up by 8am and heading down to the Beijing metro station right outside the hotel by 0830. With it being a midweek and during the rush hour, I was a little apprehensive about the metro; and expected it to be wedged to the gunnels with people ramming themselves on at the last minute as the doors closed. Entering the metro has security checks and x-ray machines for bags too but it wasn’t anywhere near as busy as I expected it to be, or as complicated to navigate either. In fact, the whole experience was quite pleasant. Ticket machines are easy to use and in multiple languages. As long as you know which line the station you’re going to is on, you just select the line, then the station from the map and insert money into the machine; its that simple. The tickets are then scanned to access the station and put through the machine to exit at your destination. Tickets are priced on distance. Directions at the stations are signed in Chinese and English and everything is very clear. Every station I used had island platforms with trains for that line only running in either direction. Display screens on the platforms show when trains are due and electronic mapping displays on board show where the train you’re travelling is at, and announcements on board are in English as well as Chinese. There was plenty of room on board and the air-con worked a treat.
As we were at Dongsishitiao with plenty of time to spare we had time for breakfast at KFC along the way. Attempts to use the rather handy electronic display screens to order fell at the last hurdle as in China you can only pay using WeChat. The result of that being that I had to take a photo of the screen to show to the girls at the counter to get what we wanted; and even then, my order was wrong and had to be redone.
Koryo’s office is in a residential area but their directions clearly get you to their front door, although both ME Maps and Google Maps did us proud. Just as we pressed the buzzer to get in, one of Koryo’s employees turned up and let us in. I got the impression they weren’t expecting us but 5 minutes later we were handing over nearly €1300 to pay the balance of our trip and 5 minutes after that, the same guy that had let us in, Marcus, took us into the briefing room and proceeded to run through what we needed to know, the do’s and don’ts and the essential things we needed to understand before we headed into the DPRK. It was a thorough briefing and lasted about an hour, during which all of our questions were answered and some of the logistics surrounding the trip started to make sense.
We learnt that our tickets from Beijing to Dandong were in hard-sleeper and not soft-sleeper as we’d requested. A simple mistake, which Simon immediately owned up to, which was unfortunately not a mistake that could be rectified as soft sleeper on K27 to Dandong the following was full. Our additional costs for the soft sleeper were refunded on the spot though and we were given contact details for Mr Jacky Zhang, who would meet us in the square outside Dandong station and sort us out for our onward train into the DPRK. All our tickets for travel in DPRK would be sorted by our guides and our DPRK visas were handed over before we departed Koryo’s offices, after a few paperwork formalities. It was all straightforward, and things started to make sense at this point. We both left Koryo’s office pretty excited about our trip into DPRK, although I was a little apprehensive at the same time as I always am when going somewhere new.
As Flossy had decided to head to the Forbidden City of an afternoon, he guided me to Tiananmen Square beforehand, which is easily accessed via two different metro stops: Tiananmen East & West, both on the same line. After another nice metro journey, I wasn’t quite prepared for how big the square is when we emerged from underground, as television doesn’t do it any justice; it’s huge! Walking completely around it takes ages and then when heading towards the entrance to the Forbidden City things started to get busier and I ended up getting caught up in the one-way heard of people moving from the square towards the Forbidden City, via the underground channels of the monumental entrance to the Forbidden City. Once in the tunnels there is no way back, even though the Tiananmen metro stations are close-by. By the time I figured this out, I had a 1.9km walk to get back to Tiananmen West station; and didn’t thank myself for it in the afternoon heat either. I’d have probably been better off heading into the Forbidden City with Flossy, than skirting around its extremities to get back to a main road that led back towards Tiananmen Square. The air-con on the metro was welcome when I got down to the depths, as was a shower at the hotel when I got back!
After a recharge of both my own and my phone’s batteries, I headed back out for the afternoon bash. To try and fit the touristy bits in around meeting Koryo and planning some sort of move each day, I think I did quite well with this particular day’s and once I got myself onto the platform at Beijing, I was quite pleased to come across nice blue liveried DF4-0003 heading K1189 1603 Beijing – Wulanhaote but was equally displeased with the attitude of the young lad on the platform who told me I wasn’t taking photos of anything. Despite me telling him I’d done so on every other visit to the station and that the rest of his colleagues had been fine about it, and pleasant, he wasn’t having any of it; and that became the one and only time I wasn’t allowed to take photos while on any station in China.
Attitude or not, my denial at Beijing didn’t spoil the afternoon and after listening to DF4-0003 depart Tongzhou Xi, I went through the barriers, out of the station and then straight back in through the entrance security to wait for Y514 1313 Chengde – Handan, which arrived promptly with DF4D-4122 and I was dropped at the gestapo shack that is Beijing Dong and ushered straight out of the station; without being able to spot the electric that would re-engine Y514 again. With just over an hour to kill, I had a wander towards the nearest metro station to Beijing Dong, Dawanglu, and then wandered straight back to wait outside the station entrance for the gates to be opened up to passengers for K7787 1922 Beijing Dong – ??????, which was sat in the platform waiting for its load, with electric SS9-0148 at the helm. I was only on board to Yanjiao, where I had no time to wait at all for twin-unit DF11Z-0004B/0004A to chug in with a 20-coach rake forming T5688 1628 Qinhuangdao – Beijing; which only seemed to have the rear 4 coaches in use! All were hard-seat coaches and the rest of the train was both hard & soft sleeper coaches, with nobody in them. The rake must be used during the day for T5687/T5688 to get it out of Beijing for the day, before being put back into its link that night? The stickers on the side were for Zxxx/Zxxx with T5687/T5688 being in smaller writing underneath the main train’s details. Being in coach 1, had in me in the 20th and rear most coach back to Beijing but I was hoping that it would mean completely the opposite for the following morning,
Mr Lee’s beckoned for a second night in a row, where a decent beef curry and rice was served up, once I’d managed to get the fat off the beef using my chopsticks, which was easier said than done! Back at the hotel another bout of washing got done before an earlier night than the previous one occurred. The lights over at Beijing station had been on when I’d returned from my jaunt but were off when we went to bed, whether the hammering rain had anything to do with it, we couldn’t figure out but just as we clambered in to bed a loud siren started going off; eventually prompting both of us to query what was happening, just in case it was the hotel fire alarm. Thankfully, it wasn’t and said noise eventually moved away from the hotel, leaving the earplugs to block out the rest and sleep to come along soon after.
Gen for Friday 17th May 2019
HXD3C-0489 K7715 1044 Shijiazhuang – Qinhuangdao (from Beijing)
DF4-0003 K1189 1603 Beijing – Wulanhaote (Tongzhou Xi)
DF4D-4122 Y514 1313 Chengde – Handan (to Beijing Dong)
SS9-0148 K7787 1922 Beijing Dong – ???? (Yanjiao)
DF11Z-0004B/0004A T5688 1628 Qinhuangdao – Beijing
Moves for Friday 17th May 2019
|DF4-0003||Beijing||Tongzhou Xi||1603 Beijing – Wulanhaote||K1189|
|DF4D-4122||Tongzhou Xi||Beijing Dong||1313 Chengde – Handan||Y514|
|SS9-0148||Beijing Dong||Yanjiao||1922 Beijing Dong – ?????||K7787|
|DF11Z-0004B||Yanjiao||Beijing||1628 Qinhuangdao – Beijing||T5688|
Photos for Friday 17th May 2019
Saturday 18th May 2019 (Day 3 of 3 in Beijing before heading towards Dandong and the DPRK border)
It wasn’t such an early start for me, and I was out on my own again, mostly because Flossy couldn’t deal with the queuing and fucking about at stations to get onto platforms. Unfortunately, my washing hadn’t dried so alternative socks & boxers had to be sought, while I ended up wearing my shorts in a bid to dry them off outside. The pockets were too damp to put my money, passport, wallet and moves book in though, so I was all over the place for the first part of the bash; while things weren’t where they were supposed to be!
After a sit-in McDonald’s breakfast, I was down on the platform quite early for T5688 0936 Beijing – Qinhuagngtao, even if the engines weren’t on the train early. I thought I was going to be told to stop photographing again but my ticket for the train I was stood by soon ended any potential issues; and a Chinese guy came along shortly afterwards with his kid and proceeded to photograph everything that moved, all over the station, including me photographing DF4D’s!
While waiting for something to back ono my train, which I was going to be right behind on departure from Beijing, DF11-0417 departed with K7729 0913 Beijing – Dezhou and twinset DF11G-0001/0002 arrived with Z205 1832 (P) Changsha – Tianjin. No sooner had they arrived, did DF11G-0029/0030 drop onto the other end to work Z205 forward. DF4-5012 looked to be one of the Beijing empties engines and electric HXD3C-0944 was being attached to K5223 0946 Beijing – Hengshui before DF11G-0012/0011 graced our platform with their presence. As it was quite late on and departure time was imminent, I had to board the train while the locos were attached. We were still away right time though and thanks to me being in coach 1, I was able to pretend to be a smoker and stand in the vestibule right behind the locos as they got to grips with the 20-coach train again, of which only 4 were in use at the front. To say I was suitably impressed was an understatement and they hammered their way the 36km out to Yanjiao. They were very loud and very meaty, and it was a shame I was getting off when I was, having finally managed to hear something flat out and being able to get close to it.
For a Saturday it was quite busy, and people seemed to be moving all around the Beijing suburbs by train. I had a walk to the main road at Yanjiao which reminded me of a wet day during my childhood, when walking down a deserted high street in Erdington, Birmingham, there was nobody about at all, with shops closed down, boarded up and generally looking a bit worse for wear. There was a nice park close to Yanjiao station though, with what could have been a nice water feature, had it not been empty and full of ponds and weeds! Still, there were quite a lot of kids playing in and around the place and quite a few passing by with buckets and spades!
Once back on the station, it was a bit of a come-down when electric HXD3D-8001 rolled into Yanjiao with 2550 2258 (P) Anshan – Beijing but I couldn’t complain about what I’d had, especially as I had no gen at all before I planned the trip and everything I did plan was gleaned from someone else’s hard work; which saved me a massive amount of time and probably had me doing something worthwhile, instead of attempting to take a stab at things; and I can’t thank that person enough.
Agreeing a 1400 checkout with the Howard Johnson Paragon Hotel was a nice bonus freebie and allowed for a bit of relaxing time before we had to head out and brave the world wit our big bags again. I was back before Flossy, who’d been to find himself at a Buddhist temple while I’d been out on the bash. Once we’d drained the hotel of power one more time, we trudged down to check-out, which was a simple affair but our attempts to change some GBP to RMB were denied. Initially we thought it was due to the fact they though the £20 notes were old, as they weren’t shiny, however, attempts to get money changed at the Beijing Bank around the corner proved just as fruitless. They weren’t allowed to exchange GBP, only Euro & US$. So, after a walk to find the China Bank, we came across a HSBC and managed to get them to spit some money out of an ATM for us. That was us sorted until we got back to civilization in Russia, just in case and all that.
There was never going to be anywhere else that we’d visit for a last meal in Beijing, and Mr Lee’s provided us with somewhere to veg for a while too, while waiting for the departure of our train to head further east. We spent 30-minutes outside Beijing station entrance, watching the rat race and slating people who were stupidly dressed; the pair of women that we are. Our wives would no doubt have had a field day doing exactly the same. One thing I will say though is that nobody looked out of place, maybe a little too smart for the occasion but everyone seemed to have made an attempt to look smart at least, and there was us, stood berating people for looking smart, while dressed in shorts and a shirt, looking like a proper pair of train spotters!
Eventually we braved the masses and entered Beijing station through entrance No.15, before going through security and the body checks one last time. Our train, Z27 1727 Beijing – Dandong, had changed waiting rooms since my visit earlier in the day, and was now being boarded from waiting room No.1 on the ground floor, which leads straight out onto platform 1 bay platform. With the waiting area full we paid almost a fiver for a coffee, which at least allowed us to sit down while we waited for our train. Queues had already started to form when the staff put out the train’s number and departure time and by the time they started to board people from the “Special waiting area” the queues were a free-for-all, with no coordination about them at all. I left Flossy to it and queued with the masses, only to watch him sneak through the “special” boarding area and get waved straight onto the platform; the cheek of some people, eh? Although I reckon it was his grey hair that fooled the staff into thinking he was “old”.
Our hard-sleeper coach, No.4, was towards the front so at least we didn’t have far to walk to collect the engine number of electric HDX3D-0650. As we had two lower berths in our hard-sleeper coach, we were pretty much sorted from the moment we got on and all the side-seat along the coach were already occupied by those having upper berths, which is somewhere to sit until the lights go out. There weren’t any charging sockets in the berths but there was the odd one in the corridor. Thankfully, the hot water boilers were working ok, and we managed to break into our stash of pot noodles, rice, or whatever else was lurking in the depths of our bags, for tea; the first of many to come.
Despite having requested soft-sleeper through Koryo, the hard-sleepers weren’t really an issue, although if they’d been anything but lower berths it would have been a bit of a farce. It was a relaxing journey east and one that would be the last that we’d be able to communicate with our loved ones bac in the UK, before heading into the DPRK the following morning; so we both made the most of it, despite my VPN thinking otherwise regularly! By 2130 we were both read for bed and the lights were turned out in the coach at around 2230 anyway; when all the mice on the mice organ were told it was bedtime!
Gen for Saturday 18th May 2019
DF11G-0001/0002 Z205 1832 (P) Changsha – Tianjin (to Beijing)
DF11G-0029/0030 Z205 1832 (P) Changsha – Tianjin (from Beijing)
DF11-0417 K7729 0913 Beijing – Dezhou
HXD3C-0944 K5223 0946 Beijing – Hengshui
DF11G-0012/0011 T5687 0936 Beijing – Qinhuangdao
DF4-5012 Beijing ECS loco
HXD3D-8001 2550 2258 (P) Anshan – Beijing
DF4D-4140 2257 1220 Beijing – Dandong
HXD3D-0650 T27 1727 Beijing – Dandong (to Shenyang)
Moves for Saturday 18th May 2019
|DF11G-0012||Beijing||Yanjiao||0936 Beijing – Qinhuangdao||T5687|
|HXD3D-8001||Yanjiao||Beijing||2258 (17/05) Anshan – Beijing||2550|
|HXD3D-0650||Beijing||Shenyang||1727 Beijing – Dandong||K27|
Photos for Saturday 18th May 2019
Sunday 19th May 2019 (Dandong, China to Pyongyang, DPRK)
It hadn’t been a great night of sleep, mainly because the coach had been red hot and the blanket made me sweat to death as a result. When we rose from our pits though, there was no more big-city landscape and we were surrounded by greenery, yet every now and then we got a glimpse of a high-speed line running through the landscape in the distance. The previous night on the way out of Beijing there were more high-speed lines being constructed, as if the country didn’t already have enough of them! What had also changed was the traction at the front of the train and I’d not expected to find a twinset DF11G taking us into Dandong, but they must have replaced HXD3D-0650 at Shenyang at 0320 in the morning.
After a quick bonus chat with my wife, who was luckily still up in the UK, our heads turned to the tasks at hand on arrival into Dandong, the first being to find out what the locos were at the head of the train; which didn’t end well! After I’d showed the guy on the platform my phone with Google Translate trying to explain we wanted to see what the locomotive numbers were, he basically told us to fuck off, after being on his radio to someone, who’d probably told him the same. Whether that had anything to do with the fact that the DPRK stock for our onward train into the DPRK was in the adjacent platform, who knows? I wasn’t being beat though and while Flossy got chatting to a guy who came down to the station every day to see if any foreigners wanted help, I walked down the main road to try and find a vantage point. Just when I was about to give up, having found that the whole length of the station had metal hoarding along it, I came across a street that led to the end of the platforms and no sooner had I done so did the DF11G’s blow up and shunt off the train. I was relieved to be able to spot DF11G-0003/0004 without having to point my camera at them, take a photo and zoom in on the shot; there was some sort of checkpoint in my line of sight and with the DPRK being less than 1km away at the other side of the Yalu River, I didn’t want to be taking chances.
Dandong station area was very busy with tour groups, which we didn’t realise at the time were all going to the same place we were, and on the same train. We’d been told to meet Koryo’s contact in Dandong, Mr Jacky Zhang, under the statue of Mao in the square outside Dandong station at 0830; and it was almost smack on 0830 when he turned up to greet us, in the rain. From that point on the morning was a bit of a farce. What we didn’t realise, and it hadn’t been mentioned at our brief with Koryo, was that we’d go over the border to DPRK as part of a tour group, which My Zhang was there to facilitate. Once he introduced us to the tour leader, who spoke little English, that was his job done; other than to tell us that our berths were in hard-sleeper, numbers 8 (lower) and 9 (middle); which weren’t even in the same compartment, let alone in soft-sleeper like we’d asked. When Mr Zhang showed me his e-mal from Koryo specifically requesting hard-sleepers, I saw red and immediately sent Koryo an e-mail expressing my annoyance. Still, what was done, was done, again, and we had to deal with it.
Mr Zhang left us with the Chinese tour group only 15 minutes after his arrival and we were eventually led into a waiting area by the tour leader. After 20 minutes of waiting there it looked like we’d end up going through customs but due to the fact there were too many other people already there, we had to abandon our attempt and hang around some more. The result of that being that we were the last group through customs and immigration and we also needed to fill out a departure card before exiting China. At least the tour leader managed to get us those as soon as he could but once through immigration and train-side, he was nowhere to be seen and neither was the girl we’d been told to follow. It was a free-for-all again and if we’d not been told what our berths were, we’d have been fucked!
Platform side at Dandong we were able to walk around while everyone queued at their respective door to get on the train. Unfortunately, the nice shiny blue engine at the front of the train was beyond a set of barriers and I couldn’t see a number on it when I went for a cheeky look. On board the train it was utter chaos, which was when we realised we were in different compartments and the aisles down the coach were wedged with people as well as every compo being full. When I tried to explain to the girl we’d been told to follow, that we were in different compo’s she just shrugged her shoulders and went off to the next coach; basically, leaving us to it. I wasn’t impressed at all and while I had Chinese data access, I told Koryo Tours so, before the train set off at 1010.
With the DPRK border being the middle of the Yalu River, there were people lining the adjacent road bridge as our train rumbled over the rail bridge in the pouring rain. It was only a few minutes to the other side, with Sinuiju being about 2km as the crow flies, and that was where we stood for the next 2 hours. DPRK officials boarded the train to take out passports and visas for processing, yet we had never been asked to fill out an arrival card, yet everyone else on the train had already done it. This caused a little consternation with the DPRK officials, as did the fact that we weren’t on any of the Chinese Tour group lists and the guy checking our coach wanted to know why, which of course, we couldn’t answer. In the end, a nice Korean lady, who spoke good English, was able to translate for us and we got the girl we’d been told to follow to explain to her what was going off, or more like what wasn’t that should have been! It was all very unorganized, and we could have done without it really. Still, once settled, we were allowed off the train and there were a couple of young Korean girls on the platform with trolleys selling beer, water and snacks. Our 640ml bottles of beer cost RMB10 each; just over a quid.
Before we departed Sinuiju everyone else on the train was fed, but us, and the women in both mine and Flossy’s compos were starting to get on at the girl who was supposed to be looking after us; who yet again just shrugged her shoulders and did one. Luckily for us the boiler was working ok on the train and we were able to provide our own snacks; but it wasn’t the point! It was a little after 1300, Korean time, when we departed Sinuiju, with a similar blue loco on the front to that which had taken us over the border. Which had thankfully run back through the station at Sinuiju, immediately after arrival, revealing itself as DH106.
The journey from Sinuiju was through pouring rain, all the way, and the poor Koreans were still out in force in every field, attending to their rice and vegetables. The majority were dressed in thin plastic over-clothes, similar to the raincoats used by people visiting waterfalls. Everyone looked content though and hardly any even bothered to look up as the train trundled by; with red Korean slogans standing in the fields, no doubt giving them the spurring on that they needed to keep on at their task at hand. It was a sight to behold though, seeing people beavering away in such dismal conditions, and it gave a sense of just how seriously everyone took the most menial of tasks. Meanwhile, I was able to get stretched out in my middle berth for some of the journey, once the rabble had dispersed and settled down throughout the coach.
Along he way I did note some of the things we passed, electric 5223 being the first thing, at South Sinuiju with a northbound passenger train. Then at the next station south Chinese diesel 290 was sat with a southbound freight. At Tongnim LH101 was heading north with what we assumed to be the opposing working of the train we were on, 96 Pyongyang – Dandong. Then at Galli we passed electric 5163 with a northbound passenger train and an M62 numbered 710 was sat with a southbound freight. We did pass another M62 along the way as well, but it had no visible number anywhere on the front or side we could see.
Thanks to ME Maps I was able to keep track of our progress south but there wasn’t any need to attempt to figure out when we were approaching Pyongyang as the scale of the place, and its buildings, firmly lets you know you’re arriving and after crossing over a river bridge just outside Pyongyang station we trundled into the platform nearest to the exit at around 1900. Had we realised at the time, we’d have been able to see the imposing Yanggakdo Hotel, where we’d be staying, situated on its own island in the middle of the Taedong River, as the train approached Pyongyang from the north.
As we were among the first off the train at Pyongyang, we had a few seconds to take in the scene before our guides found us on the platform. We expected them to be waiting at the door for us as we got off but the reality was that I had time to walk towards the front of the train, spot LH105 on the front, and walk back down the platform before they discovered us. There was no way I was going to attempt a photograph as there were army and all sorts of other official looking types standing around towards the front of the train; giving the impression that nobody was allowed beyond where they were stood.
Our guides didn’t seem bothered that we’d been walking around for a couple of minutes and quickly introduced themselves as Mr Yang and Mr Um, before allowing us to take a couple of photos on the platform and then taking us straight out to our waiting minivan outside the station. It was quite a hectic scene as we exited the station with all the Chinese tourists about but we kind of circumvented their queues and were soon meeting our driver, who then took us straight to the Yanggakdo Hotel.
Along the way many things were pointed out to us, which didn’t really register at all, but I did notice just how wide the roads were in Pyongyang and how tall the buildings were, during the short journey to the hotel. Right outside the towering 42-floor high-rise that is the Yanggakdo Hotel was a car park crammed with tourist buses; 99% of which were for Chinese tourists. Inside the impressive foyer, chaos reigned with the number of arriving tourists, which had clearly arrived on the same train we had. We were spared the stress though, and Mr Yang handed us a room key, for room #15 on the 37th floor, and asked how long we needed to freshen up before dinner. After agreeing on 30 minutes we joined the fun and waited for the liftboy to usher us into one of the 8 lifts that would take us up and down the building many times during the next few days.
Our room had twin beds with decent quilts but rock-hard pillows. The air-con had already been on and we had a fridge that came in handy. There was a kettle, rafts of toiletries, slippers, at least 10 charging sockets, a telephone that could be used to make international calls and the water in the bathroom was piping hot, with a nice powerful shower. All-in-all it was way above the standard we’d usually stay at but worth every penny. The best bit about the room was the fantastic view over Pyongyang city and the Taedong River below. Having not got our bearings by this point, we didn’t have a clue what we were looking at but the vibrant colours of the high-rise flats all over the city really stood out, even in the dull conditions and dying light.
With the lift journey and the time we’d taken getting photos out of the room window, we didn’t have much time to do anything before heading back down to meet Mr Yang & Mr Um in the hotel lobby, at which point they took us through to the hotel’s European restaurant where a table in the empty restaurant was laid out for us. They left us to it while food basically flooded the table on tap, served by a single young Korean girl, who I thought was neve going to stop bringing food out! The meal started with a few veg dishes being on the table and once the soup and rice course was over it culminated with chicken schnitzel and potato wedges, which did finish the meal off nicely. After which we didn’t know whether we were able to excuse ourselves, or whether we had to pay for what we’d just eaten.
After walking away from the restaurant, while the girl was setting another table, we figured that we didn’t have to pay for anything and Mr Yang confirmed that all the food was included in our tour package; before taking us up to the 42nd floor of the hotel to the revolving bar. As the weather was crap, and it was quite cloudy anyway, we couldn’t see anything through the murky darkness but eventually figured out that we were revolving while sitting at our table, discussing the following day’s tour plan. There wasn’t much to discuss on the subject as it was pretty much set in stone and the evening was mostly about having a few local Pyongyang beers and getting to know our guides. Mr Yang had been a guide for 8 years and Mr Um for 3 years; and as it turned out he’d been one of Youth’s guides the previous year! Both looked the part, dressed smartly and had their KITC identity badges around their necks. Having had a decent chat and a few beers, they could tell we were flagging a bit and were keen for us to get a decent night’s sleep; so, we took a couple of beers back to our room and did a load of washing in the bath before hitting the sack. It had been a long day, but despite the relatively easy journey, we’d had a lot to process and I was dossed out before Flossy had finished in the bathroom…..
Gen for Sunday 19th May 2019
DF11G-0003/0004 T27 1727 (P) Beijing – Dandong (from Shenyang)
LH106 95 1000 Dandong – Pyongyang (to Sinuiju)
LH105 95 1000 Dandong – Pyongyang (from Sinuiju)
5223 at South Sinuiju with a northbound passenger
290 next shack with a freight
LH101 at Tongnim with 96? xxxx Pyongyang – Dandong
5163 at Galli with a northbound passenger
M62-710 with a southbound freight
Moves for Sunday 19th May 2019
|DF11G-0003||Shenyang||Dandong||1727 (18/05) Beijing – Dandong||K27|
|106||Dandong||Sinuiju Chongnyon||1000 Dandong – Pyongyang||95|
Photos for Sunday 19th May 2019
Monday 20th May 2019 (A day in Pyongyang, North Korea)
Breakfast at the Yanggakdo Hotel was a free-for-all in one of the restaurants on the ground floor. The place was already rammed with Chinese tourists when we got there and with all the tables being large and round, to seat at least 8, we ended up sharing with an old couple from Singapore. As the majority clientele were Chinese, the breakfast buffet was designed to suit them, so we ended up with toast and hard-boiled eggs, after getting a coffee from the counter and asking a waiter to bring us some butter. We’d been pre-warned at our Koryo briefing to be wary of the time it could take to get from breakfast to our room and back down again, with the amount of people using the lifts during breakfast time. Sensibly, we took our bags down to breakfast with us and were able to walk straight out of the breakfast hall, into the lobby and meet up with the waiting My Yang & Mr Um; and off we went into the big wide world of North Korea.
The hotel car park was as chaotic as it had been the previous night but thankfully our driver was waiting close-by and we could get out of the car park quite quickly, where tour buses were loading up left, right and centre. While not on our agenda, a walk around part of Pyongyang should have been part of our agenda the previous night but as the train had been late and it had been raining, we didn’t bother. Before our walk could commence though, we had to meet one of KITC’s employees to have new photos taken for new visas that they were going to issue for us both. It turns out that our original visas didn’t show our exit from north Korea via Tumangan and into Russia, so new ones had to be issued. Once our minds had been put at ease and Mr Yang had confirmed why we’d met his colleague, the walk then turned out to be a nice walk, through streets that gave an impression of grandeur, were spotlessly clean and everyone using them was well dressed. Vehicles were few and far between, and we by no means got the impression it was rush-hour, but people sometimes rushed by as if they were in a hurry to get somewhere; and just as quickly as our walk had started did we end up back in the van and we were off to somewhere else.
That somewhere else should have been the Mansudae Fountain Park but Mr Yang wanted us to visit the Mansudae Monument instead, which I assumed we would anyway. After stopping close-by to pay €5 for a bunch of flowers, we headed straight to the imposing sight that is the Mansunade Monument. The statues of Kim Il-Sung & Kim Jong-Il tower above the city and their standing in Pyongyang could not offer a better view at all. When we arrived, nobody was at the monument, so we were taken to about 10m from the statues, where the four of us lined up and we all bowed simultaneously to show our respect. The flowers we’d bought were then presented to the leaders, and only then were we allowed to take photos of the statues; but making sure we got only the whole figures in our photos, and didn’t cut any part of either statue out of any photo. While we were taking photos in the square a big group of tourists lined up in front of the statues, to pay their own respects, and it was then time for us to move on. Because we’d visited the Mansudae Monument though, we had no time for the Mansudae Fountain Park as we had to be at the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum for 0930.
Our guides were panicking a bit that we’d be late, and they joked with the young female officer, who’d become our guide of the museum, when we arrived 3 minutes late! After a security check we were led into the site of the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum, which is very grand and very new; with the old site of the museum being visible and redundant behind this massive new site. Lining either side of the courtyard leading up to the main building are the remains of machinery from the Korean War, either those captured from the US Imperialists, as our guide kept calling them, or Korean war machines. Some of the US planes and tanks on display had been shot down or blown up during the war and looked in a sorry state; which is what I guess the Korean’s want to show? Their big prize though, is the USS Pueblo, a spy-ship captured in Korean waters in 1968, which they have moored up in the water near the museum. During our tour of it we were shown a video giving a whole run-down of the “Pueblo” affair, how it came about and how the US denied the fact it was a spy-ship; yet still issued a formal apology to North Korea anyway, before their crew were released 11 months after its capture.
We were then shown inside the very impressive new Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum, which has one of the grandest entries of any museum I’ve ever been in. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take any photos, and I now regret not buying the book produced on the museum at the time as well! Our young officer guide was very good at what she did, explained everything in fluent English and wholeheartedly believed everything she was telling us; as she led us from exhibition to exhibition, which led us through the whole US/DPRK conflict from pre the war, to when it started on 25th June 1950, to after it finished in 1953 and beyond, culminating in us being led into a revolving room which was fantastically designed to depict the war through the ages, with sound and vibrations to boot. I had to hand it to the North Koreans at this point, as they really didn’t do things by halves! And, having not understood much about the Korean war before visiting North Korea, I was quite impressed with what I’d learnt during our time at the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum; assuming it was accurate of course.
Next on our agenda was a ride on the Pyongyang Metro, which ended up being a two-stage ride on the Chollima line, with the first ride only being one stop from Puhung to Yonggwang and the second ride then onwards to Kaeson, 5 more stops down the line. Mr Um purchased our tickets and we headed down the escalators to the island platform at Puhung. Trains seemed to arrive and depart every few minutes while we were there and ran quite empty mostly. Each station we got off at had a wide island platform and each platform had a uniformed young attendant dispatching the trains. The stations were all very well decorated, with each being in theme with the station name we were told. In the middle of the platforms were stands with the day’s newspapers on display, for all to read, and plenty of people stood around the stands while waiting for the next metro to arrive. The trains were clean and efficient and ran like clockwork, form what we saw, and one of the two we ended up on was quite full as well. There was no messing about when we arrived at Kaeson though, and we were straight back up to street level to be transferred onwards to the Arch of Triumph.
After waiting for a few minute’s it was evident that there was something not right and when Mr Yang started joking about getting a taxi but didn’t tell us what was wrong, I did become a little concerned as our bags were in the van. When a fresh van, with its own driver, eventually came hurtling into the car park to collect us, I was relieved to see our bags on the seats; and all was well. Although, seemingly not for our previous van, apparently; which is all we got told, other than it had been involved in an accident but that the drive was ok. The translation got lost in this situation we think as it turned out to be something wrong with the van as opposed to a collision of any sort, and our driver was back with us the following morning; which turned out to be bad news for us by the end of the following day.
Still, onwards we went and our fresh driver and van were way better than our original one, in both personality and driving skills and he soon had us at the Arch of Triumph. We’d not originally planned to go inside the arch and use the lift to the top but we’re glad we did as the views from it are fantastic and the traditionally dressed female guide was brilliant, spoke excellent English and even risked her life to take photos of us in the middle of the road after we’d gone back down and walked down the road to get some more photos of the arch. Bless her, it was quite windy too and she was being blown all over the place but she was a bundle of smiles, all the same.
Lunch was next on the agenda and we were taken to a restaurant in an area of Pyongyang that looked like it was from the future. The buildings were brightly coloured and very randomly, yet uniformly shaped, and stood many story’s high. Our restaurant had a table set for us, otherwise it was empty. Again, there was plenty of food and on the table including local vegetable delicacies, fish, beef, dumplings and even mini sandwiches. There was plenty left when we left, as was becoming a theme already on our North Korea adventure; although this time we ate with our guides and driver.
The Juche Tower was our first stop after lunch, which is visible up the Taedong River from our Yanggakdo Hotel. It towers above most things in the city and the lift from bottom to top took almost a minute. Despite only having 8 floors shown on the display, it’s easily as tall, if not taller than our 42-floor hotel! The views over Pyongyang were again excellent and the views from each side of the building offer something different and each gives an understanding of the scale of Pyongyang and how well built it is. Its quite unlike any other city I’ve visited anywhere in the world, its very unique.
Our time at the top of the Juche Tower was limited as it was very windy of an afternoon and we were soon heading out of town to the Songshan Tram Office on the east of the city, adjacent to the Mangyongdae Pleasure Ground (amusement park). We were joined by a lady from New Zealand for our chartered tram ride back to Pyongyang Railway station, which took about 30 minutes. Tram number 1002 was provided for our jaunt, which has special regard in Pyongyang as both Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il were on board that very tram on its inaugural run in the city; and a plaque above the driver’s cabin commemorates the fact. It was a pleasant run through the city and we even had time for a photo-stop along the way, where the New Zealander’s guide explained that the stars painted on the side of each of Pyongyang’s trams, buses or trolley-buses represents 50,000km of incident free running and that each tram, etc is only driven by a couple of drives, who’s responsibility it is to keep their equipment in good shape. Tram 1002 had 21 stars painted down its side!
At Pyongyang station we were picked up by our driver and whisked away to what we thought was going to be the Rawkon Microbrewery but turned to be just a bar that served us a couple of beers. There was no evidence of a brewery being on site and no selection of beers behind the bar; an our guides seemed a little confused when we queried this with them, not quite understanding when we were trying to explain about the brewery side of things and the fact we expected the vats to be visible. It was a bit of a let-down really, but the stop did take the sting out of the otherwise hectic day. Which had one more surprise up its sleeve.
As our original plan in Pyongyang had been put back by a day because the train to Tumangan was departing a day later than originally planned, we were to visit the Kwangbok Supermarket the day before the journey to stock up on goodies for the 36-hour trip. Despite the train being delayed by a day, our visit to the supermarket hadn’t, so off we went; and it was an experience. This was the only time we were allowed to spend the local Korean currency, Won, and we had to exchange money at a booth inside before Mr.’s Yang & Um then left us to our won for an hour, while they did their own shopping for the train journey as well.
The lower floor was for grocery shopping and looked like every other supermarket in the world, apart from the section where we watched a fish escape from its tank and two girls had to try ad grab it to put it back in. It probably wouldn’t be long before someone picked it out for dinner anyway, so its escape attempt was a bit fruitless. With a basket of bread, crisps, cheese slices (or so I thought), pot noodles and pop we ended up at the alcohol aisle and couldn’t resist half a dozen bottles of the local Taedong beer. We needn’t have bee concerned about our basket full though as a young army lad nearby was piling cases of the stuff into two trolleys, that we later saw him with at the checkout. As the highest denomination of Won seemed to be the 5000 note, the girls at the checkouts had their work cut out when counting through the wads they were presented with, but did it as quick as any money counting machine I’ve seen; and made it look easy. After our little shopping spree, we found our driver and van parked outside, dumped our bags and went for a walk around the upper two floors of the supermarket. The second floor had clothes, hardware and jewelry while the third floor, which was relatively empty, was a massive canteen area. On which we found somewhere selling beer from vats, one lot for 1000 Won and another for 7000 Won; and everything we saw being served was done so in bowls and not glasses! Of course, we went for the good stuff, with the exchange rate being about 14,500 Won to the £1 and got the best beer we had of the trip for our 50p-worth. Not only were we served it in glasses, but it was a very tasty and refreshing wheat beer and went down a treat. We sat drinking it in the regimental style canteen while everyone else went about their business around us, which mostly involved drinking beer from a bowl. The 20 minutes we spent on the third floor of the Kwangbok Supermarket were by far the best of the hour we had there and watching people and the world go around, especially in a place you’ve never watched it go around in before, is a rare experience. And nobody seemed to bat an eyelid at the two out of place foreigners sat in the middle of the canteen drinking beer either, which made the experience all the more interesting.
When we got back downstairs to wait for our guides at the agreed time, they jogged our minds and a mad dash back into the supermarket for bottled water followed, and at 900 Won for the good stuff it was rude not to grab an armful! While I was back buying water Mr Yang did ask about the remainder of our Korean Won, which we’re not allowed to take out of the country, but he was told we’d spent it or changed it back. We were keen to keep some anyway, just in case our train journey ended up being 12 hours longer than it needed to be; like Youth’s journey to Rason had been in 2018.
Due to the long day the following day our optional evening trip to a funfair was politely declined, much to the relief of our guides I think, and we headed straight from the Kwangbok Supermarket to the restaurant that would provide us with our evening meal. Again, it was devoid of people other than ourselves and tables were already laid out for us. On the menu this evening were local veggies, some nice rice balls, Chinese dumplings and duck. Again, the young Korean girls serving were very attentive and just kept bringing the food out until there was nowhere left to put it. Not being a big fan of fish, I did try the fish that was put in front of us, just as a show of respect.
With a long day ahead of us the following day we were left to our own devices back at the Yanggakdo Hotel, which again I think our guides were quite pleased with as they were flagging a bit, just like we were. Mr Yang couldn’t apologise enough for the mix-up with the van earlier in the day and for the fact we’d missed out the Mansudae Fountain Park, which he’d try to fit in the following evening when we returned from Kaesong; but our van and driver had other ideas on that….
As it had been a clear day the view from our room in the morning had been brilliant with the sun shining on all the buildings below us and it was equally as spectacular at night with the lighting around Pyongyang giving an indication that we could have been in a futuristic city elsewhere in Asia. The newly constructed, 20000-room hotel that stood well above the rest of the city dominated the skyline. We’d been told it had been built with foreign investment but that the investors had left the DPRK and the hotel would have to be completed by North Korea if it was ever to open to the public. Allegedly, it had 20000 rooms and was a luxury hotel, yet the building remained empty until completed. Of course, the skeptics out there would just say it’s a sham built to impress and project an image to the western world, and that it was never to be a hotel anyway. Either way, the lighting on it at night was impressive, none-the-less. And it gave us something to point our cameras at while relaxing with a beer before bed. We’d had a hectic day, while discovering a city that not many people will ever visit and the opinion I drew of Pyongyang after our day there was that it is unlike any city I’ve ever visited in the world, the scale, the size, the décor, the different styles of the buildings, their height, their character and their vibrant colours. All that coupled with a rat-race in the streets below that doesn’t seem to fit with the city they’re inhabiting, with streets wider than some big American cities and not the road traffic to warrant it. It was all a bit surreal I guess, but don’t let that take away anything from the fact it is a very impressive city even if it does have an air of fakeness to it in some respects. It is still very real and at the end of the day, it is what it is and if that’s what North Korea want to project to the outside world then so be it, and if the inhabitants of Pyongyang thing that their city is normal, then so be that too. At the end of the day, I was impressed…
Gen for Monday 20th May 2019
701,02,03,04 Pyongyang Metro – Chollima Line
757,58,59,60 Pyongyang Metro – Chollima Line
1002, 102 Pyongyang Tram
Moves for Monday 20th May 2019
|701,702,703,704||Puhung||Yonggwang||Pyongyang Metro – Chollima Line|
|757,758,759,760||Yonggwang||Kaeson||Pyongyang Metro – Chollima Line|
|1002||Songshan Tram Office||Pyongyang Railway Station||Pyongyang Tram|
Photos for Monday 20th May 2019 – Kim Il Sung Square & Mansudae Hill Grand Monument
Photos for Monday 20th May 2019 – Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum
Photos for Monday 20th May 2019 – Pyongyang Metro
Photos for Monday 20th May 2019 – Kim Il Sung Stadium, Arch of Triumph & Tower of Juche Idea
Photos for Monday 20th May 2019 – Pyongyang Tram Ride
Tuesday 21st May 2019 (Kaesong, the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and Koryo Museum)
In an attempt to get a longer sleep we dismissed the idea of breakfast and made our own coffee in our room before heading down to meet our guides for our 0730 departure to Kaesong and the DMZ: a 2h30m drive south. They seemed quite surprised that we hadn’t done breakfast, just as we seemed quite surprised to find our original driver from the previous morning back with us for the day. He’d not been a particularly good driver anyway but at least the journey to Kaesong was down a straight main road.
Once out of the city the whole landscape becomes rural, all the way to Kaesong, with everyone tending to their rice or vegetables along the way. Despite it being a sunny day some of the farmers were wearing the plastic body suits we’d seem some wearing in the rain two days previous. A lot of ploughing seemed to be done by ox and in the rice paddy’s tractors have their rear wheels adapted to be like steamboat paddles to allow them to move easily through the mud, along with having a make-shift cab on them. Everywhere there are Korean slogans standing 6ft high, mostly red, and sometimes with red flags all the way along the field. It’s a shame we couldn’t ready any of what was written, and we didn’t want to keep pestering our guides to read them out; especially with what they were.
Halfway to Kaesong we stopped at a big pink building that spanned the whole width of the road, where there were stalls selling drinks and snack and the car park was full of Chinese tour buses all going to the same place we were. It provided a break from the monotony of the van journey and there were toilets there too. During the journey south from there we hardly passed a thing and once all the tour buses had overtaken us, we were the only vehicle on the road. It was a bit strange, as was the fact we had to go through 4 checkpoints, which our guides had paperwork to allow us through. When one of our pieces of paper allowing us access back into Pyongyang accidentally went out of the window there was a mass panic and Mr Um was soon running back up the road to collect it. He was brought back to us by one of the traffic marshals on his moped, which saved him a bit of a walk. It was a little concerning that without that little bit of paper we wouldn’t have been able to get back into Pyongyang that evening; and even more concerning that it was needed in the first place. Still, just holding the piece of paper in the van window as we approached the checkpoints did the trick, and the gates were duly opened before we came to a stand. I got the impression that nobody used the road to/from Kaesong at all and had to have permission to do so if they did. The road wasn’t in particularly good shape either but got us to where we needed to be, by the time we needed to be there.
Arriving at the DMZ, our guides had to go into an office and do what they needed to do, after which we were shown around the souvenir shop, which we came out of with a lot less money in our pockets! The posters that North Korea have up on their streets, at stations and pretty much anywhere in cities giving the North Korean people words of wisdom and spearing them on, were available as hand painted posters in the DMZ shop and between us we ended up with 9, which at €30 a piece dented our stash of Euros but we’d always planned to buy some anyway, so were prepared to have to spend a bit of money to get them. The spending didn’t stop there though, and we ended up with plenty of other bits n bobs, including a t-shirt for myself and a North Korean army had for Flossy. It was the first time I’d ever bought an XXXL t-shirt, let along an XL!
When everything had been processed all the tour groups were lined up in front of the gate to the DMZ and we were then invited to walk through the gate on foot, before joining our bus on the other side. Each bus is then accompanied by someone from the Korean Army until it exits the same gate after the tour. The guy accompanying us seemed to be the main man of the day, a young guy who was talkative, although he spoke no English. He did ask some of “those” questions, including what we thought about the UK taking part in the Korean War; but he wasn’t malicious at all and made sure we were always first into buildings we were allowed into and looked after us well. A packet of cheap Korean cigarettes at the end of the tour got us some photos with him as well, thanks to Mr Um asking his permission.
We were first shown to the Armistice Talks Building, where the original documents are still kept on the very tables they were signed on. Our army guide did his speech in Korean while a Chinese guide translated for the masses and Mr Um translated for us. After the talk we were allowed to take photos inside the building and sit in the chairs that the documents were signed in. The Chinese made it very hard to get the photos we wanted but our army guide was relaxed about us hanging around when everyone else had gone back outside; seemingly understanding our frustration with the Chinese just wanting to take photos with everything but not taking the time to understand where they were. Before leaving the area there was a good view of the North & South Korean flags from behind our van, which Mr Um had pointed out to us. When we walked to the edge of the car park to get the photos though our army guide asked us to get back into the bus, for our own safety. Apparently, he was concerned that the van might roll back and injure us!
From the Armistice Talks Building we were taken round to Panmon Hall which overlooks the North/South Korea border, which most westerners have seen on the new during their lifetime. There are 7 buildings that straddle the concrete border, 3 blue South Korean ones and 4 silver North Korean ones. Our army guide very welcomingly got us through the door of Panmon Hall first, so we could get a good vantage point after we’d walked up the stairs to the viewpoint, and Mr Um made sure we got where we needed to be. It was a very surreal 5 minutes of our lives, standing where few westerners will ever go, all the while being very wary of just where we were and what the buildings, we were looking at meant to those around us. On the way back to the van Mr Yang told us about a Russia student who ran across the border while on a tour, some 20-years previous, who managed to get away but the North Korean guard that chased after him was shot dead immediately by the South Korean guards.
After accompanying us back in our van to the DMZ gate, our army guide bid us farewell in English and that was us heading back to Kaesong and the Koryo Museum. Inside which are very well decorated Korean style traditional buildings that house relics from the Koryo dynasty, including ceramics from the 9th century through to the most recent of the Koryo ceramics. It was quite interesting to look around and was quiet when we visited as well, making it easier to do at our own pace.
Lunch was at a local restaurant, with, surprise, surprise, nobody else there but us. 12 mini dishes were already on the table when we arrived, containing local delicacies and they were accompanied by rice and other bits, leaving us stuffed by the time we left for Jannam Hill and the view of the Concrete Wall. The journey to which was a good 45 minutes and for the majority we were accompanied by a stern old army guy, who wasn’t very talkative at all. Still, when we got to where we were going, he let us into a classroom, gave a speech with a map as his aide and Mr Um translated for us. The whole speech was centered around the “Concrete Wall” that had been erected by the South Koreans on their side of the DMZ and was what we were there to see. Mr Um told us that this was his first visit where the weather had been good enough to allow him t see the wall, which was visible 4km away on this very clear day. The army guys on site provided ancient binoculars and some more powerful mounted old binoculars, which did allow us to see the Concrete Wall clearly, but, we could only see a small section of this wall, which is said to be 244km from end to end and slanted on the South Korean side so as to give the impression that it doesn’t exist to the South Korean people. All we can say is that the section we could see definitely exists, I’ll be consulting Google Earth to see whether the rest exists.
When we left the viewpoint, we still had one more place to visit in the Kaesong area and after dropping our talkative army officer back off in town we headed straight for the Tomb of King Kongmin. Which was a very pleasant way to finish off the afternoon. There was nobody else there and the walk up to the tomb of the 31st King of the Koryo dynasty was I glorious sunshine. The tomb of King Kongmin and his wife are domed with grass and surrounding both are various stone carvings that were well lit in the later afternoon sunshine. While we were there Mr Yang told us a story about how King Kongmin had picked the spot of his tomb while he was still alive by using fengshui men to attempt to pick the best spot but if the spot wasn’t satisfactory the fengshui man was killed on the spot. At this particular location, so legend has it, King Kongmin had gone up the mountain at the opposite side to the spot of his tomb and told his men that he’d give a signal if the site wasn’t to his liking, which it was. But as it was a hot day, his men took him wiping his brow with a handkerchief as a signal to kill the fengshui man; so, none survived, not even the one that chose the correct spot!
We were Pyongyang bound after leaving the tomb and all was going quite well until Flossy thought he heard one of the rear tyres pop and then start to deflate. Having told the driver, he got out, checked it and assured us all was well; only to stop 10 miles further along the road with a flat tyre! It then took him an age to get his spare out, which wasn’t fully inflated but at least wasn’t flat. Neither of us were too enamored with the way he’d jacked the van up, or the fact he’d done it on a hill, or the way he put the new wheel on and didn’t seem to have tightened the nuts well enough. Despite our protests to Mr Yang, who saw for himself that the new wheel was wobbling, the driver assured him everything was ok; I’m pretty sure he ended up tightening the nuts at the pink building on the way back though and he definitely wasn’t impressed with our interference with proceedings.
It was gone 8 o’clock when we rolled back into Pyongyang and the pace of the van slowed to almost a crawl, which just added insult to injury. Thankfully, when we eventually got to our restaurant for dinner, the barbequed duck was probably the best duck I’d ever tasted. It was all cooked on an open BBQ in the middle of the table by one of the young Korean girls in the restaurant, which had only us in it, for a change. By the time we got back to the hotel it was gone 2200 and we were ready for bed. With an early start beckoning the following morning. Randomly, a quick glance out of the window revealed a completely different landscape to that of the previous night, with no new hotel light show and hardly anything lit up at all. All-in-all the day had been very pleasant though with the DMZ being a must on anyone’s itinerary to North Korea. We’d been well looked after all day and all the army guides we’d had, had done their bit well. It was worth the trip just to get the posters though! The day was marred only by the incompetence of a poor driver, who not only couldn’t drive very well, he couldn’t change a tyre very well, or make his vehicle safe, in my view. I half expected to lose the wheel on the journey back to Pyongyang…
Gen for Tuesday 21st May 2019
Photos for Tuesday 21st May 2019 – Yanggakdo Hotel & En-Route to Kaesong
Photos for Tuesday 21st May 2019 – Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)
Photos for Tuesday 21st May 2019 – Kaesong Area
Photos for Tuesday 21st May 2019 – The “Concrete Wall” along the DMZ
Photos for Tuesday 21st May 2019 – Tomb of King Kongmin near Kaesong
Wednesday 22nd May 2019 (Start of the train journey from Pyongyang to Tumangan on the DPRK/China/Russia border)
Having packed everything up the previous night we were ready for a quick getaway after a 6 o’clock get-up. Mr Yang had given us an 0650-meeting time in the hotel lobby but neither he nor Mr Um were there until 7am; but or trusty driver was outside waiting. Its only a short 5-minute journey from the Yanggakdo Hotel to Pyongyang station and having handed our room key over the Mr Yang, who in turn took it to the hotel front desk, we were on our way to the station for part 2 of our North Korean adventure to begin.
After our driver dropped us at the station, Mr Yang seemed to be giving him a bit of a talking to, before he had to bid us farewell. At which point I handed him the pre-filled brown envelope with his tip in it; which we hoped might buy him some driving lessons, and maybe even a van that worked! The €100 tip we gave him was probably well over the odds but unfortunately with these trips it is expected, and we were asked to budget for it when taking money into North Korea. I had two other brown envelopes in my bag with a €150 tip for the guides in them, which meant we’d spent €200 each on tips alone; a definite downside to the trip, especially with how much it cost anyway.
Pyongyang station was quite busy when we arrived and getting onto the platform was as simple as walking through the entry point and onto it. I’d been expecting there to be a bit more red tape than that and I’d also been expecting our soft-sleeper coach to be at the rear of the train, so when we were directed to the back by the station staff we were a little surprised to then be sent to the opposite end of the 14-coach train. Though there was no complaining at all from us when we discovered our coach to be the front passenger coach on the train with only two luggage vans ahead of us; and with ex Chinese DF5 LH231 at the head of the train we were hoping for a good run and a bit of noise from the engine too. The windows in 4-berth compartment had an inner and outer window, both of which came up with enough of a gap to then get your head, or camera out of through it. The compo itself was a bit cramped though and the whole of train #7 0750 Pyongyang – Tumangan was formed of North Korean stock.
When we asked Mr Um to take us up to the loco so we could collect its number we were surprised when we were allowed to take photos of the train, platforms and station sign; which then included anything else in adjacent platforms of course. Nobody batted an eyelid at all at us taking photos, but we did observe the golden rule of not photographing any army personnel. It was quite strange as everyone else we knew had said they hadn’t been able to take photos of trains and yet when we’d asked Marcus at our Koryo briefing he’d said we could and our guides didn’t seem to hesitate when we’d asked either. If they were the only photos we’d got of trains in North Korea on the whole trip, we’d have been happy, but there were more to come. And just before departure a rather nice looking yellow and red electric came into the platform with huge metal Korean letters on the side of it, making for a cracking photo of or train loco and it together in contrasting colours.
Our coach was quite full, contrary to what we’d expected. We’d hoped that we’d have a compo to ourselves and our guides would have the same but there didn’t seem to be an empty berth when 231 got the train underway from Pyongyang; after a flurry of horn-blowing prior to departure. After crawling through the city suburbs, we were soon out in the sticks and starting to climb, which was when our DF5 could be heard at the front of the train. Despite some of the slow speeds on Korean Railways the driver didn’t have a choice but to give it a bit when going up the steep hills. Which have seen electric locos come to grief and need banking assistance in the past. No such luck for our DF5 but randomly when we started going downhill, we ended up with a loco attached to the rear of the train as a brake loco. We’d been running downhill for quite a way at the time and doing running brake tests way too often up until electric 5321 was attached to the rear at Munpil. Thankfully I’d been peering out of the window on the way into the station and noticed 5321 in the headshunt at the end of the station. Also in the station had been a DF5 and an M62 on freights and when 5321 was detached from the rear of our train at Dunjeon there was a freight with an M62 there waiting to go back up the hill, so maybe it would bank that back up and had only been hitching a lift down with us? Either way it had been a bonus.
Unfortunately, the boiler in the coach wasn’t working and the young Korean coach stewardess was boiling up water on a stove in her compartment at the end of the coach. Mr Um, having eyes like a shithouse rat had already been trying to chat her up and was using our English coffee & milk sachets as gifts to try and get on her good side, which did work to some extent but not to the extent he wanted! We managed to get boiling water for coffee at lunch time and then again in the evening for noodles. While our guides had noodles at lunch as well, I broke out the bread and cheese slices, which actually turned out to be more like cheese spread and they had to be squeezed out of their packets. Thankfully the crisps I had added a bit of substance to the sarnies, which were a bit shit but under the circumstance had to do.
Our guides seemed to let their hair down a bit during the train journey and dinner time became a bit of a feast, starting with two bags of the local firewater, which Mr Yang didn’t hold back on. They made sure we had enough to eat and had enough food to feed us and them if need be but we had our noodles, which turned out to be a meal in themselves and I can see why they’re so popular in this part of the world. After dinner the beers were broken out and when we opened the second bottle the majority of it ended up all over the floor when it fizzed up. Luckily, we managed to move our bags out of the way before the spillage got to them, before finishing off our beer in the cardboard bowls our guides had provided to drink from. It was an interesting day and probably about as Korean a day as we’d get while in the country, with both us and our guides confined to barracks for a long period of time. They experienced what we do on a regular basis when travelling around the world by train, and we experienced their boredom while they struggled to get to grips with the long journey. At least Mr Um had done the journey a few times before, whereas Mr Yang had never been to Rason by train before and hadn’t been looking forward to the journey at all. It was a good experience for us all and by the time night fell we’d been through rice plantations, uphill and down dale, reached the coast of North Korea and seen more army staff on stations than anywhere else in the world and that didn’t include the hundreds of army staff travelling on the train either; it was phenomenal, they were everywhere we looked like ants outside a nest, all clambering off at station stops to smoke and getting back on when the engine was started up to continue on its way.
Along the way during the day we’d seen plenty of trains with a whole host of different types of electrics and quite a lot of diesels too. I’d managed to point my camera out of the window at a few of them too, with our guides being ok with it of course. The ruling seemed to be that we cold take photos when we wanted but only from within our compartment and without sticking the camera outside of the window; thus limiting what the locals saw us doing, especially the army staff on board and on the platforms. Unfortunately, with the electric locos not having numbers at one end I didn’t get the numbers of everything I managed to photograph, the strange looking electric I managed to snap at Galli being one such time. I did manage to spot electric 6044 at Chasan, was allowed to photograph the North Korean Leaders at Sungchon and then noted 5315 at Singsongchon. Electric 2032 was at Gowon in the late afternoon and electric 4062 at Pupyong. Photographing for the day came to a halt after I’d been allowed to photograph the North Korean Leaders again, at Hamhung this time, shortly before it started to get dark. At which point the coach stewardess came around asking everyone to put their windows down. It was starting to get a bit chilly outside anyway and my bed was calling. It had been a busy few days and we were looking forward to the fact there was no alarm call the following morning and no mad dash to head out to see things.
Gen for Wednesday 22nd May 2019
231 7 0750 Pyongyang – Tumangang (load 14)
Thing at Galli
M62 at station after Galli
6044 at Chasan
5315 at Singsongchon
5321 Munpil to Dunjeon on rear of train 7 as braker
2032 at Gowon (Kowon) at 1625
4062 at Pupyong before Hamhung
Moves for Wednesday 22nd May 2019
|231||Pyongyang||Tumangang||0750 Pyongyang – Tumangang||7|
Photos for Wednesday 22nd May 2019
Thursday 23rd May 2019 (Day 2 on board the Pyongyang to Tumangang train, then an afternoon in Rason)
By the time we came around of a morning it was almost 8 o’clock, although I’d not really slept that well at all. Hot water for porridge and coffee was provided the moment we asked for it and the first big station we arrived at that morning was Chongjin Chongnyon, where a lot of the trains occupants alighted and our loco ran round to detach the rear four coaches, before dropping back onto the front in readiness for the final slog to Rason and Tumangan. We had plenty of time to walk around the platform while all the shunting was taking place and were pretty much left to our own devices by this point; having reached a mutual understanding with our guides. During the stop at Chongjin it seems that Mr Yang had changed the ballgame for himself and Mr Um, who had to get back to Pyongyang after handing us over to the local Rason guides. We’d initially got the impression that they’d accompany us to Tumangan and then back towards Rason by road, and hand us off at the Rason border, without realising that we’d have to go through Rason to get to Tumangan in the first place, which they weren’t allowed into without authorization. So, it now seemed that rather than going all the way back to Pyongyang by bus, a journey that would take them 2 days, they’d be returning to Chongjin and staying there until the train went back to Pyongyang; as they couldn’t face the bus journey!
It wasn’t that long until we had to bid farewell to Mr Yang & Mr Um either and we were into Pangjin, the handover point, before we knew it. Everything there happened so quickly, we were introduced to our new guides Miss Jang and Mr Jon and Mr Yang & Mr Um were away. To be fair to them, they’d been brilliant wit us, with Mr Um being the more relaxed of the two that we could have a better conversation with. Mr Yang was the guide who had to be Korean and ensure we understood his customs and culture, while making sure he did his job and told us what his company told him he had to. Still, he wasn’t a bad lad, even if he was a bit annoying at times. Mr Um on the other hand had learnt plenty of Yorkshire English while he’d been with us and as we’d been straight with them at every turn he’d been great with us, even insisting that I should take photos of things that he could probably see I’d been itching to take but hadn’t because I’d been unsure whether I could. He’d been an absolute pleasure to have as a guide and played the backseat role to Mr Yang very well, who’d been exactly what KITC had wanted him to be and I get the impression that he was trying too hard to fit in at some points, rather than just being himself. Still, they’d had their time and treated us well, but it was up to Miss Jang and Mr Jon to get us through the next 24 hours, as far as the Russian border.
We had plenty of time at Pangjin to get acquainted before the train headed on towards Tumangan. Miss Jang had been a guide as far back at 2005 but had changed jobs in between times, before returning to being a guide in 2012, whereas Mr Jon was fresh out of guide-school and didn’t speak much English as a result either. It was a bit full-on transmit after first meeting Miss Jang but she was an absolute pleasure to have as a guide and finished our trip off nicely, even if she didn’t shut up when we first met her; when all we wanted to do was go to sleep.
The whole way from Pangjin to pretty much Tumangan was spent admiring the surrounding scenery, which included mountains inland and the coastline on the opposite side of the train with the views of Rajin and Songbon, along with Pipa Island being great from the train. Miss Jang didn’t miss a trick either and used every opportunity to give us information on the surrounding area, whether it be about industry in the Rason area, or beautiful flowers and trees we could see from the train window. It reminded me of a journey we’d done many moons ago along the Bodinayakanur branch in India where a young Indian lad kept pointing out trees, men, rice and anything else he knew the English words for along the route.
Miss Jang was quite surprised that we wanted to ride the train through to Tumangan as most tourists get off in Rajin, where we’d have to drive back to that afternoon anyway; and she did make sure we didn’t want to get off the train at Rajin when we approached it. She’d never been to Tumangan by train herself and seemed quite excited to be doing so. I was quite excited myself and the journey through Rason was a very pleasant one, on a very empty train by this point as well. At Tumangan there must have been about 15 people get off the train in total. Our Chinese DF5 had done us proud and got us to destination spot on time, without missing a beat anywhere along the way. The crew had even been cleaning the clag off the side of the loco at various points during the morning. As we immediately left the station area and were bundled into a new van, with an expert driver, who caned the hell out of it down the 12km straight road from Tumangan towards Songbon. It was apparently North Koreas second longest straight road, with the longest being 42km long! It wasn’t paved or tarmacked though and if we’d had to brake, there was no chance we were stopping on that surface.
As we’d had everything explained to us on the way to Tumangan we were spared another lengthy talk on the way to the Namsan Hotel in Rajin, which took us just under an hour to get there. We were allowed an hour to sort ourselves out before we had to begin our tour that afternoon and it was an hour we needed; my face was absolutely filthy with constantly sticking it out of the window and I looked like a right scruff. The Namsan Hotel was situated in the centre of Rajin and offered decent views from our 3rd floor window. The room was actually nicer than that in the Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongyang and had three beds in it, split into two rooms. There was no air-con but as the temperatures in the Rason area were cooler at night it wasn’t needed. While the water was hot at the Namsan, the shower was shocking and was about as much use as something not very useful; but still, we persevered with it and even managed a shave before presenting ourselves downstairs at bang on the time we’d been told to be there.
It was a whirlwind tour of Rajin of an evening, with a breeze around the local Korean art gallery where Miss Jang explained there were many beautiful paintings and pointed out everything in each painting too. From there we were straight round to the greenhouse where the two national flowers, Kin Jong-Ilia and Kim il-Sungia were being cultivated. We had no time to dwell though as the local market would close at 1900 and we needed to get in and out by then. No photos were allowed in the market, which had three levels and sold pretty much anything and everything and was just like the Sunday market in Doncaster, but larger. Each section had the same wares on sale with many people trying to sell the same stuff to the same people and not seeming to be doing very well at it. You could want for nothing while shopping there though and it was a very different experience to that in the Kwangbok Supermarket in Pyongyang.
Before our evening meal we had just enough time to walk through the Seafront Park before the sun dropped behind the hills behind Rason. Miss Jang was always concerned about us taking our phones, wallets and passport out of the van with us and we ended up explaining to her what a bossy-boots was, which she reveled in! She was an absolute treat but a nice treat, one to be enjoyed and on the way back to the van we came across the Czech beer bar in the Seafront Park, where it would have been rude not to stop for one, and we left just in time before the mad rush of Chinese tourists wanting their evening meal invaded.
Our own food was served as soon as we got back to the Namsan Hotel, where we were the only people in the restaurant. The platter thrown at us was among the best we’d had in North Korea with flounder, which I wasn’t keen on, potato croquette type things, rice cakes, veggies and some nice beef and mushroom Chinese style dish which went well with the sticky rice. We were stuffed afterwards and hadn’t left a great deal for a change. We were allowed to take some beer up to our room for the evening and were told to be back in the reception at 8am, having negotiated that from the original 0730 we’d been given. Miss Jang understood we’d have a long day the following day and that the later start would be appreciated.
Gen for Thursday 23rd May 2019
0711 at Chongjin Chongnyon
5125 at Pugo plus another thing
Pangjin change of guides
Photos for Thursday 23rd May 2019
Friday 24th May 2019 (Heading from Rason, North Korea to Ussuriysk, Russia)
There was no doubt about it, we slept well after not being in a proper bed the previous night. Outside the hotel it was shaping up to be a glorious morning, but it was a little misty initially. By the time we’d dealt with breakfast and left the hotel the sun was beaming down and there was no mist at all. Breakfast was ok at the Namsan hotel and there were a few other westerners stay too; apparently in North Korea for 4 months to learn Korean while in Rason. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to manage being in North Korea for that long, with two guides constantly in your life, all day, every day; no matter how friendly they were.
As we needed to be in Tumangan for our train to Russia in the early afternoon, our tour of Rason, or more like just Rajin, was a whirlwind affair. Starting with Pipa Island which is linked to Rason by a man-made concrete road. Its not a massive island but the views from it are quite good and it was nice and peaceful while we were being walked round the brand-new concrete walkways that had been constructed around the island’s edge. Miss Jang was very impressed with the ned concrete road and the bollards at the water’s edge, that hadn’t been there on her last visit, which she constantly told us about; bless her. She wasn’t impressed with the painters that were washing their bowls out in the sea, in what they probably thought was secluded area of the walkway and we were quickly turned around when she spotted them. She hung back a little bit and I’m quite sure she went to give them a bollocking when we were out of earshot! Before leaving the island we were quickly shown inside the kitchen of the hotel on the island, which had a whole host of local seafood, alive, in bowls on the counter; all ready o be cooked at a moments notice for the stream of Chinese tourists that would flow through the island during the day. As we left in the van there were boatloads of tourists being taken out into the bay on a ferry ride, which had been optional for us but we just didn’t have the time for it; and after my recent Sri Lankan seasickness ride, I wasn’t keen on repeating it again anytime soon anyway.
Just on the mainland, the very imposing Emperor Hotel & Casino dominates the landscape, which is otherwise devoid of buildings in that area anyway. We were taken into the grand lobby for a look around and ended up having a quick walk around the in-house casino. I’d never been in one before, ever, and it had a very serious atmosphere going on, certainly from the bankers at each table. Everyone gambling was Chinese and the bankers that had nobody at their table just sat patiently in silence with their upturned arms stretched out on their tables, as I f to beckon people in to play. As we had a little time on our hands, we were going to have a coffee in the sea view restaurant, until we were quoted £6 for one coffee; we left straight away ad were taken straight to the local Trout Farm.
While the Trout Farm is not really a tourist site, it is a site that the North Korean’s clearly want to boast about, and it’s not really just a Trout Farm either, although there are Trout on the site. It was actually worth the quick look we had, if only to see the massive crabs and scallops that were being bred. Everything is locally sourced and supplied to restaurants in the local area only. With the number of tourists passing through the area I’m guessing most of it ended its days in their mouths!
After the Trout Farm we left Rajin and headed straight to Tumangan and the Tri-border viewpoint, which offers direct views of the Tumangan area of North Korea, towards Khasan in Russia and into the Jilin area of China. The Tumen River naturally splits North Korea from China, until it reaches the railway bridge that takes the train from North Korea to Russia and then the river naturally splits North Korea and Russia; with China randomly digging quite deeply into what should be Russian territory south of Hunchun in China. It was a very clear day and the views were fantastic. Miss Jang couldn’t help but point out the beautiful flower and beautiful lagoon, which was visible from the vantage point. Unfortunately, we left about 5 minutes too soon as on the way back to Tumangan station in the van, we watched an RZD TEP70 come over the bridge with the three coaches forming 652 Ussuriysk – Tumangan; that would then form our 651 1500 Tumangan – Ussuriysk later in the afternoon.
Lunch was at a local place over the road from Tumangan station, which we’d clearly turned up early at as the fish for everyone’s soup hadn’t even arrived at that point. Thankfully, Miss Jang had figured out that I didn’t like fish and I got pork instead. To be honest lunch was a right faff, which I wasn’t too pleased with. The soup was cooked in front of you, on the table in its own bowl that had a flame beneath it, which made it way too hot as a result. My pork was too fatty and as the place had no knives at all I had to mess about with my spoon and fingers to separate the meat from the fat; and there was way more fat. While Flossy’s fish was apparently quite tasty, the fact that its eyes were peering out of the soup before he devoured it was enough to put me off. And, in what had become a very Korean thing, for the last time on the trip we were treated like children as Miss Jang insisted on adding the spices and sundries to our soup and mixing it up for us. Thankfully, there were other bits on the table that filled me up, including a nice plate of potatoes, like jeera aloo. I didn’t do well with the soup and was glad to get out of the place in the end; and that was pretty much that as far as North Korea was concerned…..
We were driven over the road to the station, where we had to wait outside the entrance, which is a separate entrance to that used by domestic passengers. Once a group of waiting North Koreans had been processed, we were invited into the building, where our passports and visas were checked while Miss Jang spoke with the staff. We were then invited to put our bags through the x-ray machine and after collecting them we had to go to a little table, where we wrongly assumed our bags would be thoroughly searched and our cameras checked. None of that happened though and after emptying the contents of our pockets onto the table we were patted down and run down with a mini metal detector before being told to put everything away and pointed in the direction of the passport booth. At this point we waved goodbye to our guides and after handing my passport over, the visa was checked and stamped but the passport wasn’t. After it was handed back to me, I was free to head out on to the platform and wait to board the train like a load of North Koreans were. Flossy soon followed suit and once through the door of the building and onto the platform we’d officially departed North Korea. Miss Jang and Mr Jon were waiting in the building when we left, we assumed they wait there until the train departed, just in case there were any issues and things needed translating, which there weren’t, and they didn’t.
It was still a glorious day but we kept our cameras firmly in our bags, despite the temptation of Korean electric 900-23 sitting in the domestic platform with a single coach, and when RZD TEP70-0537 dropped onto the three coaches that were sat over the way on the furthest road from the station; which must have been the only CIS gauge road in the station as we all had to cross the tracks and walk along the ballast to board! We had the pleasure of sharing a compartment with a North Korean, until Khasan, when he was moved into the next compartment by the coach attendant; which had been vacated by a group of Russians on their way to Moscow, who were going from Khasan to Vladivostok by road to then fly to Moscow. Very sensible of them and they’d probably be in Moscow before we made it to Vladivostok the following day!
Our RZD Kupe coach (4-berth sleepers) was clean and quite modern, although the boiler wasn’t hot until well into the journey, so there wasn’t any water for hot drinks. Shortly before departure from Tumangan the young guy from the passport booth swept through the train checking all North Korean passports but didn’t want to see ours. Then once we departed the platform North Korean army staff were scattered all about the line, right up to the point where it entered the bridge over the river; at which point there were a group of Chinese tourists taking photos of the train running onto the bridge! If only we’d known that option was available, and we’d have been there for the bloody thing arriving into North Korea earlier!
We trickled over the lengthy bridge and then trundled the short distance into Khasan station where Russian Border Security were on hand to board the train. Customs staff swept through the train first, along with a sniffer dog, before our passports were taken for processing. It was probably about an hour before our passports were returned, at which point we were officially in Russia and I was quite surprised to find a computer-generated Russian Arrival Card in my passport, already stamped; which saved a bit of writing if nothing else. Surprisingly, we managed to take photos of the TEP70, after it had been started back up, and nobody blinked an eyelid at us doing so. Although, once the border staff had finished their job, they locked the place up and disappeared off by road to whence they’d come from.
From Khasan it was a decent run towards Ussuriysk, with only the one booked stop at Suzanovka where we passed TEP70-0538 on one coach, forming what I later figured out to be 6708 2013 Riazanovka – Khasan: thanks to the excellent RZD App. While we were in need of sleep, we couldn’t take advantage of the empty compartment as Ussuriysk came about all too soon and we were on the platform there a little before 1am. TEM2-1545 eventually shunted the three coaches out of the station, to then shunt them onto the rear of 099E 0051 Vladivostok – Moskva Yaroslavskaya when it arrived over 2 hours later. TEP70-0537 went onto shed and wasn’t seen again during our wait.
Gen for Friday 24th May 2019
TEP70-0537 652 2137 (P) Ussuriysk – Tumangang, 651 1500 Tumangang – Ussuriysk
TEP70-0538 6708 2013 Riazanovka – Khasan (at Suzanovka 2040)
TEM2-1545 shunt 651 to 099 at Ussuriysk
Moves for Friday 24th May 2019
|TEP70-0537||Tumangang||Khasan||1500 Tumangang – Ussuriysk||651|
Photos for Friday 24th May 2019 – DPRK
Photos for Friday 24th May 2019 – Russia
Saturday 25th May 2019 (Ussuriysk to Vladivostok via Tikhootheans)
It wasn’t a particularly cold night at Ussuriysk, but it was a lot more comfortable festering in the large waiting area inside the station building, which even had a 24-hour shop/canteen type place. It wasn’t particularly busy at Ussuriysk station but quite a few people did use the station in the small hours. There was a constant flow of freight trains passing through, mostly with 3ES5K triple-set electrics, and there were two passenger trains departing before our booked train at 0437. Every passenger train we saw was worked by an EP1 electric, with 099E 0051 Vladivostok – Moskva Yaroslavskaya being EP1-133, the opposing working of 100E 0035 Moskva Yaroslavskaya – Vladivostok, which departed Moskva on 18th May, was EP1-127 and our 114E 1804 (P) Khabarovsk 1 – Tikhootheans arrived with EP1-323; and we were glad to see it do so when it did as we were starting to flag a bit. Yet despite the tiredness, and the fact I got dossed straight out once we’d made our berths up, I was wide awake by 8am and sat upright watching he hilly green terrain pass by the train windows.
Most people got off the train at Nakhoda, which is only a 20-minute run from the terminating point of 114E, at Tikhootheans. I’d only discovered the train by accident when looking at trains at Ussuriysk during the trip planning but as the train did something completely different, and is the only loco-hauled train that runs to Tikhootheans, it seemed like a sensible idea to do it for more than just the different factor. We would have, in theory, got more sleep than going straight to Vladivostok, where we might not have been able to check into or hotel very early in the morning, and Tikhootheans was a lot further east that Vladivostok, adding to the fun factor of just how far from home we were when we got there! And after arriving a few minutes early I managed a quick photo of EP1-323 before we walked the half-mile or so to the Pyramid Hotel where I’d arranged a road transfer through Kiwi Taxi to take us the 180km to our hotel in Vladivostok; which only cost £60, and was pre-paid during the booking.
The transfer was booked for 1030 and we were there waiting at 1000. At 1010 a nice-looking black car reversed into the car park and a young lad went into the hotel before reappearing and sitting in his car waiting. When nobody turned up after 5 minutes I banged on his window, showed him our reservation and he confirmed he was waiting for us. What we didn’t know until later when we got WiFi, was that he’d sent us both a WhatsApp message while he’d been waiting, to say that his “machine” was waiting for us. Initially I was quite impressed, the car was comfortable with climate control and everything was going ok until he nearly went into the back of a lorry while fuckin about on his phone. At which point he sensibly put it down and got on with driving properly. That didn’t last long and by the time we got to Vladivostok he was almost on it constantly, texting, talking to people and even surfing the next while driving, which was all thoroughly documented in my feedback to Kiwi Taxi. The journey took exactly 3 hours, which was the quoted time, we even had a piss-stop about halfway where a local lady started jibbering at us in English and was surprised to see to Englishmen in her village. The main road from Tikhootheans towards Fokino was shocking in places, so much so that people were driving on the opposite side of the road when nothing was coming. It was quite steep in places and it was like the whacky races when everyone was attempting to overtake slow moving lorries. Thankfully our car had quite poke when the driver put his foot down. From about Smolyaninovo the roads improved and once on the fast motorways north of Vladivostok we were motoring along at 125kmph. The railway from the Fokino area follows the road for quite a way and we saw quite a few freights with 3ES5K electrics and some with pairs of twinsets. One section looked to be under possession and in the process of being re-laid with at least three 2TE10’s occupying the line with their infrastructure trains. Had we not been so tired, I might have asked the driver to stop for a bit to allow us to take some photos; but we just wanted to get there. At 1315 we were dropped outside the front doors of the Primorye Hotel, or drive bid us farewell and was away as quick as he’d arrived in Tikhootheans.
The Primorye Hotel had looked the best of the bunch near Vladivostok station and it gave an impression of grandeur when we walked into the reception, with its own bakery shop in the foyer and an area when outsiders could sit and eat. The receptionist spoke good English and quickly checked us in and gave us the all important WiFi code before we headed up to our 3rd floor room. The room itself had a small bedroom with twin beds, separate from the main room area, which had a large sofa, seating area, TV and fridge but no air con. The bathroom had everything we needed, including plenty of toiletries and a nice sized bath to allow us to get some washing done later. Impressed with our room we both set about abusing it straight away. Our phones were draining the WiFi and I had 69 app updates for it to process. Having had no access to data for a week and with apps not updating in China prior to that there was a lot to process; and a much-needed shower in the meantime allowed or electronics to do their thing, while we did ours.
It was nice to be clean again, and back in the real-world, by which I mean connected to the rest of the world through the power of communication and once our loved ones knew we were safe and sound we set about abusing Facebook and bombarding it with photos from our North Korea exploit, while relaxing in our rather nice room.
We couldn’t toss it off all day though and high on my agenda was attempting to get a Russian SIM card, which turned out to be very, very simple. After asking at the hotel reception which service provider was best, they confirmed that either Beeline or MTS would cover all of Russia and Google Maps showed that both had shops near Vladivostok railway station. We came across Beeline first, where the staff spoke a little English and quickly sold us both SIM cards with unlimited data that would last the duration of our time in Russia; each costing a meagre RUB300, which is less than £4! They were active from the moment they went into our phones and I had 4G+ on mine before we walked out of the shop, just 5 minutes after walking into it.
Next on the agenda was collecting our tickets for the alternate Russia exit strategy that was so hastily arranged when we were in China and after gaining entry to Vladivostok station through the airport style security, we headed downstairs to the ticket office, changed the language on the machine that dished out numbered tickets to English and waited 5 minutes or so for or turn to come around. The tickets were issued immediately after I handed the lady at the counter my phone with the reservation details on the screen courtesy of the RZD App.
As Vladivostok station is very picturesque, we got a few photos of it after we left, along with the Lenin statue over the road from it and some of the excellent view across Vladivostok port just the other side of the station. With a walkway linking the station and port area its easy to get about and the sheer scale of Vladivostok’s port area, harbour and jus how hilly the surrounding area is, is visible in just one view; which even has a length bridge running right through the scene that crosses the port area from Vladivostok to link onto the opposite side to save car drivers a lengthy detour to get to the same area. Other than a couple of EMUs in the station area the only proper train we saw was an ECS with TEM7A-0485 at its helm.
Having had no meal at all since Tumangang we were quite pleased to find Bombay Grill, courtesy of Google Maps, which was on the main road behind the Lenin statue. We were the only people in the restaurant the whole time we were there, the Indian running the joint was very smartly dressed and spoke fluent English, and the food served up was absolutely cracking; it was just like it would have tasted in India. We were well impressed and fucking stuffed after it I might add. On the way back to the hotel we used a local supermarket to get some supplies, which consisted of what we thought was milk but was actually yoghurt, beer, sweets, beer, matches and beer. Needless to say, we spent the rest of the evening drinking beer in our room, after we’d done a load of washing and strung everything up to dry in front of the fan I found in the wardrobe. The job, as they say, was a good ‘un! There was no persuasion needed for sleep that night…
Gen for Saturday 25th May 2019
EP1-133 099E 0051 Vladivostok – Moskva Yaroslavskaya
EP1-127 100E 0035 (18/05) Moskva Yaroslavskaya – Vladivostok
EP1-323 114E 1804 (P) Khabarovsk 1 – Tikhootheans
Moves for Saturday 25th May 2019
|EP1-323||Ussuriysk||Tikhookeanskaya||1804 (24/05) Khabarovsk 1 – Tikhookeanskaya||114E|
|Taxi||Tikhookeanskaya||Vladivostok||Pre-booked Kiwi Taxi – 187km, 3-hours, £60|
Photos for Saturday 25th May 2019
Sunday 26th May 2019 (A day in Vladivostok before starting along the Trans-Siberian Railway towards Khabarovsk)
With no plans for the day we managed to be up by 9am and had the first proper breakfast of the trip in the Primorye’s restaurant on the ground floor; there was even pizza on offer in the buffet selection. After which, we maxed our relaxation time out in the hotel until the receptionist rang asking when we’d be checking out, then it was downstairs, checkout, dump bags in the cloak room and head out for a wander.
The idea of the wander was to try and find a vantage point over the railway between Vladivostok and the bottom end of the port, to get some photos of trains. We found one but unfortunately the massive pipe running the whole way across the yard prevented and decent photos being taken of the TEM7s and TEM2 that were shunting the un-electrified section of yard at the bottom end of the port. So, our 2km walk each way in the blazing sunshine was pretty much for nothing! I had managed a photo of 3ES5K-139 & 3ES5K-699, which were sat just south of the station area waiting to depart with freights, and of TEM7-0492 which had just been shunting a rake of wagons out of the yard when we’d arrived; which were loaded with steel slabs. We’d also had a good view over the sea, if not of the yard, for our sins and it had been quite interesting walking the length of the port looking at what was there along the way.
Back at Vladivostok station I had a bit more success and managed to photograph EP1-133 arriving with 008U 2354 (21/05) Novosibirsk Gl. – Vladivostok and them TEM2K-5065 with the ECS once it had dropped on to take it out. I managed to miss getting a photo of the green TEM7 that was shunting parcels vans about the station area, some of which had clearly arrived recently as they were being offloaded when we got back to the station.
Lunch was at Nostalgia Restaurant, close to the Bombay Grill that we’d used the previous afternoon. It was a nice restaurant and served nice food up, but they didn’t quite have a grasp on cooking everything to order and bringing it all out at once. Our first side-dish of fried potatoes, onions and mushrooms arrived first and was almost finished when my Viennese Schnitzel was plonked on the table, and by the time I’d finished that the second side-dish of potato cakes arrived; almost 10 minutes before Flossy’s grilled salmon was put in front of him! By which time I’d cleared up and the potato cakes were cooling down. Still, it was a decent meal and we left feeling satisfied with what we’d eaten.
After collecting our big bags from the hotel we headed over to Vladivostok station, through security and then waited it out on the platform; reveling in the monument on the station that indicated the end of the Trans-Siberian Railway, some 9288km from its start in the west. Electric triple-set 3ES5K-415 was spoiling the station karma until it did one and headed north light. TEM7A-0485 brought the empty stock in for our 351E 1720 Vladivostok – Sovetskaya Gavan Sort about an hour before departure time and once EP1-133 had run through the station there was a 20-minute rigmarole to go through before it was bolted to the front. We were in 3S class for our short run to Ugolnaya, which is 3rd class sitting, but it was empty and we were able to spread out during the 42-minute journey out of Vladivostok; where part 2 of our Long Journey Home commenced.
There was plenty to see from the train windows, despite the short journey time, with the sea being visible quite a lot on the left-hand side of the train. With the line being quite twisty & turny, there were ample opportunities to see the EP1 up the front curving round with our lengthy train, which had at least three different portions of stock in its consist. At Ugolnaya we headed straight out of the station and I had to run round to the footbridge that spans the station and was just in time to get a shot of 3ES5K-819 running through towards Vladivostok with a freight it had just departed the yard north of Ugolnaya with.
In the bay by the station 3TE10UK-0050 was parked up and there was another 3TE10 at the head of a lengthy train that was stood in the station area. From our vantage point on the footbridge we could see out across the sea and watched the train we’d just got off heading away into the distance across the water. There were also quite a lot of long freights using the corridor as well, most of which must have headed onto the Tikhootheans line, which branched off just north of Ugolnaya, as not many of the trains we saw across the water came through Ugolnaya station. There were plenty of local EMU’s knocking about, with only three freights running through in the 1h52m we were there, all headed by 3ES5K triple-set electrics: 3ES5K-819, 252 & 691 gracing us with their presence.
EP1-238 arrived early with 001M 1910 Vladivostok – Moskva Yaroslavskaya and our coach number 16 was toward the rear of the train. This time we were in 3rd class sleeping, platskartny and our coach was almost full when we joined for the little over an hour run to Ussuriysk. We had just enough time to have a coffee, courtesy of the piping hot boiler, and even had bedding handed to us for the short journey. At Ussuriysk, where we’d departed 40 hours previous, we festered in the same waiting room we had done then, did the same things to pass the time and barely moved during the 2h47m fester; although unlike last time we got pestered by the platform attendant asking where we were going, while Flossy was smoking, and then the security staff in the station building wanted to know where we were going as well. Those on our last visit couldn’t have been less interested!
Having made an executive decision to flag 005E 2045 Vladivostok – Khabarovsk 1, I’d watched it arrive with EP1-277 before spending the rest of the fester in the waiting room, where it was warm.
I was ready for bed when EP1-011 rolled in with 007EA 2151 Vladivostok – Novosibirsk Gl. And it didn’t take long to get our berths sorted in 2nd class sleeping (Kupe), once the attendant eventually stopped buggering about with tickets and handed our bedding out. It was pitch black in the compo and none of the lights worked, so we had to make them up with my torchlight shining the way, while trying not to disturb the two people dossed out in the upper berths; too much. With a 10-hour run to Khabarovsk 1, there was nothing to get up for, other than to get off the train at 0954 the following morning.
Gen for Sunday 26th May 2019
TEM2K-5065 Vladivostok station pilot
EP1-133 008U 2354 (21/05) Novosibirsk Gl. – Vladivostok
EP1-238 001M 1910 Vladivostok – Moskva Yaroslavskaya
EP1-277 005E 2045 Vladivostok – Khabarovsk 1
EP1-011 007E 2152 Vladivostok – Novosibirsk Gl.
Moves for Sunday 26th May 2019
|EP1-133||Vladivostok||Ugolnaya||1720 Vladivostok – Sovetskaya Gavan Sort||351EA|
|EP1-238||Ugolnaya||Ussuriysk||1910 Vladivostok – Moskva Yaroslavskaya||001M|
|EP1-011||Ussuriysk||Khabarovsk 1||2152 Vladivostok – Novosibirsk Glav.||007H|
Photos for Sunday 26th May 2019
Monday 27th May 2019 (Heading from Khabarovsk 1 towards Tommot on the BAM)
The whole train was up and about by 0830 and with time to kill the boiler provided water to make porridge and coffee before we alighted at Khabarovsk 1. At which point we were 8151km into our journey home and is was still further to Moscow from where we were, than the distance we’d covered at this point! EP1-011 was still at the head of the train and didn’t look like it was going to be removed as we walked away from it. A cloak room on the lower floor of the station building provided somewhere to leave out bags; for RUB170 each and after looking around the station building, we headed out for a walk around Khabarovsk. We did note a picture display on the upper floor of the station building showing the opening of the CIS gauge railway from Khasan to Rajin, in the Rason area of North Korea. The commemorative train ran in 2013 with 2M62’s at either end of a decent length passenger train.
Outside Khabarovsk 1 station is a turning circle for the tram system that serves the city and it wasn’t long before we came across a load of relic trams that looked battered to fuck beneath their brightly pained exteriors and the majority were being driven by women. They provided us with something to photograph while we ambled through the park that led away from the station and once bored of that we went in search of somewhere to get a meal; which after a lengthy walk around town we settled on KFC. Thankfully it had electronic screens which could be changed to English and we paid with a contactless card and waited for our order number to be displayed on the screen. It was bliss being able to do that and get exactly what you ordered, without any interaction with a person at all. Every restaurant in the world should adopt the same method and make everyone’s lives easier.
After a supermarket raid, on the way back to Khabarovsk 1 station, we sat in the upper floor waiting area charging everything we had as our overnight the previous night hadn’t had any charging facilities in the compartments at all. Our next train, 099E 0051 Vladivostok – Moskva Yaroslavskaya arrived into Khabarovsk 1 at 1350 but didn’t depart until 1500. After we’d collected our bags, we made it onto the platform just as TEM18DM-1144 was shunting a portion from Khabarovsk 1 onto the rear and TEM18DM-1140 train loco EP1-233 and a couple of vans onto the front of the train at the same time. We attempted to board the train but were literally man handled back off by the witch of a coach attendant, who needed to go to customer service training school instead of her local witch meeting club; what a fucking miserable bint! Apparently, while I was up the platform photting, she started shouting at Flossy across the platform when people were allowed t board; and he ignored her completely, which probably didn’t help matters. When I got back to the coach, she demanded to see my passport to check my details on her hand-held device and once we were on board, she left us alone but for demanding the bedding back when we approached In; which we’d not even used. I’d have liked to have given her a piece of my mind, but it would have been wasted so I just muttered under my breath instead!
Khabarovsk 1 station was quite busy before train 099E departed and there were at least 4 different TEM18DM’s shunting in the station area, 1140, 1144, 1145 and another. Other than the usual freights with 3ES5K triple-set electrics, a ballast train arrived into the yard over the back of the station with a 2ES5K twin-set electric 2ES5K-144, seemingly being pushed by 2TE10M-0521A/B, in green livery, and on the rear was 2TE10M-2692B/A, in RZD red/grey livery. After I’d photted the pair on the back, I noticed a couple of security staff dressed in khaki’s walk across the tracks towards where I was so made myself scarce. I’d not had any issues at all photting in Russia at this point and didn’t want to tempt fate, so walked back to the train and got on, like the good boy I am.
The 90-minute journey to In was in a cracking platskartny coach, which had more plug sockets in it than any other coach I’d ever seen in Russia. Every berth had its own socket and the upper ones even had USB sockets; so, everything got charged again! We had a change to look out at the Siberian landscape for the first time since leaving Vladivostok and while there were plenty of Silver Birch trees to see, there were also vast expanses of open green areas and the odd big industrial unit every now and again; with plenty of freight trains passing us, heading east. I have to say; the scenery was a lot greener than I’d expected and the Silver Birch were a lot more alive looking than I’d expected them to be.
At In, the weather had taken a turn for the worst and the sun had gone in. After braving the wind to photograph the two freights that passed through in either direction, we sat it out in the waiting room and I even got my jacket out for the first time since leaving the UK. The first freight that went through had 3ES5K-422 on the front, followed by 67 loaded coal wagons, then 3ES5K-554 in the middle with its own train of 68 coal wagons behind it. So, 135 wagons in total, which were probably 100T boxes, making 13500T with technically 6 high-powered electric locos for traction.
During our fester quite a few locals turned up at In station and all went out to the platform when something was announced. It turned out o be a westbound EMU that wasn’t advertised anywhere in the station building at all, or on the departure screens; so, it seemed you had to be a mindread around the In area to know when the local trains ran. It wasn’t long afterwards that our 663E 1620 Khabarovsk 1 – Chegdomyn arrived with EP1-337 on a short load-10 rake. Thankfully our 3rd class sitting coach, number 7, was in the middle of the train and we didn’t have t got running up the platform to get on. Unlike the comfy sitting coach we’d done out of Vladivostok the previous day, the sitting coach on 663E was as basic as they come, wit no AC but it was clean enough and the boiler and toilets worked ok. It was like being on a train in the back end of beyond though, so very apt for the journey we were making at the time; as In was in the back end of beyond and 51 minutes later, when we arrived into Birobidzhan 1 it had started raining and the whole scene was beginning to become very Siberian. Still, there was a nice clean station building for us to wait the 2h28m in, with charging sockets and it was warmer than being on the platform. The station yard looked to be busy, with at least 2 different TEM2’s being visible from the platforms and there seemed to be a freight running through the station every 5 minutes. It was a bloody shame it was cold and raining, otherwise it would have kept me well occupied with my camera.
EP1-168 arrived into the gloom at Birobidzhan 1 with 035E 1840 Khabarovsk 1 – Blagoevshchensk and 47 minutes later we were thrown out into the pouring rain at Bira, where the platforms were more like a lake with the amount of standing water around. Luckily, we’d stopped right outside the station building and had a quick exit from the outdoors to shelter, which I was grateful of when I realised that the plastic bag I’d been protecting my DMZ posters with had a hole in it! That was rectified with Flossy’s masking tape though, and no water would be getting through that.
As our final train of the day would only stop at Bira for 1 minute I attempted to find out from the girl on the platform whereabouts in the train our booked coach would be, which proved fruitless and neither her nor the woman at the ticket office had a clue. So, it would be a suck it and see job and as we were the only people waiting at Bira, for what was the last train of the day to depart there, we were very, very grateful when coach #15 stopped right at the bottom of the station steps. Which was probably just as well as the coach attendant had us straight on board out of the rain but hadn’t finished checking our passports before the train set off, with the coach door still wide open!
We were in a coupe coach for the next 31h45m, on board 325Sh 1917 Khabarovsk 1 – Neryungri Pas. It wasn’t as nice as some of the others we’d been in and looked quite old, based on the coach fittings and lack of charging sockets anywhere but in the corridor and toilet. It was immediately evident that water was leaking in through the window frame when we got into or compo, which already had both upper berths occupied. I was able to use the window blind to wedge a towel in, which was soaked through by the following morning but had done what I’d intended it to, in keeping water from getting to my pillow and soaking that through. The other two in the compo were happy for the lights to go out once we’d made our beds up and we’d be a lot deeper into Siberia the following morning, yet still nowhere near halfway through our 22493km trek home!
Gen for Monday 27th May 2019
EP1-239 099E 0051 Vladivostok – Moskva Yaroslavskaya
EP1-337 663E 1620 Khabarovsk 1 – Chegdomyn
EP1-168 035E 1840 Khabarovsk 1 – Blagoevshchensk
EP1-200 325Sh 1917 Khabarovsk 1 – Neryungri Pas. (to Belogorsk)
Moves for Monday 27th May 2019
|EP1-239||Khabarovsk 1||In||0051 Vladivostok – Moskva Yaroslavskaya||099E|
|EP1-337||In||Birobidzhan 1||1620 Khabarovsk 1 – Chegdomyn||663E|
|EP1-168||Birobidzhan 1||Bira||1840 Khabarovsk 1 – Blagoevshchensk||035E|
|EP1-200||Bira||Belogorsk||1917 Khabarovsk 1 – Neryungri Pas.||325Sh|
Photos for Monday 27th May 2019
Tuesday 28th May 2019 (On board train 325 1917 (P) Khabarovsk 1 – Neryungri Pas. all day)
After a decent night’s sleep I was up in time to have a wander at Svobodnyy during the dwell time and found Belogorsk allocated EP1-124 now heading train 325; which would no doubt have gone on at Belogorsk during the 50-minute stop in the early hours of the morning; which at least gave some respite from the movement of the train and whatever had been rattling in the compo all night. Even the earplugs couldn’t keep the noise out. Investigations of a morning revealed that it was the ladders in the compo that were doing the rattling, which was stopped by wedging a towel in between them and the compo wall. If only I’d realised that 8 hours previous….
2M62-0693A was sat at Svobodnyy with an infrastructure train, which I had to photograph through the train window with it being on the opposite side of the station t the station building. While it was still cold outside at this point, it had at least stopped raining though and the weather improved as the day went on, to the point where the compo window had to be opened as the sun was turning it into a greenhouse.
One of the guys in our compo got off at Svobodnyy but the younger lad of the two, we discovered, was staying on to Tynda and Anton, he told us his name was, spoke decent English. He was absolutely withered with our plan and couldn’t quite believe what he was reading when I showed him the bash plan. Thankfully for us, Anton spent virtually the whole trip on his upper berth lounging about and wasn’t interested in invading our space on the lower two berths. This left us plenty of room to spread out and revel in the day as the Silver Birch started to dominate the outside world, in large amounts.
The next decent length stop was Shimanovskaya at 0930, where EP1-128 was standing with a couple of freight wagons and TEM18DM-1160 dropped straight onto the rear of our train to remove the two Shimanovskaya portion coaches; which it shunted into the sidings out of the way. There were a couple of useful little ships just off the platform at Shimanovskaya and by those were old ladies selling fresh bits n bobs to eat for breakfast. Back on board the train, a trolley service was started from the restaurant car, which was the next coach along from us. As we had plenty of stuff though, we didn’t bother with the restaurant car services, or anything from the trolley. The stuff that Anton ordered and had delivered to his berth looked and smelled quite good though, so maybe we’d use one in the future.
During the morning the sun dried out the puddles outside and made the Siberian landscape look a lot less miserable than the previous day’s rain had. It was a rather pleasant journey through the wilderness with Siler Birch still dominating the landscape and a constant precession of freights heading west, all headed by 3ES5K triple-set electrics. At the sizable station of Tygda I managed to get off in time to get a shot of 2ES5K-284 & 2ES5K-285 running through with a lengthy freight while EP1-060 was sat in the station area with a couple of vans.
A lunch of cheese & crisp sarnies was devoured during the 1h5m run from Tygda & Magdagachi, where the last lengthy stop of the day occurred before the evening. EP1-124 was still present and correct at the head of the train and while checking it wasn’t going to be removed, I discovered that there’s a big steam loco plinthed on the platform. There’s a sizable loco shed at Magdagachi too, which had various 2/3ES5K electric stabled, an EP1 and various diesel types, including TEM2, TEM18 and 2TE10. There were at least three different TEM18DM’s involved in shunting duties around the station yard area with Belogorsk based TEM18DM-1155 being the only one I could clap my eyes on during our 18-minute stop there.
On departure from Magdagachi, that was it for over 3-hours, no fag breaks for Flossy and no photo-stops for me. It was a nice relaxing run to Skovorodino though and we even managed to get a look in at one of the charging sockets in the coach corridor at one point; and seized the opportunity while we could. With only two for the whole coach to use, the sockets had been in use all day, so we had to bide our time. This little frustration is the only issue I have with travelling on trains in Eastern Europe and as we’d already found out, it was hit and miss how modern coaches would be and what facilities they’d have as a result. Despite our current coach being quite old, it did have bio-toilets which at least meant they weren’t locoed out at every station like the old-style ones that dump shit onto the tracks. Although, they have their advantages, in that us western Europeans can put bog paper down them with out clogging the bio-bogs up, which even have a grate in the hole to stop bog paper and the likes being dragged down when they’re flushed. Which is a bit of a farce really, and I’m not a fan of putting shit-up bog paper in a bin either; its just fucking wrong!
As we approached Skovorodino, where we arrived at 1716, the sheer scale of the railway yards was evident from the train windows, with both sides of the train being dominated by huge, long yards and there were plenty of trains in them as well. Skovorodino is one of the few stepping-stones from the Trans-Siberian to the Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM), linked by the Amur-Yakutsk Mainline (AYaM), which runs from Tynda via Neryungri to Tommot and north to Yakutsk and is locally known as the “little BAM” between Tynda & Neryungri. So, Skovorodino probably needed the space to cope with the demand and from here we’d be branching off the Trans-Siberian to head north on the diesel line, where we’d join the BAM main line at Tynda later that night. There was no messing around in the station and EP1-124 was already off the train by the time I got to the front and while it was being shunted off and 2TE10UT-0039B/A was being shunted on, 3ES5K-522 ran in with a freight, while TEM18DM-807 waited up ahead for its next shunt duty.
Having not done a great deal of research on what worked trains on the BAM I was pleasantly surprised with the 2TE10 as I’d been expecting a TEP70, or even worse a TEP70BS rebuild and our run north onto the BAM was celebrated with more cheese & crisp sarnies. We followed the Tran-Siberian for a short distance before the overhead wires disappeared off east and we headed into the proper wilderness as the diesel only BAM Railway started its journey north to Tynda. It was proper thickly forested on either side of the train for long distances and Pine trees were now in the mix, with not too many Sliver Birch around at this point. The line climbed quite a bit and twisted and turned along the way, revealing the 2TE10 in glorious sunshine at the head of the train quite often.
There was only one stop of more than a minute en-route from Skovorodino to Tynda, and we didn’t realise it was to pass another train on the single line until 2TE10UT-0008A/B arrived into Murtygit with what I later figure out from the RZD App was 081 1650 Tynda – Blagoevshchensk. And before that arrived, we were able to photograph TEM2-5754 with a solitary coach that had a board displaying that it was a Murtygit – Anosovskaya train. Although, I couldn’t find any existence of such a train on the RZD App so, we wondered if it was some kind of workers train, especially as it wasn’t going through to Tynda? Some massive guy on the platform, who we figured was probably the driver of the TEM2, seemed to take exception to me taking photos of his loco, I think. He actually could have been telling me to go and have a look in the cab with the way he was gesturing and pointing. Either way we took no more photos of the TEM2 anyway.
From Murtygit the sun began to sink behind the hills but that glow you get when daylight lasts for hours emanated above them and they had a readybrek glow along their edges. Along the way we passed quite a few freight’s, mostly hauled by 2TE25’s but at least one was a 3TE10. By the time we reached Tynda, at 2251, it was dark and we’d both been dozing. Unfortunately, Anton had to wake Flossy so that he could get his bag from under the seat he was dossed on, otherwise I’m not so sure he’d have got up at Tynda at all.
By the time I got to the front of our train, which would now sit at Tynda for 2h7m, 2TE10UT-0039B/A were just being removed and by the time I got back to the rear of the train TEM2-7862 had dropped on to remove the two vans attached to the back of it. It was a cold, clear night, even with my coat on ad I didn’t want to stand out in it too long. Amidst the shunting taking place all the stock was watered and by the time I called it a day standing around in the cold, the coach attendants had changed crews, TEM2-7862 had shunted a train together in the adjacent platform, where a through coach had been sitting when we’d arrived, 2TE10UT-0026B/A had arrived with 097C 1242 (22/05) Kislovodsk – Tynda and I got the impression that some shunting was going to take place with our set now it had been watered and the platform area was clear. While I lay in my pit, which was now a two-man only compo, I eventually felt the bump of TEM2-7862 dropping onto our train and was then pleased to feel the train moving. I didn’t know what happened but, we were drawn out and shunted into the adjacent platform and we had more coaches attached to the rear of the train the following morning, as well as to the front! We were only shunted that once though and while I was aware of the train locos dropping onto the front, I didn’t get back up to go and spot them; and was asleep before we set off at 0058.
Gen for Tuesday 28th May 2019
EP1-124 325Sh 1917 (P) Khabarovsk 1 – Neryungri Pas. (Belogorsk to Skovorodino)
TEM18DM-1145 shunt 2 coaches from rear of 325Sh at Shimanovskaya
2TE10UT-0039B/A 325Sh 1917 (P) Khabarovsk 1 – Neryungri Pas. (from Skovorodino)
EP1-274 @1520 with 1 wagon & 1 coach (near Taldan)
TEM18DM-971 shunt 2 postal vans to rear of 325Sh at Skovorodino
TEM2-5754 at Murtygit with a local to Anosovskaya on 1 coach (not on RZD App)
2TE10UT-0008A/B 081 1650 Tynda – Blagoevshchensk
TEM2-7862 shunt 325Sh at Tynda
2TE10UT-0026B/A 097C 1242 (22/05) Kislovodsk – Tynda
Moves for Tuesday 28th May 2019
|EP1-124||Belogorsk||Skovorodino||1917 (27/05) Khabarovsk 1 – Neryungri Pas.||325Sh|
|TEM2-7862||Tynda Platform 3||Tynda Platform 2|
Photos for Tuesday 28th May 2019
Wednesday 29th May 2019 (A trundle to the northern most extremity of the BAM at Tommot)
It was 0525 when the compartment door was flung open and the attendant announced we’d be in Neryungri shortly. I was surprised at how many people there were still in our coach at that point. I was also surprised that the coach boiler was still piping hot, but that was an unexpected bonus that provided us with a wake-up coffee of a morning. We stopped at a couple of stations on the outskirts of Neryungri, one with hardly any civilization at it, at all, and the other had 5 blocks of rather grim looking tenement style flats right by the station: and nothing else for miles. As we approached Neryungri, where we’d initially planned to stay before I realised I’d buggered the bash up on the BAM, it became evident that the town was a fair walk from the station and it too seemed dominated by tenement style flats.
On arrival into Neryungri Pas, we had time to discover that 2TE10UT-0039B/A had dropped back onto 325 at Tynda, after all the shunting had been completed, and was soon detached to allow TEM2-7670 to shunt all but three of the coaches out of the single platform. It wasn’t warm outside but the station waiting area inside was, even if it was undergoing a bit of an overhaul. There were plenty of people waiting too and one poor chap, who chosen to sit on his rucksack, had made a very bad error of judgement when he’d chosen to do so. When he figured out something was leaking in his bag, it took him ages to sort it out and he was very grateful for the fact that most of his clothes were in carrier bags when he discovered he’d broken the beetroot tub in his bag, and the juice was everywhere!
We only had 1h40m to fester at Neryungri and it passed in no time. When it came to boarding time, we were the only two people who were on the electronic reservation list and everyone else had a paper ticket, most of whom, if not all, had bought them at the ticket office in Neryungri that morning. TEM2-7670 shunted the load-5 rake of AYaM liveried red/white/blue/green coaches into the platform to form 324YA 0756 Neryungri Pas. – Tommot and when we went out to board, we discovered 2TE10MPGE-2235A at the front of the train. It looked very GE-like with its long hood having a typically GE look about it, but it wasn’t until we set off that we could tell it was a 12-cylinder power unit inside. It had quite a growl to it as we eased away from Neryungri Pas. and started out along the AYaM, and only 7km out of town we came to a stand for a bizarre coach attaching maneuver to take place, in the middle of nowhere!
On the outskirts of Neryungri, before the railway crosses over the Chulman River, we came to a halt on a triangle; after passing AYaM liveried TEM2NK-5234 seemingly heading towards Neryungri Pas. with one coach. Just off the opposite side of the triangle was Neryungri Gruzovaya station and before either of us realised what was happening, the TEM2 was propelling the coach towards the rear of our train, where it ultimately dropped it onto the rear and then headed off towards Neryungri Pas. After a quick brake test train 324YA was soon on the move, from what we assumed to be the booked Neryungri Gruzovaya stop, but what we assumed was an out of course random attachment, cost us about 15 minutes as we were late at Denisovsk, the second station out of town.
From that moment on our GE at the head of the train worked quite hard as the line climbed away from Neryungri to a maximum height of over 1200m. The Pine trees in Neryungri were soon giving way to a more rugged terrain where the vegetation was a lot sparser than we’d been used to thus far after an hour we started to spot snow on the hills and some of them were even in the clouds. By the time we reached the plateau most of the trees looked dead and the ground was covered in melting snow, which in some places was still a couple of feet deep. It did not look warm outside at all and one of the guys on the train made a point of showing us a few photos on his phone to put us off roaming around in the Siberian wilderness. They were all of either huge dead bears or the bodies of their victims; some with huge chunks missing from their torso and one in three bits after the bear had taken what it wanted. It was definitely enough to put me off and I had no intention of going far from the train, anywhere in Siberia.
The journey was quite pleasant of a morning and as I’d forgot to order bedding for the journey, we had to sit it out on the seats. Which wasn’t a great issue as the coach was quite full and we wouldn’t have been able to spread out anyway. At Tayezhnaya we passed a triple-set of GE 2TE10’s heading south. 2TE10MD-2335B, 2837B & 0278B. There was nothing at all anywhere near Tayezhnaya station and we assumed that most of the station dispatcher types spent a stint lodging at their respective station as some didn’t even have roads or even dirt tracks to them. Having seen he bear photos we figured out that the caged area around one of the station buildings and to the platforms was to protect the station staff from bear attacks; there could be no other reason to be caged in so far from civilization?
Like us, bert in our compo had his own collection of goodies and while we had porridge and tea, he had some sort of instant mash and brewed himself a lemon tea, with the fresh lemon he cut off with his large knife. He even had his own tub of sugar so, seemed to be more seasoned to this long-distance travelling lark than we were. He wasn’t a hassle, bless him, and even pointed out some sort of ruins at what I assumed was the summit of the pass our train had climbed over.
Once we began to drop down the other side of the hills, the snow began to gradually disappear and the blackened dead carcasses of trees began to give way to a much greener tundra and the trees soon got thicker again; to the point where they dominated the whole region, no matter whether it was hilly or not. I never saw a single bit of wildlife throughout the journey and but for the two big, and I say big tongue in cheek, towns along the way, Aldan was by far the closest to civilization we got after departing Neryungri. Even Seligdar, where quite a few got off, only seemed to exist as a massive work enclosure and those getting off were probably going here for that sole reason as there was nothing else around for miles.
Aldan offered the only leg-stretching moment of the 8-hour journey, with a 15-minute stop allowing for a brief respite from the coach, a quick photo-stop and those smoking on the platform had clearly been waiting to do so for a while; despite the fact that the stewardess in our coach had been seen smoking in her own little compo! The majority of people on the train alighted at Aldan and then the rest got off at Kuranakh an hour later, leaving only a few on board to make the journey through to Tommot; where our GE rolled into the single platform at spot on 1545, just as it started to hammer it down!
It had been a nice sunny afternoon, as well, and we’d been planning on walking the ½ mile down the road to the nearest café, but the rain changed that. Thankfully, the very bizarre looking station building was open and for a while we were the only people in it; until a large group of noisy teens spoilt the karma. About 10 minutes after arrival, the loco took the stock out of the station, which we assumed was to turn the whole set on a triangle somewhere with the loco being single-cabbed. When it didn’t return immediately, I got bored of waiting to photograph it and although the rain had stopped for a period and the sun came out, it had started again by the time it returned 2 hours later!
I thought the station security staff might have had something to say to us, with us hanging around for the length of time we were but they never blinked an eyelid in our direction and left us to our own once we’d found the only charging socket in the whole station building. It had originally been used for a machine but as the plug was already out, we took full advantage, and were very grateful for such small mercies.
As I stood on the platform waiting for the stock to return, the silence was broken only by barking dogs in the surrounding forest, or what I assume we dogs anyway. There was nothing at all on one side of Tommot and the town was centred around the river that ran through the area. Finally, we also caught a glimpse of something else living, that wasn’t human, as an eagle was spotted circling above the forest over the way from the station. It was a very surreal few hours at Tommot, and I’ve festered for longer in equally as deserted places in Ukraine, but we were glad to get back on board when the stock returned. Thankfully, it hadn’t been freezing cold at Tommot and at last we’d gone over the 10,000km distance travelled mark; but we still weren’t half way home! Technically, but for a change of coaches on the same train at Tynda the following morning, we were now on board our train for 83 hours; yes, 83 hours, which equates to 3.5 days! We’d be covering 4125km on the same train from Tommot to Novosibirsk, albeit with a shunt from one train to another at Neryungri and the change of coach at Tynda, but even from Tynda alone it was 3528km to Novosibirsk; and we’d be reveling in it once we got into our Kupe coach at Tynda the following afternoon. For now, though, we had to make do with our Platskartny coach, with no charging facilities, and hope that it wasn’t a rowdy bunch on board overnight.
After a couple of track machines had come into Tommot station from the north and then proceeded forward to the nearby infrastructure stabling yard, I figured out that when the lassie with the orange vest came out of the office in the station building, that something was going to occur in the station area; so followed her down to the platform the third time she appeared; which proved to be the right move when our GE and stock appeared from around the corner, with TEM2MK-2968 attached to the rear. The train ran round the goods roads and into the sidings at the south end of the statin where the TEM2 was detached and sent to do some shunting; we later saw it shunting tank wagons over the other side of the station building, where there are quite a few spur lines to places. After the lady in orange set the road our GE set the stock back into the platform and while 2TE10MPGE-2235A had turned, the stock hadn’t and was in the same formation as it had been on the outward journey.
We managed to make a new mate while festering at Tommot and Alex, who’d been working in Tommot on a new bridge for 2 months, was in the same coach as us for the journey all the way through to Tynda. He was harmless and while his English wasn’t great, it was way better than our Russian so, we indulged him whenever he wanted to try and make conversation. We were in the 2nd coach back for the journey to Tynda, with only the through Blagoevshchensk coach ahead of us (the one attached to the rear at Neryungri Gruzovaya that morning). On departure from Tommot the coach was probably about half empty and we had a compartment area in Platskartny to ourselves; which was the way it stayed for the whole journey.
The window in our compo was ajar and we could hear the GE thrashing away nicely on the front of the train. We did open it fully for a bit, but the cold air changed the karma of the coach, so we made do with it being ajar instead; for most of the evening. Despite being only on a load-6 rake, the GE was flat out for long periods while climbing uphill from Tommot and we were still climbing by the time we went to bed 3 hours later. Even though the weather had taken a turn for the worse, and we’d seen the scenery on the way to Tommot, we were still in awe of it on the return journey and were treated to a cracking sunset over the mountains before bedtime; including nice red skies above the snow-capped mountains.
At Aldan quite a few people boarded, including a girl with an RZD uniform who went all the way through to Tynda; which is a hell of a commute to get to work in the first place, especially if you then have to then do a week on board the train you’re working, before a 12-hour commute home again! While people were boarding our GE was detached to shunt a parcels van onto the front of the train; while TEM2-0791 sat in the station yard waiting its next freight shunt. As we departed Aldan our attempts to spot locos on the shed as we ran by, failed miserably. Mostly as quite a lot of the 2TE10s seemed to have private owner numbers on the side; which we thought might have been left-over from construction trains when the line was being built? Most of the locos looked to be dumped, although most also had covers over their stacks to prevent water ingress. We did manage to spot 2TE10’s 0347, 0106, 0353 and 0226, but we didn’t identify whether they were A or B units. As I said, failed miserably, and we’d never make decent train spotters! It wasn’t too long after our failed trainspotting attempt at Aldan that we called it a night, at which point I really should have set my alarm to wake me for the shunt at Neryungri…
Gen for Wednesday 29th May 2019
2TE10MPGE-2235A 324YA 0756 Neryungri Pas. – Tommot, 323YE 1906 Tommot – Neryungri Pas.
TEM2NK-5234 shunt coach to rear on curve near Neryungri Gruzovaya
2TE10MD-2335b 2837b 0278b at Tayezhnaya light
Moves for Wednesday 29th May 2019
|2TE10MPGE-2235A||Neryungri Pas.||Tommot||0756 Neryungri Pas. – Tommot||324Y|
|2TE10MPGE-2235A||Tommot||Tayezhnaya||1906 Tommot – Neryungri Pas.||323Y|
Photos for Wednesday 29th May 2019
Thursday 30th May 2019 (Day 1 of 3 on board 075E 0457 Neryungri – Moskva; to Novosibirsk)
As a result of not setting my alarm for the shunts at Neryungri Pas., when I woke with a start to find the train stationary, I went into instant flap mode until I could comprehend that we weren’t at Neryungri Pas. and only at Neryungri Gruzovaya, just out of town. Still, I dragged my arse out of bed anyway and got myself sorted and while stood by the door I heard what I believed to be the whistle from the loco to proceed. When we didn’t move, curiosity set in and I then noticed some engines moving away from the front of our train. It was like the previous morning all over again, just with more engines and no coach. Shortly afterwards a brake test was done on the train, indicating that the locos had just been detached from the front and given that we were about 10’ late at this point it would tie in with the theory. As we started to ease forward towards Neryungri Pas. I was grateful for three things, the fact that the three locos that had detached from the front of the train were stood on an adjacent line, the fact it was daylight outside, even if it was only 0330 in the morning, and finally for the fact I’d written the three locos down I’d spotted the previous morning at Tayezhnaya as I could only make out one of the three loco numbers; which was thankfully one of the three spotted! So, the morning had got itself off to a good start thanks to me waking up when I did and 2TE10MD-2335B, 2TE10MD-2837B & 2TE10MD-0278B (the one I’d managed to spot) were in the book!
During the trip to/from Tommot we’d seen nothing else moving on the line at all, other than TEM2s in yards along the way, and the 3 GE’s we’d just had; there’d been no freight spotted at all, although there was a short freight stabled in Tommot station which had mini-vans loaded on some of the wagons. Even with three GEs on the front of a train it would be a good slog along the line with the gradients and I’m guessing that the freight that does run isn’t lengthy by any means.
At Neryungri Pas. I was one of a few that go out of the coach and yet the only one not doing so to smoke. It was quite strange that it was broad daylight at 0345 of a morning but I was grateful of that small mercy and had been able to spot AYaM liveried TEM2NK-5234 waiting outside the station as we dropped in. When it dropped straight onto the rear of the train I didn’t need to walk down and spot it as a result; and was quite happy to get back on the train and into the warmth and let the shunting take place while I dozed. Which isn’t what happened at all, for two reasons, one being that once the whole set was shunted out of the station it was split, where I spotted TEM2NK-5234 putting the rest of the train into a sidings and we then moved off in the opposite direction while it was doing so. Luckily when I went to the vestibule I was greeted by the nose end of an RZD liveried loco through the glass and was pleased to find TEM2-7670 visible on the front of the loco; well the 7670 bit anyway, which was enough to satisfy the mind. The shunting antics that then took place left a lot to be desired though and whatever occurred in the carriage sidings took 7 shunts to do it, before the formed train was eventually shunted into Neryungri Pas. station platform. I didn’t bother getting back off to find out what would be working 075E 0457 Neryungri Pas. – Moskva Kazanskaya and left that job for arrival into Tynda; where the reason for the amount of shunting in Neryungri became evident as well.
It wasn’t a great morning in Tynda, where we arrived spot on time at 1010. I left Flossy on the platform, fag in hand watching the bags, while I scooted up the platform to spot 2TE10UT-0028A/B at the front of the train; which were soon removed. Walking back down the platform revealed 2TE10MK-0384 waiting the road forward with an infrastructure train loaded with sleepers. I’d been hoping the coach attendant in our coach #8 that we were booked in forward to Novosibirsk might let us leave our bags in our compo while we went in search of a supermarket but other than the Tynda coaches, the only through coaches in the whole set were the AYaM liveried Blagoevshchensk coach and one through Neryungri – Moskva coach (coach #4), which was sandwiched between our Tommot – Tynda coach and the Blagoevshchensk coach; explaining a bit of the shunting earlier at Neryungri.
In need of some goodies for our 3-day jaunt to Novosibirsk we went in search of a supermarket. After walking through the building site that is Tynda station area and station building, both ME Maps and Google Maps were involved in navigating to somewhere to get stocked up. Unfortunately, the shop right outside the station was only a convenience store and we ended up walking almost a mile away from the station, over a strange bridge over the river that was lined with metre-wide pipes on either side and with some savory characters knocking about drinking beer and smoking. It certainly wasn’t a walk I’d have fancied doing during the hours of darkness and definitely not with two big bags to carry as well.
After trudging uphill to an area that had quite a few shops we managed to get a few bits from a supermarket that didn’t seem to do convenience at all, and with no sliced meat of cheese on offer, or bags of crisps, Flossy bought a ceramic knife from a hardware store on the way back to ease the situation on board the train. The fruit stall and bakery near the supermarket yielded more stuff and we had plenty of stuff to keep us going by the time we got back to the station; our 2-hour fester having been reduced to only 20-minutes by that point. I had enough time to photograph the strange looking station building and steam loco plinthed in the parking area, before braving the building site of a station building again; which had trip hazards everywhere, door-frames foam-filled to the ground and protruding a few inches above it, with no indication of said hazards and no lighting anywhere that the trip hazards were. Other than that, the station building was functioning normally and there were plenty of people at the three ticket windows buying tickets.
Having arrived into platform 2 at Tynda on 075E 0457 Neryungri Pas. – Moskva Kazanskaya formed of 6 coaches, the train was now made up in platform 1 and formed of 17 coaches, with only two of the existing coaches of the original formation in it, the instrumentation coach at the front and the only through coach from Neryungri in the formation, coach #4. The rest of the train had been formed at Tynda and I was surprised that it was even shown as a through train from Neryungri and not just given a different train number to Tynda. TEM2-7862 was sat in the sidings by platform 1 with the through Blagoevshchensk coach that had come from Tommot with us and 3TE10MK-2572B/V/A was just being detached from a lengthy freight in platform 3.
Our Kupe coach, number 8, was right in the middle of the 17-coach formation and only a short walk from the station building. The coach attendant wasn’t sour faced, for a change, and we ended up with a compo to ourselves all day which allowed us to spread out and relax quite nicely. With berths made up, loungewear on, teeth brushed, and bags stowed we devoured a spot of breakfast that we’d got from the bakery in Tynda as RZD liveried 2TE10UT-0026A/B eased 075E 0457 Neryungri Pas. – Moskva Kazanskaya through the rather spectacular scenery as the BAM follows the Nyukzha River.
It was a nice sunny afternoon and yet again the Siberian scenery was different from that offered to us the previous day. We were still travelling through the back end of beyond, with no civilization about for miles, but there was evidence of Winter strewn about on the river banks at various points along the journey, in the form of massive ice blocks left behind as the river’s flow had decreased after the winter melt. With blue skies, white fluffy clouds and the river water often reflecting as clearly as glass, we could have been forgiven for thinking we were passing through an Alpine world as opposed to being in the Siberian one we were! The scenery needed to keep us occupied though as the first stop along the way of any significance was at 1905, 7 hours after departing Tynda, and we had bugger all phone reception, so there was no communicating with the outside world along the way; and other than some crappy data at Yuktali station for 44 minutes, we had no reception or data all day after departing Tynda.
The only other entertainment on board was watching Flossy attempt to make a sheath for his ceramic knife after he’d used it to cut his ham up that evening. I managed to use my plastic knife to cut through my block of cheese and made up as many sarnies as I could in one go, before packing them away nicely for eating later. With dinner finished before arrival into Yuktali we were able to go for a wander during the 44-minute station stop, along with the rest of the train. The station clock above the entrance to the platform at Yuktali was probably the most interesting thing there but I did manage to blag my way to the end of the platform, through some platform extension works, to get a photo of 2TE25A-0029 arriving with a freight. When the two RZD staff at the rear of the train realised what I was doing, they were more than happy to let me be and it was a shame I didn’t hang around as another 2TE25 followed into the yard shortly afterwards. By departure time all those waiting to take delivery of their goods from the vans at the front of the train were loading it into the vans as we eased away at 1949.
Despite me having been to the front of the train to phot the 2TE10 during the stop at Yuktali, neither of us had put two and two together with the staff at either end of the train and the brake test that had occurred during the stop. It wasn’t until 075E departed Yuktali and we spotted 2TE10UT-0026 standing outside the station, that we realised the bloody thing had come off. With the lack of station dwell time anywhere for the rest of the evening and the fact we were pretty sure 075E would be re-engined with an electric at Taksimo at 6am, our little error resulted in a 2am alarm call for me to go an investigate during the 1-hour stop at Novaya Chara. After a chilled evening listening to music and charging our phones, my alarm was set for 2am just after we departed Olekma at 2207; and Flossy had managed his last fag of the day before bed.
Gen for Thursday 30th May 2019
2TE10MD-0278B/2837B/2335B pilot 323YE to Neryungri Gruzovaya from Tayezhnaya?
TEM2NK-5234 shunt 323YE to Neryungri CS
TEM2-7670 form 075E in Neryungri CS then shunt to station
2TE10UT-0027A/B 075E 0457 Neryungri Pas. – Moskva Kaz. (to Tynda)
2TE10UT-0026A/B 075E 0457 Neryungri Pas. – Moskva Kaz. (Tynda to Yuktali)
2TE10MK-3357A/B 075E 0457 Neryungri Pas. – Moskva Kaz. (Yuktali to Novaya Chara)
Moves for Thursday 30th May 2019
|2TE10MD-2335B||Tayezhnaya||Neryungri Gruzovaya||1906 (29/05) Tommot – Neryungri Pas.||323Y|
|TEM2NK-5234||Neryungri Pas.||Neryungri C.S.||Shunt stock to Neryungri C.S. ex 323Y|
|TEM2-7670||Neryungri C.S.||Neryungri Pas.||Shunt stock in Neryungri C.S. to form 075E|
|2TE10UT-0027B||Neryungri Pas.||Tynda||0457 Neryungri Pas. – Moskva Kazanskaya||075E|
Photos for Thursday 30th May 2019
Friday 31st May 2019 (Day 2 of 3 on board 075E 0457 Neryungri – Moskva; to Novosibirsk)
The alarm call did its thing at 2am and as 075E rolled into Novaya Chara I spotted a plinthed 2TE3 at the east end of the station. As my bag was still tucked safely under my berth though, and it was bloody freezing outside on the platform, I didn’t bother to walk all the way down the platform to investigate either. It was quite dark at the head-end of the train and it was actually quite hard to spot the loco number on the front with the glare of the loco headlights. Still, 2TE10MK-3357A/B were the nag, and I was a little surprised not to find a Passenger sector loco up front; leading me to wonder if ‘0026 had developed a fault after departing Tynda as I had heard one of the coach attendants say the word “Lokomotiva” as we were approaching Yuktali; so maybe they had the gen?
While I was peering and straining my eyes trying to get the loco number, I initially thought the loco whistle was for my benefit; as though the driver was asking “what the fuck are you doing”. It wasn’t though and as the driver was in the cab of the B unit at the rear, the whistle was for the benefit of the shunter to indicate it was safe for him to go in-between and detach the locos. It was becoming like a railtour, but I wasn’t complaining; well, not about the fresh locos being added to the train anyway, but they were taking their time fucking about with brake tests before putting them on and it was bloody cold. After spotting 2TE10 number 4 for the train, 2TE10MK-3317B/A I was so pleased to get back into the warmth of the coach; and saw sniveling like a good-un when I clambered back into bed. Seemingly without waking Flossy at all.
At Taksimo we both surfaced from our slumber, where our body clocks were on 0715 but the fresh time-zone we’d entered had us back an hour at 0615. We were now on GMT+8 with only another 5 time zones to got before Moscow. The 2TE10 had already been removed from the train by the time I dragged my ass out of bed, and I found Floss smoking on the platform as I walked down to discover electric EP1-223 now at the head of the train.
After a doze I was glued to the window for some different scenery yet again. We were obviously quite high up as we could see snow-covered hills straight out of our train windows. As it was quite a misty morning, some of the hilltops were shrouded in cloud as well; it was a very atmospheric morning and the pine trees dominating the area continued with the alpine theme we’d been subjected to the previous afternoon. There were great swathes of dead areas though, where forest fires had clearly raged at some point and all those areas had left was a scorched earth and the blackened carcasses of pine trees standing upright as though they were waiting to be bowled over by mother nature at some point. Small green trees were already sprouting in the area though, so it seemed to regenerate quite quickly all the same
After a brief out of course station stop at Itikit we noticed a railway line go over ours as we then headed immediately into a tunnel after Itikit station. We quickly realised that we’d entered a spiral tunnel and after exiting the lengthy tunnel we went over where we’d just been under. The mountainous scenery changed to pine lined railway only at this point, but the line speed increased to a decent 120-160kmph afterwards though and we were bowling along towards the next decent length stop at Nov Uoyan, where a 13-minute leg stretch was appreciated.
After a lunch of cheese sarnies and crisps, which I have to say had done well to last since Tynda and still be so soft, we approached the largest freshwater lake in the world as we neared Severobaikalsk for a 1h15m stop. Our train skirted the north end of Lake Baikal as we headed west and from what we saw the majority of it was frozen over; although it did look like it had thawed and been cracking up but overnight temperatures probably kept it semi-frozen at this time of year, and the cracks in the ice were few and far between. Just to put Lake Baikal in context, you could fit England into it, making it a hole in the ground on a par with that of the Grand Canyon, which is also bigger than England. It was a cracking site to see as the train skirted it to enter Severobaikalsk station and give us a much-deserved afternoon break; but better scenery was yet to come.
No sooner had EP1-223 drawn to a stand in the platform, did TEM18DM-0299 drop onto the top of it and drag it and the leading two vans off. At the rear of the train, by the time I’d walked the length of the train TEM18DM-1177 had dropped on and it drew the rear most coach off the back and shunted into the adjacent platform. TEM18DM-0299 then dropped down into the same platform and gave one of its vans to is class mate; which was then seen shunting eastward out of the station with the coach it had shunted off and the van ‘0299 had passed on to it, with ‘0299 then shunting the loco and van it had left back onto the front of the train before EP1-223 was taken off in favour of EP1-203. Severobaikalsk was quite busy with freight during our stop and most people on the train were out on the platform at some point during the fester. EP1-138 was sat in an adjacent platform with a passenger rake, which looked to have just arrived and before we knew it, it was time to go again; with the next break being 5-hours further west at Lena.
No sooner had we got going from Severobaikalsk did the scenery backdrop change and it was a very pleasant afternoon ambling through mountainous terrain with snow-covered mountain dominating the landscape as we twisted and turned our way through it. The sun even made an appearance, by which point we’d woken to mist had a bit of rain, followed by a flurry of snow and now it had turned into a sunny afternoon with glistening white snow straight out of my compo window; whoever said the scenery along the Trans-Siberian & BAM was going to be dull, and all silver birch, needs to do the trip and disprove that hearsay for themselves.
As our coach was still quite empty we were able to make use of the charging sockets in the coach corridor pretty much as we pleased, which kept everything charged and even allowed me to risk watching some TV on my laptop; which I’d been refraining from doing so as not to flatten it for when I needed to use it as a speak & spell to get crap typed up. It was a pretty uneventful afternoon but for one strange incident that occurred in our compo after what turned out to be a pissed up youth from the next compo asked to borrow a knife; which I even understood in Russian after we’d been looking it up to buy ours in the first place. It was probably an error of judgement on our part in the first place to let him use it as when I came bac into the compo, rather than cut his bottle in half to make a drinking vessel, he’d clearly sliced straight into his hand and was bleeding quite heavily as a result; yet he seemingly wasn’t too put off with the fact our carpet was soaked in blood as he finished cutting his bottle open before attending to his wound. After leaving a big pool of blood in our compo, a trail down the corridor and blood all over the toilet, we managed to dig some plasters out for him to use. Randomly, he only wanted one and did seem to stop the bleeding, which probably looked a lot worse because he was pissed, and his blood would have been thinner. Eventually though, the coach attendants kicked off with him when they realised he’d been smoking in the toilets, had dripped blood all over the place, and that he was pissed. I was grateful that his finger was still attached and when we arrived into Lena, a few hours after the event, we both thought the ambulance that drove up the platform was for him. It wasn’t though but the following morning at Tayshet “finger guy” was seen with a plastic bag with stuff in it that looked like it was from a pharmacy.
Unfortunately, at Lena our coach filled up and at the same time we inherited two guys on the upper berths in our compo. It had been good while it lasted but we’d never expected to be on our own for a few hours, late alone 2 days; so, we couldn’t complain. To be fair to them, they were polite, didn’t make any noise once they’d made their beds up and the compo lights were out by 2230; and I never heard one of them come back in at all. That was day 2 of 3 over…….
Gen for Friday 31st May 2019
2TE10MK-3317B/A 075E 0457 (P) Neryungri Pas. – Moskva Kaz. (Novaya Chara to Taksimo)
EP1-223 075E 0457 (30/05) Neryungri Pas. – Moskva Kaz. (Taksimo to Severobaikalsk)
EP1-203 075E 0457 (30/05) Neryungri Pas. – Moskva Kaz. (Severobaikalsk to Tayshet)
EP1-190 at Kirenga with one coach at 1815
Moves for Friday 31st May 2019
|2TE10MK-3317B||Novaya Chara||Taksimo||0457 (30/05) Neryungri Pas. – Moskva Kazanskaya||075E|
Photos for Friday 31st May 2019
Saturday 1st June 2019 (Day 3 of 3 on board 075E 0457 Neryungri – Moskva; to Novosibirsk)
It was around 0745 when we surfaced, by which time most of the coach was already up and either having their morning wash or dealing with their breakfast. We did the same, and our stash of porridge from the UK had almost exhausted itself by this point.
I found it in my heart to get off my arse ad have a full body wash in the bog again, in the interests of personal hygiene! I even talked myself into having a shave later in the morning as well; and felt quite refreshed after doing so. Outside the window the weather wasn’t that great, and the scenery would have been better suited to the Leicestershire countryside than Trans-Siberian Russia. Unfortunately, when we rolled into the first decent-length stop of the day it began to rain and stayed that way for the whole time we were at Tayshet; which is the furthest point west on the BAM, where it joins up with the Trans-Siberian Railway.
Tayshet was a busy station, with plenty of freight passing through while we were there, including some trains with triple-set VL80P’s. On arrival EP1-203 Was detached from 075 and TEM18D-023 then dropped on to draw the BAM departmental coach off the front, before EP1-057, which had been waiting outside the station, dropped down to work 075 forward from Tayshet. There were plenty of stalls outside the station and on the platform the younger male contingent all seemed to be getting a beer in, while they could, as alcohol consumption isn’t allowed on RZD trains; although nobody batted an eyelid at those openly drinking on the platform.
After EP1-057 got 075 Neryungri – Moskva underway from Tayshet, the sun came out and we had to turn our watches back an hour as we crossed another time-zone; and we arrived into the next station at Reshoty 3 minutes before we’d departed Tayshet as a result of the time-zone shift. The two guys that had joined us at Lena the previous night barely moved from their upper berths all day and were an absolute pleasure to share a compo with; it was almost like they weren’t even there.
It was a pleasant afternoon run to Krasnoryarsk, where our only remaining leg-stretch of the 83-hour run to Novosibirsk occurred. For the previous two days we’d been used to trundling through the countryside and had got used to the ever-changing scenery. From Tayshet the line-speed increased quickly and we were motoring along all afternoon at the maximum speed the stock would allow, while the scenery outside had become a bit more mundane “general” scene, like we’re used to in much of the British countryside; and there wasn’t a silver birch to be seen for much of the sunny afternoon. At Krasnoyarsk there wasn’t much going on, but the size of the city was something else compared to what we’d been used to since leaving Vladivostok. The station area had loads of Krasnoyarsk based EP1s scattered around, with EP1-020 replacing EP1-057 at the front of our train. A plinthed VL60K-335 stands proud in the station area and the only freight we saw during the 40-minute stop was VL85-189 running through the platform shortly before we departed. Once back on board, that was almost it for us and at some point we had to consider sorting our stuff out and packing up properly, as we’d be rudely awoken at some point in the morning for our 0612 arrival into Novosibirsk; and the last thing we all wanted was to be fucking about trying to sort our shit at 6am, especially as all four of us in the compartment were getting off at Novosibirsk. Our last night on board 075 Neryungri Pas. – Moskva Kazanskaya was an early one and despite the two other occupants in the compartment having been horizontal in their upper berths for 90% of the journey, the door was closed, and lights were out well before 10pm.
Gen for Saturday 1st June 2019
EP1-057 075E 0457 (30/05) Neryungri Pas. – Moskva Kaz. (Tayshet to Krasnoyarsk)
EP1-020 075E 0457 (30/05) Neryungri Pas. – Moskva Kaz. (Krasnoyarsk to Mariinsk)
Moves for Saturday 1st June 2019
|EP1-057||Tayshet||Krasnoyarsk||0457 (30/05) Neryungri Pas. – Moskva Kazanskaya||075E|
Photos for Saturday 1st June 2019
Sunday 2nd June 2019 (A day in Novosibirsk, including a trip to the Small West Siberian Railway)
The rude awakening from the coach attendant came at 0501, just as I’d dozed back off after being awake for a while. Nobody wasted any time in getting their shit together though and our beds were instantly stripped, with all the bedding being handed back to the coach attendant, so she could account for everything. At least the boiler was still going strong, so we passed the time drinking tea; and before we knew it, the huge city that was Novosibirsk was upon us and we were out in the cold a few minutes before our booked 0612 arrival time.
It was a strange concept, being off a train and having to engage our brains to tell us what to do next. Our three days on board the train we’d just got off had been a breeze, and while very relaxing, it had been a haven from the outside world and literally allowed us to hole up away from it for a while. Still, we were back to reality and the first thing was to figure out where the funny looking engine on the front of the train had come on at. We’d not been expecting another loco change after Krasnoyarsk but with there only being one stop with enough time to do one, we assumed that Barabinsk based EP2K-027 had replaced the EP1 at Mariinsk. The good thing about spotting the loco meant that I could see out Park Inn hotel from the platform end and knew exactly where we needed to go; and we wasted no time in walking the 5-minutes it took us to get there.
Check-in time at the Park Inn was 1400 but, if there was availability early check-in was allowed and we were very grateful there was availability when we got there at 0630. Between 6am & check-in time there’s a 50% of the room rate additional charge, and at £51 we had no issues paying the extra £25 at all, which even included breakfast that morning as well, and was a bloody bargain really! Our room, on the 8th floor, overlooked Novosibirsk station and we could see the train we’d just got off from the window. As you’d expect from a Radisson Hotel the room was spotless, well appointed, had all the mod-cons and tea/coffee making facilities along with free toiletries in the bathroom, which randomly had a heated floor.
With so much to do, we didn’t know what to do first, but there’s one thing for certain, the bathroom took a hell of a hammering during the first hour of our stay and our trusty Omo washing powder from Hanoi was still going strong and needed to be. The water after the 2nd wash of my clothes on the sink was filthy, let along after the first wash, but thankfully, after the third wash I was onto the rinse cycle; and my poor hands were hurting by the time I’d finished wringing everything out and stringing it up around the hotel room, while Flossy cracked on with his own washing. I was that into getting my clothes clean, that I’d forgot to get a shower and it was such a good feeling when I stepped into the hot water raining down from above, it was like some sort of witchcraft this shower lark, which we wouldn’t be getting used to, and it had almost been long enough to forget how to use such a strange device; but I showed it who was boss and the whole bathroom looked like a bomb had hit it by the time we looked like normal people again!
With a bonus free breakfast included in our early check-in rate, it would have been very rude not to have partaken, and it was one of the best buffet breakfasts I’ve seen in a while. The only thing missing from the line-up was bacon! We pigged out good and proper on our first proper meal since leaving Khabarovsk and were both stuffed by the time we ambled back upstairs to the room, at which point I headed out to do the morning’s planned bash; leaving Floss to lounge around to his heart’s content.
I could see 055 2030 (P) Krasnoyarsk – Moskva Yaroslavskaya in platform 1 at Novosibirsk station from our hotel room, but the loco was hidden from view by a building. When I got onto the platform EP2K-286 was being prepared by the crew and there were a couple of faded sky-blue TEM18AD’s shunting stock in the station area. For brand new electric locos, the EP2K’s were quite loud and as they pull away you can hear the power increasing when the loco gets louder. It’s only a 17km run to Ob, on the outskirts of Novosibirsk, near the airport, and I only booked a lower-side berth in platskartny as a result; so as not to tie up a decent berth for someone that might want it for a long-distance trip. Originally, I’d planned to do two returns to Ob of a morning but even I flagged the first one in favour of getting clean and having a decent breakfast!
From the moment I arrived into Ob, to the moment my train back to Novosibirsk was visible on the horizon, I never stopped walking up and the footbridge over the station, and in the 1h34m I spent there, there were no less than 14 freights passing through, 3 light engines, 3 express trains and 5 EMUs on local trains. It was virtually non-stop and while the photos weren’t that great from the footbridge, the passing trains kept me occupied and I had no issues at all taking photographs the whole time I was there. Most of the freights were newer 2ES6 twin-sets but there were still quite a few VL10’s knocking around as well. The fester would have been boring without something to spot and when EP2K-123 arrived with 100E 0035 (31/05) Moskva Yaroslavskaya – Vladivostok, I was glad of the respite for the 20-minute journey back to Novosibirsk, where part-two of the day commenced.
Flossy was already waiting for me outside the hotel when I got there and the rather handy Yandex Taxi app, which is very similar and probably slightly better than the Uber app, had a taxi outside the hotel within 3 minutes of me booking it. With there being an Uber outside the hotel at the time, I was originally going to use the Uber app, until it asked me to update it before using it and then asked me to delete the Yandex Taxi app during the update process! Our driver spoke no English but didn’t need to as he knew exactly where he was taking us and the 5km journey to Zayeltsovskyi Park took 10 minutes and cost a very cheap RUB 112.
We were now at the western end of the Small West Siberian Railway, which is essentially a Children’s Railway and it’s the newest Children’s Railway in the world, after being built as recently as 2005. The line travels 5.3km and once we’d done it, it was obvious to see why it was built as it runs through a huge woodland park area with big parks at Zayeltsovskyi Park and Sportivnaya with a huge zoo at the opposite end at Zoopark and a nice riverside area accessible from Lokomotiv station. While the railway runs from Zayeltsovskyi Park to Zoopark the walking distance between the two locations is only around 1km and the whole park area was busy all afternoon, with it being a Sunday; which is also reflected in the weekend timetable that the RZD operated system runs to at weekends, with a 30-minute service running throughout the day.
There was very little English spoken by any of the RZD railway staff but as long as we could pronounce the station names we were ok. Unfortunately, the railway operates a reservation system and each ticket purchased is given for the next available train, along with a reserved seat on that train. We managed to get a guy to translate for us on the platform and the coach attendant confirmed that tickets are valid for the train they’re marked for and if you break you journey en-route then a new ticket has to be bought to continue onwards, which will also be valid only for the train endorsed on the ticket.
Pricing charts are up at all stations, as are timetables for trains departing each station. The only place I found a timetable listing trains on the full length of the line, and in both directions, was on board one of the trains but I only saw it in one coach throughout the afternoon. So, after successfully purchasing what we initially thought were return tickets along the line, which we’d be able to use to get off where we wanted along the way, we soon realised that our RUB 120 each had bought us single tickets from Zayeltsovskyi Park to Zoopark and that we could only use them on the booked train and sit in the coach we were reserved in.
By the time we got onto the platform at Zayeltsovskyi Park, the strange thing that is TU10-006 was already detached from the load-3 rake of stock (which every set is) and was running-round. As we’d paid for a ticket to do the length of the line, not that it cost much anyway, we decided to do the length of the line on our booked train; and assess the situation along the way. An assessment which had Flossy walking back from Zoopark to the hotel and me staying to get the other locos in on my own.
The line speed isn’t fast and the journey from one end to the other takes 43 minutes, with each train having a 17-minute stop at Sportivnaya along the way. When operating a 30-minute timetable, trains cross at Lokomotiva, Sportivnaya (during the 17-minute layover) and Yeltsovskiy, which isn’t actually listed on the timetables so I’m not sure if its used as a station or not; but there is physically a station there. With the intense timetable I was surprised to find the line running on 100% loco availability, with all four locos working the 4-train service. With the Railway’s 2019 operating season only having started the previous day everything was dressed up with balloons, including the locos, which wasn’t the strangest thing to be seen at the railway. The fact that the three TU7A’s the railway operate have been modified look like steam engines just makes the whole show seem a little weird and more like a theme park than an actual RZD operated railway. I was grateful that two of the three TU7A’s at least had their numbers on the side, with the other having it covered by some sort of plaque; so, I just hope Wikipedia is actually correct! It was for the three locos that had numbers on the side, so there wasn’t much need to doubt it for a change.
During our run on the 1230 Zayeltsovskyi Park – Zoopark we crossed TU7A-3338 at Lokomotiv with 605 1200 Zoopark – Zayeltsovskyi Park, TU7A-3339 at Sportivnaya with 105 1230 Zoopark – Zayeltsovskyi Park and TU7A-3343 at Yeltsovskiy with 607 1300 Zoopark – Zayeltsovskyi Park. Everything ran like clockwork and returned on what it was expected to, throughout my afternoon there and having figured out that buying tickets from the booking office got you a reservation on the nextt departing train, I headed out of the station at Zoopark with Flossy to await TU10-006 departing with the 1330 back to Zayeltsovskyi Park before buying my next ticket.
There are some quite nice spots in the woods for photographing the trains, despite the fact they look hideous! Although I’d make sure you have a map if attempting to walk around them as it does look a little confusing with all the narrow pathways around, and take some mosquito spray as it was mos-tastic where I was waiting to photograph TU10-006 heading back along the line. It was worth the wait though, although I didn’t come away unscathed thanks to my thinly covered head.
I was able to buy tickets for the journeys I made in the afternoon with no communication issues, with every station having a sizeable ticket office, except Lokomotiv where tickets are bought on the train. I stepped off at Sportivnaya and Lokomotiv on the way back to Zayeltsovskyi Park to get all the locos in and had no issues on board the trains or taking photos with my big camera at any point; which I did at the Moscow Children’s Railway. It was a pleasant afternoon, and a rather ho one at that, which my bald head was starting to reap the rewards of by the time I got back into a taxi at Zayeltsovskyi Park. The Yandex app had a nice little feature that allowed me to switch on a link that showed my collecting driver exactly where I was waiting, using the location from my own phone, and it worked a treat. I was able to watch his progress towards me, follow our route back to the Park Inn, and even rate the journey before I got out of the taxi. Yandex Taxi app is a must for anyone wanting to make hassle free taxi journeys in Russia.
With having nothing to eat since breakfast we were both peckish and the nearby KFC provided just what we needed, even if the computerized ordering system did let me order a drink that they didn’t have. That was where the language barrier broke down and it was thanks to a spotty young kid speaking English that I got my money back for the drink, as the miserable heffer who’d originally been dealing with me didn’t want to know and had walked off; seemingly disgusted that I didn’t want full-fat Pepsi instead of the Pepsi-Max that I’d ordered.
Back at the Park Inn I was surprised to find that most of our washing was dry and after everything was fully charged the hotel had done exactly what we’d needed it to; recharge or batteries, those of all or electronics and clean everything we needed. All it needed to do now was provide us with a non-moving bed for the night! Flossy managed to get his hair cut at the salon in Novosibirsk station but as the woman was doing such a good job I didn’t have enough time to wait and get mine done afterwards and left him with a towel wrapped around his head to do the evening bash. And after a nice evening bash, involving Ob’ and EP2K electrics, a couple of beers finished off the night nicely and our last hotel bed before the UK beckoned…
Gen for Sunday 2nd June 2019
EP2K-027 075E 0457 (30/05) Neryungri Pas. – Moskva Kaz. (Mariinsk to Novosibirsk Gl)
EP2K-286 055 2030 (P) Krasnoyarsk – Moskva Yaroslavskaya
EP2K-093 099E 0051 (28/05) Vladivostok – Moskva Yaroslavskaya
EP2K-123 100E 0035 (31/05) Moskva Yaroslavskaya – Vladivostok
EP2K-041 627H 1858 Novosibirsk Gl – Kulunda
EP2K-254 070Ch 1350 (31/05) Moskva Yaroslavskaya – Chita 2
EP2K-163 037H 1230 Tomsk 2 – Moskva Yaroslavskaya
EP2K-324 148H 1435 Omsk Pas. – Novosibirsk Gl.
Small West Siberian Railway (Novosibirsk)
103 1130 Zoopark – Zayeltsovskyi Park
106 1230 Zayeltsovskyi Park – Zoopark
107 1330 Zoopark – Zayeltsovskyi Park
110 1430 Zayeltsovskyi Park – Zoopark
605 1200 Zoopark – Zayeltsovskyi Park
608 1300 Zayeltsovskyi Park – Zoopark
609 1400 Zoopark – Zayeltsovskyi Park
612 1500 Zayeltsovskyi Park – Zoopark
105 1230 Zoopark – Zayeltsovskyi Park
108 1330 Zayeltsovskyi Park – Zoopark
109 1430 Zoopark – Zayeltsovskyi Park
112 1530 Zayeltsovskyi Park – Zoopark
607 1300 Zoopark – Zayeltsovskyi Park
610 1400 Zayeltsovskyi Park – Zoopark
611 1500 Zoopark – Zayeltsovskyi Park
614 1600 Zayeltsovskyi Park – Zoopark
Moves for Sunday 2nd June 2019
|EP2K-286||Novosibirsk Glav.||Ob||2030 (01/06) Krasnoyarsk – Moskva Yaroslavskaya||055|
|EP2K-123||Ob||Novosibirsk Glav.||0035 (31/05) Moskva Yaroslavskaya – Vladivostok||100E|
|TU10-006||Zayeltsovskyi Park||Zoopark||1230 Zayeltsovskyi Park – Zoopark||106|
|TU7A-3338||Zoopark||Sportivnaya||1400 Zoopark – Zayeltsovskyi Park||609|
|TU7A-3339||Sportivnaya||Lokomotiv||1430 Zoopark – Zayeltsovskyi Park||109|
|TU7A-3343||Lokomotiv||Zayeltsovskyi Park||1500 Zoopark – Zayeltsovskyi Park||611|
|EP2K-041||Novosibirsk Glav.||Ob||1858 Novosibirsk Glav. – Kulunda||627H|
|EP2K-254||Ob||Novosibirsk Glav.||1350 (31/05) Moskva Yaroslavskaya – Chita 2||070Ch|
|EP2K-163||Novosibirsk Glav.||Ob||1230 Tomsk 2 – Moskva Yaroslavskaya||037H|
|EP2K-324||Ob||Novosibirsk Glav.||1435 Omsk Pas. – Novosibirsk Glav.||148H|
Photos for Sunday 2nd June 2019
Monday 3rd June 2019 (Day 1 of 2 on board 099E Vladivostok – Moskva; to Moskva)
The morning started pretty much the way the previous evening had finished, but without the beer, and after the last proper shower I’d get before we landed on home turf, we munched on breakfast and visited a nearby supermarket for supplies that would last us to at least Moscow. With only nine teabags left between us, they were high on the priority list!
I’d already managed a return trip to Ob’ before breakfast and back at the station for the second time that morning, EP2K-018 was already attached to the front of the 17-coach rake that formed our 099E 0051 (29/05) Vladivostok – Moskva Yaroslavskaya; and it was off the end of the platform too. TEM18DM-406 & 417 were pottering around the station area and oldie ChS2-781 was standing in one of the back platforms waiting the road towards shed, and on shed another old green liveried ChS2 could be seen being prepared to come off. It was a nice sunny morning and the crew attending to our coach #10 seemed nice too; and allowed us to board as soon as we got to the train and brought us our bedding the moment it set off.
As our Barabinsk based EP2K-018 drew 099E away from Novosibirsk at 1008, it would be 27h05m before we’d arrive into Moskva, having covered 3344km; taking almost a day less that the time it had taken us to do the 3528km from Tynda to Novosibirsk! As we departed Novosibirsk, we were 14301km into our long journey home, with just over 8000km to go till London; with this one journey being almost half of that distance. When we crossed to River Ob’ and got up to speed heading west, we left Siberia in the rear-view mirror as we headed towards western Russia and some civilization, although we didn’t find much on this particular day.
While the days of solid silver birched areas were behind us there was still plenty of it about and for much of the day we travelled through open countryside with just had a scattering here and there, but there were plenty of areas that only had stumps visible, resembling silver bowling pins sticking out o the ground; which the day’s sunshine made stand out in the landscape they were surrounded by.
Lunch was provided on board as part of our ticket price and we were asked by the buffet crew whether we wanted chicken or pork and were served a lunchbox about an hour after we departed. The chicken with rice and carrot was very nice as well and the lunchbox contained water, biscuits, bread and salami; and all was RZD branded.
Unfortunately, we weren’t alone in our Kupe compartment and the young lad travelling with us was getting off at Yekaterinburg at 5am. He too had his own tea making stuff on the tale, accompanied by two full boxes of sugar cubes. When he made a cuppa though, I understood, when he put four cubes in his cup to make it! He left it all behind when he got off though!
There were only two decent length stops during the day, the first of 30-minutes a Barabinsk where EP2K-018 was already detached from the front of the train by the time I’d walked down. EP2K-278 was soon bolted on to replace it and before walking back down the platform I took the time to admire oldie, 1962 built ChS2-010 which is plinthed at the Moscow end of the main platform. Barabinsk loco shed is clearly visible on the right as trains depart for Moscow and it was full of EP2K electrics.
The next stop of any length was at Omsk Pas. after we’d gone through a time zone change prolonging the arrival time there. The weather had taken a turn for the worse by then too and as we were a bit late the 20-minute stop turned into a little over 10 minutes. With the next stop at Ishim being after another time zone change, the 2032 arrival time would be more like 2232 to our body clocks and we were read for bed by the time we departed. Thankfully, so was our fellow traveler in the compo, who’d already packed his bag in readiness for his early departure and it had been interesting watching him trying to fold his already creased shirt and keep it neat in his bag; bless him. Once we’d managed to persuade the compo window blind to stay down, bedtime was upon us.
Gen for Monday 3rd June 2019
EP2K-068 137H 2203 (P) Novokuznetsk – Tiumen
EP2K-130 124 0910 (31/05) Belgorod – Novosibirsk Gl.
EP2K-018 099E 0051 (30/05) Vladivostok – Moskva Yaroslavskaya (to Barabinsk)
EP2K-278 099E 0051 (30/05) Vladivostok – Moskva Yaroslavskaya (Barabinsk to Balezino)
Moves for Monday 3rd June 2019
|EP2K-068||Novosibirsk Glav.||Ob||2203 (02/06) Kovokuznetc – Tiumen||137H|
|EP2K-130||Ob||Novosibirsk Glav.||0910 (31/05) Belgorod – Novosibirsk Glav.||124|
|EP2K-018||Novosibirsk Glav.||Barabinsk||0051 (30/05) Vladivostok – Moskva Yaroslavskaya||099E|
Photos for Monday 3rd June 2019
Tuesday 4th June 2019 (Day 2 of 2 on board 099E Vladivostok – Moskva; to Moskva)
As it always the case with an early night, an early rise follows, and I thought I was up early at 6am but Flossy was already on his second coffee by then! I’d been woken by a guy making his berth up above me after getting on at Tiumen just after midnight, but I’d not heard laddo get off at Yekaterinburg just after 5am though; despite being up less than an hour later. It was a miserable morning outside and with no stop of any length until 1124 at Perm 2, it was a pretty boring morning too. Our attempts to pass the time in the restaurant car failed miserably as when we entered at 0725 the sign on the door, which we noticed on the way out, said it didn’t open until 9am and yet the guy laying the tables out pointed to 10 on his clock as an indication of when to return. So, porridge it was for breakfast!
The stop at Perm 2 couldn’t have come around quick enough and since we’d set off on this trip this was probably the first time I’d actually been properly bored during the whole trip. The station stops that allow you to get off the train for a short while do make all the difference on journeys like this and I was beginning to be very grateful for them; ad they usually brought with them connection to the outside world with decent da\ta on the phones being available at the longer station stops in the bigger places.
EP2K-278 was still with us at the head of the train and wasn’t removed at Perm 2. Stabled alongside us in an adjacent platform was a VL11M triple-set formed of VL11M-347A, 346A & 346B and while I was on the ballast photting that, 2ES10-131 arrived into the adjacent platform with a freight; which I realised is billed as a “2ES10” but actually has three units in its make-up. While waking back to the train I noticed a steam loco on shed in the distance and assumed that it was plinthed until I noticed the steam coming out of the top of it. When we departed, we ran by Perm loco shed, which had a few TEM18s and even a couple of ChME3’s stabled on it. And after spotting steam loco OV-014 plinthed on the shed, working steam loco L-4372 came into view and then parked immediately behind that were three demic steam locos rusting away in the undergrowth; L-4251 and the other two I didn’t get the numbers of. That was the entertainment for the morning provided with the next stop being in 4-hours’ time, after another time zone change. At least we had the compartment to ourselves now though and could relax a little.
At Balezino EP2K-278 was finally removed from the train in favour of ChS4T-451, which work all the way to its home depot of Kirov Pas. 4 hours down the line and into yet another time zone; where we finally reached Moscow time and would stay on it for the next couple of days. Our body clocks were well out by this point though, and so were those of others on board judging by the time everyone was getting ready for bed of an evening.
Before ChS4T-255 replaced classmate ‘451 on 099E, a rateable blue liveried electric set off from the adjacent platform with 007E 1124 Perm 2 – Moskva, which had been departing Perm as we’d arrived earlier. Now, with the numbering & lettering system not being always the same in Russia, I struggled to figure out if the loco departing with 007E was ZP1M-428 or 3P1M-428; either way, it was one or the other and on departure from Kirov Pas. that was the entertainment for the evening finished. Unfortunately, we inherited a guy in one of the upper berths from Kirov, who was getting off the following morning in Kostroma Novaya at 0350! I can’t say I was too impressed with the prospect of being woken up at such an ungodly hour, and although I didn’t realise it at the time, it would be a godsend him waking me. Not only were our compo blinds down and lights out by 2030, everyone else looked to have retired early too. This crossing time zones lark is tiring work…
Gen for Tuesday 4th June 2019
ChS4T-451 099E 0051 (30/05) Vladivostok – Moskva Yaroslavskaya (Balezino to Kirov Pas.)
EP1M-428 007E 1124 Perm 2 – Moskva Yaroslavskaya
ChS4T-242 110E 2235 (03/06) Moskva Yaroslavskaya – Noviy Urengoiy
ChS4T-255 099E 0051 (30/05) Vladivostok – Moskva Yaroslavskaya (Kirov Pas. to Galich)
Moves for Tuesday 4th June 2019
|ChS4T-451||Balezino||Kirov Pas.||0051 (30/05) Vladivostok – Moskva Yaroslavskaya||099E|
Photos for Tuesday 4th June 2019
Wednesday 5th June 2019 (Moscow, Russia to Kharkiv, Ukraine – not the way we’d originally planned to go)
It was 0415 when I decided that I really should drag my arse out of bed at Kostroma Novaya and walk to the front of the train to see what might have happened while we’d been dossed out. Moskva based ChS7-005 (2/1) were just dropping onto the train by the time I got to the front and up ahead the loco that had worked in with the train looked to be waiting to run back through the station to shed; which was just as well, as while I recognized the fact that it wasn’t a ChS4, which I’d last seen at the head of our train, it didn’t register until TEP70BS-052 came running back through the station, that it was a diesel! So, when I got back to the compo, I dug the handy-sized rail atlas I’d created for Russia out of my bag and sifted through it for the first time of the trip! Apparently, it pays to be a step ahead of the game and know there’s a diesel section on part of your overnight route! We were lucky this time and saved by a compo invader’s early departure. Of course, the sleeping Floss knew absolutely nothing about any of it, until I told him later in the morning.
I’d already had copious amounts of tea, polished off my last porridge that I’d brought from home, sorted my crap out in the compo, re-packed my big bag, had a full body wash in the bog and got changed into nice clean clothes by the time Flossy came around; at 0630! Time zone adjustment really was a pain in the arse! With only three stops between Kostroma Novaya and Moskva Yaroslavskaya, and being right away from 0648 to 1113, there really wasn’t much to do of a morning but prepare for getting off the train, and stare out of the window; which is pretty much what we did, along with the rest of the coach; who all looked like different people once they’d got dressed into proper clothes.
By the outskirts of Moskva we were ready for getting off and when ChS7-005 rolled into Moskva Yaroslavskaya, and brought the train to a stand 1 minute early, we were 17645km into our journey home but there was no rest for the wicked and after a quick photograph of our train on the blocks at Yaroslavskaya we walked the 10 minutes or so it took to nearby Kalenchevskaya station, on the suburban network. While walking along the front of Yaroslavskaya station building we could admire the more mundane Kazanskiy station directly opposite and with Komsomolskaya metro station being sandwiched between the two, Kalenchevskaya suburban station runs parallel to Yaroslavskaya, about 400m to the west with the circular suburban railway linking most of the main Moskva railway stations including Belorusskaya in the west, Rizhskaya in the north and more importantly for us, Kurskaya in the east.
While the short journey from Kalenchevskaya to Kurskaya was only a 2km, 5-minute journey, it was integral to keeping the bash alive, with the continuation of it by train. Tickets for the short journey were only RUB36 each, which is cheaper than the metro journeys that cost RUB55 each. Randomly though, Kalanchevskaya station doesn’t have a footbridge or underpass linking the two platforms and we were directed to walk round to the opposite platform, via the road under-bridge, by the ticket office girlie. Access to platforms on the suburban network is gained by using the barcode on your ticket at the barriers, which is exactly the same as it is to exit the stations as well. Or, as we witnessed while waiting at Kalanchevskaya, you can just walk down the ballast and clamber up onto the platform, then watch a train leave before walking off down the ballast again!
It was a simple journey to Kurskaya and once into the main hall of the station we were quickly able to dump our big bags at one of the two cloak rooms; for a rather expensive RUB460 each, which is over £5 and was more than double what we’d paid at Khabarovsk. Needs must though, and we were grateful of the fact we could dump our bags, which allowed us to bugger off to Red Square unhindered in the 30-degree heat that Moskva was basking in.
Its only one stop from Kurskaya to Revolution Square on the Blue One (Line 3). Tickets were easily purchased at the automated machines, which have an English option on them. Single tickets are RUB55 each and there’s an option to buy 1, 2, 10 or 20 tickets; which are issued on one ticket and can be used for the number of journeys paid for, but the same ticket can be used by more than one person. So, we bought a 2-ticket ticket and after I tapped Flossy in, I tapped myself in right behind him. Contrary to popular belief, the Moscow Metro is very easy to use, the lines are all colour-coded and numbered, and everything is signposted in English as well as Russian. On board the trains there are electronic displays under the stations t indicate where the train is in its journey and announcements on the trains we did, were in both Russian and English. It was as simple as catching the tube in London.
It’s a short walk from the Revolution Square metro station to Red Square and like Tiananmen Square in Beijing there are security protocols to follow when entering the square. Unfortunately, it seemed we’d picked a bad day to visit it as there were hundreds of stalls set up throughout the square, which to away the novelty and spoilt most of the views within it. Outside Lenin’s Mausoleum was free from stalls though but the backdrop to St. Basil’s Cathedral was spoilt by the number of cranes there were erected behind it. The whole of the area surrounding Red Square was undergoing a massive facelift by the look of the works going on and with the sheer amount of people around, we didn’t hang around long; especially with only having just under 4-hours in Moscow, total!
With job number one of three completed successfully, we caught the metro back to whence we’d come from and pigged out at Pizza Hut at Kurskaya station. While they didn’t have an English menu, the staff were able to translate for us and as they were only small pizzas, I went supersize and had two; the fat bastard that I am! Hole filled, job number three on the list involved a trip over the road to the posh shopping centre, underneath which was a large supermarket that provided us with all the train-food we needed for the next two trains from Moskva to Kharkiv and Kharkiv to Minsk.
We collected our big bags from the cloak room before heading to the advertised platform to await the departure of our 073 1500 Moskva Kurskaya – Kryvyi Rig. As we approached the steps to the platform though a huge Russian guy approached us, flashed some sort of ID and demanded our documents. When he understood we only spoke English though he shook our hands mentioned Manchester City and bid us a good day as he pointed up the stairs to the platform. It must have been Flossy that looked like the dodgy Ukrainian type they were looking for as I’m not a dodgy character at all. Either way, the guy would have made four of me, so there would have been no arguing.
It wasn’t long before RZD ChS7-079 (2/1) were trundling into the platform with the UZ stock that formed out 073 1500 Moskva Kurskaya – Kryvyi Rig. We’d seen it heading out of town with the stock while we’d been waiting for our EMU at Kalanchevskaya earlier, so knew it was going to be UZ stock; which I expected to be a massive come-down from the RZD stock we’d been used to on this trip, but I was wrong. The Kupe compo was nice, had working air-con, decent bedding and even a plug socket in the compo; which was a luxury we’d not been privilege to since the compo we’d had on the Tumangan – Ussuriysk move almost two weeks ago now. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make use of this luxury as not just my main charging cable decided to give up the ghost, my bloody spare on had as well; which was nice and convenient of them; fucking not! After a bit of wire bending and contorting, as you do, I did manage to get my phone charged eventually but I had to use my power bank to do it.
Fucking about with wires and phones took my mind away from the fact that the train we were on was utterly fucking shit, although our compo was about the best in the coach. Either side of us were young kids and at the end of the coach was a huge woman with a little twat of a dog that yapped at anything and everything that walked by. Punching the little fucker on the end of the nose would have been my suggestion for quietening it down but I couldn’t really do that to the kids running riot in the corridor, although a machine gun would have cured that problem! The noise was pretty much non-stop, and it was at this stage in our journey that we were thankful for the small mercy of being fucked so early in the evening; thanks to crossing so many time zones recently.
At Tula we had our first of two leg stretches. The station was a bit of a building site, but I did manage a wander and spotted a couple of VL11 triple-sets stabled in the station area, RZD liveried VL11-755A, 755B & 733B and green liveried VL11-684A, 702A & 702B. At Orel, I wasn’t going to bother getting up from my pit, but my mind got the better of me and I didn’t want to miss a loco change, if one was going to take place, which it didn’t. Still, ChME3-6177 was stabled alongside with a test train and ChME3-6163 was shunting stock in the carriage sidings as well, both of which gave the camera something to point at, then it was back on board and back to being horizontal; the next thing I knew about was the coach attendant waking everyone up for the Russian boarder control at Belgorod at 2am!
Gen for Wednesday 5th June 2019
TEP70BS-052 099E 0051 (30/05) Vladivostok – Moskva Yaroslavskaya (Galich to Kostroma Novaya)
ChS7-005 (2/1) 099E 0051 (30/05) Vladivostok – Moskva Yaroslavskaya (from Kostroma Novaya)
ChS7-079 (2/1) 073 1500 Moskva Kurskaja – Kryvyi Rih (to Belgorod)
Moves for Wednesday 5th June 2019
|TEP70BS-052||Galich||Kostroma Novaya||0051 (30/05) Vladivostok – Moskva Yaroslavskaya||099E|
|ChS7-005(2)||Kostroma Novaya||Moskva Yaroslavskaya|
|EP2D-0043||Moskva Kalachevskaya||Moskva Kurskaya||1039 Dedovsk – Caricyno||6424|
|ChS7-079(2)||Moskva Kurskaya||Belgorod||1500 Moskva Kurskaya – Kryivy Rih||073Ya|
Photos for Wednesday 5th June 2019