13th & 20th October 2020 · A Holiday of a Lifetime – Swindon to Saigon

Presenter: John Sreeves

The branch welcomed back John Sreeves, albeit this time via ZOOM for two evenings in October to give a talk, postponed from March earlier this year.

One aim of this holiday, which was an adventure, was to see how far he and his wife could travel by train from Swindon, with additional trips to New Zealand, South America and Antarctica. The trip took in 20 countries, 15 capital cities, 15 currencies, 13 languages and 6 continents. Detailed planning took at least a year to complete with booking tickets for the Trans-Siberian Railway needed a year in advance, including all the necessary visas for Russia, China and Mongolia. Carrying minimal luggage (a small rucksack airline size), staying in hostels (self-catering) near to stations, not using taxis and using google maps.

The journey started on 1st August 2018 boarding the 08.05 Swindon to London Paddington. The route took John through Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia then into Russia a distance travelled 4685 km. St Petersburg and Moscow and the Trans-Siberian on this occasion took John to Irkutsk, a journey of 3375 km in 49 hours. The trip continued to Ulaanbaatar, a further 1113 km. The second evening the trip resumed, Mongolia to Beijing, 1356km and 31 hours, an interesting point the border crossing took 7 hours 10 minutes to complete including a change of bogies due to different track gauges. From Beijing the route to Hong Kong was via Shanghai, Xian and Chengdu. Time in China included a 3-day river trip to see the Three Gorges with large locks and dams. After Hong Kong finally Vietnam, four trains to travel from Hanoi to Saigon which included to first late train of the trip (Da Nang to Nha Trang). Saigon was reached on 17th October, 78 days after leaving Swindon, having travelled 21277 km and only one rail replacement bus, some 15 km.

The adventure continued by bus across Cambodia to Thailand and of course the infamous “Death Railway” had to be on the itinery. Next it was to New Zealand and then onto South America which included Peru, Bolivia, Chile (Rio Turbio to Rio Gallegos, 410 km in 9 hours) and Argentina, Ushuaia noted as the most southerly railway station in the world. Finally, a 10-day excursion to Antarctica. Arriving back at Swindon at 19.00 hours on 31st January 2019.

The branch was thoroughly entertained by John’s travelogue with some 300 photographs, maps etc. over the two evenings.