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Overland Asia Diaries

After the passing of my father, I harboured a sudden and explosive urge to find the furthermost corners of the planet. To honour his memory, his love of trains, of travel, and of seeing the world. All other purposes rapidly felt inadequate as I spiralled into the grief and pain that comes from loosing somebody you deeply care about. 

He had died shortly after Christmas, and as a final Christmas present I had gifted him a large coffee-table edition book of the greatest railways on earth. He had spent days in the hospital gazing into the pages, talking to me about his favorite railway journeys. You see, my dad was a train lover.

His spare bedroom turned into an expansive model railway system, with new locomotives being shipped across the world to him with great frequency, and entire vacations planned around the trains he might catch.

I refocused all of my energy into planning the trip of a lifetime, an overland journey across Asia.

I like trains. I like their rhythm, and I like the freedom of being suspended between two places, all anxieties of purpose taken care of: for this moment I know where I am going.

― Anna Funder, Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall

I pored over the railway book, scouring for clues as to what might help me feel reconnected with him, until a particular journey caught my eye – the Trans Mongolian Express, one of the peak railway and overland Asia intrepid traveler bucket-list items. Surely, this would fulfill my desires for a long and remote life spent on the railroad tracks, writing about my experiences and experiencing somewhere very far away – even by my own high standards.

Piecing the trip together took many pages of paper, late nights, and spreadsheets as I put together the puzzle. We would go via Malaysia, a country my father adored and had planned to traverse by rail in the coming month if he hadn’t passed away – my brother would meet us there for a few days and together we would honor his memory by taking the trip he hadn’t quite made it to himself from Kuala Lumpur to Pengang. It was a love-filled and emotional kick-off to this very long trip.

After my brother left Malaysia, we would then traverse Thailand from the South up to Bangkok, another trip both my father and I had taken before and discussed in great detail. From Bangkok we were to take a quick flight up over the border and into the Sichuan region of China.

My father never traveled far for most of his adult life, having never left New Zealand and Australia. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that he saw his first opportunity to travel to China for business, after that first trip he was changed forever and would return home each time talking about this wondrous and mysterious country. Amongst the small number of things I kept from him was a collection of low denomination chinese currency and a map of Beijing. Making this exploration my first ever tiptoe into China made so much sense.

From Chengdu in the Sichuan Provence of China we would travel by train to Xi’ian in the centre of the country, and then over to Beijing to catch the Trans-Mongolian railway up to Ulanbataar in the northern-central region of Mongolia. I took with me three of my fathers books to read for this journey: Lost on Planet China, The Great Railway Bazaar, and Siddhartha. They all served me greatly and were the perfect literary companions for this trip.

Below you will find links to read my writing on each stop of my overland Asia trip. These are my stories or trains, travel, of grief, healing and love:

It all begins in Malaysia

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A stopover in Thailand

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Across China by rail

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Final destination: Mongolia

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3 thoughts on “Overland Asia Diaries”

  1. This is beautiful. I just shared it with my uncle who is also super into trains. I look forward to reading more of the adventure.

  2. Pingback: Mongolia in the early spring, Life in a Ger Camp | Anna Meanders

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