This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site you consent to our use of cookies unless you have disabled them.

eMag | Directory | TNT Travel Show 2017 | Events Search | TNT Jobs

Travel Guide: Big trip: China in your hand

2nd May 2014 11:25am | By Tom Coote

When travelling the length of China along the ancient trade routes of the Silk Road, the only real way to do it is by train.

Up until the 16th century, when new maritime routes opened up, the Silk Road had acted as the bridge between all the major civilisations - Egypt, China, India, Persia, Arabia, Byzantium and Rome - for more than a thousand years.

Around 30% of the trade was made up of silk, but these routes would also carry fruit, plants, paper, art, compasses, jewels, gold, gunpowder - and the Black Death. More importantly, they carried ideas, skills and DNA. The best-known start and end points of the Silk Road are Chang’an (Xian), the old capital of China, and Byzantium (Constantinople/Istanbul), but many Silk Road trips bypass those cities alltogether.

I began my journey along these ancient trade routes by travelling up from Luang Prebang in Laos by sleeper bus to Jinghong, before spending another night in a cramped bunk on a bumpy bus to arrive at Kunming. From then on, however, it is possible to travel all the way across China, to Kazakhstan and beyond through Central Asia, using the far more comfortable sleeper trains. They may cost a little more than the night buses but are reliable, far cleaner than they used to be, great value for money by European standards, provide you with a plentiful supply of hot water for instant noodles and tea, and will save you the cost of a night’s accommodation in a hostel or hotel. I’ve also always found that I sleep very well on trains, so unlike with the night buses - whose narrow bunk beds are often just a little too short for many Westerners - you don’t waste half the next day shuffling around like a sleep-deprived zombie.