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Incredible alternatives to the Trans-Siberian Railway

by | Nov 12, 2019

A legendary trip that spans over a third of the globe, the Trans-Siberian Railway has earned itself a place on many travelers’ bucket lists — and for good reason.

Journeying from Moscow all the way to Beijing, ticket-holders can take in a range of amazing sights, including ocean vistas and snow-covered mountains, over the six day, 9,289km adventure.

But the Trans-Siberian Railway isn’t the only train tour to get excited about. Whether you’re after a luxury trip around South Africa, or a beautiful journey via Amtrak through America’s Deep South, there are plenty of other incredible adventures to be had riding the rails.

These alternatives to the Trans-Siberian Railway tend to be less well-known, and therefore less touristy, than the world’s most famous rail route.

Here are our five favorites:

 On board the Deccan Odyssey

#1 – India’s Deccan Odyssey

India’s rail network is often depicted as a white-knuckle ride, where passengers chase after their carriage as it leaves the station, and stowaways cling to the outer shell as the train rips through the countryside.

But this Indian train tour is a far cry from that stereotype.

Renowned as one of India’s most luxurious train rides, the Deccan Odyssey has six routes, each of which explores different aspects of this diverse country.

From ‘Jewels of the Deccan’, to ‘Hidden Treasures of Gujarat’, you can embark on a breathtaking journey that spans eight unforgettable days of discovery.

Through the windows, you’ll spot opulent royal palaces, world-class vineyards, sandy beaches, and wildlife. And comfort isn’t neglected either: the train features deluxe cabins, private bathrooms, a bar and its very own gymnasium.

With its combination of high-end accommodation, dining and sightseeing, the Deccan Odyssey is one of the world’s finest train journeys, and one that will help you see more of India than ever before.

Train travel in Vietnam. Credit: Hoach Le Dinh

#2 – Vietnam’s Reunification Express

For a slightly less expensive — but no less worthwhile — alternative to the Trans-Siberian Railway, Vietnam’s Reunification Express is a great option.

Referring to any train that travels the North-South Railway Line, the Reunification Express stretches across all of Vietnam, from the capital of Hanoi right down to the southern metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City.

Having resumed service after Vietnam’s reunification in 1976, this historical train journey combines the country’s vibrant city life with its colorful cultural roots in one unforgettable trip. Look out the window and enjoy watching the view move from suburban neighborhoods to paddy fields, jungle landscapes to golden beaches.

The best part? Because you’ll need to catch several trains to complete the route end-to-end, you’ll get to step out into the amazing places you see — rather than just watching them whiz by.

If you want to experience many pockets of Vietnam, this 1,072-mile odyssey through culture, history and age-old tradition is a good place to start. You can even bring a motorbike on board, if you want — but it’ll need its own ticket.

The revamped Orient Express

#3 – Europe’s Venice Simplon-Orient-Express

You’ll be rediscovering the romance of the rails in this high-end journey that takes you on a trip through some of Europe’s most beautiful cities.

A reimagining of its historical namesake, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express or VSOE aims to give discerning tourists a taste of the Golden Age of travel.

Passengers sit in carefully restored, original 1920s carriages as they depart from London and stop in Paris, Venice, Istanbul, Budapest, Prague or Vienna. There’s a number of different routes to choose from, so you can simply pick a city, sit back and relish the vintage setting.

If you can afford the hefty price-tag, the VSOE is probably the most indulgent way to adventure through Europe by train. From its antique decor to fine-dining menus, this five-star journey will be something to remember.

The Sunset Limited

#4 – USA’s Sunset Limited

The US isn’t necessarily famous for its railways. When you think of long-distance travel across the States, you tend to think of classic cars and choppers on Route 66, Greyhound buses and red-eye flights.

So it’s high time we shone a spotlight on Amtrack’s Sunset Limited, one of America’s southernmost crossings from New Orleans to Los Angeles.

Lasting around 48 hours, it passes through Bayou Country, the Mexican border, the southwestern deserts and the mountains of California. From city skylines to 50ft-tall saguaro cacti, you’ll be able to enjoy an incredible variety of views of the US, on the country’s oldest running train service — and experience landscapes you rarely get to see from the road.

During high season, the train company employs local National Park guides to share insights about each region’s natural heritage with passengers.

The Shongololo Express

#5 – South Africa’s Shongololo Express

As you travel on the Shongololo Express, you’ll experience Zulu culture and panoramic views of South Africa. With three different routes across South Africa and Swaziland, the journey comprises either a 12- or 15-day trip bursting with culture, wildlife, and stylish travel.

Essentially, the Shongololo Express redefines what we usually think of as a safari.

Popular stop-off points include the famous Kruger National Park, a tour of the Great Zimbabwe Ruins, a trip to the Antelope Park, and fun extras including canoeing, elephant-back riding, wine-sipping, and a bird-watching cruise.

It’s a bit more expensive than some trains on this list, but definitely worth doing if you have the cash.

Hop aboard

That completes our five alternatives to the Trans-Siberian Railway. One thing’s for sure — they all offer a truly rich experience that’s hard to attain simply by flying from city to city, so we hope you consider giving at least one of them a shot!

Check out our blog to read more about things like slow travel and destinations that need more tourists.