I always love talking to different travellers and finding out a little more about how and why they travel. It’s fascinating to see the unusual ways people choose to travel, and the individual reasons that drive them to travel. As an occasional traveller with a full-time job and a bit of a weekend warrior sort who likes a bit of creative travel, I was pretty intrigued by this particular blog that was circulating on my Facebook feed about one man’s journey from Singapore to England – not by a typical 12 hour plane ride – he arrived an entire month later having taken trains from Singapore to England.
Recounting an epic month of train journeys
Woodlands to Woking is written by Tom Woods, a British expat living in Singapore for the last 4 years. Working long hours as a headhunter, he finally found himself with a few months off before starting his new job and decided to pay a visit to his family back home in England. So instead of heading to Changi Airport like normal people would, he packed his bags, headed up to Woodlands Train Station and hopped on the first of many trains that would carry him almost 19,000km in 32 days back to his hometown in Woking, England.
He started Woodlands to Woking to keep his family and friends updated on his journey, but since then it has caught the attention of many Singaporeans and gone viral on Facebook, reaching over 10000 hits in a single day, and no one was more surprised than Tom himself.
Chatting with Tom Woods
“I don’t understand the fascination! I definitely wasn’t expecting it,” says Tom as we chat over lunch on a Friday afternoon at a Thai Express restaurant in between our workplaces.
But I think I understand the fervour my fellow Singaporeans have gotten into over his journey; there’s just something about an average guy deciding to take a train (of all things!) to get out of Singapore and slowly make his way back home, that’s reminiscent of old-world travel and that spirit of adventure, that gets people talking about whether they think he’s brave or crazy. My own wanderlust was stoked and my curiousity piqued, which is why I set up the casual chitchat over lunch so I could find out a little more about his travel style.
So what on earth would inspire someone to take such an epic long trip like Tom did?
“It’s about the journey as much as the destination – part of what I enjoy about travelling is the moving, the feeling that you’re going somewhere,” he says, “I like how you can observe change happen as the train moves through the different countries. The landscapes change, the faces of your fellow passengers morph from Malay to Vietnamese to Chinese to Mongolian and on the Trans-Siberian suddenly your cabin is filled with blond-haired-blue-eyed Russians. You don’t quite get to see that change travelling any other way.”
Tom isn’t a fan of air travel and has a bit of a mini rant about the tyranny of air travel and the perils of getting stuck in a tiny airplane seat, “The only perk about flying is getting there quickly, everything else is painful,” and you can’t fault the dude – he’s a pretty tall and well-built fella who’s at least a head taller than I am, so sitting in planes can’t be fun for him.
“I don’t think I’ll be doing another trip like that anytime soon though,” Tom says when I ask whether he plans to carry out any more long train journeys in the near future, “Not unless I’m in between jobs again! It’s hard to find so much time off when you’re working.”
But he’s not ruling it out altogether – he’s hoping to possibly do a reverse of this trip, going from Woking to Woodlands by a different route; or his ultimate dream is to go from London down to Cape Town over a combination of overland transport.
Tom is a big fan of travelling by trains, but doesn’t actually care that much about trains themselves – “I couldn’t tell you about the engines of the trains I was on or the exact model of my carriage. Some people have asked me and I have no idea!” he chuckles.
He’s taken a couple of shorter train travels before this epic one: one around India on a trip that first sparked the wanderlust in him, a 2-week journey from London to Istanbul, and another from Singapore up to his favourite place in Thailand, Chiang Mai.
Train travel aside, Tom is no stranger to slow travel – prior to his move to Singapore, he spent a year on the backpacker circuit moving through South East Asia and Australia, and even with his day job he likes to take frequent short trips – I am simultaneously awed and embarrassed for myself that this British man has travelled and seen more of South East Asia than I have to date, and I have lived in this region all my damn life!
Next on his travel list? “Japan, Tokyo probably. And I’ve never been to South Korea or Taiwan. Or South America either,” he muses as we commiserate over the growing lengths of our bucket lists.
Tom’s definitely become quite the expert on train travel, besides answering the deluge of questions he’s been getting on his blog, he is now listed as an inspirational resource on the Singapore/Malaysia page of the ultimate train travel guide www.Seat61.com.
Epic Train Journeys Itineraries in South East Asia
For the occasional travellers out there keen to take on train travel for themselves, Tom has two recommendations on train trips around the South East Asian region to try for yourself.
Trip 1: Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi (Vietnam)
Total Time – 9D8N over 2 weekends, 5 days of leave needed, 2 overnight train rides
This journey takes you from the south of Vietnam from the capital city of Ho Chi Minh City up north to Hanoi. I’ve actually done trains in Vietnam, and the Livitrans tourist class trains are relatively inexpensive and quite comfortable. I’m not sure I want to take that 16 hour train ride from Danang to Hanoi again though – think I’d rather fly. Check out the links in his itinerary for my suggestions on things to do in Vietnam.
- SATURDAY – Fly from Singapore to Ho Chi Minh City in the morning. Afternoon + Evening to explore
- SUNDAY – Full day in Ho Chi Minh City
- MONDAY – almost full day in Ho Chi Minh City. Take the overnight train from Ho Chi Minh City to Danang (leave 2200)
- TUESDAY – Arrive in Danang in the afternoon (arrive 1358). Evening to explore
- WEDNESDAY – Full day in Danang
- THURSDAY – after lunch, take the overnight train from Danang to Hanoi (leave 1840)
- FRIDAY – Arrive in Hanoi in the afternoon (arrive 1233). Evening to explore
- SATURDAY – Full day in Hanoi
- SUNDAY – Fly from Hanoi back to Singapore
Trip 2: Penang (Malaysia) to Chiang Mai (Thailand)
Total Time – 9D8N over 2 weekends, 5 days of leave needed, 2 overnight train rides, 1 shorter train ride
- SATURDAY – Fly from Singapore to Penang in morning (You could take the train from Woodlands, but it’s a waste of an entire day and not particularly nice). Afternoon and evening to explore Penang
- SUNDAY – Morning in Penang. Take 3pm overnight train to Hua Hin
- MONDAY – Reach Hua Hin early morning
- TUESDAY – Full day in Hua Hin
- WEDNESDAY – Take train in morning from Hua Hin to Bangkok (4+ hours)
- THURSDAY – Day in Bangkok, Take 7pm overnight train to Chiang Mai (it has a disco on board!)
- FRIDAY – Reach Chiang Mai in morning
- SATURDAY – Full day in Chiang Mai
- SUNDAY – Fly home from Chiang Mai to Singapore
Thanks Tom for talking to me! That was a pretty interesting lunch and he does have some great stories to tell, especially the one about the Armenian man with a fascination for British museums which just has to be heard in person. Do check out his blog at Woodlands to Woking for more info and inspiration on train travel.
Pictures courtesy of Tom Woods from Woodlands to Woking and used with permission.
Check out some of my other interviews with travellers – my friend Luci is happy to fly over 12 hours to spend her weekends in a foreign country so she can visit a new country each month.