Brian’s Travel Spot: Amtrak’s Sunset Limited to Tucson, Day 2

The driver climbing up in the evening sun to get into the cab of the lead locomotive of the Sunset Limit at Houston, TexasWelcome the second part of this Travel Spot post detailing the journey that I took in March 2018 on Amtrak’s Sunset Limited from New Orleans to Tucson, Arizona. This was itself the final leg of a larger train journey which had seen me start in Providence, Rhode Island, in the teeth of a New England winter, and travel down via Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor to Manassas just south of Washington DC, then carry on to New Orleans on Amtrak’s Crescent service.

I left New Orleans at nine o’clock on Monday morning, the whole journey taking roughly a day and a half to cover the 2,400 km through Louisiana, all the way across Texas (which took almost a day!) and then along the Mexican border through New Mexico and Arizona, arriving in Tucson just after sunset on Tuesday evening. I was in coach class for the first day, which is covered in Part I, travelling from New Orleans to San Antonio, where we arrived just before midnight. There I transferred to a sleeper compartment for the rest of the journey, which is covered in this post.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Huế to Hanoi

The things you find in Hue... A giant statue of a cockerel on the banks of the Perfume River.Welcome to the fourth instalment of my Vietnamese Travel Spot, covering my trip to Vietnam from exactly three years ago. I wrote some of it up at the time, but never completed the posts about my train journey from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, a 36-hour epic which I did in three stages.

The first stage, Ho Chi Minh City to Danang, was 18½ hour overnight journey on a no-frills sleeper leaving Ho Chi Minh City in mid-afternoon and arriving in Danang the following morning. The second stage saw me spend a couple of days in Hội An before travelling by train from Danang to Huế, the most scenic part of the route.

This, the final stage, covers my time in Huế, plus the last leg of my journey, from Huế to Hanoi. This involved another sleeper, which left Huế late in the evening and arrived in Hanoi just before midday the following morning. I then had three days to explore the Vietnamese capital before flying back late on the evening of the third day, first to Ho Chi Minh City, then back to Heathrow and home. This, incidentally, was the first time that I flew in business class!

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Brian’s Travel Spot: California Zephyr to Chicago – Day 3

Amtrak Locomotive No. 161 at the head of the California Zephyr, eastbound for Chicago, standing at the platform at Grand Junction, Colorado, with Locomotive No. 19 behind it.Welcome to the third and final part of my bonus Travel Spot, telling the story of the journey that Amanda and I took from California to Chicago this time last year. We travelled on the California Zephyr, a daily service between Emeryville (just across the bay from San Francisco) and Chicago, with a scheduled journey-time of 51½ hours. Along the way, it crosses roughly two-thirds of North America, over two mountain ranges and through an array of amazing, contrasting landscapes.

Our first day on the train was covered in Part 1 of this Travel Spot, when we travelled across California’s Central Valley, over the Sierra Nevada Mountains via the Donner Pass and down into and across Nevada following the Truckee and Humboldt Rivers. The following day, covered in Part 2, saw us going to bed in Nevada and waking up almost all the way across Utah. We then followed the Colorado River through Ruby Canyon before climbing into the heart of the Rockies, through the Moffat Tunnel and down to the other side to Denver.

In this final instalment, you can follow our progress through Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois, crossing the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers on our way to Chicago.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: California Zephyr to Chicago – Day 2

Amtrak Locomotive No. 161 at the head of the California Zephyr, eastbound for Chicago, standing at the platform at Grand Junction, Colorado, with Locomotive No. 19 behind it.Welcome to the second instalment of my bonus Travel Spot. Just over a year ago, Amanda and I left Emeryville Station onboard Amtrak Train No. 6, the California Zephyr. A daily service between Emeryville (just across the bay from San Francisco) and Chicago, the California Zephyr has a scheduled journey-time of 51½ hours as it makes its way west-to-east across roughly two-thirds of North America. The first part of this Travel Spot covered our first day on the train, travelling across California’s Central Valley, over the Sierra Nevada Mountains via the Donner Pass and down into and across Nevada following the Truckee and Humboldt Rivers.

In this instalment, we pick up our journey with our first of two nights on the train, which saw us going to bed in Nevada and waking up almost all the way across Utah. We followed the Colorado River for most of the day, crossing into Colorado along to 40 km long Ruby Canyon before climbing up through the Rockies, descending again into Denver as night fell. You can read about the third day of our journey, from Denver to Chicago, in the third and final instalment of this Travel Spot.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: California Zephyr to Chicago – Day 1

Amtrak Locomotive No. 161 at the head of the California Zephyr, eastbound for Chicago, standing at the platform at Grand Junction, Colorado, with Locomotive No. 19 behind it.Welcome to today’s bonus Travel Spot. Exactly a year ago today, Amanda and I left Sunnyvale in the Bay Area, California, to catch Amtrak Train No. 6, the California Zephyr, at Emeryville Station. Roughly 60 hours and 4,000 km later, we reached our destination, Buffalo Grove, in the Chicago suburbs. This was part of a much larger, five-week trip that began in New Orleans, then saw me fly to Los Angeles so that I could take the Coast Starlight along the Pacific Coast to San Jose. From Chicago, I (eventually) flew home. One day I hope to write up the entire trip, but for now, I hope you enjoy the train ride!

The California Zephyr is a daily service between Emeryville (just across the bay from San Francisco) and Chicago, a scheduled journey of 51½ hours that crosses the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains as well as both the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers as it makes its way west-to-east across roughly two-thirds of North America. It’s the longest I’ve been on a train, beating the 47 hours I spent on the Empire Builder from Chicago to Portland (Oregon) in 2015.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Caledonian Sleeper to Glasgow

Brian’s Travel Spot: Caledonian Sleeper to GlasgowWelcome to the latest instalment of Brian’s Travel Spot. Regular readers will know that I have something of a love affair with travelling by train, particularly sleeper trains, be it on trans-America trips, hopping between Beijing and Shanghai on China’s high-speed rail network, or taking the slow train in places like Vietnam or Thailand. However, my love affair with the sleeper train actually began in the UK with the Caledonian Sleeper, which runs between London Euston and variety of Scottish destinations.

Two weeks ago, I travelled up to Glasgow for the Glasgow Coffee Festival, a trip, which, for a variety of reasons, required me to leave on the Thursday evening before the festival and be back home by the Monday afterwards. In theory I could have done the trip on the regular train, but instead I turned to the Caledonian Sleeper, a far more romantic way to travel and, as it turned out, far more practical and just as cost effective.

So how does the UK’s premier sleeper service stack up against its American and South East Asian counterparts? Read on as I take the Caledonian Sleeper to Glasgow and back!

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Brian’s Travel Spot: The Chiang Mai Sleeper, Special Express #10

The Special Express Train No. 10, Chiang Mai to Bangkok, departing at 18:00.Last week I took the sleeper from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, a journey I related in the previous instalment of Brian’s Travel Spot. I had no firm plans for Chiang Mai, but a variety of circumstances (the poor air quality, the high temperature/humidity and, above all, my bad back, which has been getting steadily worse as the week’s gone on) conspired to convince me to stay in Chiang Mai itself for the whole week, where I spent my time exploring the local coffee scene, which, as it turns out, is excellent.

My plan had always been to return to Bangkok for the weekend before flying home on Monday, but I’d left the how/when open in case I decided to venture further afield when in Chiang Mai. With that ruled out, it was a simple question of how to get back. I briefly considered flying, but at twice the price of the sleeper, plus the hassle of getting to/from the airport, and the need to pay for an extra night in Bangkok, the balance was conclusively tipped in favour of the sleeper. Once that was decided, all I needed to do was work out which of the three available trains to take…

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Brian’s Travel Spot: The Chiang Mai Sleeper, Special Express #13

My carriage, number 5, on the sleeper service from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.Welcome to the latest instalment of Brian’s Travel Spot, which is, I appreciate, posted somewhat out of order, since I’ve not finished telling you about my previous American adventures. However, I’m sitting on the Chiang Mai sleeper as I write this, not long after dawn, and we’ve just begun our ascent into the mountains, so I thought this was the perfect time to publish this.

I flew into Bangkok on Monday morning (having left Heathrow on Sunday afternoon) and spent the rest of the week in western hotels, cocooned in meeting rooms and air-conditioning, rarely being let out for long enough to see anything of the city, although I will have a weekend there when I get back from Chiang Mai. What I can tell you, from the odd times I ventured out, is that it was hot (~35⁰C most days) and incredibly humid, with the river, which I was staying by, providing a welcome breeze.

After five days of this, I escaped and made my way to Hua Lamphong station in the centre of Bangkok to catch the Chiang Mai sleeper, 13 hours on a train (the “special express” no less) to the heart of Thailand’s mountain country to the north.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Amtrak’s Crescent to New Orleans

A portion of Amtrak's national route map, showing my route on the Crescent service from Washington DC to New Orleans highlighted in blue.Welcome to this instalment of what I have somewhat ambitiously called Another Grand Adventure, part of my occasional Brian’s Travel Spot series. It follows my second long-distance American train trip, which saw me travelling from Boston, in New England, to Phoenix, in the south west, by train. Well, almost.

I actually went from Providence to Tucson by train, driving the first and last legs. If I’d had the courage of my convictions, I’d have carried on from Tucson to Los Angeles so that I could have completed my second coast-to-coast train journey. However, given that I actually had to be in Phoenix for work, this would have required me to turn around and come straight back again once I got to LA. That would have been rather extreme, even for me.

The trip started with my flight to Boston, while the second instalment covers the series of short journeys I took along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor from Providence to Manassas, south of Washington DC. This instalment takes us from Manassas to New Orleans, travelling on Amtrak’s Crescent Service, while the remaining instalments cover my weekend in New Orleans, the Sunset Limited, which took me from New Orleans to Tucson, my flight back from Phoenix and my final return home.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Beijing to Shanghai by Sleeper

My high-speed sleeper train, forming the D321 service, waiting on Platform 5 at Beijing South Station to take me to Shanghai.On my recent trip to China, I spent a few days exploring Beijing, taking the high-speed train from Shanghai, which I recounted in an earlier Travel Spot. In today’s instalment of Brian’s Travel Spot, I recount my return journey from Beijing to Shanghai. Having gone up on the world’s fastest inter-city passenger service, I decided to do things a little differently on my return, instead taking the overnight sleeper. Although a little more expensive than the train up, when you consider it saved me a night in a hotel, it was still very cost-effective and far more efficient than flying!

Once again I’m indebted to the ever-useful The Man in Seat 61 for all my pre-trip research. There are four sleeper services from Beijing to Shanghai each night, once conventional service which leaves first at 7.31, and arrives some 15 hours later in Shanghai, and three high-speed services, which take 10 hours. One of these leaves at 7.34, while the other two leave at 9.16 and 9.23. I decided to catch the last of these, allowing myself a leisurely evening in Beijing after a day spent visiting coffee shops, and arriving at the civilised hour of 9.13 the following morning.

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