From China through Mongolia and Russia, then on to Kazakhstan out through Ukraine and into Poland. Sounded like a good plan to indulge my life long passion for train travel. What a great chance to ride a variety of trains in a wide range of countries.
Right from the onset there were changes and ominous signs that it could be more complicated in the realization than the big picture in my mind. However, flexibility is a key component of individual travel and central to what makes it so appealing.
Friends came to celebrate Songkran in Chiang Mai, so I delayed my departure, skipped traveling across neighboring Laos by land (no trains to miss), and flew directly to Kunming in Yunnan province (SW China). From there I hit the rails.
Three Chinese trains with stops in Chengdu and Zhongwei brought me to Outer Mongolia (Huhhot) where I could find a Mongolian train on to Ulaan Baator arriving in early May ahead of both the summer crowd and the summer heat.
Moving quickly through China in my desire to reach Mongolia put me just ahead of the earthquake in Chengdu. Luckily I stopped off long enough to go to the panda reserve and then out to Le Shan for China's biggest Buddha. I was well into Mongolia when it hit. Good I saw the pandas before they got all freaked out.