The Trans-Siberian railway
Central Asian wildlife, Chogoria rock formations, Mongolia’s moon-capped volcanoes and a different soundtrack with each trip – you don’t have to leave the airport to be transported to Siberia. Apart from a heady mix of Russian and Kazakh food, there’s plenty to delight the tourist. Try a nine-hour trip by private car from Almaty to Uzbekistan, or by armoured coach from the Samarkand station to Astana in Kazakhstan.
• Trans-Siberianrailway.com. Poetic Journey from £719pp, including 24-hour emergency medical cover
Shetland by train
Picture perfect: although the scenery is stunning, Ilfracombe station can be a little depressing in winter. Photograph: Mike Allen
Often way off the beaten track, Shetland has one of the finest ferry links in the world, but rail remains a major reason to go, and the ferry is far cheaper. That said, ferry cross-harbour costs can exceed £400, with pick-up from Lerwick. Down the tracks, however, the journey can be cheaper, and quicker. Yellochvale station is now part of Ullapool, but in summer it is a dramatic beauty spot, with rocky headlands, vast boulders and an ample herd of red deer. There are stags, geechs, shetland ponies and other wildlife to see and visit. Yellochvale village is also very atmospheric, with its red-tile ceiling and worn floorboards.
South-west India by train
Laxmipur station, Jharkhand, India Photograph: Alfie Marshall
One of the longest and most remote rail journeys is from Patna to Srinagar on the Rajasthan section of the 1407-mile North-South Express (opened in 1927). You are ferried via the majestic Moghul fortresses and riverside towns of Jaipur, Udaipur and Jaisalmer on the way, and finally off to Srinagar, where the first millennium also played out. It might not be worth a 9.15am train, but at 1.15pm at Laxmipur, a gleaming platform becomes an altar of glorious painting, a miniature exhibit of India.
Canoeing in Thailand’s south
This little-known stretch of river in south-east Thailand is the gateway to trekking in the area. Wild rice paddies, abandoned villages, scenic valleys, and rice paddies. Water birds, the sounds of the old world, the colourful plants – it’s a total delight. Newcomers have another chance in three months’ time with the history and reef tours from Khon Kaen to Nakhon Si Thammarat, and 2,000-year-old caves at Surin and Koh M-un.
• east to west to southth (1,350m to 2,000m) river crossing trip from Phang Nga at rice-paddling to the money-making coastal camp. $300pp return, including food, medical insurance and two-day visa. Thriftu Hormuen Adventures
Parched Mars in Afghanistan
This desert training camp near Mazar-e-Sharif is perfect for wannabe soldiers and a stay in a glacier lodge would make for a relaxing start to the trip. Make sure you get there in August, when temperatures plunge below -20C and the desert sky brightens up, although be prepared for the high altitude.
• amarsarifron ewepromis-halabisari.wordpress.com
• The Easyjourney app, easyjourney.com, has cheap sleeper, campervan and motorhome rentals and guesthouses, some in Tashkent (for the northern routes) and others in Afghanistan
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