As of yet, the 2020s haven’t been the easiest time for trips abroad. But as we’re regaining passport freedom and sitting on the brink of another golden era of travel, prolonging the traveling portion of the holidays we’ve missed so much doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.
Crammed seats, lousy food, and nothing to see but clouds, not to mention the devastating impact of greenhouse gasses on the environment due to air travel. There are lots of reasons to ditch your plane ticket for a journey across land, but you’re probably wondering if you can really go the distance on trains, buses, and boats. Well, we’re here to tell you that you can, and that you can get all the way from London to Bangkok without flying.
From the Trans-Siberian railway to South East Asia’s notorious public buses, this guide looks at two major routes across Europe and Asia without one airport terminal in sight. Trains are more comfortable, flexible, and scenic than planes, but will going green cost you a fortune? And how long will it take you to travel from London to Bangkok? Buckle up, and let’s find out.
Route 1 – London > Moscow
The fastest and greenest way to make the intrepid adventure from London to Bangkok without flying be by train. There are a few ways to do this, but hopping on the Trans-Siberian railway for the most significant portion of your trip will be by far the most efficient. No one ever said this epic adventure would be cheap, but there are a few ways to cut costs or, alternatively, upgrade your trip to elevate comfort along the way.
There are various ways to book this trip, from package deals to taking matters into your own hands. Organized trips offer more security in case you miss transfers, more comfort, and first-class options, but they’re unsurprisingly pricy. Booking your trip yourself in separate portions will give you more flexibility to explore along your way and save money. But you’ll have no insurance if your trains overrun and you’ll have to transfer from the Eurostar to the Trans-Siberian railway yourself.
Day 1 of your trip will begin at London St. Pancras, where you can let the magnitude of your journey ahead sink in as your train gently pulls away from the station. Before long, you’ll arrive in Brussels, where you’ll change for Cologne and race across Germany before reaching the capital of Berlin just before supper. Stop for your first sightseeing night or continue straight onto Warsaw to catch the sleeper to Moscow before nightfall.
The sleeper doesn’t run every day, but a direct service runs twice weekly from Berlin to Moscow. Once in Moscow on Day 2, you’ll need to show a visa, which you can obtain in your home country before setting off. You can apply for an E-Visa for entering Russia, and it’s still needed even if you’re only transiting.
Moscow > Beijing via Mongolia
Now is the time to embark on the Trans-Siberian portion of your trip, the iconic and once-in-a-lifetime rail experience. There is actually no such train as the Trans-Siberian Express, but rather a range of trains that journey across Russia, some domestic and a handful of direct international options to China and Mongolia. There are faster and slower options, luxury and cheaper, whatever you want for your trip, and your budget will determine the train you choose to take.
The Golden Eagle is a luxury train that will take you on a scenic venture across Siberia lasting 12 days with full board and table d’hôte dining. This trip will cost upwards of $3,000, depending on where you book. Yet, a decidedly cheaper and more exciting option is the weekly Trans-Mongolian train, the most interesting Trans-Siberian route. The journey on the deceptively underwhelmingly-named “Train Four” takes just six nights and cuts across Mongolia and the Gobi desert before entering China. The train offers deluxe first-class and second-class four-berth compartments. Booking through a local Russian agency can get you the lower class option for just £555 or $745 one-way.
You can’t buy an open ticket and hop on and off the Trans-Siberian as an all-reserved long-distance railway. However, you can arrange stopovers by buying different tickets for each train and pre-booking using the Trans-Siberian Trip Planner. Irkutsk in Siberia for Lake Baikal and Ulan Bator in Mongolia for the Gobi desert are worth the stop. Still, the diverse landscapes, scenery, and onboard camaraderie should provide enough entertainment for non-stop travel, minimizing journey time.
Beijing > Bangkok
Once in Beijing on Day 8, think about taking a day or two off from train life, if you can, to prepare for the final and most complex leg of your trip. From here, you’ll need to take a two-night sleeper to Hanoi, the “soft-class” option of which will cost around £150 or $200, and then venture to Phnom Penh via Saigon, which will take another two days, changing from train to bus before arriving in Cambodia for your 16-hour bus journey to Bangkok. This final portion will cost another $200, depending on the ticket type.
You’ve finally made it. You’ve journeyed from London to Bangkok without flying and it has only taken you around two weeks and $2,000. If you’re not entirely put-off land travel, you can do the whole route home as the Trans-Siberian runs both ways.
Route 2 – London > Kazakhstan via Paris
For a slightly different route from London to Bangkok without flying, you can still hop on the Trans-Siberian railway but journey through Central Asia rather than Siberia via the so-called Silk Route. Transiting in Kazakhstan, this route is less traveled but equally alluring and promises to be quite the adventure.
This one might be more complicated in terms of visas and tickets, but if you have time to organize, you’ll be able to cut down on journey time, save some cash and visit some fantastic sites. Switching between train and bus might be tiresome, but you’ll see more along the way and get more flexibility from your trip.
First up is London to Moscow. Forget Brussels and Germany. To reduce this portion of your trip, head straight from St Pancras to Paris on the Eurostar and catch the Moscow sleeper from the Gare du Nord on the same day. London to Moscow can take less than 48 hours if you do it right, and you’ll be in Moscow by the evening of Day 2 to catch the direct service to Almaty & Astana in Kazakhstan. This is another sleeper journey that takes about 16 hours and costs £247, or $340.
Kazakhstan > Beijing
On Day 3, From Almaty & Astana, you can get the direct train that runs twice-weekly to Urumqi in China. If you time it right, you’ll arrive in China on the morning of Day 4, as this journey takes just over 24 hours. This trip is around £123, or $165. Alternatively, the bus from Almaty takes a similar amount of time and only costs around $45 but will prove less comfortable.
The last portion of the Trans-Siberian railway is from Urumqi to Xi’an in Beijing. This costs as little as £70 or $90 for a hard sleeper and takes just over one day. By Day 6, you’ll be in Beijing, three days faster than the quickest Trans-Mongolian route.
You’ll need a Belarus transit visa and Russian tourist visa for this trip, and the number of transfers can be daunting, especially for inexperienced travelers familiar with organized trips. But different tickets mean much more freedom and room for sightseeing on your way. Take up the opportunity to explore and spend a night in a hotel rather than a train carriage. Urumqi is a great place to learn about Uyghur culture, and Xi’an is home to the iconic Temple of the Terracotta Warriors.
Beijing > Bangkok via Laos
The Trans-Asean bullet train planned to link Thailand with Laos and China by railway has been under construction since 2017 but is yet to open. This would make flight-less travel from Europe to Thailand decidedly easier, connecting Bangkok directly with Trans-Siberian routes. Yet, the best course, for now, is to jump on a train from Beijing West station to Kunming, which takes around 10 hours, and continue onto Laos Vientiane by bus for another 14 hours. From there, Nong Khai in Thailand is only a half an hour drive away, not including crossing the border, but from where you can catch a train to Bangkok in just over 9 hours.
This final portion of the trip through South East Asia will cost from $200 to $400 and take an extra 36 hours. This makes this complete route around half the price of the Trans-Mongolian option and almost a week faster if you don’t make any stop-offs. Still, the sacrifice is comfort and a whole lot more changes.
Can you get to Thailand by boat from the UK?
Although there are no passenger ferries from Europe to Thailand, several agencies can arrange passenger lodgings on cargo ships with dedicated cabins. This alternative form of travel is only for the true adventurer looking to charter the seas like a stowaway.
Expect below-average facilities, food and cabins, and no arranged entertainment – this isn’t a cruise, but it is a real bucket-list journey. Prices average at $75 – $100 a day, and this trip should take around three to four weeks depending on how many ports the cargo is called to.
You can book a cruise to Thailand from the UK, but this wouldn’t be deemed efficient travel. Around-the-world cruises are undoubtedly lavish experiences, but it could take up to a month to reach Phuket from Southampton and cost over $4,000, depending on the provider.
Can you drive to Thailand from the UK?
Although ill-advised, nothing is stopping you from driving to Thailand from the UK unless you count costs and visas, and there are various mapped routes you could take. Surprisingly, the only water crossing you would need to do would be Dover to Calais, and this is easy and cheap on a ferry or by the Eurotunnel. From France, you can drive east through Germany, Poland, and Belarus to Moscow, before journeying across the Kazakhstan border, much like the Trans-Siberian Silk Route, and down through Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Northern India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar before finally crossing into Thailand.
Aside from the various visas, tanks of fuel, and necessary stop-offs for rest and recuperation, the trip will also consist of 152 hours of driving, which would take around 12 days with rests, through dangerous, war-torn, and high-altitude regions. But if you’re determined, it can be done, and it would sure make a good story.
Can you travel from the UK to Thailand by train?
Although costly, timely, and treacherous at times, the best way to travel from London to Bangkok without flying is by train, and the main route leads via France or Germany and through Russia, China, Vietnam, and Cambodia. This trip takes around 10 to 14 days and costs upwards of £2,000 depending on the type of tickets you book and when you book them. But traveling by train is a great way to take in the scenery and enjoy stop-offs on the way. It also expends around a third of the Co2 as air travel.