Travelling in China by Train

It’s fantastic to travel around in China because there are domestic flights, trains and coach routes all over the place. China itself is a huge place and so you will always be able to find something to suit you, there are so many things to discover and so many places to travel to! The transport system is fairly decent especially between the bigger cities, you can find a train from Shenzhen all the way up to Beijing if need be but I can’t say too much about the standard since I don’t have much experience in that department…

When you travel around by train within China, one of the few main things you have to note is the 4-5day ticket system where you can only purchase tickets 4-5days before you leave. And this is why China train tickets can be a pain to get your hands on unless you are staying in a hotel. Having experiencing for myself personally what a local person has to go through just to get their hands on a crappy 18hr train ride on a “hard seater”, it really makes you appreciate the wonderful staff in the hotels!

Another thing about getting a hold of tickets is that you need to remember that peak periods such as National Day and Chinese New Year is not ideal times because that’s when there is mass movement within China. If you want to see any cultural or historical sites during this time, just remember that millions of Chinese people are thinking the same thing. Attempt to go when there’s less chance of Chinese tourists unless you don’t mind having every photo to be a sea of black heads.

Now, when you are travelling around china on the train, you need to prepare yourself a little bit. First of all, the squat toilets (as pre-mentioned in my other post) are back with vengeance! Just imagine what kind of mess you can find in a squat toilet which is used by both male and females on a moving vehicle… Don’t be surprised to find Mr Hankey (refer to southpark) hanging around the shoddy compartment.

The second thing is the types of seats you get, always try and get the sleeper if you are on a long journey or a night train! The seaters are crowded and you might end up with strange people drooling on your shoulder, it’s just best to avoid this if you can. The thing with the sleepers is that they have 6 bunk beds in the little alcove, three on each side. The bunk beds are only for lying down, there is just not enough room to sit on them except the bottom bunk. But if you don’t like other people sitting on your bed then it’s best not to reserve the bottom bunk as it’s common for people to use it as a communal seat. I personally prefer the top bunk so that I can have as much privacy as I can.

Also be aware that the very narrow bunk bed doesn’t really give you much room to manoeuvre around. I had quite a bit of trouble twisting and turning so that I could settle into a comfortable position, even with my small size! But the good thing is that those train bunk beds are VERY comfy, this is especially true if you compare it to the dorm beds which feels like you’re sleeping on the floor.

The next thing to note is the fact that you share the alcove with 5 other people, less if you’re lucky. And if you’re a light sleeper then don’t forget ear plugs!! I’ve been pretty luck during my few trips on a train… There was one occasion where the person on the other side of the wall next to me couldn’t sleep because of some extremely LOUD snores, and every now and then they became so frustrated that they would bang the bed in an attempt to wake the snorer.

I haven’t experienced it myself but I have been advised that there is very little difference between the “hard and soft sleepers” and the “hard and soft seaters“. Having to be unfortunate enough to experience an 18hr night train on a hard seater and a crap train, I would strongly recommend that you at least try to get the window seat because this way you have something to lean against.

There is very limited leg space and you have very limited movement on a “hard seater” as you’ll be surrounded by people across from you and beside you. If you are thinking of taking the aisle seat to have better access to the toilet or to plan your escape, you can forget about it. It’s not uncommon, especially during peak season, that the local Chinese people will purchase “standing tickets” and they’ll take up your escape route in the aisle. You’ll just have to climb over them if you need to use the toilet.

Overall, I rather quite liked travelling around on the train. I don’t plan on travelling any other way but on the new bullet trains or on a sleeper if I’m travelling long distances though!! The locals are very friendly, especially to foreigners, and they like to offer food or drinks to you frequently (don’t think it strange that they offer at least 3 times). And when you are stuck on a train for such a long period of time, the time passes much more pleasantly when you are having fun practising your broken Mandarin or teaching them some broken English =)

Source by Selina Lai