Train Travel in China, facts and information from someone who is a train traveller in China.
Railway Travel in China is an adventure and can be a real grass-roots experience whether you are travelling between the major Chinese cities, or just from town to town... An adventure it will be.
Train Travel in China has varying levels of rail car standards as well as assorted levels of cleanliness; this is why I say it can be an adventure.
The network coverage is good; most cities and major towns within China are linked, as are the key metropolitan areas. The trains are fast and mostly on time.
Ok ! Let’s start with the tickets.
Train Travel in China is designed to move the masses around the country. Remember, China is vast, huge...; so with enormous numbers of people travelling by train, getting tickets especially over holiday and festival periods can be tough.
Good systems are in place and you can even get the tickets delivered to your hotel or home. However very little or no English is spoken, and this is what makes catching a train difficult.
If you like best tours of China you can go and buy the ticket yourself; this takes a bit of time and you will get your ticket in the end. But the best way is to pay a little bit extra and get someone to do it for you; it actually only works out to be a dollar or two, (US) saving a lot of hassle.
On the city to city trains and the major lines a seat can be reserved; (however you may still have to move someone to claim it!)
Rail Travel or Train Travel in China has 4 travel classes.
Hard Seat - this is the most common and cheapest way to travel; the greatest numbers of Chinese travellers use this class. More tickets than seats are sold, so be very quick if you want a seat and be prepared to stand with the masses if you miss out. This class is not so comfortable; however it's cheap to move around the country.
Soft Seat - this is a better way to travel and most of the time you can reserve a seat. It most likely will be taken, however being a foreigner and insisting, helps to get it back. Stand your ground. The seats are comfortable and the trip can be pleasant and interesting; the people are friendly and the younger generation (sometimes very young) will try to talk to you and practice their English. This mode of transport is fun.
Hard Sleeper - this is tough way to do a long journey. However it is the cheapest method if you want a sleeping berth. Six bunks to a room, no doors, tight, cramped conditions, not so clean, noisy…, not so nice. The bunk is ok, so you can put your head down to sleep…if you can for the noise. A blanket and pillow is supplied. A food trolley comes around with the very basics, so it is best to take your own rations with you. This class is just bearable but very interesting.
I would only recommend this for the seasoned traveller who can cope with less-than-favourable conditions.
Soft Sleeper - this is the way to go, 4 to a room, and it has a door. The beds are comfortable, blanket and pillow are supplied. You will meet some interesting people; many will speak broken English and will wish to chat. A food trolley comes around with the very basics, so again, it is best to take your own rations.
Train Travel in China…my preferred class is definitely Soft Sleeper for a long journey and Soft Seat for a day’s travel.
Train Travel in China – The Toilets
This can and will be the most difficult part of last minute China travel deals , on the trains and buses.
Hard Seat this is a hold-the-nose, come-and-get-me-if-I’m-not-back-in-5-minutes experience. All are squat toilets and you must take you own toilet paper.
Soft Seat …however as the journey progresses, hard seat conditions turn up; most are squat toilets; always bring your own paper.
Hard Sleeper about the same as for soft seat travelling; however you have to put up with it for a longer period of time.
Soft Sleeper this is better and will most likely have a seat-style toilet, still no paper!
A Final Note, Travel in China is Ok, cheap, and you can roam all over the country. The conditions are interesting to say the least; however, a lot of fun if you know what you are getting yourself in to.
Try it. You will have fun and a special adventure.
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