Adventure, Real People Train Travel in China

Adventure, Real People Train Travel in China
Repost Sep 16, 2017 By


Railway Travel in China is a real grass-roots experience, whether you're travelling between the major Chinese cities, across country 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, unlike China's notorious domestic flights.

Ok. Let’s start with the tickets:

Train Travel in China is designed to move the masses around the country. Remember, China is vast. So with the 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 at train stations, and this is what makes travelling by train in China difficult for foreigners.

If you like to travel independently in China you can go and buy the ticket at a train station yourself. This takes a bit of time and should ideally not be done on the day you actually plan to travel, but you will get your ticket in the end. The easiest way, however, is to pay a little extra and get someone (either the concierge at your hotel or a travel agent) to do it for you. It actually only works out to be a dollar or two (US) more and saves 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!

There are 4 classes in China train travel:

Hard Seat - this is the most common and cheapest way to travel. The majority of Chinese people use this class. More tickets than seats are sold, so be very quick when boarding if you want a seat and be prepared to stand with the masses if you miss out. This class is not so comfortable as the seats are very small and, yes, hard. However, it's the cheapest way to travel around China by train.

Soft Seat - this is generally a better bet as most of the time you can reserve a seat. Your seat will most likely be taken when you board he train, but being a foreigner and insisting normally helps to get it back. The seats in this class are pretty comfortable and the trip can be pleasant and interesting. The other passengers are generally friendly, and the younger generation (sometimes very young) will try to talk to you and practice their English. 

Hard Sleeper - this is a tough way to do a long train journey in China. 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 bunks are okay size-wise, so you can put your head down to sleep if you're the kind of person who can block out noise. A blanket and pillow is supplied. A food trolley comes around with the very basics, but it's best to take your own rations with you. This class an be very interesting, but I would only recommend it to the seasoned traveller who can cope with less-than-favourable conditions.

Soft Sleeper - this is the way to go if you're not traveling on a budget. Only four to a room and you get a door! The beds are comfortable and a blanket and pillow are supplied. You will meet some interesting people, many of whom will speak broken English and will wish to chat. A food trolley comes around with the very basics, but again, it's best to bring your own food.

In conclusion, my preferred class is definitely Soft Sleeper for a long journey and Soft Seat for a day’s travel.

The Toilets:

This can and will be the most difficult part of traveling by train in China.

Hard Seat - this is a hold-the-nose, come-and-get-me-if-I’m-not-back-in-five-minutes experience. All are squat toilets and you must take you own toilet paper.

Soft Seat - generally much better to begin with. 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, but 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 - Traveling by train in China is do-able, cheap and you can roam all over the country. The conditions are interesting to say the least, but it can be a lot of fun if you know what you are getting yourself in to.

Travel the Real

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Keywords: train travel China


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Take slow trains if you want some adventure, the rest is very smooth ;)

Sep 17, 2017 21:52 Report Abuse



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Sep 17, 2012 23:57 Report Abuse



Very nice to read all these comments, I am travelling to Tianhe district GZ in Feb 2012. I would be grateful to know whether I can bring two of my big luggage s in the train from Airport to SCTU north campus. Anyone know the charge of taxi and the number of stops to the university?

Jan 27, 2012 03:14 Report Abuse



Most trains (Fast train begin with 'T' such ast 'T220' or high speed) provide toilet paper now..

Don't travel in peak seasons (Spring Festival etc)

People broke rank mainly because (in the past) they have enough luggages that they want to store near their seats. It still is today.

Sep 15, 2011 17:41 Report Abuse



never been to china before but i am planning to have one this november 2011. i would greatly appreciate if you guys can spare some tips and advices. i am from canada, port of entry would be GZ, point of travel interest within china are: guangzhou, guilin, liuzhou and bejing. i have 40 days to spend my vacation. thanks, greatly appreciated!

Sep 13, 2011 12:09 Report Abuse



The metro from Guangzhou airport is clean, modern and by western standards, very cheap. It gets very crowded during the rush hour, but at other times I have seen no more than 5-6 people per carriage.
The trains run every few minutes and go right through the city.
There is a touch screen system for tickets, although my GF bought them, so I didnt see if English was an option, so write down a list of Chinese words you will need to understand, just in case.

Sep 16, 2011 21:53 Report Abuse



thanks Ian, i'll take your info. i'm doing also some research. GZ would be my base preference location because of accessibility aspects. also, just wondering if it is advisable to take train or by plane to travel guilin and liuzhou as a first timer. generally chinese are friendly and helpful people but of course with few exceptions. i'm just being optimistic for this travel and hopefully with less hassle. kind regards,

Sep 22, 2011 11:55 Report Abuse



I've done a number of journeys on China trains and enjoyed virtually all of them. Some of the new trains seem to have done away with the "hard" and "soft" categories and refer to 1st and 2nd, or business and economy similar to airlines.

Trains are nearly always punctual, and in my experience clean and comfortable. The first time I went hard seat, I was expecting some kind of wooden bench, but no, the seat was upholstered and fine for a few hours, though I probably wouldn't want to travel overnight that way.

Waiting at the station can be amusing. Several times at Suzhou we were all lined up efficiently by station staff across the platform opposite where the correct carriage door would stop. All was calm and ordered until the doors opened, at which point everyone broke ranks and rushed at the train. Since all had booked seats, I never quite understood this behaviour, but it's all part of the China experience!

I've travelled on hard and soft sleeper, both were fine, though the hard sleeper was a little noisy (though nothing like as noisy as bus travel for which ear plugs are an essential aid!). If you speak a little Mandarin, you will always find someone willing to chat; if you don't, it's pot luck whether there will be an English speaker nearby, but they are usually keen (though sometimes shy) to practice.

I went through a phase of getting fed up with the constant "hellos", the only English many Chinese know, but now I always reply and answer with a little Mandarin - make the effort to learn a few words and phrases and you'll be amazed at how friendly and helpful people can be.

There have of course been recent safety concerns with the new bullet trains and their signalling systems, but overall, rail is a very safe, fast and relatively cheap way to travel and a great way to get to know the country and the people.

Sep 10, 2011 03:35 Report Abuse



your name signifying tha your are a experienced foreigner in China, i think the reason why they broke the ranks and hurried to get on the train is becuse they wanted to find a good place to put their luggage.

Oct 04, 2011 05:28 Report Abuse



I have travelled the length of the country from Beiijing to Changsha and experienced all four classes. Under no circumstances ever would I be preparared to use Hard Seat class. It is stupidly overcrowded and therefore dangerous, with idiotic travellers baording the most stupidly bulky things you can imagine. People everywhere in the aisles and doorways.

On the plus side I did a soft sleeper from Beijing to Suzhou and that was bliss.

You get what you pay for and if there is one thing this article does get right is taht is cheap so dont be a cheap skate go soft sleeper or at least soft seat on a short journey, for the extra few bucks in comparison it is worth it.

One thing that is not mentioned is the diabolical train stations and baggage checking machines that can be downright absurd at high season, with a scrum to get your bag out f the other end and a scrum to even get thrugh the barding gates.

train travel in china is shit.

Sep 10, 2011 01:48 Report Abuse



China is a huge country with all walks of people, maybe they are uneducated,but earn their living with their own hands, how can u say they are idiotic, u need some manners!

Oct 04, 2011 05:17 Report Abuse



Very impressive article...

Sep 09, 2011 20:52 Report Abuse



In using the Comfort Room make it to the point to go there in the weee hour at night or very early morning and mid -noon these time nobody will disturb you and few people use it or no one is still clean that time. Don't dare to go there 7am after Lunch say 12:30 ....7 pm to 8pm many people queing to use the WC. YEAH BRING YOUR OWN PAPER...Additional TIPS bring along some food stuff for munching is a bit expensive to buy in the train...bring along candies, bread, fruits, water and some ready to eat noodles (if you like it)...Dont forget to bring along with you your MP3, IPod or something to listen to or play with it lessen the boredom in your long travel. Be jollly with the ENGLISH learners they are glad to hear from you...ENJOY YOUR TRIP!!!

Sep 09, 2011 20:19 Report Abuse



I have been visiting China since 1997 from 2 to 4 times per year, and lived here since mid 2010. Train was and is my favorite way to travel. I really do not trust airplane maintenance compliance, and feel buses are too prone to accidents. So, my choice, trains. Allows me to see countryside, plus meet some very kind and wonderful persons. I have not had a bad experience at all in all my many travels. I buy my train tickets in advance from a local travel agency, only 5 Rmb surcharge. My choice of course is a soft sleeper, but I have traveled in hard sleepers (ywice), and soft seats (maybe 10 times).
I disagree with the article in regards to hard sleeper description. First there are no "rooms" (or walls), it is a train car with 3 to 4 vertical bunks stacked one next to the other, with a capacity of 66 persons per car. Noisy, maybe yes at daytime, not worse than a restaurant or a city bus, but at night there is silence and had no trouble sleeping. Of course, different if a baby is present, but mothers take care of that.
Toilets and wash rooms. At the beginning of a trip, they are clean and nice. Of course, at the end they will be dirty and smelly. I only use them for No 1, No 2 is taken care before boarding, or after arriving, but do bring tissue, none is offered. I no not buy food on train, and drinks are room temperature, so I do have a small cooler which I bring with water, beer (on ice) and snacks. My longest train trip was 36 hours from Beijing to Nanning, and I made some great friends on that one. Fellow travelers on soft sleeper were very nice to me.
Accidents or no accidents, I still consider the trains to be the safest way to travel in China, if you are not in a hurry. Just be aware of thieves and pickpockets, you will not recognize them, but they will see you and you will become their favorite target without a doubt.

Sep 09, 2011 19:14 Report Abuse



Totally...two holidays within a month coming up and they are trying to put belief back into people that they are safe...not going to work...

Sep 09, 2011 16:50 Report Abuse



interesting timing for an article like this. anyone else smell a rat?

Sep 09, 2011 15:11 Report Abuse



Did you know that there is now a NEW flexible, affordable, comfortable and a safe independent travel option for backpacking around China? Basically the “Busabout” travel style has now arrived in China! Its run by westerners who have been in China for many years, and has western bi lingual guides, all of whom have tried going it alone through China! Most of us, even with Chinese language skills found out the hard way the huge complexities of taking on the Chinese transport system, booking tickets and finding all the great places! This was why we started this type of travel concept into China. Dragon Bus China passes range from around 220 pounds ($375 USD) to 450 pounds (880 USD). This covers all your accommodation and travel, and have various options that criss crosses mainland China, from Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Xian! The beauty of this type of travel is that the sites & attractions you visit is also up to yourself, how long you stay is up to yourself, and the only decision you'll have to make is which Bus you then take. So if you’re “Templed out” you won't be paying & going to attractions that you’d rather not. We offer group walking tours in Cities, have downloadable free materials & point out the free museums and sites as well. ohh and we also don't drag you to the commission restaurant/shops either like the package tours will.

Feb 01, 2010 23:04 Report Abuse


David. Nanchang

I have travelled from Harbin to Guangzhou on trains in China, most of it has been in the hard sleeper, they are always very clean and airconditioned, with only 66 people in each carriage, quite a comforetable way to to travel, especially overnight you can easily leave in the evening arrive 1000 kms away in the morning.The most interesting train journey was from Bejing to Tian Jin, the same train is running from Guangzhou to Wuhan and eventually to Biejing,2300kms in seven hours.This train runs at an average of 350 kms/hour in perfect comfort, its like sitting in your living room, very stable and no claketty clack!!Trains in China are very safe and usually run on time.Quite often you will meet a younger chinese who speaks some english.But if you get stuck, someone will turn up to help you.I have often used students to help me.Chinese are always very willing to help you.

Jan 29, 2010 23:55 Report Abuse



very good!it seems that you have traveled most of China,i am original Chinese,haha...

Sep 09, 2011 22:11 Report Abuse