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



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