Getting around by trains in China is very much a part of the experience while travelling there, and is highly enjoyable. Most of the time.
It all starts naturally with the booking of a ticket, which in itself is a mission, unless of course you can read Mandarin.
But I am pretty sure that the vast majority of travellers would see that board and have absolutely no clue.
Confounding things even more you will have to deal with a national past-time; the art of pushing in.
For a country with a population of 1.3 billion people, I guess you have too push for space from time to time, but it can get brutal.
Now assuming you have finally managed too get at the front of the line and reached the window, there is a 95% chance (ok that figure was made up, but it seems about right) that the person behind the window won’t know what you are trying to say.
If you are booking from a large city that is used too tourists, then someone working there should be able to speak some english.
The chance of getting that person on the first attempt will be very small.
So you will wait in line for sometimes half an hour only to be told (well gestured is more like it) that you have to go to a different window, and queue all over again.
Oh the joy of it!
There is a great way too help out at the start of all this. Visit this website in your hotel/hostel/whatever called ctrip.
There you can do a search for train journeys, flights and so on. It’s the best for travel information in China.
Anyway when you have found a train journey that is suitable for you, take a photo of that page with your phone camera, or camera.
Then when you go too book your ticket at the station, you can simply point too the train that you want. Also have the date written down for when you want to go.
You can also get the staff where you are staying too write down in Chinese what you want to book.
There is even a simpler way to all this, but it kind of takes the fun (in other words a travel experience) out of booking a ticket. That way is to use an agent to book your ticket for you, or sometimes hotels etc can offer this service.
Downside is you often have too pay a little extra money and loose the fun of shoving your way around a station!
The Chinese have invested a lot in the new high speed rail network, and new modern stations are sprouting up everywhere.
Good luck getting a ticket:…
Now you arrive at the station on the day your train leaves, and proceed too a waiting room, where you, well, wait.
Then everyone is called, normally 10 minutes before you are due to leave, and board. With the usual bit of shoving and pushing amongst the swarm of people.
It’s amazing how a group can go from waiting patiently and politely, then suddenly go nuts as soon as they know it’s time too go.
There are generally two types of train you will get, a slower sleeper train, or 1 of the new faster D trains.
The newest are super comfy and speedy, and if short on time, the best way to go. It may cost extra than the slower ones, but it will be worth it.
You can cut what would be a 20 hour sleeper train journey down too only 5-6 hours!
That being said the sleeper trains are cozy, and you get too experience the more social atmosphere of people forcibly stuck together for a longish period of time.
Survival mode activated!
Just a word of warning, don’t take the hard seat option on the slow trains if on a long trip. It will destroy your very soul!
A lot of the time on the new fast trains you will have a cool relaxed time.
But a lot of people don’t use headphones, no idea why, and chuck out the noise from whatever they are watching on their tablets etc.
This doesn’t sound too bad, but combine several people all doing it with different movies/tv shows, and it can piss you off!
Just 1 movie you can sort of go along with it, but you can’t blank out the cacophony of sound from all of them together.
The natural solution is too put your headphones on and zone out with your music. It’s when you are trying to sleep for a bit that it can get too you.
Also for some reason certain Chinese people seem too have the need for practically shouting into their phones when talking! What the fuck.
Then adding too it all would be someone who thought that munching on something smelly and noisy was a good idea with a bunch of other people around. Rude prick.
The majority of your fellow passengers are however polite and respectful, especially the younger generations.
When riding the slower sleeper trains you could end up on the top bunk, which means you will have absolutely no space between your body and the ceiling, leading to possible head banging in the middle of the night.
The worst part of sleeping on the top is that you are facing the light, which the bastards put on very early in the morning. Good luck sleeping through that.
Then there always seems too be a lot of serious snorers on these things. Aaahhhhhhh! Ggrrrrrrrr!
It’s All Brilliant
Having got that little rant out of the way, the reality is that train travel in China is great fun, and the absolute best way to get around.
Watching the countryside roll by while bombing around on the fast trains, or waking up slightly dazed on a sleeper at your new destination is all part of the China experience.
Sleeping on the trains, apart from the snorers, is a very peaceful feeling, with the movement of the train sending you into a lullaby.
There may be a language barrier, but on the slower trains you can get too know more of the local people.
Whatever you do try not too have the need to travel during Chinese New Year. This is when the largest human migration in the world happens, as there are billions of passenger journeys.
Most from people going home over the holiday period too visit family.
I am writing this post while speeding my way on a fast train on the way to Chongqing and loving it. Despite several movies blaring all around me!
Useful Links For Travel in China by Train
The absolute best website for knowing anything about train travel in the world is seat61. This is the seat61 page for China train travel.
Guidebooks have good info as well. I recommend taking the Lonely Planet China for travel there.
If you liked this somewhat rant about travelling China by train a share would be cool! –