Facts on China Train Travel - A Beginner’s Guide
High speed trains are impressive.
As a beginner to experience train travel in China, you will marvel at how large China high speed railway network is- it probably covers all of the destinations on your travel list; how fast the train is- it can reach 350 km/h (217 mph); how stable the carriage is- you can balance a coin on its edge; how comfortable the seats are- it is equipped like an airplane. A number of new railway stations have been built for these trains, many of which are connected to subway lines.
Language barrier is not a problem.
The facts are very few railway staff speak English even at the larger stations and the official railway website and hotline are only in Chinese. Fortunately, there are booking agencies like TravelChinaGuide that will buy the tickets for you and deliver them to your hotel for a small fee. If you want to make a reservation on your own, it is easiest to do it at the train station and it is advisable to print out the necessary information in Chinese beforehand.
Once at the railway station, most signs are in both English and Chinese and announcements are usually in both languages making the actual travel easy.
Toilet? Sometimes it’s a hole in the floor.
Although most bullet trains have both western and squat style toilets, many normal trains are still in use. The hole-in-the-floor toilet or squat toilet is very common on them and a few bullet ones. These can be a nightmare for the beginners. In the old-generation carriages, the toilet opens onto the railway track and is closed when approaching a station. No matter which type of train you are riding on it is important to bring toilet paper. While it is on provided on bullet trains, it runs out quickly.
Smoke may follow you like shadows on normal trains.
Smoking is strictly prohibited in bullet carriages. Smokers can only seize the time when the train stops at an intermediate station. If you want to smoke, you are advised to figure out which stations have the longest stops and even then you’d better not walk far away from the carriage door.
On regular trains, smoking is allowed between the connections of two carriages. Unfortunately, the smoke “blossoms” out there and seeps in other parts of the carriage, even in the soft sleeper or deluxe soft sleeper cabins that have a separate door. If you don’t like the smell of smoke, try to avoid the seat or sleeper close to the coach connections. This is always a good idea anyway since the possibly smelly squat toilet is there, too.
Get used to curious stares from your fellow passengers.
|All passengers in your cabin |
may sit on the lower berth during the day.
The lower berth is used by upper-berth-passengers as a seat during the day.
It is an unwritten custom for all passengers to sit on the lower berths during the day. In hard sleeper cabins, three beds are arranged on each side, so if you don’t want people sitting on your bed, the middle berth is your best choice. The upper berth offers the least space although it gives the most privacy.
The carriage is a moving canteen with noodle slurping and food ordor.
There is a dining car on most long-distance trains and food trolleys on all of them. But the food is relatively expensive and may not be very good. Local Chinese passengers prefer to bring their own food and snacks and their top choice for a long-distance ride is instant noodles. Boiled hot water is available on the train so the carriages may be full of noodle slurping and food odors during meal times.
Avoid Peak Travel Seasons or Risk Being Squeezed Like Sardines
During the Chinese New Year and National Day Holiday, people pour out from their work places to go home or on vacation. The railway stations and carriages can be unimaginably crowded, especially the hard seat carriages. Try to avoid travelling during these holidays. They are quite challenging for frequent travelers, let alone beginners.