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Train Travel in China

Travel by rail is an enjoyable, relaxing, and inexpensive way to see China's countryside. New or modernized equipment has replaced the old train systems in most areas. Travelers who lack the time to cover vast distances by train can still get a delightful taste of rail travel by journeying on popular short distance routes from Shanghai to the nearby cities of Suzhou, Wuxi, Nanjing, or Hangzhou; or from Beijing to Tianjin. Amenities have been added to first-class train travel (known as "soft seat"), including comfortable waiting lounges at some train stations. Tardy travelers should note that the trains are consistently punctual.

Trains are generally convenient in China. The railway 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. However, if you're traveling from a large city you may have trouble buying tickets, since train travel in China is designed to move the masses around the country. Remember, China is vast, huge...; so with enormous numbers of people traveling by train, getting tickets especially over holiday and festival periods can be tough. Thus you should purchase your tickets two or three days ahead of time. If you are traveling from a smaller city or town you will often not be assigned a seat. If all the seats on the train are already full you'll have to stand or sit on the floor, which can be inconvenient if you're in the aisle because you will need to move out of the way frequently to let people and food carts gets by. In this case it is usually better to sit at the end of the train car. Sit on your luggage if it's big enough, or use a Therm-a-Rest pad.

Three-Speed Trains travel
Trains travel at three speeds - local, fast and express. Ticket reservation service is available at travel services and hotels. Express trains link Beijing, the nation's capital, with capital cities of all the provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions.

Chinese trains have three classes of seating: hard seats, soft seats, hard sleepers and soft sleepers. The lowest class is hard seats(yingzuo). Most seats available on a train are of this type. Despite the name the seats aren't hard or especially uncomfortable. The seatbacks don't recline though, which usually makes it hard to sleep unless you have a window seat and a pillow. Do not to ride hard seats because it is too uncomfortable. Train Travel in China my preferred class is definitely Soft Sleeper for a long journey and Soft Seat for a day's travel.

4-classes Rail Travel or Train Travel in China

Hard Seat - this is the most common and cheapest way to travel; the greatest numbers of Chinese travelers use this class. The carriages are usually crowded and often more tickets are sold than there are seat available, so be very quick for the fierce seat competition if you want a seat and be prepared to stand with the masses once you miss out. This class is not so comfortable; with much patience, when you want to visit the toilet. However it's cheap to move around the country.

Soft Seat - Soft Seat is available on the inter-city lines and provides a better level of comfort. 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. Soft Seat is quite comfortable inexpensive method of travel for a journey of a few hours.

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, and tight, cramped conditions, not so clean, noisy..., and 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. The carriage has a squat toilet at each end of the carriage. The condition of the toilet will get progressively worse as the journey progresses. This class is just bearable but very interesting. I would only recommend this for the seasoned traveler who can cope with less-than-favorable conditions.

Soft Sleeper - this is the way to go, four bunks in a compartment which has a door for privacy. 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. Toilets are at the end of the carriage and may be a western toilet however they may not always be clean as they are used by people from other carriages. No toilet paper is provided in the bathrooms.

If you choose to travel by train, you are recommended to book a soft sleeper. A new kind of air-conditioned coach equipped with soft seats that unfold like airline seats has been put into service on trains. These trains are designed at speed of 160 km/hour with a capacity of 68 passengers per coach.

Railway Travel in China is an adventure and can be a real grass-roots experience whether you are traveling 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.

Lace 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 independent China travel 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!)

Train Travel in China – The Toilets

This can and will be the most difficult part of Travel in China, 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 better...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 traveling; 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, Train 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. I hope some of these China Travel Tips will come in handy and will make your trip to China that little bit easier.

International Railway
The international railway through special expresses shuttle between Beijing, Ulan Bator, and Moscow, and Beijing, Manzhouli, and Moscow; Beijing and Pyongyang; Urumqi and Alma Ata; Beijing and Hanoi; and Beijing and Ulan Bator. It takes six to seven days from Moscow to Ulan Bator and from Manzhouli to Beijing.

Train No. K97, the Beijing-Kowloon Through Express, departs at 9:11 from Beijing every other day and arrives at Kowloon at 13:10 the next day.


Train No. K98 departs at 15:00 from Kowloon and arrives at the Beijing West Railway Station at 18:58 the next day.
Train No. 99, the Shanghai-Kowloon Through Express, departs at 9:19 from Shanghai every other day and arrives at 13:10 at Kowloon.


Train No. 100 departs at 15:00 from Kowloon and arrives at 19:10 in Shanghai the next day.

Passport and return certificates for compatriots from Hong Kong and Macao are requested to buy tickets of these through expresses. Payment for these tickets is accounted in Hang Kong dollars and is paid in RMB on mainland China.

Subway

Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xian, Tianjin and Nanjing have modern subways for fast travel around the cities. If you're in a hurry, this is the way to go. Signs and schedules are in English, and transfers between lines are free. A subway ticket costs 2.00 - 5.00 yuan.

High Speed Rail

Also, China is the first and only country to have commercial train service on conventional rail lines that can reach 350 km/h. If you travel by High Speed Rail, you can choose some operational lines like these: Beijing-Shanghai Intercity Railway; The Wuhan-Guangzhou High-Speed Railway; Zhengzhou- Xi'an High-Speed Railway; The Shanghai Maglev Train; The Beijing-Tianjin Intercity Railway; Haikou - Sanya Intercity Railway.

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Questions & Comments

  • David Zhao on December 28, 2010, 10:13 am

    Hi Michael, the train doesn't offer shower facilities. I think this is not humanized for a tourist who has a long journey.

  • MIchael on December 28, 2010, 8:35 am

    Hi Does the train traveling from Bejing to Hanoi , we have a sleeper berth, have a restaurant and is their shower facilities available Michael

  • Hoffmann Klaus on January 13, 2010, 6:40 pm

    Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, do you sell train tickets for transmongolian train nr. 23 or 3 from Beijing to Ulan Bator at 31st of March Thanks for your answer We arrive at Beijing at 28th of March so maybe we can get it at your office

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