Trains In China

China has invested massively in its rail network in the last 20 years. The country is now home to the world's highest railway and the world's longest high speed rail line and it is without doubt the best way to see the country for real.

Back in 2010 I took the train from Beijing to Chengdu which took about 30 hours and cost about £40 for the 'hard sleeper' option. Although this may sound like a long time to be sat (or layed) on a train it's an incredible way to see the countryside of the Middle Kingdom, and is something many foreigners never experience.

Trains in China are split into 4 classes and, if you're on a train for any length of time, I suggest selecting the 'hard sleeper' option as a minimum. In the 'hard sleeper' carriage beds are split into open compartments of 6, three on each side. If you're taller than the average Chinese person, too, you're going to want to request the top bunk which can be done at the station. The 'hard seater' is the very basic option where you can expect seating similar to most western commuter trains whilst the 'soft seater' is a little more padded and less cramped. If you're willing to splash the cash (and by that I mean spend around 80% more than the hard sleeper) then the 'soft sleeper' is the gold standard in Chinese train travel where you're allocated a cabin with 4 beds, the others will be filled with strangers unless you decide to purchase them as well. Bedding is provided in both sleeper classes. 

We were fortunate enough to be able to book tickets through our Hostel as trains book up fast and we got some of the last beds available on that day. I suggest booking at least 3 days in advance if possible.  

On the whole my experience was really positive. The Chinese are really friendly people and happy to chatter away at you even, despite you having no idea what they are saying. One friendly toothless fellow even decided to show us each one of his pigeons individually. We took some snack food with us but purchased the majority of our meals in the dining car which served surprisingly good hot noodle and rice dishes. The beer was luke-walm but the friendly guard who sat and joined us for 'snap' with my newly acquired 'Colonel Mao' cards more than made up for it. 

Seeing the rice paddies and the countryside makes you realise how far this nation has come in such a short time. Indeed, the deeper into the country you go, the further back in time you seem to travel. Train travel in China is an experience in itself and I would recommend it to everyone, whether Backpackers or Holidayers.   

By James on
About Beijing and Chengdu
Tagged with Trains and China