Trying to find information about taking a train in China was kind of like pulling teeth. I read a lot about the language barrier being difficult in China so I wanted to prepare as best I could before I found myself lost somewhere. This is everything I could think of that would be helpful for anyone to know!
Bring your passports
You will need your passport at most places to make it through security. Drivers licenses and ID will not be effective when booking tickets!
Difference in sleeper carts
Soft sleepers are 4 bunks in a room while hard sleepers are six bunks. I will always recommend going with 1st class tickets and soft sleeper train tickets. The prices are not only reasonable but 2nd class and hard sleepers can be more chaotic. I’m one for relaxing and quiet time so it’s worth the money to me.
Boarding starts 20 minutes before
This is a give or take estimate as I found all trains a bit different. To avoid some chaos line up before everyone else and be one of the first people onto the trains platform. Boarding closes 3 minutes before train departs. Don’t get to upset when people try budding you or lining up beside you instead of behind. Just be firm in your position and you might have to fight your way in.
Buy your tickets ahead of time
Winging it in China when it comes to trains isn’t the best of ideas. Trains fill up quickly and there might not be any room for you the days you want to leave. I bought all my tickets from China Highlights and I would highly recommend. They mailed the tickets to my first hotel for me so there was no waiting in lines or hard language barrier to overcome.
They serve food
But not a lot of vegetarian options. Most, if not all meals, contain meat. If you’re a fellow veggie plan ahead of time or you might be stuck with eating stinky durian snacks. I know the high speed train between Beijing and Shanghai serves fresh fruit in carts all the time but as for the others it’s to risky to leave it to fate.
Bathrooms start out fine, but then get gross
I’m being polite when I say gross. I want to be nice and say it’s fine butttttt expect the worse. Bring toilet paper with you and expect it to be less than cleanly.. Trains are kept relatively clean but the attendance to train toilets is minimum, if that. Also hand sanitizer is your new best friend. AND train attendants will lock the Western toilets almost instantly after the train begins to move. I have no idea why. I was waiting outside of a bathroom for 15 minutes before an attendant saw me, unlocked the bathroom, and then locked it after I was out. If anyone knows the reason for this please tell me!!
They serve hot water
If you’re worried about not having enough water to drink don’t worry! All trains supply hot water for drinking. This is great if you want to save some money because you can bring noodles on the train or instant oatmeal like I did. In china you can buy hot water bottles so I would say get one so you’re not using little cups.
Bottom bunks are free game
If you got a bottom bunk and someones sitting on it they actually have a right too. I don’t know when sleeping time is set for but If you’re travelling with a partner I say buy both bunks on the same side and then claim that side. If you’re a solo traveller then top bunk it is! You can hang out up there in peace.
Your train number is on the ticket
So if you can’t read or find your train time look for the matching number. This helped me a lot when I was out of the main areas in China and none of the train names were in English.
Eye mask and headphones
These are also your best friends. It’s a cultural thing I believe but there is lack of social awareness or I don’t really know how to say it. But, if you’re sleeping at 3 in the morning on a train and someones phone is ringing or your bunk mate wants to watch a movie they will have it on full volume. Also lights, if someone needs to move around the lights are on and being stealthy isn’t a thing. So just be prepared with some earplugs or headphones and an eye mask. Wine also helps.
I hope you found this useful! I am off to Bali for a little while and then back in China for a final week in Yangshuo and Hong Kong for my birthday!!! For all my adventures add my snapchat at fernwehwolf or subscribe and follow on Bloglovin <3