All information about the stations and tips for your travel with the train
How much time to plan for boarding the train?
I would always advice you to be about 1 hour in advance at the train station. Sometimes it can get very busy and waiting lines grow fast. Also some train stations are pretty huge, so plan 10 min. walking in the station until you reach your assigned waiting room(just look at the huge boards and check for your train number to find them).
Usually they will let you board about 15-20 min before your train is supposed to leave, which means they open the gate for you to get onto the platform. But some trains are huge, you don’t want to run 500m with your luggage just because you are late.
How to get into the train station/waiting for the train?
Usually the slow trains and fast trains will leave from different stations, but both will be rather close to the city center, if not in the center. Check before hand where your train will leave. The Station for the fast trains is usually very clean and high-end, the ones for the night trains can be very run down, creepy, dirty and stuffed, but that’s all part of the experience 😛
When you reach the station you have to go through a security check. Here they will check your ticket and your passport and also scan your luggage. Careful with the fast trains, if somebody important is on the train it could be that you have to throw away your Swiss army knife or the knife you use for cutting fruits. Usually you won’t have any issues on the slow trains, as long as you don’t carry a freaking sword with you 😉( Even those work if you say you are a Wushu student ;))
Lastly and most important. DON’T FORGET YOUR PASSPORT. Sometimes copies work, but I wouldn’t risk it. Train Tickets and Passport are your must have to get into the station and onto your train!
What to do in the Train Station?
Perfect you are in, keep your ticket and passport at an easy reachable place you will need them again when you board the train.
Now just make your way to your waiting room or stroll around and buy yourself some instant noddle pots (just add hot water, which they always have on trains) or instant coffee, so that you are perfectly prepared for your train adventure.
Relax sit back and wait for the board with your train number to switch color (from red to green) or for the people to start moving towards the platform.
On the Platform?
Easy =) Either you show the ticket to the nice guide down at the platform who will point you into the right direction or you check your card for the Compartment number. Usually you will have some arrows pointing you the way and the numbers are next to the doors too.
Don’t waste too much time and no smoking. You can smoke on the train later. Head straight to your compartment and just show your ticket to the nice person standing at the door, who will point you into the right direction.
Which seat/bed is yours?
Have a look again onto your ticket, the seat numbers are all marked, so it is super easy to find. When you have a sleeper you have to give your ticket to the person holding a big folder and they will give you a plastic card (This way they know when you have to get off and will wake you about 30 minutes in advance)
There are the lower, middle and high bed. Either show your plastic card to a Chinese person, they usually are very helpful or learn the signs 😉
If you are wondering where to get this information from, check my last post. There is a picture with one of my train tickets, on which I marked all the important information.
What to expect when traveling with a Hard Seat?
Most of you probably are not planning to travel with a hard seat and I do understand it, but I still want to encourage you to give it a try. This is how most people in China travel. It is not very comfy, but it is very social. Usually at some point somebody will get their Cell Phone out to translate or one person knows English and translates for the other people. You will most likely share food, stories and maybe you are going to get some great travel tips. It is certainly an adventure, but here you will meet some awesome people, so give it a try.
Otherwise just show them you ticket and when you have to get off and they for sure will tell you. Also the people working on the train usually will take good care of you and tell you when to get off, but don’t rely on it, better ask a couple of times 😉
Besides that get some hot water, eat your noddle soup and talk with your new friends, best case you will find somebody to do a Karaoke Session with (That happened to me two years ago 😉 )
What to expect when traveling Soft Seat?
Soft Seats are nearly as expensive as Hard Sleepers and that is for a good reason. You will have lots of leg space and you can lower the seat a bit. So definitely a comfortable option. People usually won’t talk to you so much. Just if you have a curious seat neighbor.
Expect everybody to be loudly talking till 11 pm, then suddenly everybody will turn quite and find a decent sleeping position. After a while you will just hear a bit of snoring 😉
The light won’t be turned off, so if you are taking a night train and didn’t manage to get a sleeper, maybe take a sleeping mask with you. Also nobody will wake you up, so it is your own responsibility to get out at the right spot. Again just show your ticket to your seat neighbor or the staff, they will help.
For both Soft and Hard Seat you will have people wandering around and looking for empty seats, if the train is overbooked. This is simply because they sell standing tickets in China. Because the train stops at several stations, some seats stay empty for half of the way, so the people with standing tickets can use them, but then have to move when the person who booked the seat arrives. Which means if somebody is sitting at your seat, no worries, they will move =)
What to expect when traveling with Soft/Hard Sleeper?
Again traveling with a Hard Sleeper is just more of a social event. Usually before everybody crawls into their beds, all will sit at the bottom beds and drink some beer, talk or eat some snacks, that’s why I don’t like booking the lowest bunk and prefer the upper ones.
There are Blankets and a Pillow, the Beds are just about 185 long. So if you are really tall it might could be a bit of a challenge, the train has a Wifi Connection and Entertainment Part where you could stream Movies (At least our last one had it). Sometimes there are Power Sockets, sometimes there are not. Around 11 the lights will be turned off.
When your stops comes close the train staff will switch the plastic card they gave you, with your ticket and wake you up, about 30 minutes before your have to get off.
And that’s pretty much it. Ohh and in the morning usually everybody will sit at the lower beds again and snack some food. This is why I always bring a couple more things with me, so that I can share some, because I so often got offered food, that I don’t want to stand there empty handed 😉
Well that is pretty much it for the Hard Sleeper.
The Soft Sleeper I just took once in my life. Not all trains even have Soft Sleepers, just the very popular routes, like Shanghai-Beijing. The compartment was quite nice and there was definitely a place to charge your electronics, you can look the door and they also have a Wake-Up Service. Everything was just a bit nicer and more private. But also quite a bit more expensive. So instead of taking the Soft Sleeper, you maybe want to consider simply booking a flight 😉
What else on the train?
There are several restaurants on board where you can eat and also some people selling breakfast, snacks and drinks…but it is all a bit pricey.
The doors between the compartments especially between the different classes get locked, so keep all the stuff you need with you, in case your friends and you are in different compartments.
The toilets are closed while the train is standing, but as soon as it starts driving they open the doors again. Guess where all the toilet stuff ends 😉 Just saying you can feel the cool wind, when you use the toilet 😛
You can smoke on most trains, so no need to run outside during the stops.
And that’s all =)
Just one last thing, keep your ticket ready to show when you exit the train station. They sometimes check, especially in the bigger cities or you have to go through an electronic gate.
So this is really everything I can tell you about Train Travel in China. Thanks for staying so long with me. I know this was a huge post and lots of information. But if it helped you I am happy to have written it =)
If you know somebody going to China soon, why not share this post with them, so that it can be of use for many people.