Travelling by train is an easy and efficient way of travelling long distances on your China holiday. Night trains tend to leave in the evening and arrive at their destination early in the morning. I recommend heading to the train station about 1.5 hrs before your train is meant to leave as you are sometimes allowed to board the trains early. If you can’t board the train then it’s still a good idea to get there early as the larger stations have restaurants where you can grab some food, relax and watch the crowds go by.
Reading your ticket
Once you are ready to find your train, look for the large signs at the train station. The train number will be on your ticket and this is what you will be looking for on the sign. You probably won’t be able to understand anything else on your ticket though as it all will be in Chinese (apart from your destination and embarkation point). If you need some help then there are train stewards in each carriage who can direct you to your seat, or you can print off this useful guide to reading Chinese train tickets: http://www.seat61.com/China.htm.
Find your seat
I would recommend trying to get one of the upper berths if you are looking to go to sleep as soon as you get on the train as the lower berth is used as a communal sitting area until everyone else is ready to go to bed. Once you have found your seat, you can sit down and relax and enjoy the train journey. The train steward will come and collect your ticket and give you a card which you will have to keep on you during the journey. Half an hour before arriving at your destination the steward will come and collect the card and give you back your train ticket.
Food & drink
If you fancy some food whilst onboard, this is not a problem as there will be a food and drink cart going through the train with items like noodles and fruit. The food selection is reasonable but nothing special so I would suggest buying some snacks to bring with you before you get on the train. You will also be able to buy drinks like lukewarm beer and Coca Cola onboard too. If you would like tea and coffee whilst on your journey, then bring a cup, a spoon, tea and instant coffee and sugar as boiling water is available onboard the train.
On your train carriage there will be two squat toilets, and a washroom with cold (non-drinking water). The washroom is fine to freshen up but is not equipped for bathing. I would recommend bringing a torch for your train journey as the lights are switched off at about 10pm and also some ear-plugs in case the people on your carriage don’t want to go to sleep at the same time as you.
Choose a cabin
The last thing to consider is if you want to book a hard-sleeper or soft-sleeper for your journey. Even though the name suggests differently, a hard-sleeper is just as comfortable as a soft-sleeper (bed-wise anyway). The only difference is that if you are travelling on a soft sleeper then there will be 4 beds in your cabin (2 on each side) and the cabin can be closed. On a hard sleeper there are 6 beds in your cabin (3 on each side) and the cabin cannot be closed. Personally, I found this better as it seems like there is more room as you are not closed in. Whether you travel on a hard-sleeper or a soft-sleeper you will be provided with a clean sheet, blanket and pillow. Although, you will save money if you travel by hard-sleeper as the tickets are cheaper.
Once you have thought all this through, got your snacks ready, and found your seat, all that’s left to do is to relax and enjoy the journey!