China is incredibly vast and distance between 2 cities is most likely hundreds of kilometers rather than kilometers. It is easy to travel via air to reduce time travel but it can become rapidly expensive. That’s why several travelers prefer train travel. It gives the opportunity to enjoy sightseeing and also to discuss and share experiences with locals or other travelers.
Railway is highly developed in China and the government puts lot of money to continue this fast development (with potential troubles sometimes like the recent fast train crash in July).
Hard and soft
Trains get two different classes (like usual European trains): “hard” and “soft” seats. A third class is also available for the courageous travelers, “stand-up” tickets. The guys will stand up until they can find a free seat or lay down on the floor…
Lot of night trains are available to cover long distance travels. You will find the 3 mentioned classes (yes, you can stand up during 10 hours in a night train…) and 2 different sleepers, hard and soft. Don’t expect any difference on the bed between these 2 classes – it refers only to the number of beds in the compartment, 6 for hard instead of 4 in soft class.
Classification of China’s train
They got 4 common categories. The first letter is used to determine the category and usually followed by several numbers:
- ‘Z’ trains which are overnight trains
- ‘C’, ‘D’ and ‘G’ trains which are high-speed trains
- ‘T’ trains which are national trains, slower than high-speed trains and stop on major cities
- ‘K’ trains which can be compared to our regional trains with lot of stops in several cities
Book a train ticket
It is possible to buy tickets in the railway stations or on some ticket offices which are usually on the main district of major cities. Note that a 5RMB additional cost per ticket will be applied in these ticket offices.
Thanks to Rough Guide China, I discovered this website which is useful to find train timetable and exact reference: http://www.travelchinaguide.com/china-trains
Tickets are available between 10-15 days before departure. It is better to book the travel as soon as possible because Chinese people used a lot this way of travel. Passport will be required for ‘C’, ‘D’ and ‘G’ trains.
Travelers must know that it is impossible to buy round trip tickets. The Chinese booking system is decentralized and each station manages their trains. Run in the ticket office as soon as you arrive to your destination to buy your next ticket if you want to avoid potential delays or rerouting.
Hint for non-Chinese speaker: ticket officers don’t speak English so I recommend to bring your destination written in Chinese character and if available the train reference. I also usually asked to people in the queue if they speak English and help me to book my train tickets. Chinese people are keen to help foreigners in this situation.
Adventure and friendliness
I had the chance to travel in train several times since I have landed in Beijing couple of months ago. The travel was always part of the adventure. Find below some anecdotes of my different travels:
- A stand-up travel during 2h30 between the toilet door and the corridor. It was like a travel at rush hour in the subway but everybody was laughing and chatting
- A small fight to get in the train at Shidu station then a total disorder with people everywhere who play, eat or sing
- A friend who went to the wrong station for a weekend trip: there are 6 different railway stations in Beijing!
- One of the fastest trains in the world between Beijing and Tianjin, 340 km/h for 30 min travel
- Sleep with my friends on the floor in the restaurant car because we were able to get only stand up tickets on our way back from Shanhaiguan.
(Blog posted by Julian. You can see the original article by following this link to Julian, A French Man in Asia)