China: The trains

From Changjou, we took the high-speed (“bullet”) train to Beijing – about a 5 hour ride, traveling at a top speed of about 300 km/h (186 mph).

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Bullet Train

We had “First Class” tickets, which gave us reserved seats in this car:

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First Class car

They weren’t quite as nice as the “Business Class” car, with the pod-type fully-reclining seats, and complimentary slippers:

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Business Class car

But we were more than happy with the seats we had. They were very large and comfortable, and it was wonderful to be able to get up and walk around as much as you wanted. There were even electronic tablets at every seat that you could pay to use on the ride (of course, it was all in Chinese, so I have no idea what type of entertainment was available). We really enjoyed the ride – I wish we had a better rail system in the U.S., because it was much more comfortable and relaxing than traveling by air.

When we traveled from Beijing to Xi’an, and from Xi’an to Shanghai, we had the tour company book overnight trains with “Deluxe Soft Sleeper” cabins. Normally on the tour you would stay overnight at a hotel, and then take a bullet train in the morning – but my sister-in-law wanted to ride the overnight train instead. These trains don’t travel quite as fast or as smoothly, and have more stops – but since you spend most of the time sleeping (or in our case, trying to sleep), it doesn’t really matter. We had small private rooms with a single bunk bed, a small table with a thermal carafe, an upholstered chair with a small closet and safe behind it, and a private bathroom with toilet and sink:

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Deluxe Soft Sleeper cabin

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Deluxe Soft Sleeper cabin

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Deluxe Soft Sleeper Cabin

Small, but efficient, and enough room for a bit of socializing before bedtime:

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Socializing in the cabin

Outside of the rooms was just a narrow corridor for entering and exiting the car, or going down the hall to the hot water dispenser or the dining car.

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Sleeper car hallway

The biggest problem for us on the overnight trains was that the beds are really, really hard (not exactly “soft sleepers”!). The beds were basically hard benches with a very thin, firm pad on top. Not much different from trying to sleep on the floor. The pillows were also very hard, as well as being small and thin. I ended up grabbing my travel pillow to use instead, and put the bed pillow under my knees to ease the discomfort on my back. I was so uncomfortable that I got almost no sleep at all on the first trip, and only a couple of hours on the second one.

The other issue that we hadn’t been aware of is that there are no towels of any sort in the bathroom. There were paper towel dispensers, but they were empty. That’s not unusual for bathrooms in China, but on an overnight trip where we would be washing up before going to bed and again in the morning, it was a little unexpected. Fortunately I had taken a microfiber towel with me on the trip, so we didn’t have to dry off with t-shirts.

It was an interesting experience to take the sleeper trains, and the second trip was more enjoyable than the first since we knew what to expect and were prepared – but I’m not sure I’d want to do it again unless I had some sort of camping mattress with me. On the other hand, the first class seats on the bullet train were much more comfortable, and reclined enough that you could probably sleep in them.

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4 Responses to China: The trains

  1. Kym says:

    Wow! That’s quite an experience! Those “beds” do not look comfortable. At all. And so narrow. What a great travel adventure, though. (I love traveling by train. I, too, wish it were more available here.)

  2. zeneedle says:

    You are quiet the world traveler. Haven’t you traveled on about every mode of moving from place to place, short of the backs of animals? The train looks like one of the most uncomfortable places to sleep.

  3. Carole says:

    It’s so interesting to read about the way other countries do things like this. Thanks for sharing your experiences and photos!

  4. kiwiyarns says:

    I think the beds are a Chinese thing. My ex-inlaws slept on a bed that was literally planks with a straw mat covering them, and the pillow was a block of wood! I couldn’t get over how they found that comfortable. They still make traditional beds like that with very minimal padding, although not everyone is enamoured with them nowadays…

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