I have written a lot about our adventures in China, however I have only barely touched on how we got around there. We did very little by bus or car, the majority of our travel within a city was by walking or subway and all of our long distance journeys were by train.
There are two types of train available which cover the vast distances which exist in China: The bullet train or the sleeper train. The bullet train is much more expensive and this is clear from the level of comfort within the train as well as the time taken to get to your destination. During our time in China we traveled on three bullet trains and three sleeper trains.
Traveling on a bullet train was similar to traveling on an airplane with more comfortable seats and more leg room. The seats recline and your bags are stored on the overhead shelf. There are lovely western style toilets with loo roll, soap and water. The train can get up to 300km/hr depending on how many stops there are on the route. The journeys we used these for were from three to five hours. I used most of my time on the bullet trains blogging or chatting to people in our tour group.
The shortest sleeper train journey we used was fifteen hours, the longest was twenty, however we were told that some sleeper trains can take up to thirty hours all together. In the sleeper trains there are different classes available for travel: hard seats, hard sleeper and soft sleeper. We never had to go on the hard seats class, which just sounds appalling, imagine spending thirty hours in a hard seat.
We had two journeys in hard sleeper class and one in the soft sleeper class. There wasn’t actually as much of a difference between hard and soft sleeper class as you might have expected. The hard sleeper was three bunks on top of one another (making the top one quite high), so six to a cabin and the cabins were open to the corridor. There were also tables with chairs in the corridor for sitting and chatting, playing cards or eating some dinner, the bottom bunks could also be used communally for this purpose. The soft sleeper on the other hand had four bunks per cabin and a door to the cabin which could be shut, the beds were slightly wider and slightly softer too. In the corridor there was one seat between each window, meaning that if you were sat out there you were quite spaced out.
The toilet facilities seemed to be the same for all classes of sleeper train, they were squat toilets unless you could find a disabled loo. The toilets themselves seemed to vary between train rather than class, we had metal squats with a flush on the first two trains (one of which the flush was more of a trickle) and on the final one where we were on soft sleeper class we had a hole in the train where you could see the tracks beneath, unless you were going through a tunnel.
All of the trains had a boiling water tap, which my husband used to make tea in a portable flask he had bought and we both used it for instant noodles for any meals we had on the sleeper trains. It was quite fun picking an instant noodle pot at random and only finding out the flavour after preparing it on the train.
We met a few interesting characters on the sleeper trains including a guy who couldn’t speak any English but according to our guide wanted to learn by listening to us. He took quite a liking to my husband sitting next to him on the bottom bunk and then steadying him when they were stood up and the train made a sudden movement by grabbing his bicep and giving it a little squeeze. We also met an English couple on the soft sleeper, they had been living in China for a year and it was interesting to hear their perceptions of the place.
A lot of the Chinese passengers just stayed to their bunks, maybe getting up to make themselves an instant noodle on occasion, our guide said that is what she tends to do when traveling on her own, for example when she heads home after a tour she is on the sleeper for thirty hours and she just sleeps, waking up every few hours to see the time and turn over.
Rail travel in China is definitely an experience, one I am glad we had a chance to have rather than taking the more expensive option of flying. I am also pleased that we didn’t get the bullet train for every journey and had the chance to chill on the sleeper trains with the locals. There is clearly a much bigger infrastructure for rail travel at home, but then again there has to be due to the sheer scale of the country.