Train Travel in China

These are the high-speed trains in Beijing. I’m took one to Xi’an today to see the Terracotta Warriors.

What I’ve learned is that traveling by train in China is a bit trickier than it has been in other countries.  There are a few reasons for that.

The first, is that you really need to book online ahead of time if you want to have a comfortable ride.

Secondly, the class system is different from you may have experienced in other countries.  If you do not get a higher class ticket, on some trains you’ll be in the smoking car where they sell standing room and it is totally cramped and miserable.

The third is that there aren’t a lot of English subtitles in the train stations themselves which make them difficult to navigate.  There also is not always an English translation on your ticket so you need to try to guess which number is your seat and which is your train car.  The lucky part is, it’s easy to find someone to help you.  The younger generation especially almost all speaks English and they’re friendly and helpful generally.

If you want to have a smooth journey, these tips will help:

  1. Book your ticket online well (more than 10-30 days) in advance using this guide at Seat61.com.
  2. Pay close attention to the complicated class types and spend the extra money to book one that will be more comfortable if you are traveling over night.
  3. Arrive at the train station well before you normally would.  they tend to be crowded and take a while to navigate.

Overnight train travel in China is definitely more modern from major cities than I had in Thailand. In first class you get your own little flat screen tv in the bunk with you. I stayed in the compartment below on my trip from Xi’an to Shanghai.  There were 3 business men as well but they were all polite and, besides the snoring, it was really an easy trip.

I’d definitely suggest taking trains from city to city since you get to see so much more of China and also because their rail system is efficient and comfortable.  Be prepared to spend a bit more for comfort but it’s totally worth it.