During your China travel adventure, You may consider venturing out on the train for an interesting cultural experience, a day trip to somewhere new or simply as a method of transport from point A to B. Less hassle than catching a flight or taking a bus, the trains in China cover most of the important tourist destinations alongside local areas so you can travel to Xian, Shanghai, Guilin, Tibet, Guangzhou and more depending on your itinerary.


Train Categories in China

Trains in China have multiple categories, distinguished by a letter (this precedes a number which corresponds to the route). ‘K’ and ‘T’ are the oldest and therefore slowest train types, with the middle category being the ‘Z’ train. Trains starting with a  ‘C’, ‘D’ or ‘G’ are the newest and fastest trains, usually with the highest prices, although this is worthwhile if you are short of time and far from the price you would pay for the same distance in a western country.


Seat and Sleeper Classes in China

There are a variety of seat and sleeper classes on Chinese trains, however some are restricted to certain trains, for example long distance or popular routes. The types available are: Soft Sleeper, Hard Sleeper, Soft Seat, Hard Seat and the less often seen Deluxe Sleeper.

Soft sleeper is a 4 bed compartment with a lockable door, car attendant and occasionally, TV screens and power supplies. This is the most popular category for western tourists and nicely fits a family of four. The two lower bunks convert into sofa’s for daytime use. Hard sleeper is an open plan 6 bed partition and has no lockable door. These berths are popular with the backpacker crowd and travellers with a lower budget.

Soft and hard seats are similar to those on western trains, soft is slightly larger and more padded being equivalent to first class back home, whilst second class are cheaper and adequate, like standard train seats in Europe and America.

Deluxe sleepers are usually found on long distance overnight trains and consist of a private 2 bed compartment with private bathroom area. Travellers use these less often, as they are usually equivalent to the cost of a flight and generally occupied by government employees.

Train facilities

All except the oldest ‘K’ and ‘T’ trains are fully air conditioned and generally have both western and squat toilets available. Toilet paper is very rarely supplied so be prepared to bring your own supply for the journey. Smoking is only permitted outside of sleeping compartments and aisles, however the newer model trains have a non-smoking rule.

All long distance trains and those running a popular route have restaurants on board. They are housed in a restaurant car and those heading to or from major tourist orientated towns and cities will likely have an English menu. There are snacks, drinks and hot meals available. In addition to this there are usually hot water dispensers situated throughout the train should you wish to make your own hot drinks, soup or pot noodles.


Booking and Purchasing Tickets

You can purchase tickets prior to your arrival in China or through an agent, this is a stress free easier method especially if you don’t have a very flexible itinerary, however there will be an added fee for the convenience.

It is simple enough to book tickets yourself and large cities generally have an English speaking booth available. Tickets for the popular high speed trains usually come on sale up to 20 days before departure however the older and less used trains often leave it until 5 to 10 days before. It is recommended to take your passport as for certain routes and trains it needs to be presented in order for you to book a ticket. Another point to be aware of is you are only able to book a journey departing from the station you are at, so you cannot book a journey from Beijing to Xian if you are at Shanghai Central Station.

A recommended website for train travel throughout China (and other cities) with all other vital information including photographs is Seat 61. You can also book many train journeys within China online at China Travel Depot.


Jack Li

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